June 2010 Natural Medicine in the News

CAFFEINE AFFECTS GRANDCHILDREN’S BIRTH WEIGHT: A Dutch study examined the effects of a high intake of caffeine from coffee and tea during pregnancy on fetal growth and development. Babies of women with a high caffeine intake – defined as six or more cups a day – were smaller in length. More surprising, the offspring of mothers who had a high caffeine intake during pregnancy tended to have an increased risk of giving birth to babies that were small for their gestational age. Released at the end of April, this study will be published in print in a future, as yet unknown, issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

ADULT DEATHS ARE NOT DROPPING: While child and maternity death rates have plunged worldwide, a study concludes that premature death rates among adults 15 to 60 years of age have not declined and vary wildly between countries. The US premature death rate exceeded those of all European countries and several other countries. The study was published April 30, 2010 in the medical journal, The Lancet. In a separate study, researchers found that Canadians enjoy an extra 2.7 years of healthy lifetime, compared to Americans. This second study was published in the April 29, 2010 issue of Biomed Central’s journal, Population Health Metrics.

‘GREEN’ EXERCISE BOOSTS MENTAL HEALTH: Exercising in the green, natural environments has long been known to boost – not necessarily the physical health benefit – but one’s mood, self-esteem and odds of avoiding mental illness such as depression and other psychological conditions. But a study has pinpointed exactly how much time spent working out in green environments – not sitting around outside but actually exercising in those parks, gardens, nature trails and nature-heavy environments – is required to achieve maximum mental health benefit. And it’s a mere five minutes. The study conclusions were released on May 1, by the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

A reduced risk of later food allergies might result from delaying the introduction of certain solid foods into an infant’s diet. One 2009 study suggested that delaying the introduction of eggs, oats or wheat until the age of six months lowered the risk of later development of food allergies. And late introduction of potatoes or fish may lower the risk of developing allergies to any inhaled allergens such as pollen, animal pollen and dust mites.

OLIVE OIL MAY PREVENT COLITIS: A higher consumption of oleic acid could prevent half of all cases of ulcerative colitis, suggests a new study. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil and supplements. For 11 years, researchers followed 25,000 people who did not have this disease and assessed their diets. Those who consumed the most oleic acid showed a 90 percent lower incidence of getting ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disorder characterized by ulcers or sores. The study’s conclusions were presented today, May 2, at the Digestive Disease Week conference in New Orleans.

ASPIRIN RAISES RISK OF CROHN’S DISEASE: A large study involving 200,000 volunteers has found that people who take aspirin every day for a year or more could be as much as five times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease. The risk of ulcerative colitis was not found to be higher. Crohn’s is characterized by inflammation and swelling of any part of the digestive system. If you take aspirin regularly, or have been advised to do so, consult with your natural health physician. This study was presented May 3, at the Digestive Disease Week conference in New Orleans and has not been scheduled to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

PREVENTIVE MEDICINE COULD SLASH DEATH RATES: A new study using mathematical models to predict how greater use of preventive health would influence death rates has found that 50,000 to 100,000 deaths in people under age 80 could be prevented each year. The findings came as a surprise to the study team, which looked at the cumulative impact of employing preventive strategies such as smoking cessation; better screening for cholesterol and blood pressure levels and cancer; and earlier treatments. The study was released in early May but will not be published until the June, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

ALCOHOL IN PREGNANCY COULD CAUSE LEUKEMIA IN CHILDREN: A study released online today by the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that women who drink during pregnancy might be increasing the risk of acute myeloid leukemia in their children by 56 percent. The amount of alcohol consumed was not assessed and women were simply designated as yes or no – drank during pregnancy or didn’t. Despite recommendations against drinking during pregnancy, 12 percent of American – and 59 percent of Australian – women still do. The study details will be published in a future, not-yet-decided issue of the journal.

Contrary to common belief, even skim milk is not fat-free: five percent of skim milk’s calories come from fat. A full 34 percent of the calories contained in partly skimmed of “two percent” milk come from fat. It’s called two percent milk because the fat content makes up two percent of the total weight of the milk. Whole milk contains 48 percent fat by calories. (For comparison, lean hamburger runs about 64 percent fat by calories.)

