Friday, March 31, 2006

Allergies reach epidemic levels in Europe: experts

Allergies such as hay fever are reaching epidemic proportions in Europe and a failure to treat them properly is creating a mounting bill for society and the healthcare system, experts said on Friday.

Around one third of the European population has some kind of allergy, while one in two children in Britain will have allergies by 2015, costing millions of euros in medical bills, lost work days and even impaired concentration in school pupils.

Experts say various factors such as air pollution, animal fur and dust mites could act as triggers for allergies but that the levels of allergic reaction vary from country to country.

Allergies were most prevalent in Britain and Ireland, as well as other English speaking countries like Canada, Australia and the United States.

"We have valid data that one third of European Union people have allergies but only 10 percent of these millions of people are treated well," Zuberbier said, adding that around 40 percent of children with untreated hay fever will develop asthma.

The GALEN network has established standard practice across Europe in diagnosing allergies and it has now begun to draw up guidelines on how best to treat the conditions.

Steve - one extremely important guideline that needs to be included is addressing the cross-reaction between foods and environmental allergens. Bonnie and I could not emphasize this more. The food we eat dramatically increases the severity of allergens we are exposed to environmentally. In addition, the less variety we have in our diet, the worse our allergies will get. It is not a coincidence that while corn, wheat, dairy and soy products appear more in our food supply, the number of allergy sufferers increase. Until this is taken seriously, allergies will continue to get worse.

Tea’s brain health benefit link gets more support

Both green and black tea could protect against age-related diseases like Alzheimer's, says a new study, adding yet more support to the benefits of tea extract on brain health.

“We looked at the protective effects of two tea extracts and their main constituents, called catechins, on dying nerve cells,” explained senior author RĂ©mi Quirion from Douglas Hospital Research Centre, Quebec.

The research, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience (Vol. 23, pp. 55-64), claims to be the first to show beneficial effects of both green and black tea on cell cultures treated with amyloid proteins, thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide.

The researchers used rat hippocampal cells as models for human cells, and found that addition of the beta-amyloid protein was toxic and killed the cells.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

190 Pharmaceutical Companies Might Receive Subpoenas in Anti-Competitive Practices Investigation, FTC Says

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday announced that it plans to subpoena 190 drug companies in an investigation of possible anti-competitive practices in the pharmaceutical industry, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. The subpoenas, which require approval from the Office of Management and Budget, would be part of a probe into whether pharmaceutical companies are suppressing competition by releasing authorized generic versions of their own brand-name drugs to coincide with the introduction of products from generic drug makers. For details, go to

FDA Staff Travels on Drug Industry Dollars

Through an apparent loophole in agency rules the Food and Drug Administration has allowed its employees to receive more than $1.3 million in sponsored travel since 1999 from groups closely tied to pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Read the detailed account at The Center for Public Integrity's website.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Harvard Heart Letter Examines the New Food Pyramid at its One-Year Anniversary

A year ago this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled MyPyramid,
its replacement for the outdated food pyramid. But although it redecorated and renamed the old pyramid,
the USDA didn't carry out the necessary changes needed to offer clear information on strategies
for healthful eating, reports the April issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

MyPyramid fails to convey key messages from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,
the document that the food pyramid is supposed to represent, and it makes some recommendations
that aren't the best nutrition advice, says the Harvard Heart Letter. For example, the guidelines recommend
cutting back on animal fats, avoiding harmful trans fats, and limiting intake of salt and added sugars.
MyPyramid only urges you to "choose wisely" when it comes to fat and carbohydrates.

When all is said and done, MyPyramid is not an unbiased source of information.
It comes solely from the USDA, the government agency that promotes American agriculture.

Steve - well, well, well! It is nice to see that someone else has not given up the fight.
If you don't want to take our word for it, how about seeing Harvard blast MyPyramid!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Calcium and dairy unlikely to aid in weight loss

A new study does not support the theory that a boost in calcium intake or dairy consumption is useful for maintaining or losing weight.

"Media have been promoting dairy to lose weight and therefore this topic has gained a lot of importance," Dr. Swapni N. Rajpathak, who led the study, told Reuters Health. "At this time, there is not enough justification to increase dairy intake to lose weight," the researcher warned.

Rajpathak, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York and colleagues looked for links between baseline calcium intake and change in calcium intake and weight change over time in about 43,000 healthy middle-aged men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study -- a prospective study launched in 1986 to evaluate the role of diet in chronic diseases.

After taking into account multiple potentially confounding factors, baseline or change in intake of total calcium was not significantly associated with a change in weight, the team reports in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"We found that men who increased their dairy/calcium intake did not lose more weight -- in fact, they gained slightly more weight -- in the 12-year period," Rajpathak told Reuters Health. This was primarily due to an increase in high-fat dairy intake.

Increasing calcium in the diet as a means to lose weight is not advisable, the researcher said.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2006.

Steve - this is an independent, long-running, prestigious, and large population study. It trounces the positive data that the Dairy Council boasts, which are two tiny university studies that they funded themselves.

Columnist grades parents view on school's nutrition policies

Another awesome entry from one of our favorite health columnists:

Julie Deardorff
Chicago Tribune

March 26, 2006

A new federal law orders parents to do some health-related homework: help schools design tougher nutrition and exercise policies for next year.

But it might prove to be a daunting task. Not only are most parents unaware of the mandate, but when quizzed about their kids' school health habits, the results showed they desperately need a review course, according to a report by Skokie-based Action for Healthy Kids.

Yes, many parents have likely heard that Illinois education leaders recently voted to ban junk food and high-calorie sodas in elementary and middle schools. But the national online survey found there's "a critical need to close the gap between parents' perceptions of school policies ... and the reality in schools today." Here's a quick look inside the hallways.

Parents' view: Fifty percent of parents believe schools are doing an "excellent" or "good" job educating children about nutrition.

Reality: The average school health education curriculum includes an average of just five hours of nutrition education per school year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parents' view: Seventy-seven percent support a daily physical education requirement, with a recommended allocation of 48 minutes daily. Most rated their child's school as "excellent" or "good" when it comes to making daily physical education available to everyone.

Reality: Only 5.8 to 8 percent of American schools provide daily physical education.

Parents' view: Fifty-two percent believe schools do an "excellent" or "good" job encouraging children to consume healthful food and beverages.

Reality: Most schools allow students to purchase soda, chips and candy on campus.

To help change the reality, all schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs must draft and implement local wellness policies by the beginning of the next school year.

The new federal law demands that parents work alongside teachers, administrators and school food-service personnel to try to make healthy changes.

Steve - These are some unbelievable statistics. As we have said countless times in the past, much of the onus for the abismal nutrition & health policies, school lunches, etc. fall squarely on the shoulder's of the parents. Parents are resistant to major changes because that means they would be pressured to make the same changes at home. If parents really cared about this issue, things would be different.

Unfortunately, the new federal law that Julie refers to is severly flawed. We have spoken to several members of school boards across Chicagoland that laugh at the guidelines. The government is passing the buck in the case, and they are partially correct. Until the parents stand up and demand major changes, not much can get done.

