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Friday, March 11, 2011

More evidence folic acid prevents birth defects

Reuters Health

Friday, March 11, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new study finds that South Carolina's rate of spina bifida and similar birth defects fell substantially after more women began taking folic acid -- adding to evidence of the B vitamin's benefits during pregnancy.

Since 1998, the U.S. has required manufacturers to add folic acid to enriched flours, breads, cereals, pasta, corn meal and other grain products.

The move was based on research showing that folic acid during pregnancy can cut the risk of neural tube defects -- serious, sometimes fatal birth defects of the brain or spine, including spina bifida and anencephaly.

For the new study, reported in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers looked at rates of neural tube defects in South Carolina from 1992 to 2009.

Infants born in South Carolina have historically had a higher rate of neural tube defects compared with the U.S. average. But during the study period, the rate of "isolated" neural tube defects (not accompanied by any other birth defect) fell from 1.4 for every 1,000 births and fetal deaths, to about 0.6 per 1,000.

And from 1998 to 2005, the average rate of spina bifida and anencephaly -- which account for most neural tube defects -- was 0.69 per 100,000. That was identical to the national average.

Folic acid would appear to take the credit, according to Dr. Roger E. Stevenson and colleagues at the Greenwood Genetic Center in South Carolina.

Based on interviews with South Carolina women ages 15 to 45 throughout the study period, the percent taking folic acid on a regular basis rose from 8 percent to 35 percent.

The authors did not ask women how much folic acid they took, but experts recommend that women who may become pregnant get 400 micrograms of folic acid, from multivitamins or fortified foods. That's in addition to any folate, the natural form of folic acid, found in foods such as spinach, asparagus, dried beans and peas, and orange juice.

Despite the positive findings from the current study, there is also room for improvement, according to Stevenson's team. They point to the fact that by the end of the study period, only 35 percent of women were taking folic acid -- despite the fact that two-thirds were aware of the vitamin's benefits.

But folic acid may only do so much.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes in the mother are two other factors linked to a higher-than-average risk of neural tube defects. And in this study, increasing use of folic acid did not eliminate the risk associated with diabetes, Stevenson and his colleagues point out.

That finding, the researchers write, "calls for greater attention" to diabetes prevention in women of childbearing age. They add that studies could also look at whether higher doses of folic acid are necessary for women with diabetes.



Journal of Pediatrics, online February 24, 2011.

Aspirin May Protect Against Colorectal Cancer -- But Only in Certain People

HealthDay News

Friday, March 11, 2011

FRIDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- Taking aspirin to protect against colorectal cancer may be effective, but mostly in people at increased risk for the disease due to elevated levels of an inflammatory biomarker in their blood, according to a new study.

Previous research has found that people who take aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Other studies have noted that inflammation contributes to the development of conditions such as cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer.

In this new study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that elevated baseline levels of an inflammatory marker called "soluble tumor necrosis factor receptor-2 (sTNFR-2)" were associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer and also predicted who might benefit from taking aspirin or other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

The researchers analyzed data from 280 participants in the Nurses' Health Study who were cancer-free when they provided a blood sample in 1989 and 1990, but developed colorectal cancer over the next 14 years. These patients were compared to 555 age-matched participants who did not develop colorectal cancer.

The researchers analyzed baseline levels of three inflammatory markers -- sTNFR-2, c-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin-6 (IL-6). There was no association between levels of CRP or IL-6 and risk of developing colorectal cancer. But people with the highest levels of sTNFR-2 were 60 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those with the lowest levels of the factor.

The researchers also found that the reduced risk of colorectal cancer associated with regular use of aspirin or other NSAIDs was primarily seen among people with high baseline levels of sTNFR-2.

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Gastroenterology.

"These findings suggest that a blood biomarker may be helpful in deciding whether individuals should take aspirin or NSAIDs to reduce their cancer risk," lead author Dr. Andrew Chan, of the gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a hospital news release.

"They also indicate that chronic inflammatory pathways are quite complex, and further studies are needed to understand which facets of the inflammatory response are most associated with the development of colorectal cancer," he added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about colorectal cancer prevention.

Aspirin, other meds linked to stomach bleeding risks

By Genevra Pittman

Reuters Health

Friday, March 11, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – People taking low doses of aspirin to protect their heart may be at risk for stomach bleeding, and those taking both aspirin and other common drugs may have an even higher bleeding risk, according to a new study.

The authors calculated that if 1,000 people not taking either aspirin or clopidogrel, marketed as Plavix, instead took both drugs, an extra one to three of them would have stomach bleeding every year, according to the study, which is published in the journal Circulation.

According to the authors' estimates, over the same period, somewhere between 5 and 10 people in 1,000 in the general population will have stomach bleeding.

Dr. Colin Baigent, a researcher from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the new study, said that the findings were not a surprise, and "seem to be consistent with the evidence."

Aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by preventing blood clots from forming. Guidelines say that people who have had a recent heart attack should take 75 to 325 milligrams of aspirin daily for up to a year afterward, and many others who are at risk for heart disease also take the drug regularly.

However, there is also some evidence showing that aspirin and Plavix may increase the risk of having bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract - the stomach and the first part of the small intestine.

To determine how aspirin, Plavix, and a range of other medications might affect bleeding risks, Dr. Luis Rodríguez of the Spanish Center for Pharmacoepidemiological Research in Madrid and his colleagues analyzed a database of primary care patients in the UK. The database included all cases of stomach bleeding between 2000 and 2007 - a total of 2,049 people age 40 to 84.

Then, they found 20,000 people that were similar to that group based on age and gender, but who had not had a stomach bleed during that time. The researchers compared records of these two groups to find out what medications individuals were currently taking and what they had been prescribed over the past year.

Of all patients who had a stomach bleed, 31 percent were taking low-dose aspirin at the time of the bleed, compared to 19 percent of people in the comparison group who did not have a stomach bleed.

The results showed that people taking any daily dose of aspirin were at almost twice the risk of having stomach bleeding than people not taking aspirin. People taking both aspirin and Plavix were three to four times more likely to have a stomach bleed than those taking neither drug.

Patients who were taking aspirin in addition to a range of other drugs, including anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin), had a higher bleeding risk than those taking just aspirin.

Despite these risks, Rodríguez said that aspirin is an important drug for people who have already had a heart attack and are trying to prevent a second.

"For most of these patients who are on aspirin, if the aspirin is for secondary prevention, basically the risk that is conferred by these drugs is never so high as to negate the benefits," he told Reuters Health.

For people who have never had a heart attack, that might not be the case, he said - especially when aspirin is combined with other medications that further increase the risk of stomach bleeding.

According to Baigent, "full compliance with aspirin (recommendations) will probably double the risk of major bleeding, and most of the major bleeding that occurs is attributed to gastrointestinal bleeding."

One way that doctors can address the risk of stomach bleeding in their patients who are taking aspirin, Rodríguez said, is by also prescribing a kind of drug called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which have shown to cut down on some of that risk.



Circulation, online February 28, 2011.

Invisible and Odorless, Radon Poses Risks to Lungs

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Friday, March 11, 2011

FRIDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- It may be hard to think of radiation as a present and serious environmental health concern in the United States, much less one with the potential to affect nearly every home in the country.

But a radioactive gas known as radon is responsible for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"It's the second leading cause of lung cancer, and, for non-smokers, it is the leading cause of lung cancer," said Kristy Miller, a spokeswoman for the indoor environments division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "It is invisible and odorless. It causes no symptoms. You possibly may be breathing in high levels and not even know it."

Radon gas is created by the breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil and water. It seeps up through the ground and into homes through foundation cracks and crawl spaces.

"It's a naturally occurring decay product of uranium," said Dr. Michael Thun, vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. "Radon is one of the avoidable known carcinogens to which many people are exposed at a range of levels. Compared to cigarette smoking, it's a very small risk, but across the population, it is a significant risk. And, it is avoidable."

Outside, radon seeping up from the ground floats away into the atmosphere, causing no harm. But a building acts as a container for any radon seeping up from beneath it, capturing the gas and allowing it to concentrate.

Houses in the Northeast and Midwest tend to have higher radon levels than those elsewhere in the United States, Thun said.

And don't think that new homes are less likely to have dangerous levels of radon. "Any type of home, regardless of its age or where it's located, has the potential of having high levels," Miller said. "If your home has contact with the earth, which most homes do, then your home has a chance of having a high level of radon."

The best bet for protecting yourself and your family from long-term radon gas exposure is to check for high levels in the house.

"If one lives in an area where radon is prevalent, it's a good idea to have your home tested," Thun said.

The EPA recommends a two-level test for radon. First, a homeowner should buy a short-term test kit, a small device that is left in the house for two days to 90 days, depending on the kit.

The test kit, Miller said, should be put:

In a spot where it will have access to the same air that's inhaled by the home's occupants.

Away from doors and windows.

At a level that's not too high nor too low.

On a shelf or someplace where it won't be jostled.

At the end of the testing period, the homeowner sends the radon kit to a lab for analysis, Miller said.

If the test shows that the radon level registers at 4 picocuries per liter of air, a second test should be done, according to EPA recommendations. The follow-up test can be another short-term test or a long-term test, which takes more than 90 days. If the average of the two tests remains above 4 pCi/L, then the homeowner should consider having the house fixed.

This process, called radon mitigation, can cost from $800 to $2,500, depending on what must be done to the house, Miller said.

Workers will go through the house to seal up places through which radon can enter, including:

Cracks in walls and solid floors.

Gaps in construction joints and suspended floors.