SERVING STRATEGY INCREASES CHILDREN’S VEGETABLE INTAKE: A study has found that serving hungry pre-school children carrots, by themselves, ten minutes before the main course of lunch arrives, results in children voluntarily consuming a far greater quantity of any other vegetables included in the main course. It also decreases calories consumed and increases the nutritional value. One ounce of pre-lunch carrots doubled the amount of broccoli eaten at lunch compared to children given no carrots; two ounces of pre-lunch carrots tripled the broccoli consumed at lunch. The study appears in the May 5, 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

MAGNET THERAPY FOR DEPRESSION: Many treatment-resistant depressed patients do not respond to antidepressant drugs and yet suffer troublesome side effects. But a study suggests some patients suffering from major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, may do better by getting zapped by a large electromagnet. The non-invasive procedure shows patients experienced significant antidepressant effects with few side effects, using the procedure known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). Of the patients receiving rTMS, 14 percent achieved remission, compared to 5 percent of patients receiving the control – or simulated – treatment. The study appears in the May, 2010 issue of the journal, Archives of General Psychiatry.

MATERNAL SMOKING LINKED TO ODDS OF ADOLESCENT SMOKING: A US government study shows those aged 12 to 17 who live with mothers who smoke or had a major depressive episode – depression – during the past year, are much more likely to smoke. The adolescents’ were three times more likely to smoke if their mothers smoked; two times more likely if their mothers suffered depression during the past year; and four times more likely if their mothers both smoked and suffered depression. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health report was posted May 7, 2010 on the Office of Applied Studies website and can be read in non-technical detail at http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k10/166/166SmokingMomsHTML.pdf.

STUDY SAVES LAB MICE FROM NEEDLESS SUFFERING: Although human babies can express discomfort and pain through facial expressions, it has never been proven that nonhuman animals can do so. But researchers have discovered precisely measurable expressions in mice exposed to moderate pain; and developed the subtle Mouse Grimace Scale (MGS). The MGS should facilitate human-pain research, improve veterinary care – and prevent unnecessary lab-mice suffering. Experiments could also determine the MGS works for other species. The study was released online May 9, 2010 as a brief abstract but will be published in full-text format in a future issue of the journal, Nature Methods.

BRAN REDUCES DIABETICS’ MORTALITY: A 26-year study on 7,822 diabetic women has found a higher intake of whole grain – but especially of bran, a whole grain component rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber – lowers the risk of death from cardiovascular disease among women with type 2 diabetes by 35 percent. Also, for this group, greater whole grain, and especially bran, intake reduces the overall risk of death from all causes by 28 percent. “Higher intake” means the top 20 percent of average bran consumption. This brief summary was released May 10, 2010 but details won’t be made available until a future issue of the journal, Circulation.

Your body may make better use of supplemental vitamin D if you take it with your largest meal of the day, boosting its uptake over a two- to three-month period, by as much as 56 percent, according to a study at the Cleveland Clinic, detailed in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Vitamin D is loosely linked with a decreased risk of autoimmune disorders. If you’re considering taking vitamin D supplements, talk to your natural health practitioner about dosages.

INJECTABLE CURCUMIN CAN RETARD CANCER: A new study suggests a new form of curcumin can treat breast cancer. A compound in the Indian spice turmeric, curcumin contains potentially anti-cancer components called polyphenols. But when taken by mouth, curcumin’s bioavailability, or absorption level, is very limited. Scientists created a special molecular form known as curcumin microparticles, which can be injected under the skin. They found a single injection boosted curcumin levels for almost a month and showed marked anticancer activity in mice. A very brief summary of this study was released May 11, 2010 but the full text won’t be available until a future issue of both the online and print editions of the journal, Cancer Research.