Antidepressants revealed

First came the warning of a possible link between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and suicidal thoughts among children and adolescents. Then came a drop in sales — 14% last year compared with the year before. Now research has found that a single medicine typically does not effectively treat depression for most people and that those with depression often stop taking the medicines altogether.

Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach will not suffice. Patients who complained to their internists about feeling blue have not been well-served by simply a prescription for an SSRI — and few warnings about side effects or the very real possibility that the drug might not work.

A study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that a single SSRI medication works only for about 30% of chronically depressed patients. For most of the 2,876 outpatients participating in the study, real progress came only with subsequent drugs or with a combination of drugs.

A second study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the remaining patients who did not respond to the single medication the first time. More than half of this group switched medications completely, and about a quarter of them became symptom-free within 14 weeks. An additional 565 augmented the initial antidepressant with a second medication, and within 14 weeks of treatment, one-third became symptom free.

The sheer dimensions of depression illustrate the importance of treatment. A massive study conducted by the World Health Organization, Harvard University School of Public Health and the World Bank, found that by the year 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease in terms of disability caused. In any one-year period, 9.5% of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And though less than half seek treatment, many try to get help from their primary care physician or, less frequently, a mental health professional.

As currently offered, even treatment is no guarantee that the depression will lift. Each year, however, new research produces greater understanding in the treatment of this often-debilitating illness. And physicians are becoming more appreciative of a holistic approach to treating it, using not just therapy but diet and physical activity as well.

Excerpts courtesy of the LA Times

Steve - I think the most important sentence in this summary was the last one. Diet and physical activity have an enormous effect on depression.

US scientists make pigs with heart-healthy fats

Steve - I know this has been all over the news, but we could not help commenting on it.

U.S. scientists said on Sunday they had genetically engineered pigs that make beneficial fatty acids and may one day serve as a healthier source of pork chops or bacon.

The pigs produced omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that have been shown to improve cardiac function and reduce the risk of heart disease in people.

The only way now for humans to get omega-3s is through taking dietary supplement pills or by eating certain fish.

Seeking another source of omega-3s, researchers transferred a worm gene called fat-1 into pig cells in a laboratory. They used cloning technology to create embryonic cells that were implanted into the womb of a normal pig.

The gene produced an enzyme that converted the less desirable omega-6 fatty acids that the pigs naturally produced into omega-3s, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

It is encouraging to see this kind of breakthrough. Although, I would be hesitant to recommend this source of protein until plenty of research and tracking can rule out the potential for harm. Animals used to produce sufficient amounts of omega 3 fatty acids by eating what they were meant to eat. For example, in the case of cows, they produce sufficient amounts of omega 3s in their milk and meat when grass-fed as opposed to grain fed.

Adding fruits & veggies to government program no tall order

Steve - this is great reporting from one of our favorites.

By Andrew Martin
Washington Bureau

March 26, 2006

WASHINGTON -- If there is a major theme in the federal government's latest nutrition advice, it is to eat more fruits and vegetables.

But to date, politics and budgetary concerns have prevented the government from taking its own medicine when it comes to a program that is supposed to provide crucial nutrients to poor women and children.

The Department of Agriculture is weighing a proposal to add fruits, vegetables and whole grains to the food packages that are offered in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC for short.

As logical as that may sound, the decision is hardly a given.

The WIC food packages now include such things as infant formula, juice, milk, cheese, eggs and peanut butter. But previous attempts to revise the WIC packages have hit a wall in part because of opposition from powerful food lobbies, such as the dairy industry, that wanted to maintain the status quo.

Shirley Watkins, undersecretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services in the Clinton administration, said her attempts to add fruits and vegetables to the program were quickly quashed.

`No scientific evidence'

"There were a lot of companies that didn't want anything done to the food packages, but we had WIC recipients that really wanted change," Watkins said. "We were trying to make changes for the 25th anniversary of the WIC program, but we just could not move that forward.

"We were told there was no scientific evidence," she said. But she said the Dietary Guidelines for Americans--published every five years by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to represent the latest science on nutrition--were enough evidence for her. "We had lobbyists coming in. We knew as we pushed forward, they were pushing in any direction to keep us from moving."

What is different this time is that the USDA sought some additional ammunition--in the form of a study completed last spring by the quasi-governmental Institute of Medicine--that should have made the changes more palatable. The institute recommended that fruits and vegetables be added to the WIC program and less milk and eggs offered.

Currently, the only fruits and vegetables offered in the WIC food packages are fresh carrots, but only for pregnant women. The Institute of Medicine proposed giving WIC recipients monthly vouchers--$8 for children, $10 for women--to buy fresh fruits or vegetables.

But because the institute's mandate was to make changes without adding costs, its proposal calls for reductions in the amount of milk, juice and eggs that would be offered.

Under the current program, young children receive WIC vouchers for about 9 ounces of vitamin C-rich juice per day and 3 cups of milk. If the changes are adopted, the children would get 4 ounces of vitamin C-rich juice per day and 2 cups of milk.

In addition, their monthly allowance for eggs would be reduced from 2 to 2 1/2 dozen eggs to one dozen, while their allocation of iron-fortified cereal would remain the same each month, 36 ounces, except that it would be whole grain.

The USDA is drafting regulations to change the WIC program that were supposed to be completed months ago. Suanne Buggy, a spokeswoman for the USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said her agency was nearing the end of the review process, but she declined to provide a more specific timetable.

Keith Collins, the USDA's chief economist, disputed that lobbyists blocked previous attempts to change the package. Rather, Collins said it was due to internal disagreement on whether the revisions met the needs of WIC participants.

"The issue is not transparent [that fruits and vegetables are good] because the statutory goal of the program is to address the deficient nutrients of the WIC population," Collins said in an e-mail. "So what are the target nutrients? How deficient is the population in them? What is the best way to address these deficiencies?"

But Suzanne Murphy, a professor at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and chairwoman of the Institute of Medicine WIC study, said current guidelines provide WIC participants with more milk and dairy than federal nutrition guidelines recommend. For instance, WIC provides pregnant women with coupons to buy 3 1/2 cups of milk per day while the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid suggests 3 cups daily.

Besides, Murphy said, national surveys made it clear that women in the program don't want all the dairy products that are provided by WIC.

Other proponents argue that the changes are a no-brainer that should have been instituted years ago.

"We are squarely behind the Institute of Medicine's proposal to increase fresh fruits and vegetables," said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, executive director of the National WIC Association, a non-profit group that represents state and local agencies that administer WIC. In 2000 his group recommended changes that included more fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Every food group has a voice in Washington," he said, "and everyone wants to protect their particular piece of the food package."

Supporters of the dairy industry argue that WIC participants need the nutrients that the dairy servings provide.

"We are opposed to just rubber-stamping the [institute] recommendations," said Chip Kunde, senior vice president at the International Dairy Foods Association, a trade group. "We don't have a problem adding [fruits and vegetables]. They just shouldn't come at the expense of dairy."

