Friday, May 30, 2008

Give Fruit the Squeeze for Better Health

tidbits that tantalizeThey've Got the Good Stuff...

This is terrific news. Not only can you take out your frustrations on a defenseless piece of fruit, but it's good for you. Sure, you'll lower your blood pressure by venting - but, the real benefit is in the juice. It's even better for you than the whole fruit.

Researchers at the Universite Montpellier find that smashing fruit prior to consumption is a smashing health success. They studied three groups of hamsters that were living large. The little test subjects were fed diets high in fat and cholesterol, worthy of any self-destructive college student. But, some of them were also fed fruit or fruit juice.

The control group was given water, while the other two groups received either whole fruit or fruit juice. The groups fed fruit and juices showed the greatest abilities to fight off atherosclerosis, the build up of plaque in the arteries that often causes strokes and heart attacks. Purple grape juice had the largest impact, followed by whole purple grapes, apple juice and then whole apples.

The phenols contained in the fruits and juices protect against atherosclerosis through their antioxidant effects. Previous studies pointed to the benefit of diets high in antioxidant foods, but this is the first study to indicate juicing may increase the health benefits of fruit. This study found apples and grapes have about the same phenol content. But, purple grape juice has about 2.5 times the phenol content as apple juice. Other recent studies have shown purple grape juice has the same health benefits of red wine, but without the alcohol.

So, go ahead - grab some fruit and smash away. Ease your tensions, lower your blood pressure, fight against heart disease. Oh, yeah - and enjoy a terrifically refreshing drink at the same time.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the health benefits of purple grapes, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prostate Cancer Screening Effective

news you may not knowWhat About Screening?

Sure, this may get a bit uncomfortable. For the guys, at least. This is one of those times the gals can sit back and relax - unless, of course, there's a guy in her life she cares about. In that case, she should pay attention as well. As a matter of fact, she should pay close attention, because guys don't have the best track record when it comes to routine medical screenings.

Prostate cancer is a killer.

But, when detected early enough, it is highly treatable. Early...

A unique program in the Austrian state of Tyrol has set the medical community abuzz. Beginning in 1993, the state began to offer free PSA screening for prostate cancer. The PSA test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in a man's blood. A high level indicates the possibility of prostate cancer, and a biopsy is then performed to confirm the diagnosis.

The results of the free screening are most impressive. The death rate from prostate cancer in Tyrol dropped by 54%, compared to just 29% in the rest of Austria. The scientist point to early detection as the key to the lower rate. Prior to the free screenings, only 11% of Tyrolean men were screened for prostate cancer; after the free screenings began this jumped to an impressive 87%.

Even with these impressive results, not everyone is on board. Some physicians believe PSA tests detect some cancers that grow so slowly they will never become life threatening. The American Cancer Society recommends annual PSA exams beginning at age 50; for African Americans, who are at greater risk, they recommend beginning at age 45.

So, should you or shouldn't you? Consider: American men have a one in six chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer; in 2008, it's estimated 186,000 American men will be diagnosed and 28,000 will die from prostate cancer; when diagnosed and treated in the early stages nearly 100% of men are cancer free after 5 years. 100%. It doesn't get much better.

Gals - now that you've read this, go tell your guys...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about prostate cancer, including screening and prevention, see this from the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Is Single Enzyme Key to Appetite, Weight and Diabetes?

news you may not knowI See a Magic Bullet in Your Future

Yes, it's time once again to discuss the proverbial magic bullet. You know, that simple little pill you take once each day that solves all of life's ills. Or, in this case, the dietary trifecta of appetite, weight control and diabetes. So, what are the odds of such a little pill? Well...

Scientists at Duke University Medical Center are doing their best to make the magic bullet a reality. "We believe we have identified an important drug development target that could potentially turn into a metabolic triple play: appetite control, weight loss and blood sugar management," said Tony Means, PhD.

He and his team have isolated a single enzyme, known as CaMKK2, which may revolutionize the way we treat appetite, obesity and diabetes. The enzyme, which was tested in mice, is found in the hypothalamus and is known to have a significant role in appetite stimulation. It's triggered by a hormone in the gut, ghrelin, which kicks into high gear when the stomach is empty. The result is a cascade of appetite and hunger, French fries and chocolate shakes.

But, Means found that blocking CaMKK2 had an amazing impact. The mice genetically engineered to lack the CaMKK2 enzyme stayed skinny even on a high fat diet. His team also found that directly blocking CaMKK2 in mice through injections caused them to eat less and lose weight.

Good news indeed.

