Health Technology Research Synopsis
126th Issue Date 07APR2012
Compiled By Ralph Turchiano
Editors Top Five:
1. Low LDL cholesterol is related to cancer risk
2. Adjuvanted flu vaccine associated with child narcolepsy in Finland
3. Thyme may be better for acne than prescription creams
4. Virus protects against autoimmunity
5. Soy may alleviate hot flashes in menopause, large-scale study finds
In This Issue:
1. Popcorn: the snack with even higher antioxidant levels than fruits and vegetables
2. Low LDL cholesterol is related to cancer risk
3. Regular chocolate eaters are thinner
4. Heart-damaging side effects of cancer drugs under-reported in studies, Stanford researchers say
5. Stand up: Your life could depend on it
6. Hot pepper compound could help hearts
7. Some flame retardants make fires more deadly
8. New evidence on effects of green coffee beans in weight loss
9. Thyme may be better for acne than prescription creams
10. Testosterone low, but responsive to competition, in Amazonian tribe
11. Science celebrates cocoa and chocolate’s potential health benefits
12. Adjuvanted flu vaccine associated with child narcolepsy in Finland
13. With you in the room, bacteria counts spike
14. US autism rates reach new high; NC figures higher than national average
15. Osteoporosis drugs may increase risk of serious eye disease
16. Virus protects against autoimmunity
17. Obesity epidemic in America found significantly worse than previously believed
18. Mayo Clinic: Nutritional supplement works against some pancreatic cancer cells in mice
19. Eating flavonoids protects men against Parkinson’s disease
20. Drug use in 50- to 64-year-olds has increased 10-fold in England since 1993
21. Arsenic turns stem cells cancerous, spurring tumor growth
22. Red wine, fruit compound could help block fat cell formation
23. Soy may alleviate hot flashes in menopause, large-scale study finds
24. Researchers find evidence of banned antibiotics in poultry products
Popcorn: the snack with even higher antioxidant levels than fruits and vegetables
SAN DIEGO, March 25, 2012 — Popcorn’s reputation as a snack food that’s actually good for health popped up a few notches today as scientists reported that it contains more of the healthful antioxidant substances called “polyphenols” than fruits and vegetables. They spoke at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, being held here this week.
Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a pioneer in analyzing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods, explained that the polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water, while polyphenols are diluted in the 90 percent water that makes up many fruits and vegetables.
In another surprising finding, the researchers discovered that the hulls of the popcorn –– the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth –– actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.
“Those hulls deserve more respect,” said Vinson, who is with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”
The overall findings led Vinson to declare, “Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It’s the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called “whole grain,” this simply means that over 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.”
Vinson cautioned, however, that the way people prepare and serve popcorn can quickly put a dent in its healthful image. Cook it in a potful of oil, slather on butter or the fake butter used in many movie theaters, pour on the salt; eat it as “kettle corn” cooked in oil and sugar — and popcorn can become a nutritional nightmare loaded with fat and calories.
“Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course,” Vinson said. “Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself.”
Likewise, Vinson pointed out that popcorn cannot replace fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients that are critical for good health, but are missing from popcorn.
Vinson explained that the same concentration principle applies to dried fruit versus regular fruit, giving dried fruit a polyphenol edge. Previous studies found low concentrations of free polyphenols in popcorn, but Vinson’s team did the first study to calculate total polyphenols in popcorn. The amounts of these antioxidants were much higher than previously believed, he said. The levels of polyphenols rivaled those in nuts and were up to 15 times greater than whole-grain tortilla chips.
The new study found that the amount of polyphenols found in popcorn was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. In addition, one serving of popcorn would provide 13 percent of an average intake of polyphenols a day per person in the U.S. Fruits provide 255 mg per day of polyphenols and vegetables provide 218 mg per day to the average U.S. diet.
Michael G. Coco, an undergraduate chemistry student at the University of Scranton who participated in the study, said he benefited in several ways.
“From working on this project with Dr. Vinson, I’ve gained experience and many insights in doing scientific research,” said Coco. “Besides the obvious things like learning how to use instrumentation and perform analyses, I’ve also learned that research is extremely satisfying, especially when you discover or think of something no one else has thought of.”
Low LDL cholesterol is related to cancer risk
Research finds low LDL cholesterol levels present in cancer patients many years prior to diagnosis
CHICAGO — Low LDL cholesterol in patients with no history of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs predates cancer risk by decades, suggesting there may be some underlying mechanism affecting both cancer and low LDL cholesterol that requires further examination, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.
While scientific evidence supports the benefits of lowering low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) to help prevent heart disease, previous studies of cholesterol-lowering drugs have suggested a strong association between low levels of LDL-C and cancer risk. This is the first study to examine the relationship of low LDL-C and cancer risk over an extended period of time only in patients with no history of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
“There has been some debate as to whether or not medications used to lower cholesterol may contribute to cancer, but the evidence so far tells us that the drugs themselves do not increase the risk of cancer. We wanted to take those medications out of the equation and just look at the link between cancer and low LDL-cholesterol itself in people who had never taken statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs,” said Paul Michael Lavigne, MD, resident, Tufts Medical Center and the study’s lead investigator.
In a matched case control study, researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort to assess the trend of low LDL-C for an extended period of time prior to cancer diagnosis. They compared 201 cancer cases and 402 control cases that were cancer-free. Cases were matched on factors including age, gender, diabetes, tobacco use, blood pressure and body mass index. All subjects had no history of using cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Researchers reviewed data at four points in time prior to cancer diagnosis and found that LDL cholesterol values were lower in cancer subjects than matched controls at each point of assessment throughout an average of 18.7 years prior to diagnosis (p = .038). The trend for lower LDL-C in cancer patients compared with those who were cancer-free was consistent throughout the duration of the study (p = .968 for differences between time points). These findings did not change when controlling for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Dr. Lavigne cautions the current study does not suggest that having low LDL-C somehow leads to the development of cancer. He recommended that patients diagnosed with high LDL-C should adhere to cholesterol-lowering guidelines, including the use of medications, to prevent heart disease.
“There is no evidence to indicate that lowering your cholesterol with a medication in any way predisposes to a risk for cancer. We suspect there may be some underlying mechanism affecting both cancer and low LDL-C, but we can only say definitively that the relationship between the two exists for many years prior to cancer diagnosis, and therefore underscores the need for further examination,” Dr. Lavigne said.
Ralphs Note – If Low LDL is related to cancer and the drugs lower LDL. Then they are guilty by default. It’s like saying bleeding causes death, but the knife in which stabs you is not at fault.
Regular chocolate eaters are thinner
|IMAGE:This is Beatrice Golomb, M.D, Ph.D. (right).|
Katherine Hepburn famously said of her slim physique: “What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.” New evidence suggests she may have been right.
Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues present new findings that may overturn the major objection to regular chocolate consumption: that it makes people fat. The study, showing that adults who eat chocolate on a regular basis are actually thinner that those who don’t, will be published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine on March 26.
The authors dared to hypothesize that modest, regular chocolate consumption might be calorie-neutral –in other words, that the metabolic benefits of eating modest amounts of chocolate might lead to reduced fat deposition per calorie and approximately offset the added calories (thus rendering frequent, though modest, chocolate consumption neutral with regard to weight). To assess this hypothesis, the researchers examined dietary and other information provided by approximately 1000 adult men and women from San Diego, for whom weight and height had been measured.