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) made a similar pitch in an Oct. 24 letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

"I do not believe severe cutbacks of dairy availability in the WIC program are justified," Gutknecht said. "I ask that USDA propose a rule which reflects the department's own judgment of appropriate food package components and continues to acknowledge the role dairy plays as a cornerstone of the WIC food package."

The WIC program was started as a pilot project in 1972 amid mounting evidence that low-income children suffered from anemia and inadequate growth, conditions that could affect learning ability. Based on the nutrition science at the time, seven food packages were created for specific groups, such as infants or breast-feeding women, and the idea of each was to provide foods that included needed nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, protein and calcium.

WIC participants typically are given vouchers that can be used to purchase specific food items at participating stores.

Program serves 8 million

The program now serves about 8 million woman, children and infants a month and has an annual budget in excess of $5 billion.

A small program was created in 1992 to provide some WIC participants with vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets, but it is only available in summer months. In 2004, 2.5 million WIC participants received the farmers' markets vouchers.

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, said it was remarkable that such modest and logical changes would create controversy. Nonetheless, she said the delays in setting new policy are making her nervous.

"Many of us are getting a little antsy about this," she said.

Friday, March 24, 2006

BMJ weighs in on omega 3's

Here we go again.

Do you think we are seeing a trend over negative coverage regarding dietary supplements?

Earlier in the week The Wall Street Journal headlines were, "The Case Against Dietary Supplements." The piece was a rehashing of every negative story over the last few years. Many of them we have dispelled or, in some cases, lauded.

Today it is yet another meta-analysis, this time from the British Medical Journal, saying that omega 3's may not reduce risk of heart disease and mortality risk. Ugh.

This will further exhaust a confused public who as recently as 2002 were bombarded with a meta-analysis just as big lauding the reduction in heart disease and total mortality risk (Am J Med). Which is it?

We have said time and time again that meta-analysis studies should never be accepted as gospel, yet with most of the negative press on dietary supplements over the last few years, the studies have been from meta-analyses.

Another note on this recent study only looked at research up to 2002. There have been numerous research studies since 2002 that have shown positive benefits of fish oil for many different maladies, including heart disease (refer to the research taken from our archives below).

Finally, the authors of the BMJ meta-analysis still suggest ingesting sufficient amounts of omega 3 and follow the guidelines that the United Kingdom (and US as well) suggest.

Confusing? I'd say so.


Three Studies Show Benefits of Fish on Heart Health -

Omega-3 fatty acids, derived from fish, main effect is calming potentially lethal irregular rhythms, says the American Heart Association.

Based on the long-term, 22,000-memebr Physician's Health Study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, even men who have no apparent heart disease are far less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death with omega-3 consumption.

Data from the 84,000 women Harvard Nurse's Health Study, published in Journal of American Medical Association, mentions that women who eat fish regularly have nearly one-third fewer heart attacks than women who rarely eat fish.

An 11,000 participant Italian study published in Journal Circulation, says that heart-attack survivors who took fish oil supplements had only half the level of sudden cardiac death within the first four months of treatment as those who did not get supplements.

Omega-3 May Reduce Behavioral Issues

In a report issued by journal Pediatrics, 117 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years of age with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) showed a remarkable reduction in symptoms when supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. University of Oxford researchers went so far as to remark the benefits rivaled that of stimulant medications.

Study Finds Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Decrease Postpartum Depression

A new clinical study shows positive effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on postpartum depression. "Omega-3 fatty acids were assessed in a double-blind dose-ranging trial," says Marlene P. Freeman, M.D., director of the Women's Mental Health Program and assistant professor of Psychiatry, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "Subjects in the trial were randomized to 0.5 g, 1.4 g, or 2.8 g per day (N=16). Among all three doses, patients with postpartum depression improved substantially during the trial. Scores on depression measures decreased by approximately 50 percent, and differences were statistically significant." The Omega-3 fatty acids were well tolerated.

In addition, a larger, placebo-controlled trial for perinatal depression is now in progress at the University of Arizona (Marlene P. Freeman, M.D. and colleagues).

Oily fish in pregnancy increases child's brain power

Eating oily fish and seeds in pregnancy can boost children's future brain power and social skills, research suggests.

A study of 9,000 mothers and children suggested those who consumed less of the essential fatty acid Omega-3 had children with lower IQs.

These children also had poorer motor skills and hand-to-eye co-ordination, research in the Economist said.

A team from the National Institutes of Health in the US analysed data from a long-term study done in Avon, UK.

Looking at the effects of Omega-3 intake on 9,000 mothers and their children, the team found mothers with the lowest intake of the essential fatty acid had children with a verbal IQ six points lower than the average.

While those with the highest consumption of mackerel and sardines and other sources of Omega-3 had children, at age three-and-a-half, with the best measures of fine-motor performance, researchers said.

Professor Jean Golding of Bristol University set up the original research - the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children -15 years ago to look at the predisposition to disease.

She told the BBC: "The baby's brain needs Omega-3 fatty acids. It doesn't create its own fatty acids so it needs to be something that the mother will eat."

The new research also builds on earlier work in the US which suggests pregnant mothers will develop children with better language and communication skills if they regularly consume oily fish.

Eating fish regularly delays dementia: study

Eating fish at least once a week slows the toll aging takes on the brain, while obesity at midlife doubles the risk of dementia, a pair of studies concluded on Monday.

Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish have been shown to boost brain functioning as well as cutting the risk of stroke, and eating fish regularly appears to protect the brain as people age, the six-year study of Chicago residents said.

"The rate of (mental) decline was reduced by 10 percent to 13 percent per year among persons who consumed one or more fish meals per week compared with those with less than weekly consumption," wrote Martha Clare Morris of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

"The rate reduction is the equivalent of being three to four years younger in age," she added in the report published online by the Archives of Neurology.

The protective effect from eating fish was evident even after researchers adjusted for consumption of fruits and vegetables.

In another study published in the same journal, Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm concluded that obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels at midlife each doubled the risk of dementia later in life.

Subjects who suffered from all three of the health problems at midlife multiplied their risk of developing dementia six times compared to people free of the risk factors, she said.

Nearly 1,500 subjects who have been part of a study that began in 1972 were reexamined. The 16 percent who were obese at midlife were at double the risk of dementia compared to the one-quarter of those with normal weight at midlife and the half who had been slightly overweight.

"Midlife obesity, high systolic blood pressure, and high total cholesterol were all significant risk factors for dementia, each of them increasing the risk around two times," study author Miia Kivipelto wrote.

