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Current Health News & Events
 
Fewer Calories Mean Better Memory For Seniors
 
seniorbrain.pngAn article published early online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed the discovery of researchers at the University of Munster in Germany that calorie restriction, a technique that has extended life span and improved numerous areas of health in every animal species tested, can help improve memory in older men and women.

Veronica Witte of the Department of Neurology and colleagues enrolled 21 men and 29 women with a mean age of 60.5 for the current study. Participants were instructed to reduce their calories by 30 percent of their previous intake, increase unsaturated fatty acid intake by 20 percent, or maintain their usual diet over a three month period. (In previous animal research, calorie restriction and increased unsaturated fatty acid intake has resulted in memory improvement.) Weight, body fat percentage, memory performance and other factors were assessed before and after the intervention.

At the end of three months, verbal memory scores significantly increased among men and women who restricted their calories. This correlated with a decline in fasting plasma insulin and C-reactive protein levels (a marker of inflammation), particularly among those who had greater adherence to the diet as evidenced by an average weight loss of at least 2 kilograms.

The authors remark that improved insulin signaling in the brain appears to have neuroprotective effects, while cognitive impairment has been associated with increased peripheral circulating insulin. The correlation between decreased peripheral insulin and improved memory suggests a role for the hormone in mediating calorie restriction's benefits. "To our knowledge, the current results provide first experimental evidence in humans that caloric restriction improves memory in the elderly," the authors announce. "The present findings may help to develop new prevention and treatment strategies for maintaining cognitive health into old age." —D Dye
 

Greater Fiber Intake Associated With Lower Breast Cancer Risk
 
fastbabe.pngAn article published online on July 22, 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition adds evidence to the possibility of a protective association for increased fiber intake against the risk of breast cancer, however, findings from the study suggest that the mechanisms involved may be different from what had previously been hypothesized.

For their research, a team from the National Cancer Institute evaluated data from 185,598 postmenopausal women who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Dietary questionnaires completed upon enrollment were analyzed for the amount of fiber consumed from grains, fruit, vegetables and beans.

Over an average of 7 years of follow up, 5,461 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed, of which the estrogen and progesterone receptor status was known for 3,341. Women whose fiber intake was among the top one-fifth of participants were found to have a 13 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those in the lowest fifth. However, when the risk was examined by type of cancer, women whose tumors were estrogen and progesterone receptor positive  whose fiber intake was among the top 20 percent experienced only a 5 percent risk reduction, while those with estrogen and progesterone receptor negative tumors had a 44 percent lower risk.

The fact that vegetarian women have greater excretion of estrogens and lower estrogen levels than nonvegetarians led earlier researchers to hypothesize that increased dietary fiber might reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, fiber’s ability to help control insulin and insulin-like growth factors, which have more recently been related to breast cancer risk, could be a more important mechanism.

“Our findings suggest that dietary fiber can play a role in preventing breast cancer through nonestrogen pathways among postmenopausal women,” the authors conclude. —D Dye  

An Apple A Day . . .
 
redapple.pngA series of experiments conducted by Cornell University associate professor of food science Rui Hai Liu add evidence to the protective effect of fruits and vegetables against the development of breast cancer.

In a study published in the January 14, 2009 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Dr Liu and his associates at Cornell and Harbin Medical University confirmed earlier findings which demonstrated that varying concentrations of fresh apple extract dose-dependently inhibited the size of mammary tumors in rats that received the carcinogen DMBA. "We not only observed that the treated animals had fewer tumors, but the tumors were smaller, less malignant and grew more slowly compared with the tumors in the untreated rats," Dr Liu stated.

While adenocarcinomas were found in 81 percent of DMBA-treated animals that did not receive the extracts, these tumors occurred in only 23 percent of rats that received the highest concentration of apple, which was equivalent in human consumption to six apples a day. "That reflects potent antiproliferative activity," Dr Liu observed.

In another study, reported in the November 12, 2008 issue of the journal, Dr Liu and Xiangjiu He report their discovery of new phenolic compounds in apple peel that have strong antioxidant and antiproliferative effects on tumors. An additional article coauthored by Dr Liu, published in the December 24, 2008 issue, discusses the role of apple extracts in modulating cell cycle machinery, which is suggested as a mechanism of apple’s antiproliferative activities.

"These studies add to the growing evidence that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, including apples, would provide consumers with more phenolics, which are proving to have important health benefits,” concluded Dr Liu. “I would encourage consumers to eat more and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily." —D Dye
 

More Potassium Needed To Lower Blood Pressure
 
couplepotasium.pngAn article published in the January 12, 2009 issue of the American Medical Association journal Archives of Internal Medicine reports that, in addition to lowering sodium intake, individuals who need to reduce their blood pressure should focus on increasing potassium, a mineral found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and nutritional supplements.