The UC San Diego findings were even more favorable than the researchers conjectured. They found that adults who ate chocolate on more days a week were actually thinner – i.e. had a lower body mass index – than those who ate chocolate less often. The size of the effect was modest but the effect was “significant” –larger than could be explained by chance. This was despite the fact that those who ate chocolate more often did not eat fewer calories (they ate more), nor did they exercise more. Indeed, no differences in behaviors were identified that might explain the finding as a difference in calories taken in versus calories expended.
“Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight,” said Golomb. “In the case of chocolate, this is good news –both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who may wish to start one.”
Heart-damaging side effects of cancer drugs under-reported in studies, Stanford researchers say
STANFORD, Calif. — The under-reporting of the possible side effects of heart damage from cancer drugs puts patients at an increased risk for heart failure, according to two researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
In a commentary that will be published online March 26 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the Stanford researchers say urgent reforms are needed to standardize measurements of the potential toxicity of cancer drugs during clinical trials in order to prevent the publication of misleading results, as have appeared in such prestigious scientific journals as the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.
“It’s a major issue when adverse events aren’t being counted in clinical trials, and this has led to a profound underappreciation of the risk for heart failure and other adverse cardiac events,” said Ronald Witteles, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and the first author of the commentary.
The two researchers — Witteles, a cardiologist at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, and co-author Melinda Telli, MD, assistant professor of oncology and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute — became concerned when they started seeing a surprising numbers of patients with heart failure who were being treated with the cancer treatment sunitinib.
“That’s what first raised our eyebrows,” Witteles said.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved sunitinib, which is marketed by Pfizer Inc. under the trade name Sutent, for the treatment of kidney cancer and certain types of pancreatic and gastrointestinal cancers over the past five years.
What the two authors found was a complete disconnect between reported incidences of cardiac toxicities in journal articles on the one hand, and the FDA’s drug labeling on the other. The labeling raised red flags, indicating that clinicians should be aware of the possible side effects of cardiac damage in patients using the drug — a very different picture than what had been presented in the journal articles.
“It didn’t make any sense,” Witteles said. “The labeling warned of a high incidence of heart failure during the clinical trials that was not even mentioned in the journal articles.”
The authors said sunitinib is a good example of how the current method of measuring cardiac side effects during cancer drug trials is inadequate. While the commentary focuses solely on sunitinib, the authors believe that studies of other cancer drugs have similar methodological problems and are prone to the same under-reporting of side effects as sunitinib.
“By no means are we trying to say that this isn’t a useful drug,” Witteles said. “This has been a truly revolutionary treatment for many different types of cancer. But what did happen, without a shadow of a doubt, was that the incidence of cardiac toxicity was misrepresented in the journal publications and, to this day, there is a real lack of recognition of this issue by practitioners.
“We’re using this as a case example because it is such a good one,” he added.
The commentary quotes from papers published in both the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine that Witteles and Telli believe under-reported cardiac toxicity results from clinical trials of sunitinib.
For example, in October 2006, the results of the first phase-3 study of sunitinib published in the Lancet stated that there was no evidence of a decrease in left ventricular ejection fraction measurements, which indicate how well the heart pumps and is a common test for heart health.
And yet, the FDA’s 2007 labeling of sunitinib for use in kidney cancer treatment — which was based on the same data set from the same trial — stated that 11 percent of trial subjects on sunitinib and 3 percent on placebo developed ejection fraction measurements below the lower limit of normal.
Most worrisome about this disconnect is that many clinicians read journal articles on new drugs, but few read labeling, Witteles said.
“I would emphasize here that this under-reporting in journal articles has very real consequences,” Witteles said. “Many patients had major morbidity or mortality as a consequence of cardiac toxicity on this drug. These are exceptionally useful drugs, but clinicians need to know the full array of possible cardiac side effects so that they can monitor cardiac function appropriately and consider starting cardiac medications or holding the anti-cancer therapy altogether when necessary.”
The three sunitinib studies referred to in the article — two in the New England Journal of Medicine and one in the Lancet — were all funded by Pfizer, which raises the potential of conflicts of interest, Witteles said.
“It’s hard to know if conflicts of interests played a role in these inconsistencies,” Witteles said.
It is clear that these inconsistencies in reporting are at least in part due, the authors note, to an inadequate method of measuring adverse events in clinical trials that allows for too much variability in how individual investigators at different sites can grade possible adverse events.
For instance, there are inconsistencies in defining what an adverse event is, and whether an adverse event may be ignored if there are questions as to whether the event was caused by the drug treatment, the commentary states.
In addition, currently there is no requirement that the results from primary data sets — such as an imaging finding or a laboratory test — be reported at all, which places more reliance on the judgments made by the individual site investigator.
“Once the data has been validated, it’s better to rely on primary data than on the idiosyncrasies of the site investigator,” Witteles said. “Often events just get missed. … It’s easy for a journal publishing a report on a new cancer agent not to pick up on these inconsistencies, particularly if they don’t have access to the data.”
The FDA, on the other hand, reported figures on the drug label based on the real decreases in cardiac function as reflected by the primary data, which enabled the agency to come closer to determining the actual number of adverse cardiac events, the authors said.
Among their list of recommended reforms, Witteles and Telli suggest that whenever there has been a signal of heart toxicity in a drug trial, routine cardiac monitoring be built into the trial. This is one of several recommendations they make to assure reliable, accurate and consistent reporting of cardiac safety in cancer trials
Stand up: Your life could depend on it
Archives of Internal Medicine study provides new evidence on the harms of prolonged sitting
Standing up more often may reduce your chances of dying within three years, even if you are already physically active, a study of more than 200,000 people published in Archives of Internal Medicine today shows.
The study found that adults who sat 11 or more hours per day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. This was after taking into account their physical activity, weight and health status.
“These results have important public health implications,” said study lead author Dr Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health.
“That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it’s also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest the time people spend sitting at home, work and in traffic should be reduced by standing or walking more.”
The results are the first landmark findings to be published from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study, the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere.
They showed physical activity is still beneficial: inactive people who sat the most had double the risk of dying within three years than the active people who sat least. And among the physically inactive group, those who sat the most had nearly one-third higher chance of dying than those who sat least.
The study’s size and focus on total sitting time make it an important contributor to the growing evidence on the downsides of prolonged sitting. The average adult spends 90% of their leisure time sitting down and less than half of adults meet World Health Organization physical activity recommendations.
An accompanying editorial in the journal said the evidence was strong enough to support doctors prescribing “reduced daily sitting time” to their patients.
The research was commissioned by the Cardiovascular Research Network and supported by the NSW Division of the National Heart Foundation Australia. It is one of more than 60 projects underway using data from the 45 and Up Study, Australia’s richest information source about the health and lifestyles of people 45 and over.
Heart Foundation NSW CEO Tony Thirlwell said being inactive was a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for more than 17 million deaths a year worldwide.
“Watching TV, using computers and electronic games can involve sitting for long periods and have become a big part of leisure time,” he said. “But we know that people who spend less time on these things have better health than those who spend too much time on them.”