Gaps around pipes.

Cavities inside walls.

Radon also can be vented away from the home using PVC pipes that are sunk into the ground. "You want to take that soil gas and vent it from underneath your home or foundation before it ever gets inside," Miller said.

People should re-test their houses for radon regularly, he said, particularly if something happens to disturb either the house or the ground beneath it. A new addition may have been built, renovations done or excavation performed, or the homeowner may simply have noticed that the foundation has shifted.

People having a new house built can take preemptive measures against potential radon contamination by asking for certain construction techniques and features that reduce the risk of radon.

"It's most cost-effective to do it when you're building a new home," Miller said. "Ask your builder to include radon-resistant features."

The most important thing to remember, the experts say, is that radon is just about everywhere.

"Radon is a natural substance within the Earth's crust," Miller said. "It's there in the soil. The issue is, is your particular home going to allow it to seep in?"

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers more information in A Citizen's Guide to Radon.

A companion article has more on detecting radon.

Potential Alzheimer's Treatment? Newly Discovered Role for Enzyme in Neurodegenerative Diseases


Friday, March 11, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 11, 2011) — Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are partly attributable to brain inflammation. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet now demonstrate in a paper published in Nature that a well-known family of enzymes can prevent the inflammation and thus constitute a potential target for drugs.

Research suggests that microglial cells -- the nerve system's primary immune cells -- play a critical part in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The over-activation of these cells in the brain can cause inflammation, resulting in neuronal death.

Scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Seville University, working in collaboration with colleagues at Lund University, have now found a way to prevent the activation of the microglia and consequently the inflammation they cause. The key is the blocking of enzymes called caspases, which the team has shown control microglial activation.

"The caspases are a group of enzymes known for causing cell death," says Associate Professor Bertrand Joseph, who headed the study. "That they also serve as signal molecules that govern that activity of other cells was an unexpected discovery that gives them an entirely new physiological role."

By studying cell cultures and mice, the researchers show that certain caspases (3, 7 and 8) activate rather than kill microglial cells, which triggers an inflammatory reaction. Mice given caspase inhibitors displayed fewer activated microglia and less inflammation and cell death in the surrounding neurons.

They also examined samples from deceased Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients and discovered a higher incidence of activated caspases in their microglial cells.

"We'll now be examining whether the substances that inhibit the caspases can be candidates for useful drugs in the treatment of certain neurological diseases," says Dr Joseph.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Miguel A. Burguillos, Tomas Deierborg, Edel Kavanagh, Annette Persson, Nabil Hajji, Albert Garcia-Quintanilla, Josefina Cano, Patrik Brundin, Elisabet Englund, Jose L. Venero, Bertrand Joseph. Caspase signalling controls microglia activation and neurotoxicity. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature09788

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blood pressure drugs feeding the obesity epidemic?

By Amy Norton

Reuters Health

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Blood pressure drugs known as beta-blockers could be helping to fuel the obesity epidemic, by dampening the body's ability to burn calories and fat over the long term, researchers say in a new report.

Weight gain is a known side effect of beta blockers, particularly older ones such as atenolol (Tenormin) and metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol-XL). Newer versions, like carvedilol (Coreg), appear to carry less risk of added pounds.

Beta-blockers are not the only medications that promote weight gain. Antidepressants, corticosteroids and some diabetes medications are among the other culprits.

But with the growing problem of obesity worldwide, researchers are starting to look into the role that medications could be playing -- along with the usual suspects of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.

In the new study, Australian researchers found that among more than 11,400 adults with high blood pressure and/or diabetes, those on beta-blockers weighed more, on average, and had larger waistlines.

And in a separate look at 30 patients with high blood pressure, they found that people on beta-blockers generally burned fewer calories and fat after a meal -- measured by a device called a calorimeter.

The patients on beta blockers also reported lower physical activity levels in their day-to-day lives. (Beta blockers are suspected of curbing people's physical activity because the drugs slow the heart rate and may cause people to tire more easily.)

Together, the findings suggest that beta blockers lead to weight gain by curbing people's calorie expenditure, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Paul Lee of St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.

In today's society, where obesity is a general public-health issue, that weight gain is particularly concerning, according to Lee.

"Our hypothesis is that widespread use of beta blockers may fuel the modern-day obesity epidemic," he told Reuters Health in an email.

So what should you do if you're on a beta blocker?

Just what people not on the drugs should do, Lee said. "Lifestyle modification is always the first step: a good balanced diet and regular exercise," he noted.

That said, exercise and calorie burning may be more difficult for people on a beta blocker. So beta blocker users who are worried about weight gain may want to ask their doctor if they could use a different type of blood-pressure medication -- or one of the newer beta blockers that seem to have less risk of weight gain, Lee said.

He stressed, though, that beta-blockers are often an important drug for people with heart disease, and patients should not simply stop using them because of weight worries.

Instead, Lee said, they may need to be "extra mindful" of their weight, and get additional help -- like referral to a dietitian -- if needed.

The findings are based on data from 11,438 adults; most were patients in a clinical trial looking at the effects of blood pressure lowering among people with diabetes. The rest were patients being treated for diabetes or high blood pressure at St. Vincent's.

On average, Lee's team found, patients on beta blockers were anywhere from 11 to 37 pounds heavier, depending on the study group.

In the smaller study of patients with high blood pressure, the researchers compared calorie- and fat-burning in 11 people on beta blockers and 19 adults the same age and weight who were not on the drugs.

They found that after a meal, the beta blockers users burned roughly 30 to 50 percent fewer calories and fat.

The findings do not prove that beta blockers were the reason for the excess weight or lower calorie-burning. But they are in line with what's known about the medications' effects on the nervous system and weight.

Lee noted that beta blockers are no longer the first choice drugs for high blood pressure. So for people who do not need the drugs to manage heart disease, another blood pressure medication might be more appropriate anyway.

Other types of blood pressure drugs include ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics (water pills). Many of these, as well as the beta blockers, are available in generic forms for as low as $20 per month or less.



International Journal of Obesity, online February 8, 2011.

Study: Coffee tied to lower stroke risk in women

By Jamie Stengle

The Associated Press

Thursday, March 10, 2011

DALLAS – Women who enjoy a daily dose of coffee may like this perk: It might lower their risk of stroke.

Women in a Swedish study who drank at least a cup of coffee every day had a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke, compared to those who drank less coffee or none at all.

"Coffee drinkers should rejoice," said Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "Coffee is often made out to be potentially bad for your heart. There really hasn't been any study that convincingly said coffee is bad."

"If you are drinking coffee now, you may be doing some good and you are likely not doing harm," she added.

But Hayes and other doctors say the study shouldn't send non-coffee drinkers running to their local coffee shop. The study doesn't prove that coffee lowers stroke risk, only that coffee drinkers tend to have a lower stroke risk.

"These sorts of epidemiological studies are compelling but they don't prove cause," said Dr. David S. Seres, director of medical nutrition at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

The findings were published online Thursday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Scientists have been studying coffee for years, trying to determine its risks and benefits. The Swedish researchers led by Susanna Larsson at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said previous studies on coffee consumption and strokes have had conflicting findings.

"There hasn't been a consistent message come out," of coffee studies, said Dr. Cathy Sila, a stroke neurologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

For the observational study, researchers followed 34,670 Swedish women, ages 49 to 83, for about 10 years. The women were asked how much coffee they drank at the start of the study. The researchers checked hospital records to find out how many of the women later had strokes.

There were a total of 1,680 strokes, including 205 in those who drank less than a cup or none.

Researchers adjusted for differences between the groups that affect stroke risk, such as smoking, weight, high blood pressure and diabetes, and still saw a lower stroke risk among coffee drinkers. Larsson said the benefit was seen whether the women drank a cup or several daily.

"You don't need to drink so much. One or two cups a day is enough," she said.

Larsson, who in another study found a link between coffee drinking in Finnish men who smoked and decreased stroke risk, said more research needs to be done to figure out why coffee may be cutting stroke risk. It could be reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity, she said, or it could be the antioxidants in coffee.

Larsson and others point out that those who want to reduce their chances of a stroke should focus on the proven ways to lower risk: Don't smoke. Keep blood pressure in check. Maintain a healthy weight.


American Stroke Association:

No signs dietary supplements prevent bladder cancer

By Frederik Joelving

Reuters Health

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Popping vitamins, minerals or anti-inflammatory substances like garlic or fish oil doesn't appear to stave off bladder cancer, a large U.S. study shows.

The findings, published in the Journal of Urology, are more evidence that the alleged anti-cancer effects of such supplements, found in some early studies, don't hold up.

"If you're eating a good diet then taking extra supplements is not something that has proven health benefits," said Dr. Michael Pollak of McGill University in Montreal, a cancer prevention expert who wasn't involved in the new work.

"Going from sufficiency to excess is something that people had hoped would be an easy way to prevent cancer, but it just hasn't worked out," Pollak told Reuters Health.

The new results are based on data from more than 77,000 older men and women in Washington State, who had filled out a detailed questionnaire about their health, diet and supplement intake at the outset of the study.

Over the following six years, 330 people developed bladder cancer. Whether or not they reported taking dietary supplements had no impact on their risk, after accounting for age, smoking, fruit and vegetable intake and other factors.

"At this time we can't recommend taking any of these supplements to prevent bladder cancer," said Dr. James Hotaling, a urologist who worked on the study.

Hotaling and his colleagues looked at a wide range of substances, including multivitamins, several B vitamins, vitamin C, D, and E, calcium, magnesium, zinc, glucosamine, ginkgo biloba, fish oil and garlic.