Govt. Summary on Omega 3 Fatty Acids

According to the National Institute's of Health Office of Dietary Supplements,

  • Most American diets provide more than 10 times as much omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acid. There is general agreement that individuals should consume more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids to promote good health. Good sources of ALA are leafy green vegetables, nuts, and vegetable oils such as canola, soy, and especially flaxseed. Good sources of EPA and DHA are fish.
  • Impact on cardiovascular disease: According to both primary and secondary prevention studies, consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, fish, and fish oil reduces all-cause mortality and various CVD outcomes such as sudden death, cardiac death, and myocardial infarction. The evidence is strongest for fish and fish oil supplements.
  • Impact on CVD risk factors: Fish oils can lower blood triglyceride levels in a dose-dependent manner. Fish oils have a very small beneficial effect on blood pressure and possible beneficial effects on coronary artery restenosis after angioplasty and exercise capacity in patients with coronary atherosclerosis.
  • Impact on other conditions: Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce joint tenderness and need for corticosteroid drugs in rheumatoid arthritis. Data are insufficient to support conclusions about the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on inflammatory bowel disease, renal disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, bone density, and diabetes.
  • Safety: Adverse events related to consumption of fish-oil or ALA supplements are generally minor and typically gastrointestinal in nature (such as diarrhea). They can usually be eliminated by reducing the dose or discontinuing the supplement.

  • Supplements reduce health care costs

    A major study into the economics of older Americans taking omega-3 and lutein with zeaxanthin supplements has shown that they may shave a combined $5.6 billion off health care costs over the next five years, and help seniors live independently for longer.

    The Lewin Group was commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) to study the scientific evidence on the two supplements' ability to reduce the risk of disease and developed Congressional Budget Office-type estimates of potential health care savings.

    It found that a daily intake of 1800mg of omega-3 by the over-65s could result in conservative savings of around $3.1 billion in five years, from physicians fees and approximately 385,303 fewer hospitalizations.

    Fish Oil Beats Statin Drugs

    Swiss researchers who reviewed 97 double-blind studies of the effectiveness of statins, two other pharmaceutcials, niacin, diet, and fish oil in preventing cardiac deaths found fish oil and statins to be the most effective. Fish oil reduced heart attacks 32% compared with 22% for statins. Fish oil cut overall deaths by 23% compared to 13% for statins.

    Omega-3 May Reduce Behavioral Issues

    In a report issued by journal Pediatrics, 117 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years of age with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) showed a remarkable reduction in symptoms when supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. University of Oxford researchers went so far as to remark the benefits rivaled that of stimulant medications.

    Mediterranean diet helps keep the weight off

    People who eat a traditional Mediterranean diet are 60 per cent less likely to be obese, Greek researchers have said.

    The diet, rich in cereals, fruits, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil, has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet’s main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals.

    The cross-sectional study surveyed the diet of 1514 men and 1528 women with an average age of 45. The diets were evaluated using a self-administered, validated food frequency questionnaire. Daily or weekly intake of 156 different foods was reported, along with alcohol consumption and physical activity.

    “Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 51 per cent lower odds of being obese and a 59 per cent lower odds of having central obesity,” wrote lead author Demosthenes Panagiotakos in the journal Nutrition (available online February 2006, doi:10.1016/j.nut.2005.11.004).

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    More kids getting Anti-Psychotic drugs

    While the numbers of children receiving ADHD medications fell by 5% in the last year, the number of American children prescribed anti-psychotic drugs jumped fivefold between 1995-2002, to an estimated 2.5 million. What is more disturbing is that more than half of the prescriptions were off-label, for issues such as attention-deficit and other non-psychotic conditions. There are no studies on children using these drugs for off-label issues.

    Anti-psychotics are intended for use against schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. Side effects such as weight gain, elevated cholesterol and diabetes are prevalent. Researchers say this is a major concern.

    Source - journal Ambulatory Pediatrics

    Steve - ugh!!!!!! So the ADHD meds use goes down, but the anti-psychotics go up?! The study goes on to say that heavy marketing by drug companies probably contributed to the increased use of anti-psychotics in children. Suprised?

    Panel comments on soy phytoestrogen and formula

    The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human
    Reproduction (CERHR) convened an expert panel on March 15–17, 2006, in Alexandria,
    Virginia to evaluate genistein and soy formula. CERHR selected genistein and soy
    formula for expert panel evaluation because of (1) the availability of reproductive and
    developmental toxicity studies in laboratory animals and humans, (2) the availability of
    information on exposures in infants and women of reproductive age, and (3) public
    concern for effects on infant or child development.

    The expert panel, composed of 14 independent scientists, reviewed and evaluated the
    available scientific data on genistein and soy formula in three primary areas: human
    exposure, reproductive toxicity, and developmental toxicity.

    Genistein - Expert Panel Conclusions
    Even though there is a paucity of available human data on exposure to purified
    genistein, the Expert Panel expresses negligible concern for reproductive and
    developmental effects from exposure of adults in the general population. The most
    highly exposed human population reported is Japanese adults with ingestion of total
    genistein (free and complexed) of approximately 0.43 mg/kg body weight (bw)/day.
    However, adverse effects in rodent studies were not observed at levels below 35–44
    mg/kg bw/day. Therefore, the Expert Panel feels that under current exposure conditions,
    adults would be unlikely to consume sufficient daily levels of genistein to cause adverse
    reproductive and/or developmental effects.

    The Expert Panel expresses negligible concern for adverse effects in neonates and
    infants who may consume up to 0.01–0.08 mg/kg bw/day of genistein aglycone
    contained in soy formula. . One member of the panel did not agree with this conclusion
    and felt that a higher level of concern was warranted. It is noteworthy that about 1% of
    total genistein in soy formula is present in its uncomplexed form, i.e., the aglycone

    Soy Formula - Expert Panel Conclusion
    There are insufficient human or experimental animal data available to permit a
    determination of the developmental or reproductive toxicity of soy infant formula.
    The conclusions noted above are those of the Genistein and Soy Formula Expert Panel
    and should not be construed to represent the views of the NTP.

    Bonnie and Steve - we reserve full comment on this issue until the panel's detailed report comes out in May. We also would like to find out if the expert panel has any ties to special interests. Most of the public comment taken to date came from soy special interests.

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    ADHD drug use in US

    Use of attention deficit drugs rose nearly 19 percent among ages 20 to 44 in 2005 while falling 5 percent in children under 10, according to statistics released on Tuesday amid a U.S. review of the drugs' safety.

    Critics say ADHD drugs are overprescribed, especially among children. The safety of the medicines has faced growing scrutiny in recent months.

    In February, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel called for a strong "black-box" warning on ADHD medicines, saying they might increase the chances of cardiovascular problems in some patients.

    On Wednesday, a different FDA advisory panel is set to review data on a possible link between ADHD therapies and heart problems, as well as psychiatric problems such as hallucinations in children.

    The FDA will consider the input from the panels before deciding whether to update warnings on the drug labels.

    Steve - on the one hand, it is a relief to see that the number of children under 10 using ADHD drugs are falling. On the other hand, the meteoric rise in use by the 20-44 demographic is disturbing. Like we said in September of 2005 when similar statistics showed that ADHD drugs for adults was growing faster than almost any other class of medications, Big Pharma is betting on a large portion of the population taking them.