A major five-year follow-up of 45 and Up study participants has just begun and will ask 265,000 men and women more about their health, lifestyle, and the medications and health services they use. Such large-scale research will help governments face the challenges of an ageing population.
Hot pepper compound could help hearts
SAN DIEGO, March 27, 2012 — The food that inspires wariness is on course for inspiring even more wonder from a medical standpoint as scientists today reported the latest evidence that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the No. 1 cause of death in the developed world. The report was part of the 243rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, being held here this week.
The study focused on capsaicin and its fiery-hot relatives, a piquant family of substances termed “capsaicinoids.” The stuff that gives cayennes, jalapenos, habaneros and other chili peppers their heat, capsaicin already has an established role in medicine in rub-on-the-skin creams to treat arthritis and certain forms of pain. Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people with that condition, reduce blood cholesterol and ease the tendency for dangerous blood clots to form.
“Our research has reinforced and expanded knowledge about how these substances in chilies work in improving heart health,” said Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., who presented the study. “We now have a clearer and more detailed portrait of their innermost effects on genes and other mechanisms that influence cholesterol and the health of blood vessels. It is among the first research to provide that information.”
The team found, for instance, that capsaicin and a close chemical relative boost heart health in two ways. They lower cholesterol levels by reducing accumulation of cholesterol in the body and increasing its breakdown and excretion in the feces. They also block action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. The blocking action allows more blood to flow through blood vessels.
“We concluded that capsaicinoids were beneficial in improving a range of factors related to heart and blood vessel health,” said Chen, a professor of food and nutritional science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But we certainly do not recommend that people start consuming chilies to an excess. A good diet is a matter of balance. And remember, chilies are no substitute for the prescription medications proven to be beneficial. They may be a nice supplement, however, for people who find the hot flavor pleasant.”
Chen and his colleagues turned to hamsters for the study, animals that serve as stand-ins for humans in research that cannot be done in people. They gave the hamsters high-cholesterol diets, divided them into groups, and supplemented each group’s food with either no capsaicinoids (the control group) or various amounts of capsaicinoids. The scientists then analyzed the effects.
In addition to reducing total cholesterol levels in the blood, capsaicinoids reduced levels of the so-called “bad” cholesterol (which deposits into blood vessels), but did not affect levels of so-called “good” cholesterol. The team found indications that capsaicinoids may reduce the size of deposits that already have formed in blood vessels, narrowing arteries in ways that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Capsaicinoids also blocked the activity of a gene that produces cyclooxygenase-2, a substance that makes the muscles around blood vessels constrict. By blocking it, muscles can relax and widen, allowing more blood to flow.
Some flame retardants make fires more deadly
SAN DIEGO, March 27, 2012 — Some of the flame retardants added to carpets, furniture upholstery, plastics, crib mattresses, car and airline seats and other products to suppress the visible flames in fires are actually increasing the danger of invisible toxic gases that are the No. 1 cause of death in fires. That was the finding of a new study presented here today at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.
Anna A. Stec, Ph.D., led the research, which focused on the most widely-used category of flame retardants, which contain the chemical element bromine. Scientists term these “halogen-based” flame retardants because bromine is in a group of elements called halogens.
“Halogen-based flame retardants are effective in reducing the ignitability of materials,” Stec said. “We found, however, that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion. These gases, not the thermal effects of burns on the body, are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths.” Stec, who is with the University of Central Lancashire, Centre for Fire and Hazards Science, Lancashire, U.K., spoke at an ACS symposium on “Fire and Polymers,” which included 60 presentations.
Almost 10,000 deaths from fires occur in industrialized countries worldwide each year, including about 3,500 in the U.S. Contrary to popular belief, inhalation of toxic gases released by burning materials –– not burns –– causes the most deaths and most of the serious injuries. Stec’s team set out to determine the effects of flame retardants on the production of those gases. The scientists tested brominated flame retardants with antimony synergists, mineral-based flame retardants and so-called intumescent agents, which swell when heated, forming a barrier that flames cannot penetrate.
Unlike the halogen-based retardants, mineral-based fire retardants have little effect on fire toxicity. Most intumescent fire retardants reduce the amount of potentially toxic gases released in a fire.
New evidence on effects of green coffee beans in weight loss
SAN DIEGO, March 27, 2012 — Scientists today reported striking new evidence that green, or unroasted, coffee beans can produce a substantial decrease in body weight in a relatively short period of time.
In a study presented at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, Joe Vinson, Ph.D., and colleagues described how a group of overweight or obese people who consumed a fraction of an ounce of ground green coffee beans each day lost about 10 percent of their body weight.
“Based on our results, taking multiple capsules of green coffee extract a day — while eating a low-fat, healthful diet and exercising regularly — appears to be a safe, effective, inexpensive way to lose weight,” Vinson said at the ACS meeting, being held here this week. He is with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
The study involved 16 overweight or obese people aged 22-26 years who took capsules of the extract or capsules containing a placebo, an inactive powder, for a total of 22 weeks. The subjects alternated between a low dose and a higher dose of the extract. The low dose consisted of 700 mg of the coffee extract, and the high dose was 1,050 mg. It was a so-called “cross-over” study in which people cycled through the two doses and the placebo, each for six weeks. Such studies have advantages because each person serves as his or her own “control,” improving the chances of getting an accurate result.
All of the participants were monitored for their overall diet (calories, food eaten, etc.) and exercise over the study period. “Their calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein intake did not change during the study, nor did their exercise regimen change,” Vinson said.
Participants lost an average of 17 pounds during the 22 weeks of the study. It included an average of a 10.5 percent decrease in overall body weight and a 16 percent decrease in body fat. Vinson noted that weight loss might have been significantly faster, except that participants received the placebo and the lower dose of green coffee extract for part of the study period.
Vinson pointed out that previous studies have shown weight loss with green coffee. But this was the first to use higher amounts of the coffee extract and the first to measure the response to various doses. Based on those studies, Vinson believes that green coffee beans’ effects likely are due to a substance called chlorogenic acid that is present in unroasted coffee beans. Chlorogenic acid breaks down when coffee beans are roasted (usually at a temperature of 464-482 degrees Fahrenheit). Roasting gives coffee beans their distinctive color, aroma and flavor. Green coffee beans, in contrast, have little aroma and a slightly bitter taste.
Thyme may be better for acne than prescription creams
Herbal preparations of thyme could be more effective at treating skin acne than prescription creams, according to research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Dublin this week. Further clinical testing could lead to an effective, gentler treatment for the skin condition.
Researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University tested the effect of thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures on Propionibacterium acnes – the bacterium that causes acne by infecting skin pores and forming spots, which range from white heads through to puss-filled cysts. The group found that while all the preparations were able to kill the bacterium after five minutes exposure, thyme was the most effective of the three. What’s more, they discovered that thyme tincture had a greater antibacterial effect than standard concentrations of benzoyl peroxide – the active ingredient in most anti-acne creams or washes.