"The number of patients who take these supplements is extremely high," said Hotaling, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

"It has become a million-dollar industry, and there is not a lot of data to show that these supplements make a difference" in cancer, he said.

If eating extra vitamins actually protected against the disease, he added, it would not only save lives but also a lot of money. That's because patients with bladder cancer require repeated checkups to ensure the cancer doesn't return after they've had surgery.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about one in 26 American men and one in 84 women get bladder cancer.

"No nutritional supplement has been proven to reduce risk of cancer and the American Cancer Society does not recommend using supplements to prevent cancer," ACS's Eric Jacobs told Reuters Health in an e-mail.

It's not all bad news, however.

"Some of the things that are much harder to do than taking vitamins are actually much more effective, like stopping smoking or avoiding obesity," said Pollak.



Journal of Urology, online February 18, 2011.

Fat Alone, Not Where It Sits, May Be Key to Heart Problems

HealthDay News

Thursday, March 10, 2011


THURSDAY, March 10 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that contradicts earlier research, an international study suggests that being obese boosts the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke regardless of where the excess fat is stored in the body.

That challenges the widely adopted notion that not all obesity is alike, with so-called apple-shaped people, who carry fat mainly in their midsections, facing a bigger risk for heart problems than those whose excess fat is carried on the hips or elsewhere.

Not so, say the researchers behind the new study. When it comes to obesity and heart disease, no excess fat is good fat, regardless of where it ends up, their analysis has found.

"Society has accepted the idea that if you carry more weight around the middle, your risk of heart disease is higher," said Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio, the study's co-author and a lecturer in medical screening at the University of Cambridge in England. "But actually this study shows that it doesn't matter where your fat is located. If you're overweight you're at risk, full stop."

Complicating matters, however, is the study's additional finding that the standard diagnostic measurements of fat -- such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio -- are not the most reliable tools for assessing heart disease risk.

Better indicators, it says, are blood cholesterol measurements and blood pressure readings.

"While excess fat level does remain a very important risk factor, for [doctors] who really want to predict cardiovascular risk in patients, it is enough to look at cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and smoking background, regardless of the patient's obesity status," Di Angelantonio said.

The study's findings, developed by a global team of 200 scientists from 17 countries and based at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, are reported online March 11 in The Lancet.

To explore the predictive power of various heart disease risk factors, the researchers examined data from 58 studies that included more than 222,000 men and women from 17 countries.

None of the study participants had a history of heart disease. Data for most people included BMI readings, waist circumference measurements, waist-to-hip ratios, age, gender, smoking history, blood pressure readings, diabetes history and cholesterol measurements. For nearly 64,000 people, fat deposit assessments were conducted periodically for a number of years.

Over about a decade, more than 14,000 participants had a heart attack or a stroke.

The study concluded that being obese certainly raises the overall risk for heart disease, but that those who carry much of their excess fat in the stomach region do not appear to face a particularly higher risk, compared with those whose fat deposits are distributed differently.

They also found that tracking a person's blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as monitoring their history of diabetes, appeared to be best way to assess heart disease risk. When such indicators were readily available, they noted, adding in BMI and waist measurement information did not improve risk diagnosis.

The team was quick to emphasize, however, that being obese should not be deemed any less of a problem when it comes to heart disease. Excess weight, they said, remains a key culprit in the onset of medical conditions that boost the risk for cardiovascular illness.

Because of that, they suggested, calculations of weight, waist circumference and BMI might continue to be of value because the patient portrait they create can help health-care providers promote better diets and lifestyle choices that ultimately reduce risk. An editorial accompanying the study in The Lancet agreed, noting that BMI measurements can still serve as an early warning signal, especially in teens, young adults and middle-aged people without many other obvious signs of heart disease risks.

Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition professor at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, indicated that the study conclusions make sense.

"It was not surprising that measures of fat distribution, such as waist circumference, did not do substantially better" in predicting heart disease, he noted.

But he said that obesity as a whole remains a key consideration, given that the factors that proved most useful in assessing heart risks -- such as high blood pressure and cholesterol -- are themselves the product of the "adverse effects of overweight."

Lona Sandon, a registered dietician and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern, agreed that the findings "are reasonable in the grand scheme of things." But she, too, stressed that the findings should not be interpreted as permission to pack on the pounds.

"First of all, certainly people who are obese, no matter where the obesity is occurring on the body, should not dismiss their risk for heart disease," she said. "Carrying around excess weight puts you at a higher risk for heart disease than someone of normal weight, period."

"So while I'm not necessarily surprised that metabolic testing to measure your cholesterol levels, for example, is a better indicator of risk than, say, BMI, people should still be concerned about what's going on around their waistline," Sandon said. "In the end, people should think of that extra weight as a risk factor that leads to more risk factors, which lead to heart disease."

More information

The American Heart Association has more on obesity and heart disease. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 

Curbing cholesterol may fight infections: study

By Kate Kelland


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LONDON (Reuters) – Lowering cholesterol levels could help the body's immune system fight infections, British scientists said on Tuesday.

A study in mice by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found a direct link between the workings of the immune system and cholesterol levels.

"What we have discovered is that a key immune hormone stimulated upon infection can lower cholesterol levels and thereby deprive viral infections of the sustenance they need to grow," said Edinburgh's Peter Ghazal, whose study was published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology journal.

"Drugs currently exist to lower cholesterol levels, but the next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems," he said.

Medicines called statins, such as Pfizer's Lipitor, AstraZeneca's Crestor, and a generic called simvastatin, are widely prescribed to lower "bad" or LDL cholesterol -- a risk factor for heart disease -- and are credited with being among the most successful drugs in helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

In a telephone interview, Ghazal said many years of research work lay ahead before these findings could be translated into human treatments, but he thought statin-like drugs could in future be developed to have potent anti-infective effects as well as being able to reduce levels of bad cholesterol.

Currently, antiviral drugs are used to fight viral infections by targeting the machinery that enables viruses to multiply. Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, but bugs are able to mutate and develop new strains that are drug-resistant, prompting the need for new and more powerful medicines to be developed all the time.

Ghazal said his research team hoped to use the studies to find news ways of combating infections, which could for example involve mimicking immune signals sent out to lower the production of cholesterol.

Such treatments would help overcome the problems of drug resistance, Ghazal said, since they would aim to enhance the way the body responds to an infection, instead of focusing on attacking the bug itself.



Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology, online March 8, 2011.

Oral Tongue Cancer Increasing in Young, White Females


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 9, 2011) — A UNC study released this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology finds an increasing incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the oral tongue in young white females in the United States over the last three decades.

A team of researchers from UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database and found that, between 1975 and 2007, the overall incidence for all ages, genders, and races of the disease was decreasing. However, the incidence of oral tongue squamous cell carcinoma rose 28 percent among individuals ages 18 to 44. Specifically, among white individuals ages 18 to 44 the incidence increased 67 percent. The increasing incidence was most dramatic for white females ages 18 to 44. They had a percentage change of 111 percent. Interestingly, the incidence decreased for African American and other racial groups.

Historically, oral tongue cancer has been strongly associated with heavy tobacco and alcohol use. Other epidemiological studies have related the decreasing incidence of oral tongue cancer in the United States to the decreased use of tobacco products. Though the UNC research team verified the known decreasing incidence of oral tongue cancer, they were surprised to observe an increasing incidence in young white individuals, specifically young white females.

"Lately we have been seeing more oral tongue cancer in young white women in our clinic. So we looked at the literature, which reported an increase in oral tongue squamous cell carcinoma in young white individuals but couldn't find any information about gender-specific incidence rates, so we decided we should take a look at the SEER data," said Bhisham Chera, MD, lead author on the study and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Over the past decade an association between the human papilloma virus with squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil and tongue has been observed. Patients with human papilloma virus associated oral squamous cell carcinoma are typically male, white, non-smokers, non-drinkers, younger in age and have higher socioeconomic status. The researchers at UNC have preliminarily tested the cancers of the oral tongue of their young white female patients and have not found them to be associated with the virus. Other institutions have also noted the absence of the virus in young females with oral tongue cancer. The UNC researchers have also anecdotally observed that these young white female patients are typically non-smokers and non-drinkers.

"Our findings suggest that the epidemiology of this cancer in young white females may be unique and that the causative factors may be things other than tobacco and alcohol abuse. Based on our observations and the published data, it appears that these cases may not be associated with the human papilloma virus. We are actively researching other causes of this cancer in this patient population." he added.

Though the increasing rate of oral tongue cancer in young white females is alarming oral tongue cancer is a rare cancer, relative to breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer. "Primary care physicians and dentist should be aware of this increasing incidence and screen patients appropriately," states Dr. Chera. Oral tongue cancer is typically treated with surgery first followed by radiation and, in some cases, chemotherapy.

Other UNC Lineberger researchers who contributed to the study include Sagar Patel, BA, of the Department of Radiation Oncology, William R. Carpenter, PhD, MHA, professor of health policy and management in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Marion Couch, MD, PhD, formerly a professor of otolaryngology/head & neck surgery at UNC (now at the University of Vermont), Mark Weissler, MD, distinguished professor of otolaryngology/head & neck surgery, Trevor Hackman, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology/head & neck surgery, D. Neil Hayes, MD, MPH, associate professor in the division of hematology/oncology, and Carol Shores, MD, PhD, associate professor of otolaryngology/head & neck surgery.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

S. C. Patel, W. R. Carpenter, S. Tyree, M. E. Couch, M. Weissler, T. Hackman, D. N. Hayes, C. Shores, B. S. Chera. Increasing Incidence of Oral Tongue Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Young White Women, Age 18 to 44 Years. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2011; DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2010.31.7883

A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's

HealthDay News

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

WEDNESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol may actually lower the risk for developing both Alzheimer's and some forms of age-related dementia, new German research suggests.