    Changes to diets over the last 50 years may be playing a key role in the rise of mental illness, researchers say (refer to our 1/16/06 blog entry). Following a balanced eating blueprint like our Circle of Health is essential to minimize blood sugar ebbs and flows, which can cause extreme emotional highs and lows.

    Tai Chi or other meditative/relaxation/breathing exercises can be very helpful for steady emotional disposition.

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Digestive disorder is emerging problem

    Excerpt taken from an article by Mary Ann Fergus, Chicago Tribune staff reporter

    Jori Kodroff loves to dance and hang out with her girlfriends, even if it means standing on her toes so she can hear their conversation.

    At Twin Grove Middle School, the 70-pound and 4-foot-6 8th-grader passes off her stunted growth and restrictive diet to a food allergy.

    It's not easy living with eosinophilic disease, much less throwing out that tongue twister in the school cafeteria where for two years Jori has eaten the same lunch: turkey, grapes and potato chips.

    Once rare, the digestive disorder is now considered an emerging health problem in children.

    "We think there is a mini-epidemic of this disease and we feel it's being undiagnosed," said Dr. Amir Kagalwalla, a pediatric gastroenterologist.

    The disease was discovered in adults in the 1970s and in children 11 years ago.

    In 2004, Kagalwalla helped open a special clinic for the disease at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and since has diagnosed about 50 cases a year. In 2000, he treated only one case.

    Children and adults, who are less likely to have the disease, are most often put on restrictive diets and treated with steroids. In severe cases, patients are taken off solid food and must rely on formula tube feedings.

    The condition develops when eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, are found in higher than normal amounts in one or more places in the digestive system or blood stream. When the body wants to attack a substance, say a food to which a person is allergic, eosinophils respond by moving into the area and releasing a variety of toxins.

    The reaction can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, rapid weight loss, long-term damage to the digestive system and other complications.

    Jori has the disease in her stomach, small intestines, esophagus and blood.

    Allergic to 44 foods, she lives on meat, potatoes, some fruits and vegetables.

    Though she's on the high honor roll, she often misses morning classes because of stomach pain and nausea. In addition to her limited diet, Jori has taken steroids daily for more than three years to control inflammation, but doctors plan to wean her from the medication because it has caused ulcers in her stomach.

    Bonnie - I see mild to severe cases of this all the time, with children showing high blood eosinophils and reacting to many foods. Often, these children had been on reflux medication as infants or toddlers and/or have a family history of food intolerance to gluten or casein (milk protein), or have a family history of environmental allergies. It is not enough to merely avoid the offending foods. It's equally important to strengthen the child's immune system with specific healing nutritional supplements.

    Can food change your genes?

    "Absolutely," according to physician Mark Hyman, who's comments appeared in the March 19th issue of Parade Magazine. In the future, a drop of your blood placed on a special DNA chip will predict the diseases to which you are genetically predisposed. This field is called nutrigenomics. Once your disease genes are known, if you follow a preventive diet and lifestyle, you will be able to "switch off" your disease-producing genes so that the disease may not present itself.

    • Insulin Resistance (the obesity disease) - to prevent: eating mostly unprocessed foods like lean protein such as poultry, wild-caught fish such as salmon and sardines, wholeraw/cooked fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts/seeds.
    • Folic Acid deficiency - affects up to half of all Americans; problem for dementia, many cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, birth defects, autism, and depression. You may have folate deficiency if you have a family history of heart attack (even with normal lipids), dementia, breast/colon/cervical cancer, spina bifida, down syndrome, and depression. Getting your homocysteine level checked is helpful, and testing for the folate gene is becoming more commonplace. Continuously taking 800 mcg of folic acid with 25 mcg vitamin B-6 and 50-100 mcg of vitamin B-12, while limiting coffee/alcohol and no smoking will help. Also, supplementing with the two other folate co-enzymes (5-formyl methyltetrahydrofolate and L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate) will be added insurance that you are absorbing your folate.
    • Low vitamin D - affects up to 40% of all Americans as a result of spending our lives indoors and using sunscreen. Many physicians now routinely test for vitamin D levels.
    • Gluten sensitivity: the great masquerader - 30% of Americans may develop some form of sensitivity to gluten. It often goes undiagnosed as another inflammatory disease. Testing for celiac disease and gluten intolerance is becoming much more commonplace as a disease to rule out.
    Bonnie - I can attest to this. Both of my parents were diabetic by age 48 with every family member on my father's side having the disease. I was heading in that direction by age 18, but fortunately, it has not been expressed by age 59 due to the dietary and nutritional supplement protocol including magnesium and chromium.

    Steve - we do have the possibility to test for certain genes that can been aided by dietary and lifestyle change. Contact us at 847-509-1336 for more information.

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Folic acid fortification linked to lower stroke death rates

    The number of deaths from stroke in North America has dropped by five per cent since the introduction of folic acid fortification, while figures in the non-fortifying UK have not changed.

    Mandatory fortification of certain food with folic acid was introduced in the US and Canada in 1998 with the primary outcome designed to be a reduction of birth defects. The programm has been successful in cutting the number of children born with neural tube defects by over 25 per cent.

    Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compared stroke mortality rates in the United States and Canada for 1990 to 1997, and 1998 to 2002, with stroke mortality rates in England and Wales.

    “The epidemiological analysis presented here certainly does not establish causality, but the trends we observed are consistent with the hypothesis that folic acid fortification is contributing to a reduction in stroke deaths,” wrote lead author Quanhe Yang in the journal Circulation (Vol. 113, pp. 1335-1343).

    For the United States population, the levels of homocysteine decreased across all age groups and races studied after the introduction of fortification.

    As could be expected, the folate levels in the blood increased significantly, giving more support for the hypothesis that folic acid can reduce stroke mortality.

    “If folic acid fortification is responsible for even a fraction of the accelerated improvement we observed, this public health benefit is an important bonus to the reduction in neural tube defect rates previously demonstrated,” said Yang.

    The results are presented only days after the publication of two large intervention trials, the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) 2 trial and the Norwegian Vitamin (NORVIT) trial, which both reported no benefits of B vitamin (including folic acid) supplementation on patients with heart disease or recovering from a heart attack.

    Courtesy of

    Steve - it is exciting that this news comes so soon on the heels of this week's NEJM B-vitamin study. The new data that appears in Circulation echoes what was found in the NORVIT studies: B-vitamins may lower homocysteine, a known caridac risk factor, and may lower stroke risk.

    For our response to the NEJM study, please read the blog entry from March 14th.

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Most Americans Getting Substandard Health Care

    All Americans are at risk for receiving substandard health care, regardless of their gender, race, income or even insurance status, a new study shows.

    And while disparities do exist between groups, they pale in comparison to a more general treatment gap: Overall, those surveyed got 54.9 percent of the care experts recommend for their condition.

    "There's no question that disparities exist, but the big variations are not between groups, but between what people are getting and what people should be getting," said study author Dr. Steven M. Asch, of Rand Health. "Everyone, men and women, rich and poor, insured and uninsured, is at risk. No matter who you are, it's almost a flip of the coin as to whether you get the care that experts want for you."