Dr Margarita Gomez-Escalada who is leading the research project explained how tinctures are made from plants and herbs. “The plant material is steeped in alcohol for days or even weeks to prepare a tincture. This process draws out the active compounds from the plant. While thyme, marigold and myrrh are common herbal alternatives to standard antibacterial skin washes, this is the first study to demonstrate the effect they have on the bacterium that causes the infection leading to acne,” she said. The researchers used a standard in vitro model that is used to test the effect of different substances applied to the skin. The effects of the tinctures were measured against an alcohol control – proving their antibacterial action was not simply due to the sterilizing effect of the alcohol they are prepared in.
These initial findings pave the way for more research into the use of tinctures as a treatment for acne. “We now need to carry out further tests in conditions that mimic more closely the skin environment and work out at the molecular level how these tinctures are working. If thyme tincture is proven to be as clinically effective as our findings suggest, it may be a natural alternative to current treatments,” explained Dr Gomez-Escalada.
A herbal treatment for acne would be very welcome news – particularly for acne sufferers who experience skin sensitivity. “The problem with treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is the side-effects they are associated with,” said Dr Gomez-Escalada. “A burning sensation and skin irritation are not uncommon. Herbal preparations are less harsh on the skin due to their anti-inflammatory properties while our results suggest they can be just as, if not more, effective than chemical treatments.”
Testosterone low, but responsive to competition, in Amazonian tribe
It’s a rough life for the Tsimane, an isolated indigenous group in Bolivia. They make a living by hunting and foraging in forests, fishing in streams and clearing land by hand to grow crops. Their rugged lifestyle might imply that Tsimane men have elevated testosterone to maintain the physical activity required to survive each day.
But new research shows that Tsimane (“chi-MAH-nay”) men have a third less baseline testosterone compared with men living in the United States, where life is less physically demanding. And unlike men in the U.S., the Bolivian foragers-farmers do not show declines in testosterone with age.
“Maintaining high levels of testosterone compromises the immune system, so it makes sense to keep it low in environments where parasites and pathogens are rampant, as they are where the Tsimane live,” said Ben Trumble, an anthropology graduate student at the University of Washington.
That men living in the U.S. have greater circulating levels of testosterone represents an “evolutionarily novel spike,” Trumble said. The spike reflects how low levels of pathogens and parasites in the U.S. and other industrialized countries allow men to maintain higher testosterone without risking infection.
Trumble is lead author of a paper published online March 28 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Trumble also pointed out that whereas men in the U.S. show a decline in testosterone as they age, and testosterone drops serve as a sentinel for age-related disease, Tsimane men maintain a stable amount of testosterone across their lifespans and show little incidence of obesity, heart disease and other illnesses linked with older age.
Despite lower circulating levels of testosterone under normal conditions, the forager-farmers do have something in common with U.S. men: short-term spikes of testosterone during competition.
Trumble and his co-authors organized a soccer tournament for eight Tsimane teams. The researchers found that Tsimane men had a 30 percent increase in testosterone immediately after a soccer game. An hour after the game, testosterone was still 15 percent higher than under normal conditions. Similar percent increases have been shown in men living in the U.S. or other industrialized nations following sports competitions.
The study suggests that competition-linked bursts of testosterone are a fundamental aspect of human biology that persists even if it increases risk for sickness or infection.
As for whether higher levels of the male hormone would offer a competitive advantage in sports, Trumble suspects that because U.S. men “are taller, and weigh more than Tsimane men, and tend to be exposed to fewer parasites and pathogens, they would probably have a competitive advantage regardless of circulating testosterone.”
“What’s interesting is that in spite of being in a more pathogenic environment, it’s still important to raise testosterone for short-term bursts of energy and competition,” said Michael Gurven, co-author and anthropology professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.
The lives of the Tsimane offer a glimpse of how our species survived before industrialization and modern amenities. “Our lifestyle now is an anomaly, a major departure from our species’ long-term existence as hunter-gatherers,” said Gurven, who co-directs the Tsimane Health and Life History Project with Hillard Kaplan, co-author and an anthropology professor at the University of New Mexico.
The work was funded by the National Institute of Child Health & Development and the National Institute on Aging and conducted in the UW Biological Anthropology and Biodemography Lab.
Other co-authors are Kathleen O’Connor and Eric Smith, both professors in UW’s anthropology department and UW’s Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology; Daniel Cummings, University of New Mexico; and Christopher von Rueden, University of California Santa Barbara.
Science celebrates cocoa and chocolate’s potential health benefits
SAN DIEGO, March 28, 2012 — If eccentric candy-maker Willy Wonka could leap from the pages of Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and walk these streets, he might make a bee-line for a festival of cocoa and chocolate on the menu today at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
As the world’s largest scientific society, ACS is hosting a celebration of scientific discoveries about the food that could lay claim to being the world’s favorite treat, comfort food and indulgence. The ACS symposium, titled “Cocoa: Science and Technology,” features 18 reports from international experts on the key ingredient in chocolate — cocoa — and the emerging health benefits and other aspects of the food that has delighted people for almost 2,000 years.
“Chocolate is one of the foods with the greatest appeal to the general population,” said Sunil Kochhar, Ph.D., one of the symposium participants. “The luscious aroma, taste and textures of chocolate have delighted the senses of people in many parts of the world for centuries and make it a well-known comfort food.”
Kochhar, who is with the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, is noted for landmark research that is helping to establish chocolate’s potential health benefits. He described one study, for instance, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, one of ACS’s 41 peer-reviewed scientific journals, detailing the biochemical basis for chocolate’s reputation as a comfort food. The study, which included 30 healthy adults, found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate per day reduced levels of stress hormones and other indicators of emotional anxiety in people who felt stressed-out.
“The flavonoids and other ingredients in chocolate with beneficial health effects originate in cocoa,” Kochhar explained. “In making chocolate, cocoa seeds undergo natural fermentation before being processed into key ingredients for making chocolate — namely cocoa fat and cocoa powder.”
Among other presentations at the symposium, scientists reported:
- How the introduction of new varieties of the cacao tree that resist “witch’s broom,” a fungal disease that has decimated some crops, may affect the taste of cocoa and chocolate.
- That chocolate may be useful in treating of diseases involving disorders of the trigeminal nerve, including migraine and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. The study found evidence that cocoa contains biologically active ingredients that soothe the nerve’s excitability, a probable cause of these disorders.
- Findings about the biological basis of chocolate’s anti-inflammatory effects. Its rich content of polyphenols inhibit secretion of certain enzymes into the small intestine that cause inflammation.
- How chocolate may be helpful in fighting cardiovascular problems for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Flavonoids in the chocolate strengthen mitochondria, the powerhouse of body cells, which are in a weakened condition in patients with cardiovascular problems.
- On chocolate and high blood pressure. They found that flavonoids in chocolate lower blood pressure and thus might help in reducing heart disease risks.
- A cocoa-rich diet may reduce the risk of colon cancer by preventing undesirable changes in the cells or destroying cells that form precancerous lesions.
- That epicatechin, a beneficial antioxidant especially rich in dark chocolate, strengthens cell membranes and offers protection from some forms of cardiovascular disease.
- Feeding chocolate to animals in laboratory experiments helped protect their livers from damage that can lead to liver disease.
- Chocolate consumption may be especially beneficial for cigarette smokers. Polyphenols in the dark chocolate act on blood platelets to prevent clot formation.