Though noting that full-fledged alcohol abuse accounts for about 10 percent of all dementia cases, the researchers reported that consumption of just one to two drinks a day appears to protect against the overall incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

They caution, however, that the study found no evidence of a lower risk for either vascular dementia or general cognitive decline. Nor was it clear whether the risk varied by the type of alcohol consumed.

The findings, reported in the March 2 online edition of Age and Ageing, stem from periodic interviews over a three-year span with 3,327 participants, all 65 years of age and older. When the study began, 3,202 had no dementia, and the calculation of incident cases of dementia is based on these participants.

At the start of the study, about half of the participants did not drink, about one-fourth consumed less than one alcoholic drink a day, nearly 13 percent had one or two drinks daily and about 12 percent had more than two drinks a day. Wine was the most popular choice, followed by beer and then a mix of alcoholic beverages.

By the end of the study, 217 participants (7 percent) had developed dementia and 111 (3.5 percent) had Alzheimer's disease, the investigators found.

Light to moderate alcohol consumption was found to be associated with a lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's, and overall was tied to relatively good physical and mental health, Siegfried Weyerer, of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, and colleagues reported.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on dementia.

Little evidence soy helps blood sugar control

Reuters Health

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Soy foods and supplements probably don't help control high blood sugar, according to a new report.

Some clinical trials have linked soy to better blood sugar control. But for the new study, researchers combined the results of two dozen previous trials and found that overall, boosting soy intake did not appear to improve people's blood sugar levels.

There was some evidence of a benefit from soy foods like tofu, however, as opposed to soy supplements.

Nine of the trials studied soy-based foods. In those, people with more of these foods in their diet had a small improvement in blood sugar levels - on average, a decrease of about 4 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood - compared to those who didn't eat many soy foods, the researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

But it's too early to say tofu can aid blood sugar control in people with diabetes or "pre-diabetes," according to Dr. Suzanne C. Ho and colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The studies on soy foods had weaknesses in their design, the researchers note. And, they say, it's hard to separate the possible effects of soy from the other foods in participants' diets.

For now, it seems the best bet is to stick with the general advice on managing or preventing diabetes: get regular exercise, watch your calories, and focus on a generally healthy diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich grains and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Altogether, the 24 studies included 1,518 adults, some of whom already had diabetes. The trials lasted anywhere from one month to one year.

Ho's team put all the data together because the individual trials had reached conflicting conclusions as to whether soy foods or soy-protein supplements are helpful to people with diabetes.

Lab research has suggested that soy proteins and soy isoflavones -- compounds that are structurally similar to the human hormone estrogen -- may help control blood sugar levels.

In most of the trials, researchers had randomly assigned participants to take a supplement containing soy protein or isoflavones, or a placebo (a dummy pill) for comparison. Nine studies, however, tested the value of including soy foods in the diet compared to following a standard diet.

Looking just at soy intake, without regard for whether it was from foods or supplements, the researchers didn't see any impact on people's average blood sugar levels, or on their levels of the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin.

But in the trials that studied soy-based foods, the diet changes did seem to shave a few points, on average, off of participants' blood sugar levels after a period of fasting.

According to Ho's team, more research is needed to weed out the potential effects of soy on blood sugar control. That includes looking not only at short-term changes, but at people's long-range blood sugar control, and their risk of developing type 2 diabetes over time.



American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 2, 2011.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ADAM-12 Gene Could Hold Key to Cancer, Arthritis and Cardiac Treatments


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 8, 2011) — ADAM-12 is not only the name of a 1970's television police drama -- it's also the gene that University of Missouri researchers believe could be an important element in the fight against cancer, arthritis, and cardiac hypertrophy, or thickening of the heart's walls.

Alpana Ray, research associate professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and a team of researchers including Bimal Ray, professor of Veterinary Pathobiology, have been studying the ADAM family of genes for several years. Alpana Ray's latest publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) discusses one pathway by which the ADAM-12 gene could be regulated, a process that could eventually be used as part of a treatment plan.

Scientists know that ADAM-12 is normally found in very low levels in adults, but during cancer, arthritis and cardiac hypertrophy, ADAM-12 level goes up. The only time it is normal to find a high level of the gene is during pregnancy, when ADAM-12 can be found in the placenta.

At the molecular level, Ray's team found a Z-DNA-binding silencer element that keeps the level of ADAM-12 low in normal conditions. They believe that if they could alter Z-DNA-binding silencer, new therapies could be right around the corner.

"We are finding that in the placenta, where ADAM-12 is highly expressed, the repressor protein (Z-DNA-binding protein) is inactive. In other tissues, where ADAM-12 expression is low, the repressor is active," Alpana Ray said. "What we don't know is how it actually works. We know co-factors are at work here. If we can identify the class of proteins that interact with Z-DNA repressor, it could lead to many therapeutic applications."

Because ADAM-12 is a versatile gene, it may play a role in metastasis during which cancer cells travel throughout the body and spread to other organs.

"We know that ADAM-12 causes cells to anchor to one another, and we know that ADAM-12 allows cancer cells to proliferate," said Alpana Ray.

Bimal Ray notes that the next phase of the work would be to determine how the Z-DNA-binding protein works.

"Most of the success in cancer therapy lies in a combination of approaches and chemotherapies, and this could become another piece of the puzzle that leads to the cure," Bimal Ray said.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

B. K. Ray, S. Dhar, A. Shakya, A. Ray. Z-DNA-forming silencer in the first exon regulates human ADAM-12 gene expression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; 108 (1): 103 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1008831108

Cooler body temperature may not feed obesity

By Amy Norton

Reuters Health

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Contrary to one theory on obesity, people with extra body fat may not have a lower body temperature than thinner folks, a new study finds.

Many factors, from super-sized fast-food portions to increasing time in front of computers, have been blamed for the rising rates of obesity worldwide.

But physiological factors also may make some people more vulnerable to becoming obese than others. One theory is that people with a relatively lower core body temperature might be predisposed to weight gain, while those with a slightly higher core temperature pack on pounds less easily.

The idea stems from the fact that the body has to burn calories in order to rid itself of excess heat and return to a desirable internal temperature. A cooler core temperature would mean less heat to shed and require fewer calories to be burned.

"Temperature could be a marker for the 'slow metabolism' that some people think they have," explained senior researcher Dr. Jack A. Yanovski of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Animal research, he told Reuters Health, has suggested this could be the case.

Researchers have found, for example, that genetically altered obese mice display a decreased core temperature -- along with a slower than normal metabolism and bigger appetite.

But, Yanovski said, he and his colleagues found no evidence that core body temperature is related to obesity in people.

For their study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers compared the average core temperature of a group of obese adults with that of thinner men and women.

In one experiment, 46 obese and 35 normal-weight or overweight adults swallowed a wireless, temperature-sensing capsule that continuously monitored their body temperature over 24 hours.

On average, the study found, there was no difference in the two groups' core temperatures -- with both around 36.9 degrees Celsius or 98.4 Fahrenheit.

In a second experiment, the researchers used the capsules to measure core temperature in 19 obese and 11 normal-weight people over 2 days, while the participants kept a record of their daily activities.

Again, the two groups were similar -- with no clear differences in body-temperature fluctuations throughout the day.

The study is the largest so far to look at core temperature and obesity in humans, Yanovski said. But it's unlikely to be the final word.

There may be certain people for whom a lower core temperature has some effect on weight, Yanovski noted. He and his colleagues say that studies of people with alterations in genes that regulate core temperature could offer more insight into whether body temperature has a role in obesity risk.

However, Yanovski said, "For most obese individuals, it's not that they're just cooler inside."

Studies into core temperature and obesity have been done with practical goals in mind, according to Yanovski. If lower body temperature were found to play a role in body weight, then measures to raise core temperature a bit might help treat obesity.


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 2, 2011.

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TUESDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- The Mediterranean diet, long known to be heart-healthy, also reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that boost the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to a new review.

Researchers from Greece and Italy reviewed the results of 50 published studies with a total of more than 500,000 participants as part of a meta-analysis -- a statistical analysis of the findings of similar studies -- on the Mediterranean diet.

Among their findings: the natural foods-based diet is associated with a lower risk of hikes in blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides, as well as a reduced risk of a drop in good cholesterol -- all of which are risk factors in metabolic syndrome.

"It is one of the first times in the literature, maybe the first, that someone looks through a meta-analysis at the cardiovascular disease risk factors and not only the hard outcome" of heart disease and other conditions, said Dr. Demosthenes Panagiotakos, an associate professor at Harokopio University of Athens in Greece.

The study is published in the March 15 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The Mediterranean diet is a pattern marked by daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and low-fat dairy products; weekly consumption of fish, poultry, tree nuts, and legumes; high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily from olives and olive oils; and a moderate daily consumption of wine or other alcoholic beverages, normally with meals. Red meat intake and processed foods are kept to a minimum.

Metabolic syndrome -- increasingly common in the United States -- occurs if someone has three or more of the following five conditions: blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85, fasting blood glucose equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL, a waist measuring 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men, a HDL ("good") cholesterol under 40 in men and under 50 in women, triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL.