    The findings, reported in the March 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, are a clarion call for updating a fragmented health-care system and for making technology more available within this system, the researchers noted.

    The study, conducted by Rand Health, is the third in a series on health-care quality in the United States. The two previous publications found that Americans receive only about half of recommended care, regardless of their geographical location.

    Information tecnhonolgy may be the way to improve this. According to Asch, the Veterans Affairs system is already using upgraded information technology and "care has improved dramatically," to about two-thirds of veterans now receiving recommended care.

    "We wouldn't tolerate this in almost any other sector of society," he continued. "We wouldn't tolerate it if a pilot had to memorize his preflight checklist before he flew cross country. It's a complicated thing to give medical care, and to do it right you need assistance."

    Courtesy of HealthDay News

    Bonnie - this is a sad state of affairs in a country that spends the most on healthcare in the world! The slowly turning trend toward prevention, and technology to a degree, will be the keys to stem this tide.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Antibiotics 'can double risk of child asthma'

    Researchers reviewed the health records of more than 12,000 children and found that giving antibiotics before the age of one doubled the chance of a child developing asthma.

    Antibiotics are commonly given to infants for ear infections, but the authors of a Canadian study said not every infection required this kind of treatment.

    The data that appeared in Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, also mentioned that multiple use of antibiotics in infants appeared to increase further the risk of developing asthma.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Grass-fed beef healthier than conventional

    According to a study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that grass-fed cattle is consistently lower in total fat and higher in the "good" omega-3 fats. While it was a review study of 25 previous studies, so it must not be accepted as totally accurate, it is the first comprehensive analysis of fat levels in grass-fed versus grain-fed beef.

    It makes sense that cows who eat grass, which is what they were meant to eat, create healthier meat. While cows who eat grains, which is not what they were meant to eat, produce a less healthy meat.

    Now don't pig out on a ton of grass-fed beef! Eat any kind of red meat in moderation. The amount of omega-3 in grass-fed beef is small compared to that of wild-caught salmon or fish oil supplements.

    When it comes to dietary supplements, talk with your health professional!

    On the heels of this week's B-vitamin study, last month's calcium study, and last year's vitamin E studies, there has never been a more important time to look to your health professional, one that is an expert in dietary supplements, for advice. Sources such as the media and your health food store clerk should not be your consensus for decision making with regard to dietary supplementation. We thought you would find these two articles very interesting. They echo what we have said so many times before.

    Living Well: Better advisers on dietary supplements are needed

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    There is a small part of Dean Neary that would like to see all dietary supplements classified as prescription only.

    "But just a small part," said Neary, a naturopathic physician and chairman of the physical medicine department at Bastyr University in Kenmore.

    The reason Neary offers up any hint of such potential heresy among natural health practitioners is that he worries too many Americans rely on health food store clerks -- "some of them are basically kids" -- and not professionals. He said most store clerks are mostly working off manufacturer sales and promotion materials.

    "People need someone qualified to help them manage what supplements they take," Neary said.

    The management has become even more complex in recent weeks as new research casts doubts on supplements such as calcium for bone health, saw palmetto to prevent prostate cancer and glucosamine to alleviate arthritis pain.

    These findings point to an important flaw in our health-care system: There is no single group of professionals who are widely identified as advisers on dietary supplements.

    Some nutritionists have embraced the supplement adviser role, which seems logical enough. But many other dietitians and nutritionists have steered clear. During the mid-1990s, large professional organizations, such as the American Dietetic Association, took the official stance that its members were not trained to dispense supplement advice. It seemed at the time like a missed opportunity, and nothing about the booming $20 billion annual supplement industry shakes that opinion.

    As it turns out, naturopathic physicians, or N.D.s. like Neary are indeed qualified to guide patients on the use of dietary supplements. Problem is, they are not universally recognized as authorities. Too bad, because naturopathic physicians study plant medicine in great detail.

    N.D.s work with hundreds of patients and keep up with the latest scientific literature -- and not just what is produced here in the States. There is a formidable body of research produced in England, Italy, and especially Germany, which is home to the esteemed Commission E that classifies and evaluates all sorts of dietary supplements. Herbalists, who can be valuable professional guides on plant-based supplements, also are grateful for the science coming from Europe. Scientific studies from Asia, especially China and its, oh, 5,000 years of using herbs as medicine, are similarly appreciated.

    "I don't know if it's our American ego but almost literally when most mainstream professionals (meaning most M.D.s and medical researchers) see "herbs" and "European" they assume the study doesn't hold water," said Neary, who has private practices in Snohomish and downtown Seattle.

    Let's consider glucosamine to illustrate the value that Neary and his colleagues can provide. Last month's findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested the popular supplement (No. 7 in most recent U.S. sales rankings) makes no difference for individuals suffering from mild arthritic pain when compared to placebos. The researchers did report the supplement significantly helped participants with moderate to severe pain.

    Patients visiting Neary in recent weeks have heard that the study's results are "ridiculous for a number of reasons." One major point of contention, he said, is this large government-sponsored study used glucosamine hydrochloride, even though most past studies employed glucosamine sulfate. A majority of over-the-counter products are made with the sulfate version.

    Neary said the sulfate acts as an "agent" in generating cartilage repair in joints and that glucosamine hydrochloride doesn't introduce the same synergy. Another problem in Neary's mind, and one that cuts across his supplement advice, is that the study didn't allow enough time to achieve proper results: "If you come into my office," he said, "I don't want to talk about a supplement fully working for six months. This whole study was done in less than six months."

    Neary said he has patients who see results in "four, six, eight weeks" and he is always happy to hear the success stories. One of his concerns is that some early results -- good news, no matter how you attribute it -- can be chalked up to placebo effect. He sees six months as proving the overall results (or lack of benefits).

    "My question is, what is placebo?" said Neary. "We hear the word and think it means 'fake.' Well, the placebo effect works. The more I think about supplements, the more I think it is in part about me supporting the patient."

    Part of the support is helping select the right supplements and doses, no small task as new research throws shadows and darts. Another support strategy is being upbeat about the chances of positive outcome. Too many of us face skepticism or flat-out cynicism when explaining our supplement use to medical professionals.

    In the case of glucosamine, it translates to patients relying on instinct rather than a doctor's view that the New England Journal of Medicine study proves no value. Many glucosamine consumers are more than willing to spend the $25 to $30 per month to maintain an improved quality of life. In the past two weeks alone, I have heard from people who don't plan to stop using glucosamine for joint pain, stiffness or mobility. And that was without even bringing up the subject.

    One more service that Neary and other supplement advisers can achieve is not taking too many supplements at one time. You don't figure out what is most effective with what Neary calls the "scatter-shot" approach.

    For instance, Neary sees no reason to take chondroitin with your glucosamine. The two substances are often combined in the same supplement product, but Neary said the chondroitin is difficult to absorb because of its "massive" molecule size. He cited studies showing that zero to 13 percent of chondroitin is absorbed compared to 90 to 98 percent of the glucosamine.

