Friday, November 30, 2007

Green Veggies, Smoked Sausage, and Heart Attacks

news you may not knowWhat's With The Tomato?

Yes, of course. It's time to once again laude the most truly green-conscious among us: vegetables. They are health superconductors, easy to grow and harvest, economically prudent, and surprisingly tasty. So, why do the Europeans love them, while the Americans loathe them? Hmm...

In the latest touting of veggies tremendous health benefits, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University say they may be the key to healthy hearts. It's long been known the Mediterranean diet offers protection against cardiovascular disease. Now the scientists think they know why.

Vegetables contain high levels of nitrites. Once digested, these nitrites help produce nitric oxide gas - yes, the same nitric oxide gas viewed as an air pollutant - which in turn helps dilate blood vessels and maintain blood flow. Atherosclerosis damages the cells ability to produce nitric oxide gas, leading to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

"We wondered if feeding animals much lower levels of nitrite and nitrate--equivalent to what people can readily obtain from their diets--could also provide protection from heart-attack injury," said Dr. David Lefer, the study's senior author.

To test their theory, the researchers supplemented the diets of some mice with nitrites for 7 days. They then induced heart attacks in the mice and compared the amount of damage to their hearts with that of mice receiving no nitrites. They found the hearts of the mice receiving nitrites to have about 50% less damage.

"This new appreciation of the health benefits of nitrite and nitrate is ironic," says Dr. Lefer, "They've traditionally been regarded as toxic because they tend to form chemicals called nitrosamines, some of which are carcinogenic. But recent research has found no convincing evidence that nitrite and nitrate pose a cancer risk."

Dr. Lefer notes that Europeans consume an average of 76 mg of nitrite and nitrate daily. Americans consume 0.77 mg - a one hundred percent difference.

"Our study suggests that building up nitrite stores in heart muscle could spell the difference between a mild heart attack and one that causes lasting heart damage or death," says Dr. Lefer. "And since nitrite also accumulate in the brain, they could potentially help minimize the damage from strokes as well."

What about the smoked sausage? Ah... Well, smoked sausage - and bacon, and lunchmeats - contain nitrates. Once consumed, a portion of the nitrates are converted to nitrites and, well... We know all about the benefits of nitrites already.

Does this mean smoked sausage is just as healthy for you as green vegetables? Though science typically stirs debate, the scientists were in universal agreement on this, saying, "Listen to your mother - eat your vegetables."

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about the Mediterranean diet, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Does Beta-Carotene Protect Against Alzheimer's?

tidbits that tantalizeNo, Please - Not The Marshmallows...

OK, admit it. You're just not a big fan of sweet potatoes. It probably started with some horrible childhood Thanksgiving event. Something to do with ooey-gooey marshmallows menacing an otherwise perfectly acceptable root vegetable? Well, you're not alone. But...

New research indicates sweet potatoes may protect you from Alzheimer's. OK, that's not exactly what the results indicate. Still, you may want to rethink your sweet potato aversion.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston say it's all about the beta-carotene. The results suggest long-term use of beta-carotene protects from the declines in memory and cognitive function that usually precede Alzheimer's.

The study tested both long and short-term beta-carotene supplementation. Both supplemented groups took 50mg of beta-carotene every other day, while the control group took a placebo. The short-term group consumed beta-carotene for an average of one year. The long-term group used the beta-carotene supplements for approximately 18 years. Both groups were comprised of healthy men.

The long-term users fared significantly better in cognitive function tests, especially the verbal memory component, than did the short-term users or the non-users. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, and it's thought it protects the brain from oxidative damage.

There are potential increased cancer risks to some people, primarily smokers, who supplement with beta-carotene. So, before you jump on the beta-carotene bandwagon, study the issue closely, and don't exceed the recommended dosage.

Of course, there's always the safe, effective means of getting your beta-carotene - the sweet potato. Yikes!

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about beta-carotene, including a list of foods with high levels of the antioxidant, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Treat Mini-Strokes to Avoid Major Strokes

news you may not knowCome on - Be A Star...

This is not how you want to spend Friday night. You have plans to see friends, maybe take in the new spy thriller at the movies. Or, if your wife prevails, the latest romantic comedy...