In the review, Panagiotakos and his team found the Mediterranean diet "is strongly associated with decreased metabolic syndrome risk," declining to pinpoint an exact percentage because the data would not fully support it.

The research team also noted that further study was needed, as a few of the studies reviewed also included interventions such as physical activity and smoking cessation.

The findings come as no surprise, said Dr. Ronald Goldberg, professor of medicine at the Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who reviewed the findings. Since many studies have confirmed the role of the Mediterranean diet on reducing heart disease, he noted, it makes sense that the diet would also reduce the risks that lead up to heart disease.

But since Americans are fond of processed and fast foods, how willing would they be to adopt the diet? "Not particularly," Goldberg acknowledged. But, he added, nutrition experts, recognizing that reluctance, have recently begun efforts to adapt the diet to different cultures -- for example, including many traditional Hispanic foods into a Mediterranean diet adapted for those of Hispanic descent.

By doing so, the diet not only provides the same nutrients as the Mediterranean diet, but the familiar food of one's ethnicity, Goldberg said.

Panagiotakos says even U.S. fast-food-lovers can eat more like Mediterranean's. "Even in fast-food, we can introduce healthy eating, like salads, fruits and vegetables, cereals and legumes, and use good sources of fat. We can replace burgers with all these products -- it is a matter of nutrition education."

More information

To learn more about metabolic syndrome visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Extra iron won't help many pregnant women

By Leigh Krietsch Boerner

Reuters Health

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Taking iron supplements doesn't benefit pregnant women who don't already have iron-poor blood, a new study finds.

Anemic pregnant women in western Africa boosted their iron levels by taking supplements, but the women who had higher levels to begin with didn't see any extra increase, according to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"This is what you would expect based on how the gut responds to iron," said Kimberly O'Brien, professor of human nutrition at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study. "The gut senses when you need that iron," and your body absorbs it better, O'Brien told Reuters Health.

Iron is essential to making hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. In pregnancy, a woman's iron needs rise as her body produces greater volumes of blood.

Fewer than one in five pregnant women in the U.S. were anemic in 2005, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In Africa, however, up to 57 percent of pregnant women are anemic.

To determine how much supplemental iron was needed to bring women's levels up to a healthy range, the team of Belgian and U.S. researchers recruited 1,270 pregnant women in Burkina Faso. About 550 of them (43 percent) were anemic at the beginning of the trial.

Half the women took supplements with 60 milligrams of iron and 400 micrograms of folic acid. The other half took supplements with 30 milligrams of iron, the same amount of folic acid, and several other nutrients including zinc and vitamins A and C. Both groups took the vitamins from the time they were enrolled in the trial until 3 months after delivery.

The researchers found that women who were anemic at the beginning of the study and those who weren't ended up with about the same levels of iron in their blood -- around 11 grams per deciliter. Levels slightly above this are considered normal in pregnant women by the WHO.

The women who took iron and folic acid plus other nutrients had the same benefit as the women who took supplements with only iron and folic acid, even though the latter contained twice the amount of iron. This may be because the women absorb enough iron even at the smaller dose, O'Brien said.

Iron during pregnancy is important because the fetus needs oxygen to develop properly (see Reuters Health story of March 3, 2011). Low maternal iron levels have been linked with low birth weight, which is dangerous for babies, because they're more likely to have disabilities or die during before they're a year old.

Iron levels in pregnant women actually drop as the pregnancy goes on, with iron needs the highest in the third trimester, O'Brien said.

U.S. guidelines recommend that pregnant women get 27 milligrams of iron a day from a combination of food and supplements. Most prenatal vitamins contain at least 18 milligrams of iron, and cost between $3 and $40 a month. Women of childbearing age typically get about 13.7 milligrams of iron a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current study's lead author, from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

"The benefit of iron supplements in nonanemic women is unclear," the team concludes in their paper.

Women in Africa may get less iron in their diets than those in the U.S., O'Brien noted. Plus more people there have intestinal parasites, which "hook onto your gut and feed on blood," she said.

They may "have a greater iron need to offset blood loss to those parasites," she explained.

When the body has sufficient iron levels, the gut will not absorb any more, O'Brien added. "Normally that's okay because we have sufficient stores, but iron demands of pregnancy are so high."


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 2, 2011.

'Good' Cholesterol May Cut Colon Cancer Risk

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TUESDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- High levels of "good" cholesterol may reduce the risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

If other studies confirm this finding, people with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol should "be advised to change their lifestyle to reduce their risk of colon cancer," said lead researcher Dr. Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, from the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands.

Cutting "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and increasing "good" (HDL) cholesterol already are known to reduce the risk for heart disease, and this new study provides another reason to pay attention to your blood cholesterol numbers.

For the study, published online March 7 in Gut, the researchers compared 1,238 people with colorectal cancer to 1,238 healthy people. Of those with cancer, 779 had colon cancer and 459 had rectal cancer.

The researchers reviewed the results of blood samples and dietary-lifestyle questionnaires provided by participants enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, a long-term look at the effect of diet on cancer in 10 countries.

The investigators found that those with the highest levels of HDL cholesterol and another blood fat called apolipoprotein A (apoA) had the least chance of developing colon cancer, but no impact was seen on rectal cancer.

"This association is independent of some other markers in the blood that are related to the development of cancer," Bueno-de-Mesquita said. Those markers include inflammation, insulin resistance and oxygen free radicals.

For each 16.6 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) increase in HDL and 32 mg/dL increase in apoA, the risk of colon cancer was cut by 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively, Bueno-de-Mesquita's team found.

But for a subset of patients followed for more than two years, only high HDL levels were linked with a lower risk of colon cancer.

The researchers speculate that HDL's anti-inflammatory properties may explain the finding, but say further research is needed to tease out the specific cause. They also acknowledged that the short follow-up period -- just 3.8 years -- is a limitation to their study.

Depending on the results of such investigations, HDL levels may someday be a useful tool in moderating a patient's colon cancer risk, the authors stated.

"Currently, the best recommendation to reduce one's risk [of colon cancer] is to stop smoking, increase physical activity, reduce obesity and abdominal fatness and limit intakes of alcohol and red and processed meats," Bueno-de-Mesquita said.

Commenting on the study, Eric Jacobs, strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society, said that "this important study is well designed and the largest ever study of HDL cholesterol and colon cancer risk."

But, he noted, "the link between HDL and colon cancer needs to be confirmed in other studies and could reflect the effect of biological factors correlated with HDL, rather than an effect of HDL itself."

In addition, Jacobs stated, "No matter what the exact biology, we do know that getting more exercise is a good way to both improve HDL levels and lower risk of several cancers, including colon cancer."

More information

For more information on colon cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Eating Apples Extends Lifespan of Test Animals by 10 Percent


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 8, 2011) — Scientists are reporting the first evidence that consumption of a healthful antioxidant substance in apples extends the average lifespan of test animals, and does so by 10 percent. The new results, obtained with fruit flies -- stand-ins for humans in hundreds of research projects each year -- bolster similar findings on apple antioxidants in other animal tests.

The study appears in ACS's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Zhen-Yu Chen and colleagues note that damaging substances generated in the body, termed free radicals, cause undesirable changes believed to be involved in the aging process and some diseases. Substances known as antioxidants can combat this damage. Fruits and vegetables in the diet, especially brightly colored foods like tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, and apples are excellent sources of antioxidants. A previous study with other test animals hinted that an apple antioxidant could extend average lifespan. In the current report, the researchers studied whether different apple antioxidants, known as polyphenols, could do the same thing in fruit flies.

The researchers found that apple polyphenols not only prolonged the average lifespan of fruit flies but helped preserve their ability to walk, climb and move about. In addition, apple polyphenols reversed the levels of various biochemical substances found in older fruit flies and used as markers for age-related deterioration and approaching death.

Chen and colleagues note that the results support those from other studies, including one in which women who often ate apples had a 13-22 percent decrease in the risk of heart disease, and polish the apple's popular culture image as a healthy food.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Cheng Peng, Ho Yin Edwin Chan, Yu Huang, Hongjian Yu, Zhen-Yu Chen. Apple Polyphenols Extend the Mean Lifespan of Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011; : 110214164435048 DOI: 10.1021/jf1046267

Brain's Learning Ability Seems to Recharge During Light Slumber

HealthDay News

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TUESDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- Your brain's ability to learn may get recharged during the light, dreamless slumber that accounts for up to half of your night's sleep, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted tests on 44 healthy young adults and found strong evidence that bursts of brain waves called sleep spindles may network between important regions of the brain to clear a path to learning.

These spindles -- which are fast pulses of electricity that are generated during non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and can occur up to 1,000 times per night -- help to transfer fact-based memories from the brain's hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex's "hard drive."

This enables the hippocampus, which has limited storage space, to take in fresh data, the researchers explained.

"All these pieces of the puzzle tell a consistent and compelling story -- that sleep spindles predict learning refinement," senior author Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, said in a UC Berkeley news release.

Spindle-driven networking is most likely to occur during stage 2 of non-REM sleep, which occurs before the deepest non-REM sleep and dream-inducing REM sleep. Stage 2 non-REM sleep can account for half of a person's sleep.

"A lot of that spindle-rich sleep is occurring in the second half of the night, so if you sleep six hours or less, you are shortchanging yourself. You will have fewer spindles and you might not be able to learn as much," lead author Bryce Mander, a post-doctoral fellow in psychology, said in the news release.

In this study, the researchers subjected 44 healthy young adults to a demanding memorizing task. All participants did equally well. The researchers then divided the group in two, with one half taking an hour and a half nap while the other half stayed awake.

