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Monday
Dec292014

Bad News About Energy Drinks

New research conducted in France suggests that consuming energy drinks can lead to heart problems including angina (chest pain that follows decreased blood flow to the heart), irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. The main problem with these drinks is the caffeine they contain. Of the 212 adverse effects connected to energy drinks reported to the French food safety agency between January 1, 2009 and November 30, 2012, 95 were cardiovascular symptoms, 74 psychiatric and 57 neurological symptoms, although these problems sometimes overlapped. Of the heart problems documented in the study, cardiac arrests and sudden or unexplained deaths occurred in at least eight cases, the investigators reported, while 46 people developed heart rhythm disorders and 13 experienced angina. The most common presenting symptoms were diagnosed as “caffeine syndrome” characterized by tachycardia (fast heart rate), tremor, anxiety and headache. Study leader Milou-Daniel Drici, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, advised doctors to alert patients with cardiac conditions to the danger energy drinks can pose, and to ask young patients if they consume them. Dr. Drici presented the report at the European Society of Cardiology 2014 conference on August 31 in Barcelona, Spain.

My take? This new French study expands on what we already know about the health effects of caffeine in energy drinks. Consuming more than 250 mg of caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility (where a person seems unable to use up all their energy) and psychomotor agitation (repeated activity such as pacing or handwringing). Unfortunately, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not listed on the label in the U.S. Prompted in part by the number of adverse effects reported, the FDA has started looking into the addition of caffeine in many products – food as well as drinks - and its effects on children and adolescents. It’s about time.

Tuesday
Dec232014

Medical Marijuana and Drug Overdoses

An apparent benefit of the legalization of medical marijuana has been an unexpected drop in deaths related to overdoses of prescription painkillers. A study that assessed the availability of medical marijuana and analyzed the data on deaths nationwide between 1999 and 2010 found that deaths from prescription painkillers had dropped by 25 percent in states that had legalized medical marijuana (in 2010 only 13 states had done so compared to 23 states today). The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that, in 2010 alone, overdose deaths dropped by about 1,700 in states where medical marijuana had been legalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths related to pain medications have become epidemic over the past two decades and are now the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. The CDC reported that in 2011, 55 percent of drug overdoses stemmed from prescription medications and 75 percent of those involved opiate derived painkillers. One critic of the study suggested that other explanations, such as expanded methadone and buprenorphine programs, might have influenced the drop in overdose deaths, as might the action of the Drug Enforcement Administration in shutting down “pill mills.”

Sources:
Marcus A. Bachhuber, et al, “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005

Monday
Dec222014

More Tomatoes, Please

Eating lots of tomatoes – a total of 10 servings a week – could cut the risk of prostate cancer by 18 percent, according to new research from Great Britain. Those 10 servings don’t have to be raw tomatoes or tomato salad – they could include the tomatoes in pasta sauce or on pizza, tomato juice and the tomatoes in baked beans, the study found. Researchers from the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge examined the diets of some 14,000 British men ages 50 to 69 to reach these conclusions. They further reported that men who ate five servings or more of fruit or vegetables per day had a prostate cancer risk that was 24 percent lower than that of men whose fruit and vegetable consumption averaged two and a half servings a day or less. The antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes is believed responsible for the lower risk of prostate cancer. In addition, the researchers reported that men whose diets included selenium provided in bread and pasta and calcium from dairy products also had a lower risk of prostate cancer. This study doesn’t conclusively prove that eating lots of tomatoes prevents prostate cancer – just that there is an association between the amount of tomatoes eaten and a lower risk of the disease.

My take? Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant - it is the carotenoid pigment responsible for the red color of tomatoes. In a number of large studies, it has demonstrated a protective role against prostate, colon, and rectal cancer, as well as heart disease. Lycopene is much more available to the body from cooked tomatoes than from raw ones. And since it is fat soluble, you need to eat your cooked tomatoes with some fat to facilitate absorption. That doesn't mean eating all the pizza you can get your hands on. However, it does suggest that homemade marinara sauce would be a healthful staple. I make my marinara with olive oil and keep some on hand in the freezer. If you don’t like tomatoes, you can always obtain lycopene from watermelon, which contains 40 percent more lycopene than an equivalent weight of tomatoes. The lycopene from watermelon is as well-absorbed by the body as the lycopene from tomatoes. (And, fortunately, you don't have to cook watermelon to get the same benefits that you get from tomatoes.)

Sources:
Vanessa Er and Richard M. Martin et al, “Adherence to Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) Trial.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0322

Tuesday
Dec162014

Sidestepping Allergic Reactions to Tree Nuts

If you’re allergic to tree nuts (cashews, walnuts, almonds and others), the best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid eating them. But now researchers are exploring a way to head off the reactions to nuts by changing the shape of their proteins. This could make the nuts allergy-proof – the modified protein wouldn’t be recognized by immunoglobulin E (IgE), antibodies that initiate reactions by latching on to nut (and peanut) proteins. The research was presented on August 11, 2014 at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society by investigators from the Agricultural Research Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Clinical trials to test immunotherapy are underway, but we’re approaching it from an agricultural perspective rather than medical. Can we change the food, instead of treating the person, so we can eliminate or reduce severe reactions?” said researcher Chris Mattison, Ph.D. As things now stand, allergic responses to nuts can range from mild itching in the mouth or skin to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Sources:
Making Cashews Safer for Those with Allergies”, American Chemical Society news release, http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/620620/?sc=mwhn, accessed August 22, 2014

Monday
Dec152014

Is Your Microbiome In Charge?