Then, a bit of dizziness hits. Nothing too serious, but certainly noticeable. And, there's that touch of numbness on your left check and around your left elbow. But, really you feel pretty good. It's been a long, stressful week and a night out is probably just what you need to relieve the stress and get your batteries recharged. Or...

You could be setting yourself up for a major stroke within the week.

Researchers from the University of England report that failing to treat mini-strokes significantly raises the risk of major strokes. Mini-strokes, known as transient ischemic attacks (TIA), should be treated as a medical emergency, say the researchers.

TIAs are small strokes that are self-resolving and cause no permanent damage. Because of this, people may be tempted to forgo medical treatment. But, though you may enjoy the movie and popcorn, consider:

Patients who receive no treatment for TIAs have an 11% risk of having a major stroke within one week. On the flip side, those who seek immediate treatment for a TIA reduce their risk of having a major stroke within a week to only 1%. That's a huge difference, no matter how Oscar-worthy the movie may be...

Watch for these symptoms of a TIA (from the American Heart Association):

- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)

- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech

- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

- Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you experience any of these symptoms, make a u-turn and head to the emergency room. The movies will wait - you have your own real-life drama unfolding.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about strokes, see this from the American Stroke Association.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


tidbits that tantalizeMay Your Blessings Be Many...

Hoping you have a fabulous day...

Happy Thanksgiving

...Blog will return Monday, 11/26

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sadly, Smokers Stay the Course

news you may not knowYeah, Really - You Can Quit...

Take a look around. If you don't smoke, congratulations. Your future looks bright. But, what about those next to you? The odds are one of the next four people you see will be a smoker.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported the number of smokers in the United States has stabilized. Now, with health related issues, stability is normally a good sign. But, with smoking, it's very bad news indeed.

The rate of U.S. smokers has stalled at over 20%. Think of that. Though we all know the hazards of smoking, one out of every five people continue to puff their lives away.

"Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death and disease in the United States," said Dr. Terry Pechacek, Associate Director for Science in CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The most effective way to reduce tobacco use is by fully implementing sustained comprehensive tobacco control programs that address initiation and cessation at the state and community level."

The stakes are high. Remember that 20% figure? It also represents the percentage deaths each year due to cigarette related diseases. The number of deaths caused by tobacco-related illness exceeds all deaths due to HIV, illegal drug and alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, and murders combined.

What's to be done?

Join the revolution, of course! Get outside. Exercise. Breathe the fresh air. Most of all, change your life forever by finding a way to quit.

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To read more about the health impact of smoking, and to find resources to help quit smoking, see this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Most Vaccines Protect for Decades

news you may not knowHow Often Should You?

Pop quiz. You were vaccinated for smallpox in the 1960's. Now, following the attacks of September 11 in New York, you're concerned about bioterrorism. You've read the U.S. government has stockpiled huge quantities of the smallpox vaccine to protect against a smallpox emergency. How concerned should you be about your personal safety?

Apparently not too much.

A research team at Oregon Health and Science University recently completed a study showing that most vaccine's protective effects last much longer than previously expected. In fact, as with the smallpox vaccination, many vaccines protect for a lifetime.

"So what does this mean? Based on this data and other studies, we may want to consider adjusting some of our recommended vaccination schedules. Doing so may reduce the number of required shots that are administered each year in this country while at the same time help extend limited health care resources," said Dr. Mark Slifka.

Other vaccines that protect for a lifetime include rubella (German measles), mumps, and the Epstein-Barr virus. Diphtheria vaccination offers protection for 19 years and chickenpox vaccination will keep you safe for a full 50 years. Quite impressive.

Tetanus shots are especially interesting.

"Another example is the tetanus vaccine," said Slifka. "Doctors are told that vaccination is effective for a period of 10 years - but after that, people should be revaccinated. Based on our studies and the work of others, once a person has received their primary series of vaccinations they are likely to be protected for at least three decades. Indeed, other countries such as Sweden have changed their vaccination policies and doctors are advised to offer tetanus revaccination only once every 30 years."

The change has not resulted in higher rates of tetanus cases in Sweden, and a similar change in the U.S. could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars.

