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Monday
Mar292010

Aspirin May Cut Breast Cancer Death Risk

In this study, the women, all participants in the long-running Nurses' Health Study, had been taking aspirin regularly, usually to protect against heart disease. But researchers who followed 4,164 of the nurses who had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer found that the cancer was 50 percent less likely to spread and that the nurses with breast cancer were 50 percent less likely to die from the disease if they were taking aspirin. It's too soon to say that all women with breast cancer should take a daily dose of aspirin. The only way to confirm this study's findings is with a randomized controlled trial in which half of participating breast cancer patients take aspirin daily and the other half doesn't. One possible explanation for the effects seen: aspirin reduces inflammation and therefore might reduce breast cancer risk. And research has shown that women who regularly took ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories also had a 50 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer. The study was published online in the February 16, 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

More information on breast cancer.

Sunday
Mar282010

How Omega-3 Helps the Heart

We've known for years that omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart. These healthy fats down-regulate inflammation, and may help reduce the risk and symptoms of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack, stroke and several forms of cancer. Now researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found another action of omega-3s that may help explain why they offer benefits for the heart. The investigators found that the more omega-3 consumed by patients with coronary heart disease, the slower the structures called telomeres at the ends of chromosomes shrank. (Telomeres have been likened to the caps on the ends of shoelaces that prevent the laces from unraveling. In cells, telomeres prevent chromosomes from fusing with one another or rearranging - undesirable changes that could lead to serious diseases.) The more times a cell divides, the shorter telomeres become, a change that makes them a marker of biological age. The California investigators followed about 600 patients with coronary artery disease and measured their blood levels of omega-3s and telomere length at the beginning of the study and again five years later. They found that the higher the blood levels of omega-3s, the slower telomeres shortened, suggesting that the rate of biological aging - as mirrored by telomeres - decreased.

My take? This is a fascinating area of research and may give us new insight into how omega-3 fatty acids benefit health. It only reinforces the need to get plenty of omega-3s through your diet or supplements. My longstanding recommendation has been to consume two to three servings of fish per week or to take a fish oil supplement if you don't like fish. I eat fish often and also take 2-3 grams of supplemental fish oil a day.

Saturday
Mar272010

Braised Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is just like green cabbage in taste and texture, but with the added benefit of powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that give the redhead of the vegetable world its distinctive color. Red cabbage is also one of the cruciferous family of vegetables; all are rich in fiber, vitamins (most notably vitamin C), minerals like potassium and calcium, and cancer-fighting compounds called indoles. (Other cruciferous vegetables include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and chard; all are delicious.) Be prepared when cooking red cabbage for the color to "bleed" into the other ingredients. The acidic vinegar and wine in this dish keep the cabbage a beautiful purple color. Without the acid, the cabbage will turn blue. This dish is a taste sensation and makes a great side dish with salmon or as a warm appetizer salad. And considering the very affordable price of cabbage, it can't be beat.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large head red cabbage, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large green apple, peeled, cored, and diced
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1 cup peeled chestnuts (optional)
Salt to taste

Instructions:

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and carrots and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent.

2. Add the cabbage and apple and mix well, then add salt to taste, the garlic, the bay leaf, cloves, wine, vinegar and sugar.

3. Bring to a low boil, cover, and cook for about 1 hour.

4. Remove bay leaf and correct seasoning to taste. You may also add the peeled chestnuts to cook in the braising liquid.

Food as Medicine: Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage may offer additional cancer protection as compared with other classes of vegetables. A Netherlands study of 100,000 people found that those eating the most vegetables had a 25 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, but those eating the most cruciferous vegetables did nearly twice as well - they had a 49 percent drop in colorectal cancer risk.

Friday
Mar262010

Migraines and Heart Attacks

If you have migraines, it's probably wise to do what you can to reduce your risks of heart disease. A new study from a prestigious group of headache researchers shows that people with migraines are almost twice as likely to have heart attacks as those who don't have the headaches. So far, however, the investigators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York don't know why. The study also found that individuals whose migraines include an aura (usually visual disturbances that signal an approaching headache) had three times the incidence of heart attacks as the migraine-free group. In addition, their investigation showed that people with migraines were more likely to have risk factors for heart attack and stroke than those who don't have the headaches. But even after the researchers controlled for these risks, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, the additional risk of heart disease remained. The study was published online in Neurology on February 10, 2010. It's not known yet whether better control of migraines with preventive medications will lower the heart attack risk.

More on migraine misery.