    "The scientist in me makes it my preference that you try one variable or supplement at a time for each medical problem," said Neary. "The exception is taking a multiple vitamin-mineral supplement. That's always a good idea."

    TV health news comes up short

    Trying to explain complicated medical subjects in a minute or less can lead to reports that lack context and are often inaccurate, a survey finds.
    By Jia-Rui Chong
    LA Times Staff Writer

    March 13, 2006

    Lemon juice is a good contraceptive. Exercise may cause cancer. And — this just in! — duct tape cures warts.

    Local television stations often add health reports to their usual coverage of crime, sports and weather, but the information they dispense is not all that useful, according to a new study. Sometimes it's flat-out wrong.

    In the first survey of health information in local television news, researchers found that about 40% of broadcasts in the top 50 markets around the country, including Los Angeles, aired at least one medical story in each news broadcast. But the median airtime for these stories was a slim 33 seconds.

    The study also found that most of the health segments lacked important context, such as the prevalence rates for a disease or condition.

    And in about 2% of the health reports, which were all taped during October 2002, the information was dangerously skewed, said Dr. James M. Pribble, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan Hospital and lead author of the study, which he conducted with colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    Four broadcasts, for example, suggested that lemon juice could be used as a contraceptive or prevent HIV transmission, even though the original study, by a scientist at the University of Melbourne, was only conducted in a test tube.

    Only one of the broadcasts mentioned that human tests had not been conducted.

    Even more harmful, Pribble said, was the suggestion by one news segment that lemon juice could be a substitute for "costly HIV" medications.

    "We just want people to understand that you need to take TV news with a grain of salt," Pribble said.

    Pribble and his team chose to examine local television news for health information because previous studies have shown that most Americans' main source of information is local television news.

    For their study, which was published last week in the American Journal of Managed Care, researchers reviewed 2,795 of the top-rated news broadcasts taken from the 50 metropolitan areas.

    Among the 1,799 health stories that were aired during those broadcasts, the researchers found 27% included an interview with a health professional and 26% included specific recommendations for how to prevent or ameliorate a medical condition. Only 12% of the reports mentioned the prevalence of a disease, which is important in assessing the level of risk a disease presents.

    Another major disappointment, said Pribble, was the choice of topics.

    Though it was reasonable that breast cancer was the single most common topic because it is a significant cause of illness and death in America, he said, it was not appropriate that the second most common topic was West Nile virus.

    Pribble said he understood the appetite for information about West Nile in October 2002 because then it was still a relatively unfamiliar disease. But he thought the disease was not placed in perspective. The danger of developing a severe disease from contracting West Nile is about 1%, a fact which was not mentioned in any health segment, he said.

    There were also 23 reports on the effectiveness of duct tape in removing warts based on a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. This issue, said Pribble, was trivial compared to more serious and widespread problems such as heart disease and obesity.

    Dr. Jonathan Fielding, public health director for Los Angeles County, said the study reminded viewers they should double-check TV information with websites for local public health agencies and other reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. People can also consult with their personal physicians.

    "Generally speaking, the stations in Los Angeles do a credible job, but I don't think that they should be the only source of information," he said.

    Marty Kaplan, an associate dean at USC's Annenberg School of Communication, saw the study as a call for stations to devote more time to health reporting and improve its accuracy.

    "Thirty-three seconds is barely enough time to clear your throat, let alone to explain a public health issue and give people accurate advice," he said.

    But, he added, "It's certainly enough time to scare you."

    NEJM study says B-vitamins do not prevent death from cardiovascular causes

    In response to the New England Journal of Medicine's study on B-vitamins lowering homocysteine, we have some thoughts. This study will, of course, raise some eyebrows, but once again, we need to look at the fine print before making a judgement call. The conculsion of the study reads:

    Supplements combining folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 did not reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events in patients with vascular disease. ( number, NCT00106886; Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN14017017.).

    Now let's break it down:

    The study did show that B-vitmains vitamins help lower homocysteine levels, but failed to support the hypothesis that lowering homocysteine levels in persons who already have heart disease will not provide protection against a future cardiac event. While these studies contribute importantly to the research base, they have limited application for the general population. These studies did not test whether B vitamins used by healthy people can help keep them healthy. Instead, they looked at whether B vitamins can treat or reverse heart disease in people who already have it. Vitamins should not be expected to perform like drugs—their greatest promise is in prevention.

    It is unrealistic to expect a vitamin to undo damage caused by heart disease and we should not be looking for B-vitamins to treat disease. Both these studies involved seriously ill subjects (eerily similar to the reserach published on vitamin E). But what must be considered, is whether the population studied would have been healthier to begin with if they had been taking B-vitamins and others consistently over time. That’s the question we’d like to see researched!

    The HOPE-2 study did have some positive findings, including a statistically significant 25% reduction in nonfatal strokes. The authors say this may be due to chance, but similar effects have also been observed in other studies (see below).

    So what we can get from this study is that B-vitmains do lower homocysteine, which can also assist in preventing several other maladies as seen below from our archive.

    Excerpts courtesy of the Council of Responsible Nutrition

    B vitamins to lower homocysteine may prevent strokes
    Taking high doses of B vitamins may help reduce the risk of a second stroke and heart attacks, according to a new analysis.
    The B vitamin group, including folic acid, B6, and B12, reduce the amount of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood. High levels of this substance have been linked to heart disease. In a new analysis they excluded patients with low and very high B12 levels at baseline. These were likely to have B12 malabsorption or to be taking B12 supplements outside the study. In the remaining 2155 patients, high-dose vitamin supplements reduced recurrent stroke, death and heart disease by 21 per cent compared with those taking low-dose vitamins, they report in the 2005, 1 November issue of Stroke (vol 36, p2404).The authors suggest that given the fortification of flour with folate, the response to vitamin therapy for lowering homocysteine largely depends on B12 levels of heart patients. Higher doses of B12 could be required to reduce homocysteine, and thus to reduce stroke and heart attack.

    B-Vitamin Deficiency May Cause Depression -
    Experts say that some people with depression may have an inability to metabolize the B-vitamin folate, intimating that folic acid supplementation may be warranted. Norwegian researchers found that those who had higher levels of homocysteine in their blood were twice as likely to be depressed. Homocysteine is a normal byproduct of metabolism, which folic acid breaks down. Abnormal homocysteine levels are also associated with heart disease and Alzheimer's. Archives of General Psychiatry 2003;60:618-626

    Folic Acid/B12 Can Reduce Hip Fractures in Elderly -
    According to a new Japanese study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of hip fracture is significantly higher in stroke patients than in other individuals of the same age, and is thought to be associated with increased blood levels of a substance called homocysteine. Because folate and mecobalamin (vitamin B12) reduce homocysteine levels, the team thought that supplements of these nutrients could reduce fracture risk. Colleagues studied 628 patients aged 65 years or more who had residual paralysis on one side of the body a year or more after having a stroke. The participants were randomly assigned to take folate and mecobalamin daily, or inactive placebos. During 2 years of follow-up, the number of falls in each group was virtually the same, but there were only six hip fractures in the supplement group compared with 27 in the placebo group. Even though homocysteine levels dropped in the active treatment group and rose in the placebo group, bone mineral density did not differ significantly between groups -- so that didn't explain the fewer number of fractures.