Adjuvanted flu vaccine associated with child narcolepsy in Finland
A sudden increase in narcolepsy in Finnish children at the beginning of 2010 was likely related to the Pandemrix vaccine used in response to the H1N1 2009 flu pandemic, according to two reports published Mar. 28 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
The authors of the studies, led by Markku Partinen of the Helsinki Sleep Clinic and Hanna Nohynek of the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland, found that the average annual incidence of narcolepsy between 2002 and 2009 among children younger than 17 was 0.31 per 100,000, and in 2010, this incidence was about 17 times higher, at 5.3 cases per 100,000. In contrast, the incidence rate for adults over 20 was essentially unchanged over that same time period.
To further evaluate the potential connection between the vaccine and narcolepsy, the researchers collected vaccination and childhood narcolepsy data for children born between January 1991 and December 2005.
They found that the narcolepsy incidence for vaccinated individuals within this age group was 9.0 per 100,000 people, as compared to just 0.7 per 100,000 for unvaccinated individuals – almost 13 times lower.
Together, these results provide compelling evidence that the Pandemrix vaccine, used in 2009 and 2010 in association with the H1N1 flu pandemic, contributed to narcolepsy in patients between the age of 4 and 19 in Finland, the authors conclude.
With you in the room, bacteria counts spike
By Eric Gershon
March 28, 2012
A person’s mere presence in a room can add 37 million bacteria to the air every hour — material largely left behind by previous occupants and stirred up from the floor — according to new research by Yale University engineers.
“We live in this microbial soup, and a big ingredient is our own microorganisms,” said Jordan Peccia, associate professor of environmental engineering at Yale and the principal investigator of a study recently published online in the journal Indoor Air. “Mostly people are re-suspending what’s been deposited before. The floor dust turns out to be the major source of the bacteria that we breathe.”
Many previous studies have surveyed the variety of germs present in everyday spaces. But this is the first study that quantifies how much a lone human presence affects the level of indoor biological aerosols.
Peccia and his research team measured and analyzed biological particles in a single, ground-floor university classroom over a period of eight days — four days when the room was periodically occupied, and four days when the room was continuously vacant. At all times the windows and doors were kept closed. The HVAC system was operated at normal levels. Researchers sorted the particles by size.
Overall, they found that “human occupancy was associated with substantially increased airborne concentrations” of bacteria and fungi of various sizes. Occupancy resulted in especially large spikes for larger-sized fungal particles and medium-sized bacterial particles. The size of bacteria- and fungi-bearing particles is important, because size affects the degree to which they are likely to be filtered from the air or linger and recirculate, the researchers note.
“Size is the master variable,” Peccia said.
Researchers found that about 18 percent of all bacterial emissions in the room — including both fresh and previously deposited bacteria — came from humans, as opposed to plants and other sources. Of the 15 most abundant varieties of bacteria identified in the room studied, four are directly associated with humans, including the most abundant, Propionibacterineae, common on human skin.
Peccia said carpeted rooms appear to retain especially high amounts of microorganisms, but noted that this does not necessarily mean rugs and carpets should be removed. Extremely few of the microorganisms commonly found indoors — less than 0.1 percent — are infectious, he said.
Still, understanding the content and dynamics of indoor biological aerosols is helpful for devising new ways of improving air quality when necessary, he said.
“All those infectious diseases we get, we get indoors,” he said, adding that Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time inside.
The researchers have begun a series of similar studies outside the United States.
The paper’s lead author is J. Qian of Yale. Other contributors are D. Hospodsky and N. Yamamoto, both of Yale, and W.W. Nazaroff of the University of California–Berkeley.
The research was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
US autism rates reach new high; NC figures higher than national average
Thursday, March 29, 2012
|A new study estimates that 1 in 88 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Thursday (March 29) that looked at data gathered in 2008 from 14 communities, including central North Carolina. The new data show that autism rates in the U.S. are higher than previous estimates released in 2009, which found 1 in 110 children were diagnosed with autism or a related disorder. The latest figures also show that autism spectrum disorders are almost five times more common among boys than girls – with 1 in 54 boys identified. Julie Daniels, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who collaborated on the CDC study, said autism prevalence in North Carolina is higher than previously estimated and slightly higher than the national average. The estimate for the state was 1 in 70 children, with a rate of 1 in 43 boys and 1 in 196 girls.“This report shows the magnitude of the condition across our country and in North Carolina,” said Daniels, associate professor of epidemiology and maternal and child health in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and principal investigator for the North Carolina site of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. The N.C. arm of the network is a collaboration between the Gillings School and the state’s public health and education agencies.
The prevalence estimates are based on children who were 8 years old in 2008.
Daniels also noted that number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder in central North Carolina and across other sites in the U.S. had increased since researchers began tracking the data in 2002.
In contrast to previous years, the rate among black children caught up with and was now similar to the rate among white children. The rate among Hispanic children still remained lower.
Details from the CDC report, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008,” will be published in the March 30, 2012 issue of the center’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Meanwhile, various UNC research projects are working to understand the causes and characteristics associated with autism spectrum disorders. One such effort is the Study to Explore Early Development program, which is currently recruiting families with children with developmental disabilities or autism.
Osteoporosis drugs may increase risk of serious eye disease
Drugs that are commonly used to prevent osteoporosis may increase the risk of serious inflammatory eye disease in first-time users, found an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Oral bisphosphonates, the most commonly prescribed class of drugs used to prevent osteoporosis, have been linked to adverse events such as unusual fractures, irregular heartbeat, and esophageal and colon cancer. Some case reports have shown an association between these drugs and anterior uveitis and scleritis, inflammatory eye diseases that can seriously affect vision.
Researchers from the Child and Family Research Institute and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, undertook a study to examine and quantify the risk associated with uveitis or scleritis and oral bisphosphonates because the literature is limited. They included 934 147 people in British Columbia who had visited an ophthalmologist between 2000 and 2007. Of the total, 10 827 were first-time users of bisphosphonates and 923 320 were nonusers.
The researchers found that the incidence rate for uveitis in first-time users was 29/10 000 person-years and 63/10 000 person-years for scleritis compared with 20/10 000 person-years for uveitis and 63/10 000 for scleritis in nonusers.
“We found that first-time users of bisphosphonates are at an increased risk of scleritis and uveitis,” writes Dr. Mahyar Etminan, Therapeutic Evaluative Unit, the Child and Family Research Institute and the Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, with coauthors.
“The risk of inflammatory ocular adverse events, including scleritis and uveitis, is not highlighted in most package inserts included with oral bisphosphonates,” the authors conclude. “Our study highlights the need for clinicians to inform their patients about the signs and symptoms of scleritis and uveitis, so that prompt treatment may be sought and further complications averted.”
The authors note that patients taking oral bisphosphonates must be aware of symptoms for these eye conditions so they can seek treatment.
Virus protects against autoimmunity
To the surprise of investigating researchers, an animal model of Epstein Barr virus protected lupus-prone mice against development of the autoimmune disease. Earlier work had suggested that EBV might promote the development of autoimmunity.
