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New Clues to Breast Cancer Recurrence

A team of British researchers has identified genetic clues that may help reveal which cases of breast cancer are more likely to recur. The new findings could enable doctors to determine which patients are at high risk of recurrence when their disease is first diagnosed and then target the genes that drive relapses in order to prevent the cancer’s return. The investigators, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, discovered that the genetic contributors underlying breast cancer recurrences are different from the ones seen in cases that don’t return. The team estimated that one in five patients with breast cancer experiences a recurrence, either in the same place as the original tumor or elsewhere in the body. They analyzed genetic data from 1,000 breast cancer patients, including 161 samples from cases that recurred. The investigators found differences in mutations that were linked to recurrence. They reported that some of these genetic changes were acquired when the cancers returned and began to spread. A subset of the mutations are “relatively uncommon among cancers that do not relapse”, said study leader Dr. Lucy Yates, adding that “some of these genetic alterations are potentially targetable with drugs”. The results of the British study were presented at the European Cancer Congress’ September 2015 meeting.

My take? The findings from this study are welcome news. At present, we have limited therapeutic interventions that are focused on preventing breast cancer recurrence, and nothing as powerful as targeting the responsible genetic mutations would be. The researchers explained that if individual cancers can change genetically over time, treatments that target a particular mutation may also have to change as the disease progresses. Therapies would have to be guided by taking regular samples of cancer tissue, rather than basing treatment only on samples taken when the cancer is first diagnosed. We’re not there yet, but if these study findings prove their promise, we could be on the road to developing effective strategies aimed at preventing breast cancer recurrences.


Coriander: Summer Spice Of The Week

Derived from the seeds of the coriander plant (Coriandrum sativum), coriander is a culinary spice that is part of the parsley family. 

Coriander is notable for many health benefits, including:

It has also been used around the world to treat a variety of health concerns including digestive disorders, heatstroke, anxiety and insomnia. Nutritionally, coriander is a very good source of dietary fiber and calcium.

Depending on the form it is in, coriander can be kept for up to a year. Ground coriander should stay fresh for six months, but whole seeds should last about a year. Make sure that both coriander seeds and powder are stored in a tightly sealed glass container away from heat and light. Before grinding the seeds, consider soaking them in cold water for about ten minutes to help revive the essential oils.

Here are some delicious recipes with coriander to try: 
Chickpea & Broccoli Masala Curry
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho


Blueberry Extract To Fight Gum Disease

Here’s a novel approach that may help prevent gum inflammation caused by plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth and creates an environment that can damage gums and cause tooth decay. Gingivitis, the earliest form of gum disease, can lead to periodontitis, which is more severe and a may require treatment with antibiotics. Recently, dental researchers at Quebec’s Université Laval have found that wild blueberry extract could help prevent formation of plaque by inhibiting one of the main species of bacteria linked to periodontitis. When they tested wild lowbush blueberry extracts against the target bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum in the lab, they found that it successfully inhibited the growth of the organism as well as its ability to form harmful biofilms. The researchers reported that the blueberry extract, which is rich in polyphenols (antioxidant compounds), also blocked a molecular pathway involved in inflammation, which is key to gum disease. They are now working on an oral device that could slowly release the blueberry extract after deep cleaning to help treat periodontitis.  


Is Stress At Work Killing You?

A team of researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities examined 10 categories of job-related stress – including long hours, fear that you might lose your job, and lack of health insurance – and found they were linked to health problems that contribute to 120,000 deaths a year. Their conclusion suggests that on-the-job stress takes more of an annual toll than diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or the flu. Underlying the deaths are other contributing conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems. The researchers also reported that people who worked long hours reported more high blood pressure, and noted correlations between occupational injuries and long working hours the previous week. They commented that the stress of long hours, shift work, perception of unfairness in the workplace and conflicting priorities between work and home were linked to worse health and unhealthy habits - including smoking, alcoholism and over-eating. The cost of all these health problems added up to $125 to $190 billion dollars a year, between five to eight percent of national spending on health care. The researchers suggested that cost-conscious employers could trim some of those expenditures by giving attention to the sources of employee stress. 