Pop quiz number 2. You walk past a bakery giving away free samples of their prize-winning triple-layer, dark chocolate cream pie. How worried should you be about...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the currently recommended vaccinations in the United States, see this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Friday, November 16, 2007

MIC-1 Molecule Controls Appetite

tidbits that tantalizeWhat Appetite Problem?

The role of appetite is critical to our health. Eat too much, and a procession of diseases begins to march down the arteries of your overstressed body. Eat too little, and you literally waste away, your body starved of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

This is where MIC-1 comes in.

Scientists at the University of New South Wales and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research say the MIC-1 molecule is the key to appetite. Their recent study assessed the impact of MIC-1 on lab mice with cancer. They discovered that most common cancers result in the production of large amounts of MIC-1. They further found that MIC-1 serves as a powerful appetite suppressant, in effect switching off the appetite in the cancerous mice.

"This work has given us a better understanding of the part of the brain that regulates appetite. Our bodies send complex chemical signals to our brains, which interpret them and send back responses, in this case 'eat' or 'don't eat'. Our research indicated that MIC-1 is a previously unrecognized molecule sending a 'don't eat' signal to the brain," said Professor Herzog, Director of the Neuroscience Research Program at Garvan.

But, when the mice were injected with an antibody that negated the effect of MIC-1, the appetite returned to normal. Extreme weight loss is common in late-stage cancer patients, and often hastens death, as the body rapidly weakens. The ability to reverse this process through restoring the appetite holds great promise.

On the flip side of the appetite equation, the researchers have shown that obese mice treated with MIC-1 eat less. This both confirms the "on-off switch" impact of MIC-1, and holds out the hope of utilizing this knowledge to develop obesity treatments.

The scientists must next develop an antibody appropriate for human use and conduct clinical trials.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To assess your daily caloric needs for weight loss or weight maintenance, see this interactive tool from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bottle Versus Breast Redux

news you may not knowYes - Turn Away While You Can...

It's just what new mothers need, isn't it? A bit more controversy. Another study over which to obsess. So, mothers-to-be and new mothers, be forewarned. The information that follows may be hazardous to the few precious hours of sleep you now manage to steal each night. Look away while you have the chance...

Yes, it's the ongoing debate over bottle and breast-feeding. And, this one strikes at the heart. Or, maybe it's the brain. A recent study indicates that breastfed infants have higher IQs than bottle-fed infants - by about 6 or 7 points on average.

Let the battle begin.

The researchers, from Kings College London, studied 3,200 children in Britain and New Zealand. They identified a specific gene, known as FADS2, which appears to be responsible for the boost in intelligence among breastfed infants.

FADS2 is found in about 90% of the population. It facilitates the processing of omega 3 fatty acids, turning them into nutrients for the brain. The effect on intelligence was consistent, regardless of the mother's IQ or social class.

Previous studies have shown that breastfed infants have fewer infections, respiratory illnesses, and diarrhea.

The researchers acknowledge the need to better understand the role of FADS2, and to continue research into other genes that also influence intelligence.

So, what's a mother to do? Ah, that would be to love your kids and, of course, get some sleep...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about nurturing a healthy baby, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Does Violent TV Produce Violent Kids?

news you may not knowBetter Than Television?

It's an age-old debate. Well, at least a modern television-age (old) debate. How does violence on television impact our children? Is it a direct precursor to increased violence in our classrooms? Or, is it a reasonable means of teaching kids the difference between fantasy and reality?

Well certainly not settling the issue, a new study by scientists at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute sheds some interesting light on the topic.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis and his team analyzed the television viewing habits of over 300 children. The children were between 2 and 5 years old at the study's outset, and their subsequent behavior was assessed again five years later.

The researchers assessed the link between watching 1 hour of violent television each day and the development of aggressive behavior. They found that children who view violence on television, especially boys, are more inclined to develop aggressive behaviors later on.

25 of the 184 boys in the study developed serious aggression-related problems. The scientists' analysis showed that each hour of violent television viewed per day tripled the likelihood the boys would be in this aggression-prone group. That's a stunning result.

What about the girls? In a quite fascinating scientific twist, the girls showed no such effect. They were both more inclined to watch non-violent content, and simply less impacted by the violent content than were the boys. Dr. Christakis theorizes that boys may be genetically pre-disposed to violence, or they may be influenced toward violence by a socialization process.