‘GOOD FATS’ BENEFIT: A study suggests foods rich in good fats may partly offset the risk factors for ischemic heart disease (IHD). Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and aging are risk factors for IHD, a reduced blood supply to the heart. But IHD rates are low in Spain, where risk factors are high. So scientists compared blood levels of unsaturated fats in healthy people with those showing signs of IHD and concluded greater levels of oleic, alpha-linolenic and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – found in olive oil, walnuts and fish, respectively – protected against IHD. This brief summary was released May 12 but details are withheld until a future issue of the online and print editions of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET CONFIRMED RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS: A study has concluded that the Greek diet, which is generally similar to the plant-based Mediterranean diet (MD), is a rich source of a variety of antioxidants, including flavonoids, proanthocyanidins and other antioxidant micro-components. The researchers suggest this may be the reason for the health benefits of the MD. Over 200 foods and recipes were involved and their consumption was estimated using dietary statistics on over 28,000 Greeks. Antioxidants are molecules that can stop chain reactions, called oxidation, which potentially can damage cells. A brief summary was released May 12, 2010 and further details, which will appear in a future print issue of the Journal of Nutrition, are now available online – with fee payment or journal subscription – at: http://bit.ly/cBOD1k.

TESTOSTERONE-SLEEP LINK: The level of sleep known as deep sleep, which is about 10 to 20 percent of sleep time in young men, is when recuperation of body and mind is optimal. Men’s deep sleep begins to diminish around age 40; and by age 50, decreases to five to seven percent of total sleep. For men over 60, deep sleep can disappear altogether. Male testosterone drops by one to two percent a year after age 30 and scientists have long suggested sleep loss may cause the hormonal drop. But a new study suggests it’s the other way around: decreases in testosterone lower the high synchronization required between (also diminishing) brain cells, affecting sleep. This brief summary was presented in Montreal on May 13 at the annual conference of the Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS); at this time, it is not expected to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

GENES DETERMINE FAT LOCATION: A study explains why men accumulate excess adipose, or fat, tissue on the belly while women accumulate fat on their hips. Genetic composition of the fat stored in these different areas is almost completely different. Almost all of the genes found in male belly fat were different from the genes found in female hip fat. This shocked researchers who had expected the reverse – that almost all the genes in that fat tissue would be the same between the sexes. Given the differences in genetic makeup, a woman’s fat cannot be expected to behave in the same way, or locate in the same place, as a man’s fat tissue. Published in the May 14, 2010 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, further details of this study are available only to subscribers or those willing to pay a fee, at: http://bit.ly/bfe6yc.

ACTIVITY, NOT JUST EXERCISE, IMPROVES COPD: A study has determined that the day-to-day functioning of COPD – or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – patients is much more improved by an increase in the number and variety of daily physical activities such as walking to the bank or doing housework, than by an increase in formal exercise routines. In other words, formal exercise programs can increase physical fitness in COPD patients but the resultant day-to-day functional ability is still very limited by disease severity; but those who had a more active, task-oriented lifestyle – without formal exercise – were better able to rise above their COPD severity. COPD refers to chronic bronchitis and emphysema, in both of which the airways of the lungs become narrowed. This study was presented May 16 at the American Thoracic Society’s 2010 annual conference in New Orleans and will be published online and in print at some future point.

With all the bottled waters on the market today, it’s difficult to tell one type from another. Here are a few of the definitions. Usually, mineral water contains at least 500 parts per million dissolved mineral solids such as sodium, magnesium or calcium. Sparkling water is carbonated water in which the gases dissolved in the water are “captured” in the water by capping the bottle before they can escape. Club soda is artificially carbonated tap water to which minerals have been added. Seltzer is artificially carbonated tap water that frequently is flavored or sweetened, making it high in calories.

PROCESSED MEAT LINKED TO HEART DISEASE: Regular consumption of processed meat such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats or processed deli meats could result in a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study. The research did not find a greater risk of heart disease or diabetes as a result of greater consumption of unprocessed red meat such as from beef, pork or lamb. Most dietary guidelines recommend a lower intake of red meat but little research focuses on the issue of red meat versus processed red meat. Processed meat was defined as any meat involving smoking, curing, salting or chemical preservatives. The study was released May 17; the full-text version will be published in a future edition of both the online and print editions of the journal, Circulation.