    Folic Acid Reduces Cardiovascular Risk In Elderly -
    Elderly people who take a daily supplement of folic acid may lower blood homocysteine levels, which are associated with cardiovascular risk. This is the first study to demonstrate its effect with the elderly. The researchers found that those supplementing with 400 mcg or 600 mcg daily, had a significant reduction in homocysteine levels. The results also suggest that a total folic acid intake (from food and supplements) of 900 to 1000 mcg per day is required to ensure 95% of the elderly population would be without cardiovascular risk from elevated homocysteine resulting from folic acid deficiency. Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 2002;95:27-35.

    Journal of the American Diabetes Association 2002:
    62nd Scientific Session Abstract Highlights

    Increased homocysteine concentrations is associated with insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction and supplementation with folic acid and vitamin B12 improves vascular endothelial function.

    Low Plasma Vitamin B-6 Levels Correlate With Rheumatoid Arthritis -
    "Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have low levels of plasma B-6 and elevated plasma homocysteine responses to a methionine load." says Tufts researchers. The study shows a correlation between low plasma pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (B6) and high Sed Rate and C-Reactive Protein levels (both markers that can determine the severity of a patients rheumatoid arthritis). Researchers believe that inability to break down B6 into P-5-P or simply not enough intake are to blame. Am J Med 2003;114:283-287

    Lack of B-Vitamins May Contribute to Cognitive Decline -
    High homocysteine concentrations in people over age 60 were associated with decreasing levels of cognitive performance. High vitamin B12 levels correlated with better cognitive performance. Am J Epidemiology, October 1, 2005

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Soda Sales Fall for First Time in 20 Years

    Data released yesterday by Beverage Digest, the industry trade publication, shows that for the first time in 20 years, the number of cases of soda sold in the United States declined. Case volume in 2005 was down 0.7 percent, to 10.2 billion cases.

    Coke's flagship brand, Coca Cola Classic, was down 2 percent, and original Pepsi from PepsiCo was down 3.2 percent.

    "Traditional carbonated soft drinks have got a tough road ahead," Mr. Sicher said. "The migration to water and sports drinks and other noncarbonated drinks seems to be permanent."

    Even diet sodas, once a booming category, have slacked off. Diet Pepsi's case volume was down by 1.9 percent in 2005 and Diet Coke's was virtually unchanged, up only 0.1 percent, according to Beverage Digest.

    Mr. Pecoriello attributed this to changing attitudes about diet soda. "According to our research, consumers say they don't like the taste, are worried about artificial sweeteners and," he wrote, do not view diet soft drinks "as 'healthy.' "

    Courtesy of NY Times

    Steve - Music to our ears! While 0.7 percent does not seem like much, it is when you're talking about 10 billion cases sold! Hey, it's a start.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Food-Labeling Bill Passes

    In yet another example of our government railroading its constituents, the House passed the National Uniformity for Food Act, making the FDA the final authority for food all labeling.

    The measure would nullify over 200 state laws governing the safety of meat, fish, milk, and a variety of other foods.

    Consumer warnings about mercury in fish, arsenic in bottled water, lead in ceramic tableware and alcohol in candy are at jeopardy under the bill, said 39 state attorneys general in a letter to Congress last week.

    State health officers and agriculture departments said the bill would compromise their power to inspect food plants, order the clean-up of unsafe conditions or ban contaminated foods. Two consumer groups also warned of the far reach of the bill.

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association said critics misinterpreted the legislation.

    "By providing consistent, science-based food safety standards and warning requirements, all consumers will be able to have confidence in the safety of the food supply and the information on food labels, regardless of where they live," said GMA President Manly Molpus.

    The Senate must still approve the bill.

    Steve - isn't it interesting that the Grocery Manufacturers Association is lauding the benefits of this bill? Of course they are. The food industry assembled more than half of the members of the House as co-sponsors to this bill. They also have the FDA in their back pocket evidenced with the shenanigans that lead up to the release of the new Food Pyramid.

    The audacity of the House not to hold public hearings on the matter is shocking, given the outcry from consumer advocacy groups. Doesn't the FDA have enough problems already? If you want the FDA in complete control of your food safety, with no checks and balances by your state, then do nothing. Otherwise, contact your Senators and tell them to reject this bill.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Some sushi can be dangerous

    Eli Saddler of, went to six top sushi restaurants in Los Angeles to test mercury levels in the fish they serve.

    Tuna samples from six popular sushi restaurants in Los Angeles were taken to a Southern California lab for testing.

    They returned an average mercury level of 0.721 parts per million, about 88 percent higher than the reported Food and Drug Administration level of 0.383 ppm for all fresh and frozen tuna.

    A couple of samples had mercury levels the FDA has declared "unsafe for anyone to eat," Saddler said.

    Steve - we just mentioned this in our How to Eat Healthy While Dining Out Action Plan. The tuna with the red color, especially, should be avoided. In fact, we recommend not eating any species of tuna at sushi restaurants because most of us still eat canned tuna at least once or twice weekly.

    Soft drinks weight gain warning

    US researchers were assessing if home deliveries of 'healthy' drinks such as bottled water helped.

    The study, published in Pediatrics, showed those who did not receive such drinks put on weight by about a pound per month.

    In the US study, researchers from the Children's Hospital Boston studied 103 children aged 13 to 18. Half received weekly deliveries of healthy drinks.

    At the end of six months, those receiving deliveries had cut their consumption of sugary drinks by 82%, while that of the other group remained unchanged.

    Researchers found that the heavier the teenager had been initially, the stronger the effect on

    Dr Cara Ebbeling, who led the study, said: "Sugary beverages have no nutritional value and seem to make a huge contribution to weight gain."

    Monday, March 06, 2006

    Osteoporosis meds may lead to bone death in jaw

    According to chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Loyola Univeristy Medical Center, bisphosphonate drugs used to treat osteoporosis, such as Fosamax, Actonel, and Zometa, may create osteonecrosis. Osteocrenosis is where the bone tissue of the jaw fails to heal properly from any trauma that causes the jawbone to be exposed in the mouth, such as tooth extraction. The condition develops in patients who have been on the drugs for several years. Those taking the IV form is at greatest risk, while those taking orally are at lower risk, but should still tell their dentist before getting any preventive procedures.

    Bonnie - it is always important to weigh risks of drugs vs. benefits. Not only do bisphosphonates cause g.i. distress to many, but the bone that is built is weak bone that can still shatter if broken. But now, possible death of jaw bone - is it really worth the risk when there are so many other ways to build strong bones that have no risk?