The challenge is now to develop an appropriate delivery mechanism for use with humans. In the meantime, while we await the magic bullet, consider the more conventional approach to appetite control: smaller portions, fresh air and exercise. Who knows, you just may stumble upon your very own natural magic bullet.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about developing healthy eating habits, see this from Harvard University.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arms, Legs and Alzheimer's

tidbits that tantalizeIt's Really Not Fair...

As if being immortalized in Randy Newman's "Short People" weren't insult enough, it now appears the medical community wants a piece of the action. Talking about kicking someone when they're already "down." Sorry...

Researchers at Tufts University find that shorter arm and leg length are associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's and other dementias. This link had previously been observed in Asian populations, but this is the first study to validate the association in the United States.

"Because the development of the brain region most severely affected by Alzheimer's disease coincides with the greatest change in limb length, we thought it was possible that men and women with shorter limbs could be at greater risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said Tuft's researcher Tina L. Huang, PhD.

Women were found to be at the greatest risk. Those women with the shortest arm spans were 50% more likely to develop Alzheimer's or dementia. A shorter span from a woman's knee to the floor also increased the risk. For men, only the shorter arm span was associated with an increased risk.

The findings suggest a link to early childhood development, with those children receiving a better diet developing more quickly and growing taller. "Reduced height for age, or stunting, is thought to be most closely tied to environment and the quality of diet in early life, which corresponds with periods of the fastest leg growth," said Huang. "As a result, environment in the first years of life may play an important role in determining future dementia risk."

So, while life certainly isn't fair, there are steps to be taken when raising your own children. Do all you can to feed them well and see they get a leg up in life. Oh, and the next time you see Randy Newman, go ahead - kick him in the shins.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about feeding your children a healthy diet, see Kids & Nutrition, a great site developed by North Dakota State University.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wal-Mart Pharmacy: Friend or Foe?

tidbits that tantalizeThey May be Little, But They're Pricey...

The battle rages on. On the one hand, you have the traditionalists. These are the folks who believe in good old-fashioned values; and good old-fashioned, local companies. They see Wal-Mart as the archenemy, the Big Box Bully who sweeps into town and destroys local businesses without a second thought. On the other hand, you have the progressives. They look to the future of discounted prices in every aisle, bigger and better toys sold at ever-lower prices. They see local store closings as a sign of progress.

The new battleground is medicine.

Wal-Mart jumped into the health care fray in 2006, when it began offering prescriptions for certain generic drugs for $4. Now, they're expanding the program to offer 90-day prescriptions of certain generics for only $10. They're also joining the trend of opening in-store health clinics that offer basic health care services.

Is this good news?

Well, that's a debate that will not soon be settled. But, the need for cost controls in our health care system is without question. It's a big issue in the coming presidential election, and a look at some basic numbers reveals why.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) tracked the price of consumer medications from 2000 to 2007. The average price increase in the brand name drugs it studied was 48.6%, or 5.8% per year. For generic medications, the average increase in price was just 7%, or 1% per year. For comparison, the Consumer Price Index, which is the standard measure of inflation, rose by 19.9%, or 2.6% per year.

So, love them or hate them, Wal-Mart is addressing a real community need. If you favor a different solution, then do a little studying and go to the polls this fall. Vote for the candidate whose health care plan makes the most sense.

In the meantime, stay healthy - it's the best option to keep health care costs low.

To read more about the Wal-Mart pharmacy plan, see this from Reuters. To read more about making exercise a routine part of your life, see this from

Friday, May 16, 2008

Some Americans Living Shorter Lives

news you may not knowDid You Say Exercise?

How long do you want to live?

It may seem an odd question, but... You may very well be the only person who can determine the answer. In a disturbing report, from Harvard University and the University of Washington, researchers find that certain segments of the population are now living shorter lives. This is virtually unheard of in advanced countries, where life expectancies naturally increase with advances in health care.

But, being the world leader in all-things-convenient and all-things-tasty-but-unhealthy, the United States also leads the way in preventable disease. Sure, we have terrific ways to treat obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. We just haven't found a way, as a society, to bite the bullet and lead the healthy lives that would avoid theses diseases in the first place.

"There is now evidence that there are large parts of the population in the United States whose health has been getting worse for about two decades," said Majid Ezzati, lead author of the study.

The scientists found that overall the life expectancies of Americans continue to increase. But, for about 26 million women the news is not so good. Starting in the 1980s, when women really got into the swing of bad living with their male counterparts, they too began to reap the rewards. Smoking, obesity and diabetes exact a heavy price and, for the first time since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, about 19% of women are experiencing stagnant or even shortened life spans.

What's to be done? Well, it appears a partnership is in order between public policy and private behavior. Public health policies must be enacted that assure access to health care for all individuals, and they must emphasize prevention. But, even with better access to health care, people must step up and do their part. That, of course, means better exercise, no smoking, and better diets.