Thursday
Mar252010

How to Protect Kids from Obesity

With Michelle Obama getting into the act, the focus on childhood obesity has sharpened - and none too soon. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that tracked thousands of children through adulthood and found those who had been the heaviest youngsters were more than twice as likely as the thinnest kids to die prematurely, before age 55. Better news on the subject came from a study showing that families can protect preschoolers from becoming part of the national epidemic of obesity as they grow. The trick is to adhere to daily routines that seem to work even when a mother is overweight or when kids are being raised by a single parent. The findings, published in the March, 2010, issue of Pediatrics showed that the risk is lowest in families that eat dinner together six or seven times a week, limit kids' TV time to less than two hours a day and make sure that youngsters get more than 10.5 hours of sleep a night. No single one of the three routines proved more important than any of the others, according to the investigators from Ohio State University College of Public Health and Temple University in Philadelphia. But the more of them you implement, they said, the lower the risk.

Wednesday
Mar242010

Bogus Drugs Online

The worldwide market for counterfeit drugs sold online is projected to reach $75 billion this year, a 92 percent increase over the past five years. The biggest sellers: fake drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED), which are especially popular because many men are embarrassed to discuss sexual problems with their physicians and because the genuine pharmaceuticals are costly. A study published online in January, 2010, by the International Journal of Clinical Practice estimated that as many 2.5 million men in the European Union alone may be using counterfeit Viagra, some of which can be harmful, even deadly. The researchers found that 150 patients had been admitted to hospitals in Singapore and four died after taking fake Cialis and herbal preparations sold as ED cures. The "Cialis" contained a powerful drug for diabetes.

Fake ED drugs aren't the only problems: in Argentina two pregnant women died after injections of a counterfeit treatment for anemia; in Bangladesh, 51 children died of kidney failure after taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) contaminated with anti-freeze. Some fake Viagra contained amphetamine or caffeine and bulk lactose or was colored blue with printer ink. A "vaccine" for life-threatening meningitis was found to be only water. Other fakes included antibiotics, contraceptives and anti-malarial pills.

My take? Aside from this additional evidence of over-reliance on drugs to solve real or perceived health problems, this is a disturbing trend. Not only does it pose the threat of ingesting harmful ingredients, but presents the danger that by circumventing your physician to buy drugs you think you need, any underlying, undiagnosed medical problem you may have would be missed, potentially putting you at additional risk.

Tuesday
Mar232010

Yoga to Ease Inflammation

Practicing yoga may not only relax you, it may also lower levels of compounds in the blood that promote inflammation. New research from Ohio State University shows that women who routinely practiced yoga had lower amounts of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a component of the body's inflammatory response that may play a role in heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and other chronic diseases. What's more, these "expert" women with at least two years' experience practicing yoga were also able to maintain lower levels of IL-6 when they were deliberately stressed. Study participants included 50 women, average age 41, who were classified as experts or novices depending on their yoga experience. After being stressed (by being asked to solve difficult mathematical problems without pen and paper after having a foot immersed in icy water) the novices' IL-6 levels were 41 percent higher than the yoga experts'. So take note: yoga can not only keep you flexible and mellow, it may actually protect you from disease. The study was published online in Psychosomatic Medicine on January 11, 2010.

Find more information on yoga and yoga poses here.

Monday
Mar222010

Unnecessary Appendectomies

Conventional medical wisdom holds that if you develop appendicitis, you have to be whisked into surgery to remove your troublesome appendix before it bursts. New research suggests that all those emergency operations - some 280,000 per year - may not be necessary. The investigators looked at appendicitis trends from 1970 to 2006 to reach their conclusion. They found that evidence from sailors at sea (where appendectomies can't be done) and youngsters in children's hospitals (where emergency surgery isn't always available) suggest that rushing patients into the operating room may not be necessary in many cases and that appendicitis may often resolve without surgery. That's not to say that you don't need to see a doctor if you develop symptoms: pain and tenderness in the abdomen that begins as vague discomfort around the navel and then moves to the lower right and becomes more intense. The study also found that appendicitis tends to be seasonal, suggesting that it may be caused by a virus (the researchers ruled out flu, several intestinal viruses and several other common infections). The study, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, was published in the January, 2010, issue of the Archives of Surgery.

My take? This is an interesting and provocative study. The appendix remains somewhat of a medical mystery; although considered by many to be part of the immune system, its exact purpose isn't clear. One interesting theory holds that it may produce "good" intestinal bacteria that help keep disease in check. As this new study shows, we still have a lot to learn about the appendix and what to do if it causes trouble. Until we know more, don't take any chances - if your appendix acts up, be sure to see a doctor promptly.