VISUAL TASK REDUCES FOOD CRAVINGS: Developing vivid mental images of nonfood items, or watching them on a screen, can reduce or eliminate food cravings, suggests a new study. Food cravings are different from hunger in that they focus on specific foods. Mental imagery has been found to be a strong component of food cravings and in fact, mathematical and memory performances are reduced when food cravings – and the strong visual imagery of specific foods – are present. New evidence shows that switching the imagery to something else, such as a rainbow or a flickering pattern, and even certain odors, can decrease cravings. The study suggests that smart phones and other devices could be harnessed to reduce cravings for both food and drugs. This study was published in the May 18, 2010 edition of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science; access to details is limited to registered members of the media or the Association for Psychological Science.

DIET LOWERS RISK OF HEART ATTACK: Portugal and Galacia – a region in northwest Spain – are known for very low rates of death from acute myocardial infarction (AMI), or heart attack. To assess whether diet plays a role, researchers studied what they termed the South European Atlantic Diet (SEAD), which is traditional in these regions. This diet includes fruit, sausage, potatoes, olive oil, legumes, vegetables, whole-grain bread, wine and most notably, a very large intake of cod, other fish and soup. Those subjects who scored in the highest quarter of adherence to the SEAD experienced a 33 percent lower incidence of nonfatal acute myocardial infarction (AMI) than the quarter that least adhered to this diet. The team concluded that overall, the SEAD may be behind the lower risk; but added that some SEAD foods could help prevent AMI while others may not. This brief summary was released May 19. Further details won’t be available until a future issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

AB FAT RAISES LATER DEMENTIA RISK: Otherwise healthy adults may be at risk for dementia in later life as a result of excess abdominal fat during middle-age, suggests a new study. Those who had higher obesity measures such as Body Mass Index (BMI) or waist-to-hip ratio showed a greater rate of dementia factors such as brain volume or white matter volume. This study carries more weight because it included 733 subjects while previous studies showing similar results included fewer than 300 people. It also showed a stronger connection between dementia and fat located specifically around the abdomen. Dementia can result from irreversible causes such Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Huntington’s disease, or from reversible conditions such as brain tumor, medication reaction or metabolic issues. This brief summary was released May 20, but further details won’t be available until a future edition of the Annals of Neurology.

YOGA HELPS CANCER SURVIVORS: As many as two thirds of cancer patients suffer regularly from fatigue and difficulty sleeping long after their treatments have been discontinued. But a new study offers these people the promise of better sleep and improved quality of life. Researchers found that cancer survivors who perform gentle yoga twice a week report they sleep better, feel less tired and enjoy better quality of life. The regimen included “breathing exercises, gentle Hatha and restorative yoga postures and mindfulness exercises.” The largest study of its type, this brief outline was released May 20. Full details will be available when the study is formally presented at the June, 2010 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Evidence is growing that air pollution, especially fine particulate matter, can trigger cardiovascular death within a few hours of exposure among those who are at risk. Long-term exposure can shorten lifespan by a few months to a few years. To cut the risk of pollution-triggered death, seek treatment for underlying heart risk factors: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. Also, those with heart problems should monitor air quality reports and stay indoors or limit activity during high-particulate days. For guidance, speak to your natural health practitioner; for detailed information, visit: http://bit.ly/cQhl4g.

DIABETES 2 RAISES RISK OF VARIOUS CANCERS: A large study of type 2 diabetes patients – so large that it involved half of all type 2 diabetics in Sweden – has found them to be at increased risk of many types of cancer. The reason for the higher risk is still not clear but may result, conclude researchers, from “the profound metabolic disturbances of the underlying disease.” The highest risks were found for liver and pancreatic cancers, which occurred six times and four times more often, respectively, among type 2 diabetics. Risks were also greater for upper aero-digestive tract, esophageal, colon, rectal, lung, cervical, endometrial, ovarian and kidney cancers. Interestingly, there was a lower risk of prostate cancer. This brief summary was released early online, but the full-text version of this study will be published in the June, 2010 issue of The Oncologist.

SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES LINKED TO HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: A study suggests that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks results in a reduction of blood pressure readings among adults. In this study of 810 adults, reducing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages by just one serving a day produced a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic readings – meaning the upper and lower numbers in a blood pressure reading. An analysis of diet drink and caffeine consumption showed no blood pressure effect, suggesting that it is the actual sugar content of these beverages that is producing the higher blood pressure readings. Sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages have previously been associated with a higher risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. A brief summary of this study was released May 24 but details will not be made available until the study is published in the online and print editions of a future issue of the journal, Circulation.

FOLATE MAY PREVENT ALCOHOL DAMAGE IN FETUSES: A study on mice suggests that high levels of the B vitamin folate – folic acid – prevented heart-related birth defects caused by alcohol exposure during early pregnancy, a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol-related congenital heart defects often develop in the embryo during a period when a woman may still be drinking because she does not yet know she is pregnant, a period of perhaps 16 to 18 days. The dose of folate required was considerably larger than the standard dietary recommendation of 400 micrograms. The researchers stressed that the protective effect was only seen when folate was taken very early in pregnancy and prior to the time of alcohol exposure. The study was released in brief summary format but the full-text version is available for the payment of a fee at the following web page of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: http://bit.ly/cP8J7b.

BRUSHING TEETH MAY CUT HEART RISK: Research released today by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests that those who brush their teeth less than twice a day experience a 70 percent greater risk of heart disease. The 8-year study of 11,869 men and women also showed that those with generally poor dental hygiene had higher levels of certain inflammatory markers – such the C-reactive protein – often seen as heart disease risk factors. Despite the pronounced difference in risk between those brushing twice daily and once daily, the overall risk of heart disease from inadequate dental hygiene was still low for both groups. Details of the study appear in the May 29, 2010 issue of the BMJ.

PRENATAL EXPOSURE TO BPA AND DES MAY CAUSE BREAST CANCER: Research now released suggests that exposure in the womb to the chemicals bisphenol-A (BPA) and diethylstilbestrol (DES) can induce genetic changes that increase an offspring’s risk of developing breast cancer as an adult. BPA, DES and similar compounds are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are substances in the environment that interfere with the proper functioning of hormones and affect how genes are expressed in breast tissue. Exposure to these compounds before birth increased in mice, levels of a protein called EZH2, which is associated with higher breast cancer risk. It’s important to note that mouse studies do not necessarily apply to humans; but females known to be exposed pre-birth should be monitored for breast cancer as adults, the study authors recommend. The study will appear in a future issue of the journal, Hormones and Cancer but is currently available online free of charge in its full-text version at:

HOW ACUPUNCTURE WORKS NOW CONFIRMED: Clarifying how acupuncture may work to reduce pain, a study shows that, at the site applied, acupuncture needles increase levels of a molecule called adenosine, a natural compound that regulates sleep, anti-inflammatory responses – and painkilling. Research previously showed an increase in brain-signaling and painkilling endorphins when the central nervous system is affected by acupuncture. But this study found that stimulation of nerve endings not linked to the brain and spinal cord also increase levels of adenosine. Mice bred to have no adenosine received no pain benefit from acupuncture; mice whose adenosine was “turned on” received benefit without acupuncture; and mice with normal adenosine had pain reduced by two thirds while adenosine levels at the needle site jumped 24 times normal levels. This study will be published in a future issue of Nature Neuroscience, no sooner than the July 2010 issue and usually, full details would be available before then only with subscription or fee payment. However, this full-text study was released May 30 without cost at: http://bit.ly/dogW0U.

Personally mixing and applying insecticides just six times a year may be a factor in acquiring autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus and especially, rheumatoid arthritis. One 2009 study suggested the risk for those personally handling insecticides on farms may be twice as high compared to those who do not use, or come into contact with, these sprays. Is it skin exposure? Inhalation? This research was preliminary and further studies are needed.

Even at low levels generally considered to pose little or no risk, exposure to environmental lead might increase – by as much as 2.3 times – the risk of depression and panic disorder but not of generalized anxiety disorder. That was the suggestion of a Canadian study appearing in the December, 2009 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. Gender and ethnicity were also factors and the researchers stressed that lead exposure cannot be determined to be a cause of these psychological problems.