That evening, the entire group was given another round of memorizing tasks. This time, though, those who had remained awake throughout the day had more trouble memorizing the new information. In contrast, those who had napped performed better than the waking group. In addition, the nappers appeared to actually have an improved capability for learning, the study found.

The study team then turned to electroencephalogram tests, which measured electrical activity in the brains of the nappers. These showed that the more sleep spindles the nappers produced, the more refreshed they appeared for learning. In addition, researchers discovered that sleep spindles were linked to brain activity looping between the lobes of the brain that house the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex -- both critical areas for memory.

The study appears Mar. 8 in the journal Current Biology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about sleep. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Compound Rids Cells of Alzheimer Protein Debris


Monday, March 7, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — If you can't stop the beta-amyloid protein plaques from forming in Alzheimer's disease patients, then maybe you can help the body rid itself of them instead. At least that's what scientists from New York were hoping for when they found a drug candidate to do just that. Their work appears in a research report online in The FASEB Journal, and shows that a new compound, called "SMER28" stimulated autophagy in rat and mice cells.

Autophagy is a process cells use to "clean out" the debris from their interior, including unwanted materials such as the protein aggregates that are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. In mice and rat cells, SMER28 effectively slowed down the accumulation of beta-amyloid.

"Our work demonstrates that small molecules can be developed as therapies, by activating a cellular function called autophagy, to prevent Alzheimer's disease," said Paul Greengard, Ph.D.,Nobel laureate and director of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at The Rockefeller University in New York, NY. "By increasing our understanding of autophagy, it might be possible to stimulate it pharmacologically or naturally to improve the quality of life for aging people."

Using mouse and rat cells, scientists tested various compounds for their ability to reduce the buildup of beta-amyloid by exposing cultured cells to compounds known to activate autophagy. The effects of these compounds were then compared by removing growth factors from the culture medium. Researchers then focused on the most effective compound, which was SMER28, to characterize the cellular components involved in this phenomenon. For that purpose, the effect of SMER28 on beta-amyloid formation was compared using normal cells or cells where the expression of genes known to be involved in autophagy was reduced or abolished. Results showed involvement of three important autophagic players, and one was essential for the effect of SMER28. This research represents a radically different approach to treating Alzheimer's disease, namely boosting a cellular mechanism to enhance the clearance of beta-amyloid, as well as other protein aggregates; and it opens a new therapeutic avenue for the treatment of this and other degenerative diseases.

"Autophagy has been called the cell's equivalent of urban renewal. In that sense, SMER28 functions as a cellular forklift to clear out unwanted debris," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "The Rockefeller group shows that strategies to remove the blight in cells that causes Alzheimer's disease are not only worth pursuing, but so far, appear to be very promising."

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Y. Tian, V. Bustos, M. Flajolet, P. Greengard. A small-molecule enhancer of autophagy decreases levels of A  and APP-CTF via Atg5-dependent autophagy pathway. The FASEB Journal, 2011; DOI: 10.1096/fj.10-175158

Not getting enough sleep? Turn off the technology

By Patricia Reaney


Monday, March 7, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dependence on televisions, cellphones and laptops may be costing Americans dearly -- in lack of sleep.

The national penchant for watching television every evening before going to sleep, playing video games late into the night or checking emails and text messages before turning off the lights could be interfering with the nation's sleep habits.

"Unfortunately, cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day," Russell Rosenberg, the vice chairman of the Washington DC-based National Sleep Foundation (NSF), said in a statement.

Nearly 95 percent of people questioned in an NSF study said they used some type of electronics in the hour before going to bed, and about two-thirds admitted they do not get enough sleep during the week.

Charles Czeisler, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said exposure to artificial light before going to bed can increase alertness and suppress the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.

"Technology has invaded the bedroom," Czeisler explained in an interview. "Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported they routinely get less sleep than they need."

Baby boomers, or people aged 46-64 years old, were the biggest offenders of watching television every night before going to sleep, while more than a third of 13-18 year-olds and 28 percent of young adults 19-29 year olds played video games before bedtime.

Sixty one percent also said they used their computer or laptop at least a few nights each week.

And a propensity to stay in touch means that even people who have managed to fall asleep, are being woken up by cellphones, texts and emails during the night.

"One in 10 kids report they are being awoken by texts after they have gone to bed. People don't turn off their Blackberries," said Czeisler, adding that much of this is happening at the expense of sleep.

Generation Z'ers, 13-18 year olds, were the most sleep-deprived group, with 22 percent describing themselves as "sleepy," compared to only nine percent of baby boomers.

Sleep experts recommend that teenagers get 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night but adolescents in the study were only averaging 7 hours and 26 minutes on weeknights.

"I am the most concerned about how little sleep 13-18 years are getting," said Czeisler. "Kids today are getting an hour and a half to two hours less sleep per night than they did a century ago. That means that they are losing about 50 hours of sleep per month," said Czeisler.

Americans' lack of sleep is negatively impacting their work, mood, family, driving habits, sex lives and health, according to the NSF.

All age groups are coping by consuming caffeinated drinks -- about three 12-ounce (354 ml) beverages per person -- per day, and taking naps, sometimes more than one during the day.

"Parents should get these technologies out of the bedrooms of kids if they want them to do well (in school)," said Czeisler.

Helicobacter Pylori Infection Linked to Decreased Iron Levels in Otherwise Healthy Children


Monday, March 7, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — Children without previous iron deficiencies or anemia who remained infected with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) had significantly lower levels of iron compared to children who had the infection eradicated, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

"Half of the world's population is infected with H. pylori and most of the individuals are asymptomatically infected, according to several surveys," said Victor Cardenas, M.D., Ph.D., lead investigator of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health El Paso Regional Campus, part of UTHealth. "What we learned in this study is not only does H. pylori cause iron deficiency anemia and iron-deficiency, but that even among children who do not have these conditions, their levels of iron are lower than otherwise healthy children." The research is published in the March issue of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.

Researchers investigated the link between H. pylori infection and iron levels in non-iron-deficient preschool and school age children in El Paso and found the infection causes a decrease in the levels of iron in children who do not have anemia or an iron deficiency. The bacterium H. pylori infects the lining of the stomach resulting in chronic swelling of tissue, a condition known as gastritis. H. pylori is also a major cause of peptic ulcer disease and the cause of most cancers of the stomach, according to the World Health Organization.

"Iron is an essential nutrient which supports several body functions and exists in small amounts in the body, but it is also required by bacteria such as H. pylori," said Cardenas. "The infection decreases the body's natural progression of making iron." According to Cardenas, this is the first study conducted in the contiguous U.S. to examine the role of the infection on the levels of iron levels in asymptomatic children.

Over time markers of iron stored in the body increased in children no longer infected. However, children who remained infected lagged in levels of one marker, serum ferritin, at their six month follow-up. The protein serum ferritin measures the amount of iron stored in your body, according to the National Institute of Health.

"Previous research has shown that iron levels correlate with several body functions including brain activity and have well documented long-term health consequences such as increased morbidity and mortality and loss of productivity," said Cardenas. "There is a need to research the long-term consequences of asymptomatic H. pylori infections in those without an iron deficiency because the effect we found could be present among those with normal iron levels."

Cardenas and his team used a previously tested therapy, which consisted of one antacid plus one antibiotic for five days, followed by the antacid plus two antibiotics for another five days. While previous studies resulted in high rates of success in eradicating H. pylori, only half of the children given the active medications in Cardenas' study had their infection eradicated, a disappointing result, he said.

Cardenas questions whether asymptomatic H. pylori infections have any significant health consequences. "We want to further investigate if there is a relation between variations of the bacteria strains and iron in adults," said Cardenas.

Members of the research team led by Cardenas included investigators from Baylor College of Medicine, The University of North Texas, The University of Texas at El Paso and Texas Tech University Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. The research was funded by the Thrasher Research Fund.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Carmen A Prieto-Jimenez, Victor M Cardenas, Lori A Fischbach, Zuber D Mulla, Jose O Rivera, Delfina C Dominguez, David Y Graham, Melchor Ortiz. Double-blind Randomized Trial of Quadruple Sequential Helicobacter pylori Eradication Therapy in Asymptomatic Infected Children in El Paso, Texas. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 2011; 52 (3): 319 DOI: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e318206870e

Weight loss programs may boost mood in obese people

By Genevra Pittman

Reuters Health

Monday, March 7, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Obese people who participate in a weight loss program based on exercise and lifestyle changes end up less depressed, according to a new review.

But how many pounds they actually shed didn't seem to matter, and it's not clear that weight loss itself played a role, one expert said.

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for many medical conditions, including depression. Previous research has suggested that by losing even a small percentage of their body weight, heavy people can improve their physical and mental health, even if they remain obese.

However, some weight loss medications have been linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior. To complicate things even further, people on antidepressants often gain weight.

The authors of the new report "don't want to imply that weight loss is a substitute for treatment of clinically significant depression," said Dr. Anthony Fabricatore, whose findings appear in the International Journal of Obesity.

"But for people who have some symptoms of depression and are overweight (or) obese, there's some relief that comes with weight loss," he added. Fabricatore, then at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, now works for the diet and weight loss company Nutrisystem.

The researchers, all of whom have ties to drugmakers, reviewed a collection of 31 previous studies that had explored the relationship between weight loss in a structured program and changes in symptoms of depression.

In each of the studies, obese patients were randomly assigned to different kinds of weight loss programs, including diet-only or exercise-only programs or programs based around counseling and behavioral change.