Is it possible that the hundred trillion microbes that make up the microbiome in the human gut "know" what nutrients they need, and in seeking them influence our dietary choices? This interesting theory holds that, in some cases, our intestinal flora nudges us toward fat or sugar and possibly obesity. A new review of recent scientific literature concludes that our microbes actually can trigger cravings, as their attempts to receive more of the foods they need for growth affect our eating behavior. The authors of the review write that it is “unclear” how the microbes might do this, but suggest that they may influence food choices by releasing signaling molecules into the gut, which has links to the immune system, endocrine system and nervous system. Another possibility: according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico, gut bacteria may sway our eating decisions in part by acting through the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain. On the upside, the reviewers note that our food choices can alter the microbiome within 24 hours. Better yet, the authors write that microbiota “are easily (manipulated) by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes…(offering) a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.”

My take? We know that our individual microbiomes are very different from one another, and it appears our own unique balance of organisms influences our health. Recent research suggests, however, that our microbiomes in general are becoming increasingly unbalanced for a number of reasons, including diets heavy in processed foods and increased exposure to antibiotics via both medical treatments and residues in foods from animals treated with the drugs. This review suggests that it's likely we ultimately have the power to control our own microbiomes, instead of the other way around.

Sources:
“Athena Aktipis, Carlo Maley, Joe Alcock, “Is eating behavior by manipulated the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms.” BioEssays doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071

Tuesday
Dec092014

Does BPA Cause Food Intolerance?

A new study performed in France suggests that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, around the time of birth may lead to food intolerances later in life, at least in rats. The researchers tested the effects of BPA exposure on a group of rats from birth until the animals were weaned at 21 days old. A control group of rats didn’t receive any BPA. When the animals reached adulthood, (which in rats is when they're 45 days old), the researchers fed them ovalbumin, an egg white protein which hadn’t been introduced into their diet previously. The investigators reported that the rats exposed to BPA earlier in life developed an immune reaction to the milk protein. This didn’t occur in the rats that hadn’t been exposed to BPA. Subsequent, repeated feeding of ovalbumin in the rats exposed to BPA led to colonic inflammation, which the researchers noted is a sign of food intolerance. They said their findings testify to the harmful effects of BPA on the immune system at low levels of exposure, and at a particularly vulnerable stage of fetal and newborn life. They added that the results support a French government decision in 2013 to ban the use of BPA in containers of baby food. The French BPA ban will extend to all food-packaging materials in 2015.

Sources:
Sandrine Menard and Eric Houdeau et al “Food intolerance at adulthood after perinatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A.” The FASEB Journal, 2014; DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-255380

Monday
Dec082014

Plastics Are Messing with Testosterone

It’s not the plastics themselves that are affecting testosterone levels in men, women and children - it’s the endocrine-disrupting phthalates they contain. These chemicals make plastics more flexible and are used in hundreds of non-plastic products, including some soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes as well as packaging, inflatable toys and other children's playthings. A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that the more exposure to phthalates in your life, the higher the risk of declining testosterone levels, the main sex hormone in men that also plays an important role in physical growth and strength, brain function, bone density and cardiovascular health in both sexes.

Testosterone levels in the general population have been dropping in the last 50 years, leading to greater prevalence of reduced semen quality in men and genital malformations in baby boys, the Michigan researchers said. They note that animal and cellular studies have shown that phthalates block the effects of testosterone on the body's organs and tissues. Researcher John D. Meeker, M.S., Sc.D., explained that “low testosterone levels in young boys can negatively impact reproductive development, and in middle age can impair sexual function, libido, energy, cognitive function and bone health in men and women."

My take? It's a good idea to avoid phthalates, but it is also very difficult, since they're found in so many different products. You can't even be sure that a product labeled "phthalate free" won't expose you to the chemicals - there may be none of the compound in the product itself, but they may be present in the packaging. By the way, the European Union and other countries have banned phthalates in consumer products, and in 2007 California became the first state in the U.S. to ban use of six phthalates in children's products and toys.

Sources:
John D. Meeker, Kelly K. Ferguson. “Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated With Decreased Serum Testosterone in Men, Women, and Children From NHANES 2011–2012.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2014; jc.2014-2555 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2014-2555

Thursday
Dec042014

Yoga for Your Mind

Doing hatha yoga appears to have sharpened the thinking skills of seniors taking part in an eight-week study. A total of 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 enrolled in the study. Half of them attended three yoga classes per week for the eight weeks, while the other half did stretching and toning exercises three days a week for the same eight week period. Afterward, the researchers reported that the seniors in the yoga group had improved in tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task switching, all “mental functions (that) are relevant to our everyday functioning,” said researcher Edward McAuley, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. No such changes were seen in the seniors who performed the stretching and toning exercises instead of the yoga. Noting that hatha yoga requires focused effort, study leader Neha Gothe, then at the University of Illinois and now a professor at Wayne State University, suggested that the “focus on one’s body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have…(resulted) in an improved ability to sustain attention.”

Sources:
Neha Gothe, Edward McAuley and Arthur Kramer, “The effects of an 8-week hatha yoga intervention on executive function in older adults,” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glu095