“We were completely surprised. So, we redid the experiments, and the results came out the same,” said Dr. Pelanda, lead author on the paper appearing online in The Proceesing of the National Academy of Sciences. “We believe these findings could lead to therapeutic targets for lupus and other autoimmune diseases.”
Epstein Barr virus (EBV) infects most people in the United States by the time they are adults. It causes mononucleosis in about 35 to 50 percent of those infected. Acute symptoms usually pass within weeks, after which the virus goes into a dormant state within the body. The infection persists for a person’s entire life and can activate in some cases.
Although the virus infects the vast majority of adults, it is found in an even higher percentage of lupus patients, leading to the hypothesis that it may predispose people to autoimmune diseases.
EBV does not infect mice, but a related virus, gammahervesvirus 68, does and has a similar pattern of infection and symptoms. So Dr. Pelanda and her colleagues infected a mouse model of lupus with the virus. One hundred percent of the lupus model mice develop lupus by about one year of age.
In those mice infected with the gammaherpesvirus 68, however, antibodies associated with lupus did not increase, and actually decreased significantly in female mice. In kidneys, a major site of tissue damage in lupus, viral infection reduced tissue damage from 80 percent to 20 percent. Other measures of lupus, including activation of lymphocytes and dendritic cells, were also reduced in lupus-prone mice infected with the gammaherpesvirus 68.
“The virus inhibits the development and progression of lupus on many levels, from cellular to humoral and organ,” said Dr. Pelanda. “For that reason, we believe it is affecting a basic mechanisms of autoimmunity.”
The researchers do not know how the gammaherpesvirus inhibits lupus, but have begun a systematic series of experiments to evaluate several potential mechanisms.
Obesity epidemic in America found significantly worse than previously believed
Leptin blood test can correct BMI errors: Press release from PLoS ONE
The scope of the obesity epidemic in the United States has been greatly underestimated, according to a study published Apr. 2 in the open access journal PLoS ONE. Researchers found that the Body Mass Index (BMI) substantially under-diagnoses obesity when compared to the Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan, a direct simultaneous measure of body fat, muscle mass, and bone density.
The disparity is particularly significant for women of advancing age, those with high blood leptin levels, and the normal weight obese.
The study found that as many as 39 percent of Americans who are classified as overweight based on BMI are actually obese as measured by DXA.
“The BMI is an insensitive measure of obesity, prone to under-diagnosis,” said Eric Braverman, M.D., one of the authors of the study, “while direct fat measurements are superior because they show distribution of body fat.”
Co-authors Braverman and Nirav Shah, M.D., M.P.H., recognize the convenience, safety, and low cost of the BMI, yet agree that it is an outdated mathematical equation that needs to evolve in order to correctly evaluate body fat.
“These estimates are fundamental to U.S. policy addressing the epidemic of obesity and are central to designing interventions aimed at curbing its growth,” the authors say, “yet the [current policies] may be flawed because they are based on the BMI.”
The authors also found that levels of leptin, a hormone protein, are strongly correlated to body fat. They suggest that, in the absence of DXA, leptin levels may be used in conjunction with BMI to provide a more accurate measure of adiposity, and provide a leptin-adjusted BMI table to do so. They also note that the American Society of Bariatric Physicians use both BMI and DXA as criteria for interventions, which “may be a reasonable transition in public health policy.”
Mayo Clinic: Nutritional supplement works against some pancreatic cancer cells in mice
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The dietary supplement gamma-linoleic acid can inhibit the growth of a subset of pancreatic cancer cells and selectively promote cancer cell death in mice, a Mayo Clinic study has found. The supplement, a fatty acid also known as GLA, worked particularly well when combined with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, the researchers say. The findings were presented today by Mayo Clinic pathologist Ruth Lupu, Ph.D., at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012. “One of the most devastating facts about pancreatic cancer is the paucity of effective drugs that exist to halt a tumor,” Dr. Lupu says. “We knew from studies done about 20 years ago that polyunsaturated fatty acids such as GLA could influence cancers in general, but we didn’t know which type of fatty acids and to what degree.”
Dr. Lupu’s team first tested GLA against a variety of pancreatic cancer cell lines, and found that it was effective only against a subtype, expressing a gene for fatty acid synthase (FASN). Earlier studies by Dr. Lupu’s team had demonstrated that FASN is highly expressed in pancreatic adenocarcinomas and appears to be a marker for poor overall survival in patients.
“This was very exciting finding, because we realized that GLA was working selectively and had a particular target within cells,” Dr. Lupu says.
As researchers tested the GLA against cells with high levels of FASN, they found GLA inhibited about 85 percent of cell growth, while gemcitabine alone, the standard chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, had a modest effect on cell inhibition. When researchers combined GLA with gemcitabine, the cell growth was inhibited completely.
Then the team investigated the combination in mouse models of pancreatic cancer and found GLA in combination with gemcitabine significantly inhibited tumor growth.
“The two treatments worked synergistically, and we achieved a significantly higher inhibition of cell growth and higher incidence of dead pancreatic carcinoma cells,” Dr. Lupu says. “We don’t yet know why the combination works better, but we know that many drugs work better when used together.”
Dr. Lupu says that because GLA targets FASN, which is present in high levels in certain pancreatic cancers, the supplement has real potential for individualized therapy.
Dr. Lupu cautions that patients or healthy individuals should not rush to take GLA or alter their chemotherapy without consulting their oncologist. Her next stage of research will be to develop a Phase I clinical trial to test the GLA-gemcitabine combination in human patients. Her group will also test GLA in combination with other chemotherapy drugs currently used to treat pancreatic cancer.
“Since resistance to gemcitabine and other chemotherapy drugs can be an issue in treatment, we hope GLA will work in combination with other chemotherapy drugs to offer patients a wide range of treatment opportunities,” she says.
Eating flavonoids protects men against Parkinson’s disease
Men who eat flavonoid-rich foods such as berries, tea, apples and red wine significantly reduce their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to new research by Harvard University and the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Published today in the journal Neurology ®, the findings add to the growing body of evidence that regular consumption of some flavonoids can have a marked effect on human health. Recent studies have shown that these compounds can offer protection against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia.
This latest study is the first study in humans to show that flavonoids can protect neurons against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s.
Around 130,000 men and women took part in the research. More than 800 had developed Parkinson’s disease within 20 years of follow-up. After a detailed analysis of their diets and adjusting for age and lifestyle, male participants who ate the most flavonoids were shown to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who ate the least. No similar link was found for total flavonoid intake in women.
The research was led by Dr Xiang Gao of Harvard School of Public Health in collaboration with Prof Aedin Cassidy of the Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School at UEA.
“These exciting findings provide further confirmation that regular consumption of flavonoids can have potential health benefits,” said Prof Cassidy.
“This is the first study in humans to look at the associations between the range of flavonoids in the diet and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and our findings suggest that a sub-class of flavonoids called anthocyanins may have neuroprotective effects.”
Prof Gao said: “Interestingly, anthocyanins and berry fruits, which are rich in anthocyanins, seem to be associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in pooled analyses. Participants who consumed one or more portions of berry fruits each week were around 25 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, relative to those who did not eat berry fruits. Given the other potential health effects of berry fruits, such as lowering risk of hypertension as reported in our previous studies, it is good to regularly add these fruits to your diet.”