Some patients took medications to boost weight loss, and others, used for comparison, got no treatment whatsoever. A total of almost 8,000 people were part of the studies.

The researchers on those original studies scored depressive symptoms before and after the weight-loss program, and noted how much weight participants lost during the program.

Because most weight loss studies do not include people suffering from clinical depression, Fabricatore and his colleagues focused on symptoms related to depression and mood, rather than tracking who had been diagnosed with clinical depression.

As a whole, people in almost every kind of weight loss program not based on medication saw improvements in their mood.

"Lifestyle modification" programs, such as those based on counseling on diet and exercise, had the most positive effect, and programs including workouts also relieved symptoms of depression. Treatment with weight loss medication, however, had no impact on participants' mood.

How much weight each person lost -- or didn't lose -- was not linked with their changes in mood during the weight loss program.

Fabricatore said that because people in weight loss programs such as these generally lose about 5 to 10 percent of their initial body weight, it could be that after a certain point, more weight loss doesn't improve mental health. "There may be a threshold value that once you lose a certain amount of weight, your mood's going to improve and losing more weight isn't necessarily going to make it better," he said.

Shedding pounds might also not be the only explanation for improvements in mood, said Dr. Patrick Smith, researcher at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, whose study was included in the review.

"There are some studies that have shown that improvements in fitness and weight loss and increased time exercising will improve your mood," he told Reuters Health. And then there are the possible positive psychological changes from these programs, such as improved body image, regardless of weight loss, he said.

Finally, "the other possible explanation is that many of these weight loss programs are conducted in a group manner, which provides some social support and some validation from other people," which could help improve symptoms of depression, Smith explained.

The authors stressed that their findings don't necessarily apply to people who've been diagnosed with clinical depression. Whether those patients can also improve their mood through participation in weight loss programs is still unclear.


International Journal of Obesity, online February 22, 2011.

Loss of Key Protein Boosts Neuron Loss in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis


Monday, March 7, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or more popularly, Lou Gehrig's disease, is a notorious neurodegenerative condition characterized by the progressive deterioration of brain and spinal cord neurons, resulting in the gradual but catastrophic loss of muscle control and ultimately, death.

In a new paper, published in the Feb. 27 advance online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, a team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and colleagues describe the profound and pervasive role of a key protein in ALS pathology called TDP-43.

The work was led by Don W. Cleveland, PhD, professor and chair of the UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Gene Yeo, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

In normal cells, TDP-43 is found in the nucleus where it helps maintain proper levels of ribonucleic acid (RNA), intermediate molecules that translate genetic information from DNA to proteins -- the building blocks of cells.

In the majority of ALS patients, however, TDP-43 accumulates in the cell's cytoplasm -- the liquid that separates the nucleus from the outer membrane, and thus is excluded from the nucleus, which prevents it from performing its normal duties.

Using a mouse model, the researchers made three new important findings:

First, employing a comprehensive genome-wide RNA-binding mapping strategy, they discovered that more than one-third of the genes in the mouse brain are direct targets of TDP-43. In other words, the roles and functions of these genes are impacted by the presence -- or absence -- of normal TDP-43.

Second, the genes most affected had numerous TDP-43 binding sites on very long introns. Introns are the non-coding portions of a gene that are not used to make proteins. Typically, introns are removed (spliced out) during the development of mature messenger RNA. Introns, however, contain binding sites for RNA binding proteins such as TDP-43, to regulate the splicing process.

"This is an important finding as genes expressed in the central nervous system have much longer introns than genes expressed in any other tissues," said Yeo. "This may explain the neuronal selectivity of the disease, and why other types of cells aren't affected."

Third, TDP-43 affects the alternative splicing of many genes. In fact, it affects the alternative splicing of its own RNA message. Said Yeo: "This autoregulation keeps TDP-43 protein levels in check. The loss of TDP-43 removes this check; more TDP-43 is generated and more is likely to accumulate in the cytoplasm."

The deep and expansive impact of misaggregated TDP-43 and the concurrent loss of normal TDP-43 appear to extend beyond ALS. The protein is a central component in the pathogenesis of an ever-increasing list of neurodegenerative conditions. For example, accumulating abnormal TDP-43 in neuronal cytoplasm has been documented in frontotemporal lobar dementia, a neurological disorder that results in progressive changes in personality, the ability to concentrate, social skills, motivation and reasoning.

"It is likely that TDP-43 affects many other neurodegenerative diseases," said Yeo. "Our RNA targets probably reveal the set of genes important for maintaining the normal homeostasis of neurons."

Yeo said the team will now explore which TDP-43 binding sites are critical to how ALS begins and progresses. Ultimately, he said, the information could be used to design new drugs and therapies.

Co-authors of the paper include Magdalini Polymenidou, Clotilde Lagier-Tourenne, Jacqueline Moran, Shuo-Chien Ling, Eveline Sun, Ludwig and Holly Kordasiewicz, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at UCSD and the UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine; Kasey R. Hutt, Stephanie C. Huelga and Tiffany Y. Liang, UCSD Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and UCSD Stem Cell Program and Institute for Genomic Medicine; Edward Wancewicz, Curt Mazur, Yalda Sedaghat and C. Frank Bennett, Isis Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, Ca.; John Paul Donohue and Lily Shiue, RNA Center, Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, Sinsheimer Labs, UC Santa Cruz.

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the UCSD Stem Cell Program.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Magdalini Polymenidou, Clotilde Lagier-Tourenne, Kasey R Hutt, Stephanie C Huelga, Jacqueline Moran, Tiffany Y Liang, Shuo-Chien Ling, Eveline Sun, Edward Wancewicz, Curt Mazur, Holly Kordasiewicz, Yalda Sedaghat, John Paul Donohue, Lily Shiue, C Frank Bennett, Gene W Yeo, Don W Cleveland. Long pre-mRNA depletion and RNA missplicing contribute to neuronal vulnerability from loss of TDP-43. Nature Neuroscience, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2779

Irregular Heart Beat Plus Stroke May Increase Dementia Risk

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Monday, March 7, 2011

MONDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer a stroke and also have an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation may be at greater risk of developing dementia than stroke survivors without the heart condition, British researchers report.

The likelihood of atrial fibrillation increases with age, and it is a significant risk factor for stroke. More than 2 million Americans have the condition, according to the study, published in the March 8 issue of Neurology.

"We know that atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia in older patients, but it has been unclear whether the arrhythmia is a major risk factor for dementia," said researcher Dr. Yoon K. Loke, a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K.

"In the stroke population, atrial fibrillation appears to have a major role in contributing to dementia, and clinicians should concentrate their efforts on tackling this, in addition to any associated cardiovascular risk factors," he added.

For the study, Loke and colleagues gathered data on 46,637 people, average age 72, who took part in 15 separate studies.

This is a method known as a meta-analysis in which researchers pull out certain data from studies not necessarily designed to evaluate the specific outcomes these researchers are interested in. The goal is to identify any significant trends.

In this case, the pooled data showed that people who survive a stroke and who also have atrial fibrillation are 2.4 times more likely to develop dementia, compared with stroke survivors without this irregular heart beat.

In all, about 25 percent of patients with stroke and atrial fibrillation developed dementia during follow-up, the researchers noted.

Strategies are needed to reduce this excess dementia risk in stroke patients, Loke said. "This may include steps such as better control of the arrhythmia and more effective prevention of clots."

The researchers were unable to determine whether people with atrial fibrillation but no stroke history are at a greater risk for dementia. "In wider populations that involve patients who do not have stroke, atrial fibrillation does not seem to be a major contributor to the risk of dementia," Loke said.

Many factors other than atrial fibrillation probably contribute to dementia, he said. "A targeted or focused approach on management of atrial fibrillation may not help to reduce the burden of dementia," he added.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, a professor of medicine and director of the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University Medical Center, said that "there was considerable variability among the included studies."

The relationship between atrial fibrillation and dementia in those with stroke is not unexpected, Goldstein said. Strokes that result from heart problems tend to be larger and more frequently involve the left middle cerebral artery, leading to aphasia (damage to the brain area that controls language), which can complicate cognitive testing, he explained.

"The meta-analysis did not control for these factors, although two of the studies excluded those with aphasia," Goldstein said.

Dr. Richard B. Libman, chief of the division of vascular neurology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., added that this study is not conclusive, but appears to suggest a connection.

"If it turns out that atrial fibrillation is associated with dementia only because atrial fibrillation is a cause of stroke, then we do whatever we can to prevent strokes in people who have atrial fibrillation," he said.

But it's possible that atrial fibrillation by itself could play a role in dementia. "That's a little trickier," Libman noted. The goal of treatment then would be to control the arrhythmia through drugs or medical procedures, he said.

Libman said a meta-analysis has limitations, because the various studies use different methods. "You can't tease out relationships always by combining data," he said. "All you can do is get a general idea that perhaps will guide further research."

More information

For more information on stroke, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Plan for Life


Monday, March 7, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — The Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial effects not only regarding metabolic syndrome, but also on its individual components including waist circumference, HDL-cholesterol levels, triglycerides levels, blood pressure levels and glucose metabolism, according to a new study published in the March 15, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study is a meta-analysis, including results of 50 studies on the Mediterranean diet, with an overall studied population of about half a million subjects.

"The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome is increasing rapidly throughout the world, in parallel with the increasing incidence of diabetes and obesity, and is now considered a major public health problem," said lead investigator Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., associate professor in Biostatistics-Epidemiology of Nutrition, Department of Science of Dietetics -- Nutrition, Harokopio University of Athens. "Additionally, the metabolic syndrome is one of the main causes of cardiovascular disease (directly or indirectly), associated with personal and socio-economic burdens. As a result, prevention of this condition is of considerable importance."

