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Pesticides and Diabetes

Exposure to pesticides may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 64 percent, according to a new analysis of 21 studies by researchers in Greece and England. Another investigation reported that women who had elevated blood levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during the first trimester of pregnancy were more than four times more likely than normal to develop gestational diabetes. While the researchers who conducted the analysis said that their results don’t prove that pesticides cause some cases of diabetes, they maintained that the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that environmental contaminants play a key role in the development of the disease. After reviewing the studies, which included data on nearly 67,000 people, the researchers concluded that the increased risks seen were associated with the organic pollutants DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor, and HCB.  Most of the studies included in the review identified pesticide exposure via urine and blood analyses, methods that are considered very accurate. The authors of both analyses said that while diet, weight and exercise factors are also key to diabetes’ risk, the role of chemicals cannot be ignored. Animal and laboratory studies have shown that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can provoke precursors to diabetes and even diabetes itself. Results of both new analyses were presented at the September 2015 meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.


Drinking Beer and Women’s Hearts

First, the good news: drinking a beer or two per week could reduce the risk of heart disease in women by 30 percent. The bad news, however, is that drinking spirits (rather than beer or wine) could raise a woman’s risk of dying of cancer by 50 percent. These new findings come from a 32-year long Swedish study that included 1,500 women who were age 38 to 60 when they enrolled in the investigation. Over the course of 32 years, the women reported on their consumption of beer, wine or spirits, and the researchers tracked the participants’ medical concerns, including heart problems and cancer. Analysis of the data showed a reduced risk of developing heart disease in those women who drank a beer or two per week compared to women who didn’t drink alcohol at all and those who were heavy drinkers. However, the study did not confirm the results of previous results from other investigators suggesting that moderate wine consumption can lower the risk of heart disease. That outcome will have to be confirmed in a follow-up study, according to lead researcher Dominique Hange. The investigators, from the University of Gothenburg, also reported an apparent higher risk of dying of cancer among women who drank spirits more than once or twice a month over the course of the study compared to women who drank spirits less often than that.


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).

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