Flavonoids are a group of naturally occurring, bioactive compunds found in many plant-based foods and drinks. In this study the main protective effect was from higher intake of anthocyanins, which are present in berries and other fruits and vegetables including aubergines, blackcurrants and blackberries. Those who consumed the most anthocyanins had a 24 per cent reduction in risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and strawberries and blueberries were the top two sources in the US diet.
The findings must now be confirmed by other large epidemiological studies and clinical trials.
Parkinson’s disease is a progresssive neurological condition affecting one in 500 people, which equates to 127,000 people in the UK. There are few effective drug therapies available.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson’s UK said: “This study raises lots of interesting questions about how diet may influence our risk of Parkinson’s and we welcome any new research that could potentially lead to prevention.
“While these new results look interesting there are still a lot of questions to answer and much more research to do before we really know how important diet might be for people with Parkinson’s.”
Drug use in 50- to 64-year-olds has increased 10-fold in England since 1993
Until now, illicit drug use has not been common in older people. However, it is likely to become more common as generations that use drugs more frequently reach an older age.
New research published today in the journal Age and Ageing has found that the lifetime use of cannabis, amphetamine, cocaine and LSD in 50-64 year olds has significantly increased since 1993 and is much higher than lifetime use in adults aged over 65. The study also found that drug use in inner London was higher than the overall UK average.
The study, entitled ‘Prevalences of illicit drug use in people aged 50 years and over from two surveys’, analysed data on illicit drug use from two household surveys*. The most recent national survey included 2,009 people aged 65 and 1,827 people aged 55-65. The inner London survey included 284 and 176 people in these respective age groups
Cannabis was the most frequent drug used. Lifetime cannabis use was reported by 1.7% of people aged 65 and over, and by 11.4% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample. In the inner London sample, these proportions were 9.4% and 42.8% respectively. Recent cannabis use (i.e. within the last 12 months) was reported by 0.4% of people aged 65 and over, and by 1.8% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample. In the inner London sample, these proportions were 1.1% and 9.0% respectively. While the series of national surveys carried out from 1993 to 2007 did not contain data on the oldest end of the age range, patterns of cannabis use in middle age were consistent with a rapid increase – in 50-64 year olds, lifetime use had increased approximately ten-fold from 1.0% in 1993 to 11.4% in 2007, and recent use had multiplied by a similar extent from 0.2% in 1993 to 2.0% in 2007.
Use of other illicit drugs is reported in the paper and remained substantially less common. Lifetime amphetamine use had increased substantially although recent reported use remained uncommon. Tranquiliser use showed more stability.
Senior author of the study Prof. Robert Stewart, from King’s College London, comments that “the key message of this paper confirms something which has been long-suspected but which has not, to our knowledge, ever been formally investigated in the UK – namely that illicit drug use will become a more common feature in older generations over the next 1-2 decades. One particular issue is that we really know very little about the effects of drugs like cannabis in older people but will need to work fast if research is to keep up with its wider use at these ages.”
“Our data suggest at the very least that large numbers of people are entering older age groups with lifestyles about which we know little in terms of their effects on health and would benefit from further monitoring – in particular, health service staff providing care for older people should be aware of the possibility of illicit drug use as part of the clinical context, particularly as previous research and policy reports have suggested that this is often missed.”
- Little is known within the UK about the prevalence of illicit drug use in late-life.
- The prevalence of illicit drug use in English residents aged 65+ years is currently low (for cannabis, the most commonly used: 0.4% recent use, 1.7% lifetime use) but is higher in inner London (for cannabis: 1.1% recent use, 9.4% lifetime use).
- The prevalence of some illicit drug use in people aged 50-64 years is higher than that in 65+ year olds (recent and lifetime use of cannabis 1.8% and 11.4% respectively in England, 9.0% and 42.8% respectively).
- Projected increasing use of cannabis in older age groups is confirmed by past trends observed in previous mental health surveys in 1993 and 2000.
- The clinical and public health relevance of these potential secular changes in both lifetime and recent prevalence is not clear but should be a research priority. There is a need to develop a treatment infrastructure that is sensitive to problems of older illicit drug users.
Arsenic turns stem cells cancerous, spurring tumor growth
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered how exposure to arsenic can turn normal stem cells into cancer stem cells and spur tumor growth. Inorganic arsenic, which affects the drinking water of millions of people worldwide, has been previously shown to be a human carcinogen. A growing body of evidence suggests that cancer is a stem-cell based disease. Normal stem cells are essential to normal tissue regeneration, and to the stability of organisms and processes. But cancer stem cells are thought to be the driving force for the formation, growth, and spread of tumors.
Michael Waalkes, Ph.D., and his team at the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of NIH, had shown previously that normal cells become cancerous when they are treated with inorganic arsenic. This new study shows that when these cancer cells are placed near, but not in contact with normal stem cells, the normal stem cells very rapidly acquire the characteristics of cancer stem cells. It demonstrates that malignant cells are able to send molecular signals through a semi-permeable membrane, where cells can’t normally pass, and turn the normal stem cells into cancer stem cells.
“This paper shows a different and unique way that cancers can expand by recruiting nearby normal stem cells and creating an overabundance of cancer stem cells,” said Waalkes. “The recruitment of normal stem cells into cancer stem cells could have broad implications for the carcinogenic process in general, including tumor growth and metastases.”
This reveals a potentially important aspect of arsenic carcinogenesis and may help explain observances by researchers working with arsenic that arsenic often causes multiple tumors of many types to form on the skin or inside the body. The paper is online in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Waalkes’ lab started working with stem cells about five years ago. The researchers used a prostate stem cell line, not embryonic stem cells.
“Using stem cells to answer questions about disease is an important new growing area of research. Stem cells help to explain a lot about carcinogenesis, and it is highly likely that stem cells are contributing factors to other chronic diseases,” Waalkes said.
Stem cells are unique in the body. They stay around for a long time and are capable of dividing and renewing themselves. “Most cancers take 30 or 40 years to develop,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and NTP. “It makes sense that stem cells may play a role in the developmental basis of adult disease. We know that exposures to toxicants during development and growth can lead to diseases later in life.”
Next, the laboratory team will look to see if this finding is unique to arsenic or if it is applicable to other organic and inorganic carcinogens.
Red wine, fruit compound could help block fat cell formation
April 4, 2012
Kee-Hong Kim found that piceatannol, a compound found in red wine and several fruits, blocks immature fat cells from growing. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A compound found in red wine, grapes and other fruits, and similar in structure to resveratrol, is able to block cellular processes that allow fat cells to develop, opening a door to a potential method to control obesity, according to a Purdue University study.
Kee-Hong Kim, an assistant professor of food science, and Jung Yeon Kwon, a graduate student in Kim’s laboratory, reported in this week’s issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry that the compound piceatannol blocks an immature fat cell’s ability to develop and grow.
While similar in structure to resveratrol – the compound found in red wine, grapes and peanuts that is thought to combat cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases – piceatannol might be an important weapon against obesity. Resveratrol is converted to piceatannol in humans after consumption.
“Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells,” Kim said. “In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis.”