So, back to that original question - how long do you want to live? Think about it...

To read more about the study, see this from Harvard University. For some simples ideas on living a healthier life, see this from

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Doctors Often Overlook High Blood Pressure

news you may not knowYeah, Low Is Good...

High blood pressure, known as the silent killer, is also apparently the Rodney Dangerfield of medicine. Like the forlorn comedian, high blood pressure "don't get no respect." It's not surprising, in our day of anything goes lifestyles, that patients often ignore the dangers of hypertension. But, a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine shows doctors are every bit as guilty of disrespecting this dreaded disease as anyone.

"Doctors should be screening more routinely during all office visits," said co-author Randall Stafford, MD, PhD.

A look at the numbers confirms the dilemma. Only 56% of patients are screened for hypertension during office visits. Much of this has to do with specialists who often don't feel the need to screen for medical conditions outside of their area of expertise. Says lead author Jun Ma, MD, PhD, "The thinking goes, 'I'm a dermatologist so I don't need to screen for high blood pressure.'"

The results are disturbing. More than 65 million Americans suffer from hypertension, a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, stroke and kidney disease. Yet, only 39% of these patients have blood pressures within an acceptable range.

The researchers emphasize the need for more aggressive screening by physicians and - get ready - strongly recommend significant lifestyle changes. The changes they recommend include losing weight, reducing salt intake, eating more vegetables and exercising more often. Yikes! It sounds just like all the advice other people give about living a healthy life. Hmm...

Don't despair - you can do this. Take a few simple steps - out the door, down the street and into the vegetable aisle. If it's a first-time experience, don't worry. Just grab anything green and give it a try.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about preventing high blood pressure, see this from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fast Food Redemption

tidbits that tantalizeReally - This Isn't Healthy?

Fast food addicts have reason to rejoice. The years of damage you've inflicted on your not-so-svelte self can be undone with a single step: quit. Yeah, it's really that simple, say researchers studying the impact of burgers, fries and sodas.

Researchers at Saint Louis University Liver Center studied mice that were fed a fast food diet and whose activities were severely restricted. "We wanted to mirror the kind of diet many Americans subsist on, so the high fat content is about the same you'd find in a typical McDonald's meal, and the high fructose corn syrup translates to about eight cans of soda a day in a human diet, which is not far off from what some people consume," says Brent Tetri, M.D., a leading researcher in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and, ultimately, death. "But we were also keeping the mice sedentary, with a very limited amount of activity."

What's at stake? Well, we already know that fast food is loaded with fat and sugar. That's bad for the cholesterol, which is bad for the heart, which is bad for everything else in life. The sugar also raises the chance of developing diabetes. When you combine it all with a couch-potato lifestyle, you have the perfect recipe for a life riddled with disease and disappointment.

Now, scientists also find that cruising the fast food lane of life damages the liver. Doctors are actually seeing teenagers with cirrhosis. Yikes! It used to be you had to spend a lifetime devoted to hardcore drinking to earn that liver disease. I guess it all goes with the fast-living leads to fast-dying concept of the modern age.

What's the answer?

Ah, yes - that would bring us back to the "Q" word. Quit. Yes, put down the burger and, if you really want to get radical, pick up a carrot stick. Toss in a brisk walk around the block and you're well on your way to reversing the damage and reclaiming your cleaner, leaner liver.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about natural, healthy eating, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Coffee Kicks Breast Cancer for Some

news you may not knowA Magic Elixir?

It becomes less clear each day why coffee ever got such a bad rap. It may be the "avoid caffeine" craze that swept through the health ranks, or it may just be a conspiracy of rabid tea drinkers. But, new evidence continues to show that coffee is a powerhouse. Previous studies show coffee reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, lowers the risk of heart disease for elderly men, protects against the onset of Parkinson's, and enhances athletic performance. Hmm...

Now, a new study out of Sweden provides good news for women. Some coffee drinkers are less likely to develop breast cancer. Think of it. You can mosey on down to your favorite java hut, grab a "tall caffeinated whatever" and do it all in the name of health. Oh, sure - you can still kick your feet up and relish every last drop of you morning coffee. It will still be just as healthy.

The researchers found that those women with a specific variant of the gene named CYP1A2 had the greatest protection. They studied 460 breast cancer patients. 50% of these women had a gene variant known as A/A, while the other half had either A/C or C/C. The women who had a C form of variant were much less likely to develop cancer.

The C variant women who drank at least 3 cups of coffee each day were only about 67% as likely to develop cancer as the non-coffee drinkers. But, the A/A women also derived some benefit from drinking coffee. The A/A women who drank at least 2 cups of coffee per day developed cancer much later in life than non-drinkers - at an average age of 58 years, compared to 48 years for those drinking no coffee.