Cutting Calories To Lengthen Life 

In animal studies, caloric restriction appears to increase longevity and slow the progression of age-related diseases but does it offer similar benefits in humans? An investigation sponsored by the National Institutes of Health set out to learn how trimming calories by 25 percent would affect human health. Researchers recruited 218 young and middle-aged healthy adults, some of normal weight, some moderately overweight. They randomized the participants into a group that would cut calories, and a control group that made no dietary changes. After two years, the investigators reported that the calorie-cutters didn’t succeed in reaching their goal of 25 percent reduced intake. The intervention did pare it by 12 percent, however, and participants in the group lost 10 percent of their weight in the first year, 5.5 pounds short of their 15.5 percent target. Even with this shortfall, compared to the control group, the calorie-cutters lowered their average blood pressure by 4 percent and total cholesterol by 6 percent, raised their HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduced their C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease by 47 percent.  The researchers concluded that reducing calories by just 12 percent, and maintaining the lower intake, yielded a beneficial effect on health.

My take? Despite the well-publicized effects of caloric restriction in animals, I’ve questioned how many people would be willing to drastically cut calories long-term. This study shows that even a modest reduction in caloric intake can lead to significant health benefits. Even so, we still don’t know how effective long-term caloric restriction is at improving human health. We’ve got a lot more to learn on this subject. In the meantime, a prudent caloric intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and regular exercise is your best bet for maintaining your weight and enjoying optimum health. 


Dr. Weil's Summer Garden 

Take a tour of Dr. Weil's summer garden in British Columbia. Filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers, there is always a bountiful supply of food for body and soul. (Part one of three).


Toxins in Your Clothes

A growing body of research suggests we are subjected to daily exposure from all the chemicals in our environment. In fact, new research from Sweden’s Stockholm University suggests that there are thousands of chemicals just in our clothes. The investigators tested 60 garments from Swedish and international clothing chains. The study team found that they contained thousands of chemicals, and that they were able to identify about 100 of them. The investigators then analyzed 27 textile samples before washing and again after 5 and 10 washings. They detected benzothiazoles in 85 percent of the samples, and reported that washing the fabrics 10 times decreased concentrations of the chemical by only 50 percent. They reported that this chemical was even detected in some clothes made with organic cotton. Other chemicals identified included quinolines, which are also found in cigarette smoke and are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as probable human carcinogens. Quinolines were found in polyester; and their levels decreased by only 20 percent after 10 washings. At this point, the investigators were unable to comment on the potential health effects of wearing clothing that contained the chemicals detected in the study. Stay tuned.


Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health

We know that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and some research suggests that it lowers the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well. Following this dietary strategy may also help keep your brain younger as you age. A recent study conducted by Columbia University in New York City shows that seniors who had no problems with thinking or memory and adhered to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have larger total brain volume as well as more gray and white matter than those who didn’t always eat the Mediterranean way. The researchers also found that the more fish and less meat their study participants reported eating the more total gray matter their brain scans displayed. The researchers first looked at survey responses about eating habits from 674 seniors and then viewed MRI scans of their brains. All told, the investigators concluded that the difference in brain volume associated with a Mediterranean diet was equivalent to five years of aging – meaning that on the scans the brains of the seniors in the study who followed the Mediterranean diet looked five years younger than the brains of those who didn’t adhere to the diet. While the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between the diet and larger brain volume.

My take: I've long been a proponent of the Mediterranean diet, a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. This new study isn’t the first to associate the Mediterranean diet with better brain health. Earlier this year a study from Spain found that adding olive oil and nuts to a Mediterranean diet slowed declines in cognitive function among 447 healthy seniors who were participating in a larger, ongoing study of the Mediterranean diet. In addition, earlier observational studies have demonstrated better cognitive function and a lower-than-normal risk of dementia among people who follow the Mediterranean diet.


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