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern characterized by high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily from olives and olive oils; daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and low-fat dairy products; weekly consumption of fish, poultry, tree nuts, and legumes; a relatively low consumption of red meat; and a moderate daily consumption of alcohol, normally with meals.

The Mediterranean diet, according to Dr. Panagiotakos and Christina-Maria Kastorini, MSc, Ph.D. cand., is one of the best-known and well-studied dietary patterns, which has been shown to be associated with decreased mortality from all causes, lower risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Additionally, it has a beneficial effect on abdominal obesity, lipids levels, glucose metabolism and blood pressure levels, which are also risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet as a whole, as well as the effects of the individual components of the diet, and especially olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish, also confer to the beneficial role of this pattern.

"To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first work that has systematically assessed, through a large meta-analysis, the role of the Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and its components," he said. "Our results add to the existing knowledge, and further demonstrate the protective role and the significance that lifestyle factors, and mainly dietary habits, have when it comes to the development and progression of the metabolic syndrome."

Encouraging adherence to a healthy dietary pattern like the Mediterranean diet, as well as the adoption of an active lifestyle, seems to be a cornerstone in developing public health strategies for the prevention of the metabolic syndrome, Dr. Panagiotakos suggested. Taking into account the limited financial resources many countries face in the 21st century, better eating seems to be an effective and affordable means for preventing cardiovascular diseases, at the population level, he suggested. In addition to its various health benefits, this dietary pattern can be easily adopted by all populations and various cultures.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Journal Reference:

Christina-Maria Kastorini, Haralampos J. Milionis, Katherine Esposito, Dario Giugliano, John A. Goudevenos, and Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos. The Effect of Mediterranean Diet on Metabolic Syndrome and its Components A Meta-Analysis of 50 Studies and 534,906 Individuals. J Am Coll Cardiol, 2011; 57:1299-1313 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.09.073

Studies find gene links to world's biggest killer

By Kate Kelland


Monday, March 7, 2011

LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have found 13 new gene variants that increase a person's risk of developing heart disease, the world's number one killer, in a series of large-scale international genetic studies.

The discovery of 13 previously unknown gene variations and the confirmation of around 10 more should offer clues about how heart ailments such as coronary artery disease develop, and lead to new and more effective treatments, the researchers said.

The findings also suggest it may be worth mapping someone's profile of genetic variants for heart problems as part of routine clinical care in the future, with an eye to being able to offer more personalized prevention or treatment plans.

"With such information we should be able to better identify people at high risk early on in life and quickly take the steps to neutralize that excess risk," said Dr. Themistocles Assimes of Stanford University School of Medicine in the United States, one of many scientists across the world who worked on the study.

"Although we are inching closer to that day, we will probably need to reliably identify many more variants...over the next few years before it becomes useful to perform this genetic profiling in a doctor's office."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases are the world's largest killers, claiming 17.1 million lives a year. Billions of dollars are spent every year on medical devices and drugs to treat them.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, unhealthy eating and a lack of physical exercise are known to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but scientists also have been examining DNA maps to find genes that may also put people at higher cardiovascular risk.

For this study, published along with two additional papers on heart disease risk variants in the journal Nature Genetics on Sunday, an international consortium analyzed data from 14 previous so-called genome-wide association studies, which scan people's genetic profiles.

Investigators examined the complete genetic profiles of more than 22,000 people of European descent with coronary heart disease or a heart attack history and 60,000 healthy people - making this study close to 10 times bigger than the next largest whole-genome study to date.

Combining data from multiple studies is critical to finding gene risk variants, as the genetic architecture of heart diseases is very complex.

"The signals from these gene regions are all rather subtle, making large-scale collaborations a prerequisite for any meaningful progress," Assimes said in a statement.

Researchers said their results showed that of the total of 23 variants now known, seven are linked with levels of "bad" or LDL cholesterol and one is linked with hypertension, or high blood pressure - both known risk factors for heart disease.

But the others have no relation to known cardiovascular risk factors - a finding the scientists said opened up new opportunities for future research and discovery.

"The lack of apparent association with the risk factors we know so well is the source of a lot of excitement concerning these results," said Sekar Kathiresan of Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States, who worked on the study.

"If these variants do not act through known mechanisms, how do they confer risk for heart disease? It suggests there are new mechanisms we don't yet understand."


Nature Genetics, March 6, 2011.

Why Poor Diet During Pregnancy Negatively Affects Offspring's Long Term Health


Monday, March 7, 2011

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2011) — Poor diet during pregnancy increases offspring's vulnerability to the effects of aging, new research has shown for the first time.

The research, by scientists from the University of Cambridge, provides important insight into why children born to mothers who consumed an unhealthy diet during pregnancy have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (a significant contributing factor to heart disease and cancer) later in life.

"What is most exciting about these findings is that we are now starting to really understand how nutrition during the first nine months of life spent in the womb shape our long term health by influencing how the cells in our body age," said Dr Susan Ozanne, the senior author on the paper and British Heart Foundation Senior Fellow from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge.

It is well established that environmental factors interact with genes throughout life, affecting the expression of those genes and, consequently, tissue function and disease risk. Diet during critical periods of development, such as during the nine months in the womb, has been cited as one such environmental factor. Epigenetics, which refers to modifications to the DNA that regulate how much of a gene is produced, has been suggested to underlie these effects.

However, until now, very little was understood about the underlying mechanisms that control the interaction between diet during gestation and gene expression in offspring throughout their adult life. Research, funded by the BBSRC and the British Heart Foundation, has now shown that the gene Hnf4a, which has been linked to type 2 diabetes, is regulated by maternal diet through epigenetic modifications to our DNA. Additionally, they found that poor diet exacerbates the rate at which these key epigenetic modifications accumulate during the aging process.

Previous research has shown that the gene Hnf4a plays an important role both during development of the pancreas and later in the production of insulin. The researchers hypothesised that diet during pregnancy influences the expression of this gene later in life, thereby influencing the risk of diabetes.

To test their theory, the researchers used a well-established rat model where, by altering the protein content of the mother's diet during pregnancy, the offspring develop type 2 diabetes in old age.

First, they studied the RNA from insulin secreting cells in the pancreas from offspring of normally fed as well as malnourished mothers in young adult life and in old age. When they compared the two, they found that there was a significant decrease in the expression of the Hnf4a gene in the offspring prone to type 2 diabetes. The expression of Hnf4a also decreased with age in both groups.

Second, they studied the DNA and found that the decrease of Hnf4a was caused by epigenetic changes. The age associated epigenetic silencing was more pronounced in rats exposed to poor maternal diet. They concluded that the epigenetic changes resulting from maternal diet and aging lead to the reduced expression of the Hnf4a gene, decreasing the function of the pancreas and therefore its ability to make insulin (and thereby increasing the risk of diabetes).

The scientists then studied the DNA from insulin secreting cells from human pancreases to show that expression of this important gene was controlled in the same way in humans.

"It is remarkable that maternal diet can mark our genes so they remember events in very early life," said Dr Miguel Constancia, the senior co-author on the paper from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge. "Our findings reveal a novel mechanism by which maternal diet and aging interact through epigenetic processes to determine our risk of age-associated diseases."

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "We already know that a healthy pregnancy is important in shaping a child's health, and their risk of heart disease as they grow up. The reasons why are not well understood, but this study in rats adds to the evidence that a mother's diet may sometimes alter the control of certain genes in her unborn child. It's no reason for expectant mothers to be unduly worried. This research doesn't change our advice that pregnant women should try to eat a healthy, balanced diet."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said: "Epigenetics is a relatively young field of research with tremendous potential to underpin our understanding of many biological processes in all organisms. The fact that there is a relationship between the biology of a pregnant mother and the long term health of her child has been known for some time but our understanding of the biological processes behind some of the more subtle effects is still at a nascent stage. This study uncovers -- through epigenetics and molecular biology research -- an important piece of this puzzle and shows us how apparently minor changes within cells at the very earliest stages of development can have a major influence on our health into old age."

The paper 'Maternal diet and aging alter the epigenetic control of a promoter-enhancer interaction at the Hnf4a gene in rat pancreatic islets' will be published in the 07 March edition of PNAS.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

To Eat More Fruit, Picture a Fruit Salad

HealthDay News

Saturday, March 5, 2011

SATURDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- Creating a healthy eating action plan and visualizing yourself carrying it out may help improve the way you eat, researchers suggest.

"Telling people to just change the way they eat doesn't work; we've known that for a long time," study author Barbel Knauper, an associate professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal, said in a university news release.

"But research has shown that if people make a concrete plan about what they are going to do, they are better at acting on their intentions. What we've done that's new is to add visualization techniques to the action plan," she explained.

Her study included 177 students who were asked to set the goal of eating more fruit for a week. All of the students ate more fruit during that time. However, those who made a concrete plan, wrote it down and also visualized how they were going to carry out their plan (i.e. when, where and how they would buy, prepare and eat fruit) increased their fruit consumption twice as much as those who didn't plan or visualize.

"Athletes do lots of work mentally rehearsing their performances before competing and it's often very successful," Knauper said. "So we thought having people mentally rehearse how they were going to buy and eat their fruit should make it more likely that they would actually do it. And this is exactly what happened."

The study was published in the current issue of Psychology and Health.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers healthy eating tips.