More research needs to be completed to confirm the association between coffee consumption and protection from breast cancer.

In the meantime, however, why take a chance? With all the protection coffee has to offer, it's probably best to indulge yourself every now and then. Enjoy...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the potential health benefits of coffee, see this from the Coffee Science Information Centre.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Drug Stops Alzheimer's Cold

news you may not knowGoing My Way?

German scientists are all thumbs - and that's a good thing.

In their quest to discover a cure for Alzheimer's, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics have designed a tricky new drug. Their drug "hitch-hikes" into the brain's cells to target specific sub-compartments where Alzheimer's activity begins. By attaching to the exact location where Alzheimer's plaques originate, the treatment is able to effectively fight, and even reverse, their formation.

"By directing inhibition to the sub-compartment where the enzyme is active, the approach has potential to be used in the design of more effective ß-secretase inhibitors for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease," noted researcher Kai Simons.

The studies have so far only been conducted on mice, but the results are quite promising. Within 4 hours of receiving an injection of the drug, the mice showed a reduction of 50% of the Alzheimer's plaque. That's impressive and, if the treatment holds true with humans, would be a major breakthrough.

The next issue for researchers is to figure out how to get the drug across the blood-brain barrier. The initial testing was done by directly injecting the drug into the brains of mice. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from chemicals and is often a challenge in the development of new medications.

The testing will quickly move to the next stage, but availability to treat humans is still 5 to 10 years away.

Alzheimer's currently affects roughly 18 million people worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that will increase to around 34 million by 2025.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about ongoing Alzheimer's research, see this from the Alzheimer Research Forum.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Kids' Cereals Are Tragically Flawed

tidbits that tantalizeBe Careful in There...

Kids' cereals have a problem. Their manufacturers make great claims about them - but the claims just don't add up. Unless, of course, you're actually hoping to buy a box filled mainly with sugar, fat and salt. If so, you're in luck!

Researchers at Yale University studied the ingredients of 161 cereals, 46% of which were targeted toward kids. The findings were disturbing. Adult cereals were consistently healthier than kids' cereals. Those cereals made especially for kids had higher levels of sugar, sodium and fat than adult cereals, and less fiber and protein. On average, the kids' cereals had sugar contents that accounted for 33% of their weights! Remarkable...

"In other words, children's cereals have too much of the nutrients you don't want and too little of the nutrients you do want," said Dr. Marlene B. Schwartz, the lead researcher on the study.

The researchers also found the advertising on the box to be misleading. For example, cereals labeled as "low fat" or "low sugar" still had the same number of total calories as other cereals. Those labeled "whole grain," though they did contain more fiber, still had excessive amounts of sugar, salt and fat.

What's a mother to do?

First, recommends Schwartz, choose cereals that contain no more than 4 grams of sugar per serving. Next, make sure each serving contains at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. It's the "4x4" method of cereal selection. Finally, if you really want to be radical - try good, old-fashioned oatmeal. Each serving will only set you back 2.5 grams of fat, and contains absolutely no sugar and no salt. Add some fresh fruit and splash of milk and you've got breakfast.

Yes, it's a radical idea...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read a further discussion about healthy whole grain breakfast alternatives, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Vitamin D May Fight Peripheral Artery Disease

news you may not knowYeah, It's Big...

Yes, indeed, walking is a healthy habit. It increases your lung capacity, strengthens your cardiovascular system, lowers your blood pressure, and even brightens your mood. It clears your mind when your thoughts are scattered, eases your tensions when life has run amuck, and gives you the quiet time you need to dream truly big dreams. Oh, it also serves one other important function:

It boosts your levels of vitamin D.

That is, if the sun is shining. The primary way we form vitamin D is by synthesizing it after exposure to the sun. People in northern climates, where the winters are harsh, often must use vitamin D supplements during the dark days of winter. Recent research also shows that even people living in sun-drenched Hawaii are susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. The reason it's important is due to the vital role vitamin D plays in our health. It's previously been shown to fight against cancer, autoimmune disease, stroke, muscle weakness, and many other ailments. Now, new research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University indicates it may also protect against peripheral artery disease.

Peripheral artery disease is caused by a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries of the legs, causing difficulty walking. Dr. Michal Melamed and her team analyzed the data of over 4,800 people who had participated in a national health survey. They found a direct correlation between the levels of vitamin D and the occurrence of peripheral artery disease.

Those with the lowest levels of vitamin D, after adjusting for age and other co-existing health conditions, were 64% more likely to have peripheral artery disease than those with the highest levels. 64% - it makes a walk in the sunshine look better all the time.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about vitamin D, including discussions of sources of vitamin D, see this from the Office of Dietary Supplements.