So, what's a parent to do? Well, first pay attention to what your kids watch, and make sure it's appropriate for their developing brains and psyches. Then, if you want to get really wild, sit down with your kids and read a book. Reading is fabulous for kids - and its quite good for parents as well.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about reading's positive impact on children, see this from Reading Is Fundamental.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Polyphenols Pack Power in Cancer Fight

tidbits that tantalize2002 Napa Valley Polyphenol Red...

Should you drink a full bottle of wine each day? Hmm...

No, it's not a trick question. The right answer is indeed the obvious one - no. Too much wine, just as too much of many good things, quickly crosses the line and becomes a health hazard. But, what if we could derive the health benefit of high doses of wine's polyphenols without having to shop for rehab facilities?

New research from French scientists indicates the benefits of polyphenols are dose dependent. Polyphenols are healthy chemical substances found in many foods, including red wines, fruits, vegetables, and green tea. Prior research has shown polyphenol's antioxidant effects help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The new report indicates that very high levels of polyphenols prevent the formation of cancerous tumors. It appears to do so by blocking the formation of the new blood vessels required to feed the tumors. This is exciting news. Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds that are readily available from a number of sources.

"The use of plant polyphenols as therapeutic tools presents important advantages," said Daniel Henrion, senior author of the study, "because they have a good safety profile, a low cost and they can be obtained everywhere on the planet."

At lower levels, the polyphenols encourage blood vessel growth, an important consideration for those with heart disease or cardiovascular complications.

"When it comes to finding treatments for complex diseases, the answers are sometimes right there waiting to be discovered in unexpected places like the produce aisles and wine racks of the nearest store," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal. "But it takes modern science to isolate the pure compound, test it in the lab, and to go on from there to find new agents to fight disease."

The challenge is now to find a way to convert the polyphenols into a concentrated extract. This would allow the health benefits to be utilized without the offsetting complications of excess alcohol intake. Still...

In the meantime, a daily glass of red wine seems like a wise choice. Ah, yes - don't forget the dark chocolate...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about polyphenols, see this from Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Liver Cancer Treatment Being Studied

news you may not knowYes - This Is Excellent News...

There is a bit of good news in the battle against cancer.

Metastatic liver cancer is especially difficult to treat, and the prognosis is often quite poor. But, researchers from Mayo Clinic Jacksonville hope to change that outlook.

"Most of these patients don't have other effective treatment options, because surgery is not possible if there are multiple tumors in their liver," says the study's lead investigator, Laura Vallow, M.D. "But with this radiotherapy, no new tumors developed in patients who responded and we find this to be very encouraging."

Vallow and her team are exploring the use of tiny radioactive spheres to treat patients with multiple tumors of the liver. Though similar in theory to the treatment of prostate cancer, the scale is vastly different. The radioactive seeds used to treat prostate cancer are about the size of a grain of rice. The spheres used in this new therapy are each about one-third the diameter of a human hair.

The therapy targets the liver by directly injecting millions of the tiny spheres into the liver's blood supply, via the hepatic artery. Once injected, the spheres deliver radiation to the tumors for around eleven days.

The initial results, though based on small patient numbers, are extremely encouraging. 71% of the patients responded positively to the treatment, as evidenced by a decrease in tumor size. Of even greater significance, those who responded positively also fared well at the end of the 10-month follow-up period. No new tumors were detected among the 71% with initial positive results.

"Liver function tests in the responding patients have become normal or have stabilized," says Vallow.

While additional, larger scale, studies are still needed to assess the most effective uses for this therapy, this is still very good news. The FDA approved the therapy in 2002.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about liver cancer, including treatment options, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

There's No Resisting Chocolate

tidbits that tantalizeDon't Even Think About It...

Don't think about Penguins...

It's something we've known all our lives: the more you try not to think about something, the harder it is to get it out of your mind. Who hasn't had an advertising jingle float about their brain for days on end? Or, a scene from a movie play on an endless loop in your brain's private screening room?

A research team at the University of Hertfordshire, led by Dr. Erskine, decided it was time to explore the science behind the phenomenon.