For the current study, epidemiologist Dr Paul Whelton and colleagues utilized data from Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) I and II which included 2,974 adults with prehypertension aged 30 to 54 years upon enrollment. Twenty-four hour urine samples collected intermittently over the trials' respective 18 and 36 month courses were analyzed for sodium and potassium excretion levels. Follow-up data collected over a 10 to 15 year period tracked the development of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular mortality.

Of 2,275 participants for whom follow-up data was available, 193 cardiovascular events occurred. While subjects whose urine sodium levels were among the top 25 percent of participants experienced an insignificant increase in cardiovascular event risk, those with the greatest sodium to potassium ratio had a 50 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those whose ratios were in the lowest quarter.

"There isn't as much focus on potassium, but potassium seems to be effective in lowering blood pressure and the combination of a higher intake of potassium and lower consumption of sodium seems to be more effective than either on its own in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease," stated Dr Whelton, who is one of the nation's experts on hypertension. Commenting on the fact that the study utilized urinary levels of sodium and potassium rather than estimating their intake levels from dietary questionnaire responses, he noted that the current investigation "is a quantum leap in the quality of the data compared to what we have had before." —D Dye
 

 
Selenium Added To Broccoli Compound Combats Melanoma
 
brocolli.pngIn an article published in the March, 2009 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, researchers at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine report their finding of a potent effect of a compound consisting of selenium and isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli against the potentially deadly cancer known as melanoma.

Previous research conducted by Penn State associate professor of pharmacology, pathology and dermatology Gavin Robertson and his colleagues found that isothiocyanates target a protein known as Akt3 which is increased in approximately 70 percent of tumors. Recognizing that the known cancer fighting ability of isothiocyanates would require the administration of impractical amounts of the compounds, the team replaced isothiocyanantes’ sulfur bonds with selenium to create new compounds called isoselenocyanates. "Selenium deficiency is common in cancer patients, including those diagnosed with metastatic melanoma," explained Robertson. "Besides, selenium is known to destabilize Akt proteins in prostate cancer cells."

When mice injected with melanoma cells were treated with isothiocyanates or isoselenocyanates, animals that received the selenium-containing compound had approximately 60 percent less tumor development compared with those that received isothiocyanates. In additional experiments with human melanoma cell lines, tumor growth was decreased by 30 to 70 percent. "We found that the selenium-enhanced compounds significantly reduced the production of Akt3 protein and shut down its signaling network," Dr Robertson stated.

"There are currently no drugs to target the proteins that trigger melanoma," Dr Robertson noted. "We have developed drugs from naturally occurring compounds that can inhibit the growth of tumors in mice by 50 to 60 percent with a very low dose."

"We have harnessed something found in nature to target melanoma," he remarked. "And since we only need tiny amounts to kill the cancer cells, it means even less toxic side-effects for the patient." —D Dye
 

 
Resveratrol Extends Cell Survival And Life Span
 
Greenapple.pngRodents, worms, flies, and yeast cells live longer when fed a low-calorie diet, which protects mammals against age-related diseases, including cancer. In May, researchers reported the first known genetic link between environmental stress and a longer life span in yeast.*

Triggered by salt, heat, or caloric restriction, a yeast “longevity gene” was found to stimulate the activity of Sir2, an enzyme that belongs to the sirtuin family of enzymes known to extend the life span of yeast and worms.

Now, a group from Pennsylva-nia’s Biomol Research Laboratories has found a way to duplicate the benefits of caloric restriction in yeast cells by polyphenols, antioxidants that are found in vegetables, olive oil, fruit, and wine, and whose levels in plants increase in response to stress. The findings, reported in August in the journal Nature’s advanced online edition, show that polyphenols prompt yeast cells and human cells to prepare for harsh conditions by switching to a life-extending survival program that mimics caloric restriction. This occurs by a mechanism other than their antioxidant action—activation of the sirtuin family, the SIRT2 protein in yeast and SIRT1 protein in humans.

The most potent activator of sirtuins is resveratrol, found in grapes, wine, and peanuts. In yeast, resveratrol mimics caloric restriction by stimulating the SIRT2 enzyme, increasing the stability of DNA, and extending the life span of the yeast cells by 70%.

In experiments with human cells, resveratrol activated a similar pathway that enabled 30% of the cells to survive exposure to radiation, compared to 10% of untreated cells. Little is known about the human SIRT2, except that it switches off p53, a growth-regulating protein that plays a role in programmed cell death. Increasing survival through the activation of SIRT1 and SIRT2 by polyphenols may allow cells time to repair damage, thereby extending their life span. —Carmia Borek, PhD

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