Over a period of 10 days or more, immature fat cells, called preadipocytes, go through several stages to become mature fat cells, or adipocytes.
“These precursor cells, even though they have not accumulated lipids, have the potential to become fat cells,” Kim said. “We consider that adipogenesis is an important molecular target to delay or prevent fat cell accumulation and, hopefully, body fat mass gain.”
Kim found that piceatannol binds to insulin receptors of immature fat cells in the first stage of adipogenesis, blocking insulin’s ability to control cell cycles and activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation. Piceatannol essentially blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.
Piceatannol is one of several compounds being studied in Kim’s laboratory for its health benefits, and it is also present in different amounts in red grape seeds and skin, blueberries, passion fruit, and other fruits.
Kim would like to confirm his current finding, which is based on a cell culture system, using an animal model of obesity. His future work would also include determining methods for protecting piceatannol from degrading so that concentrations large enough would be available in the bloodstream to stop adipogenesis or body fat gain.
“We need to work on improving the stability and solubility of piceatannol to create a biological effect,” Kim said.
The Purdue Research Foundation funded the work.
Soy may alleviate hot flashes in menopause, large-scale study finds
In the most comprehensive study to date to examine the effects of soy on menopause, researchers have found that two daily servings of soy can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes by up to 26 percent, compared to a placebo.
The findings, published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Association, reviewed 19 previous studies that examined more than 1,200 women.
Although the effectiveness of soy in alleviating hot flashes has been inconclusive, with some studies suggesting soy to be beneficial and others suggesting otherwise, much of the discrepancy is due to small sample sizes and inconsistent methodology, according to the authors.
“When you combine them all, we’ve found the overall effect is still positive,” said Melissa Melby, a medical anthropology professor at the University of Delaware and co-author of the study.
Examining the impact of soy isoflavones, chemicals found in soy that exert a mild estrogen-like effect, Melby and her colleagues found:
- Ingesting at least 54 milligrams of soy isoflavones daily for six weeks to a year reduces menopause hot flash frequency by 20.6 percent and severity by 26 percent, compared to a placebo.
- The total reduction in frequency and severity might be even greater due to the placebo effect.
- In longer duration studies (where women consumed soy isoflavones for 12 weeks or more), the decrease in hot flash frequency was approximately threefold greater than in shorter-duration trials.
- Isoflavone supplements with higher levels (at least 19 milligrams) of genistein, one of the two main types of isoflavones, were more than twice as effective at reducing hot flash frequency than lower amounts.
Melby called the genistein result particularly notable because the compound is the primary isoflavone in soybeans and soy foods, suggesting that, “Eating soy foods, or using supplements derived from whole soybeans, may work better for women.”
Each gram of soy protein in soybeans and traditional soyfoods provides approximately 3.5 mg of isoflavones. Two glasses (16 oz) of soymilk or seven ounces of tofu provide approximately 50 mg of isoflavones.
The interest in soy and menopause stems from observational evidence in Japan, where researchers have found the low frequency of hot flashes in Japanese women might be attributed to the high soy consumption that often begins in utero and continues throughout their lifespan.
“Soy is probably more effective in these women,” Melby said. “But if you’re 50 and you’ve never touched soy, it’s not too late. We’ve found that it still helps.”
Researchers find evidence of banned antibiotics in poultry products
Analysis of feather meal suggests continued use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics despite 2005 FDA ban
In a joint study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University found evidence suggesting that a class of antibiotics previously banned by the U.S. government for poultry production is still in use. Results of the study were published March 21 in Environmental Science & Technology.
The study, conducted by the Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future and Arizona State’s Biodesign Institute, looked for drugs and other residues in feather meal, a common additive to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed. The most important drugs found in the study were fluoroquinolones—broad spectrum antibiotics used to treat serious bac-terial infections in people, particularly those infections that have become resistant to old-er antibiotic classes. The banned drugs were found in 8 of 12 samples of feather meal in a multstate study. The findings were a surprise to scientists because fluoroquinolone use in U.S. poultry production was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.
This is the first time investigators have examined feather meal, a byproduct of poultry production made from poultry feathers, to determine what drugs poultry may have received prior to their slaughter and sale.
The annual per capita human consumption of poultry products is approximately 100 lbs, greater than that of any other animal- or vegetable-derived protein source in the U.S. To satisfy this demand, each year, the U.S. poultry industry raises nearly 9 billion broiler chickens and 80 million turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A large percentage of the fresh weight of these animals is inedible—an estimated 33 percent for chickens, for example—and is recycled for other uses, including feather meal.
The rendering industry, which converts animal byproducts into a wide range of materials, processes poultry feathers into feather meal, which is often added as a supplement to poultry, pig, ruminant, and fish feeds or sold as an “organic” fertilizer. In a companion study, researchers found inorganic arsenic in feather meal used in retail fertilizers.
“The discovery of certain antibiotics in feather meal strongly suggests the continued use of these drugs, despite the ban put in place in 2005 by the FDA,” said David Love, PhD, lead author of the report. “The public health community has long been frustrated with the unwillingness of FDA to effectively address what antibiotics are fed to food animals.”
A primary reason for the 2005 FDA ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry production was an alarming increase in the rate of the fluoroquinolone resistance among Campylobacter bacteria. “In recent years, we’ve seen the rate of fluoroquinolone re-sistance slow, but not drop,” noted study co-author Keeve Nachman, PhD, Farming for the Future Program Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “With such a ban, you would expect a decline in resistance to these drugs. The continued use of fluoroquinolones and unintended antibiotic contamination of poultry feed may help ex-plain why high rates of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter continue to be found on commercial poultry meat products over half a decade after the ban.”
In the U.S., antibiotics are introduced into the feed and water of industrially raised poutry, primarily to make them grow faster, rather than to treat disease. An estimated 13.2 million kg of antibiotics were sold in 2009 to the U.S. poultry and livestock industries, which represented nearly 80 percent of all antibiotic sales for use in humans and animals in the U.S. that year.
In conducting the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University analyzed commercially available feather meal samples, acquired from six U.S. states and China, for a suite of 59 pharmaceuticals and personal care products. All 12 samples tested had between 2 and 10 antibiotic residues. In addition to antimicrobials, 7 other personal care products, including the pain reliever ac-etaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), the antihistamine diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) and the antidepressant fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac), were detected.
Researchers also found caffeine in 10 of 12 feather meal samples. “This study reveals yet another pathway of unwanted human exposure to a surprisingly broad spectrum of prescription and over the counter drugs,” noted study co-author Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, Co-Director of the Center for Health Information & Research, and Associate Director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University.
When researchers exposed several strains of E. coli bacteria to the concentrations of antibiotics found in the feather meal samples, they also discovered the drug residues could select for resistant bacteria. “A high enough concentration was found in one of the samples to select for bacteria that are resistant to drugs important to treat infections in humans,” noted Nachman.
“We strongly believe that the FDA should monitor what drugs are going into animal feed,” urged Nachman. “Based on what we’ve learned, I’m concerned that the new FDA guidance documents, which call for voluntary action from industry, will be ineffectual. By looking into feather meal, and uncovering a drug banned nearly 6 years ago, we have very little confidence that the food animal production industry can be left to regulate it-self.”
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