They chose chocolate as the experimental temptation. They then recruited 134 young men and women, and divided them into test groups. Each group was given two brands of chocolate to evaluate. But, they were also given additional tasks designed to encourage, or to suppress, their thoughts of chocolate.

The results were both interesting and calorie laden.

Those who attempted to suppress thoughts of chocolate actually ate more than the control group, who were under no thought constraints. This "rebound effect" was found in men and women.

Interestingly, the study also discovered that men who actively think about chocolate tend to take action. Men ate more chocolate than women who also actively thought about chocolate.

Though this study dealt specifically with chocolate, its results could shed light on a wide range of behaviors.

"These findings open the door to a whole host of potential candidates for such effects," said Dr Erskine. "For example, does trying not to think about having another drink make it more likely, or does trying not to think, or to think aggressively lead to aggressive behaviour? These questions are vitally important if we are to understand the ways in which thought control engenders the very behaviour one wanted to avoid."

Now you know. No sense in trying to not think about chocolate any longer. So, go ahead - grab the penguin and head on over to the candy aisle...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To explore the richness of chocolate, see this from The Field Museum, Chicago.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Poor Sleep Means Trouble

news you may not knowYou Think Sleep Would Help?

Feeling a tad grouchy are we? Hmm...

Sure, it could be any number of things. The fact the car was low on gas when you were already running late. Or, the fact you sped off without retrieving your morning coffee from the roof of the car. Or, the giant coffee stain now covering a third of your newly washed auto. Or...

It could be a bad night's sleep.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley say the lack of sleep has numerous negative effects. Among them, of course, is the aforementioned bad mood. But, that may be the least serious impact of sleep deprivation.

"It's almost as though, without sleep, the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity, in that it was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce controlled, appropriate responses," said Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and senior author of the study.

The study revealed that a lack of sleep heightens activity in the part of the brain governing anxiety, depression, and psychiatric disorders. The amygdala, which controls the fight-or-flight reflex, becomes hyperactive during a sleep-deprived episode, and consequently overrides the calming, rational effect of the pre-frontal cortex. The result is a hyper active emotional state, characterized by broad mood swings.

"The emotional centers of the brain were over 60 percent more reactive under conditions of sleep deprivation than in subjects who had obtained a normal night of sleep," Walker said.

It's hoped further study will shed light on the role of sleep deprivation in psychiatric conditions. Previous research has implicated sleep deprivation as being a component of virtually all psychiatric disorders.

So, next time it feels like life is attacking you from all sides, fight back with your newfound knowledge. Curl up with a good book, drift gently off, and sleep tight...

To read more about the study, see this from UCBerkeleyNews. To learn more about sleep disorders, see this from the National Sleep Foundation.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Women, Iron Deficiencies, and Chronic Coughs

tidbits that tantalizeIt's The Iron?

It's that time of year...

Trips to the drugstore to replenish the cough drops become as routine as your morning stops at Starbucks. Sure, the leaves are changing color and beginning to swirl softly to the ground. But, it's the ever-present tickle in your throat and constant coughing that tells you fall is here and winter is on its way.

Or, at least, that's how it may seem for some otherwise healthy women.

Which begs the question: why do women more frequently suffer from unexplained chronic coughs than men?

Dr. Caterina Bucca, of the University of Turin, suggests the persistent coughs experienced by women may have nothing to do with their respiratory system as such. She studied a group of 16 women, all healthy and without complicating factors, to assess the reason for their chronic coughs. The women had normal lung function, and no asthma or other respiratory disease.

What did she find?

It's all about the iron.

In all 16 women, Dr. Bucca found an iron deficiency. This resulted in inflamed mucous membranes, as well as sensitive vocal cords and, of course, the previously unexplained chronic cough.

Dr. Bucca points out that women are naturally more susceptible to iron deficiencies due to pregnancy and menstruation. Fortunately, the fix is quite simple - a bit of iron supplementation should do the trick. After 2 months of iron supplements, the coughing and inflammation of the vocal cords completely resolved, or greatly improved, in the 16 women.

So, next time you find yourself struggling with a chronic cough, ask your doctor about "pumping a little iron." It may be just the tonic your throat needs...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency, see this from the Mayo Clinic.