All Posts tagged disease

Pecans Can Prevent Heart Disease

A new research study from Loma Linda University (LLU) demonstrates that naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention; the results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E — known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. The nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. The findings illustrate that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. Oxidized LDLs may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems. “Our tests show that eating pecans increases the amount of healthy antioxidants in the body,” says LLU researcher Ella Haddad, DrPH, associate professor in the School of Public Health department of nutrition. “This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”

These findings are from a research project designed to further evaluate the health benefits of pecans, according to Dr. Haddad. She analyzed biomarkers in blood and urine samples from study participants (a total of 16 men and women between the ages 23 and 44) who ate a sequence of three diets composed of whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a control meal of equivalent nutrient composition. The pecan meals contained about three ounces of the nut. Samples were taken prior to meals and at intervals up to 24 hours after eating. Following the test meals composed of whole pecans and blended pecans, researchers found that amounts of gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) in the body doubled eight hours after both meals, and oxygen radical absorbance capabilities (ORAC — a scientific method for measuring antioxidant power in the blood) increased 12 and 10 percent respectively two hours after the meals. In addition, following the whole-pecan meal, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30 percent (after 2 hours), 33 percent (after 3 hours), and 26 percent (after 8 hours).

“This study is another piece of evidence that pecans are a healthy food,” says Dr. Haddad. “Previous research has shown that pecans contain antioxidant factors. Our study shows these antioxidants are indeed absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against diseases.” Research from Loma Linda University published earlier in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a pecan-enriched diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent — more than twice the American Heart Association’s Step I diet, which was used as the control diet in that study. Similarly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol levels by 11.3 percent (also twice as much as the Step I diet).

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Vegetarian diet helps with kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients who consume a diet high in vegetables rather than meat may prevent the accumulation of toxic phosphorus levels, according to a study published online Dec. 23 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.Sharon M. Moe, M.D., of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues conducted a crossover trial in nine patients with a mean estimated glomerular filtration rate of 32 ml/min to compare vegetarian and meat diets containing equivalent nutrients prepared by clinical research staff.

The investigators found that one week of a vegetarian diet led to lower serum phosphorus levels, decreased phosphorus excretion in the urine, and reduced fibroblast growth factor-23 levels compared with a meat diet, despite equivalent protein and phosphorus concentrations in the two diets.

“In summary, this study demonstrates that the source of protein has a significant effect on phosphorus homeostasis in patients with CKD. Therefore, dietary counseling of patients with CKD must include information on not only the amount of phosphate but also the source of protein from which the phosphate derives,” the authors write.

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Olive oil and veggies help the heart

It's no secret that eating well is good for both body and mind, so it may not come as a surprise that a new study finds women who eat more olive oil and leafy vegetables such as salads and cooked spinach are significantly less likely to develop heart disease.A group of Italian researchers found that women who ate at least 1 serving of leafy vegetables per day were more than 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease over an average of eight years, relative to women who ate two or fewer portions of those vegetables each week. Women who downed at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily – such as in salad dressing – were also 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease, compared to women who ate the least olive oil.

It's not exactly clear why specifically leafy vegetables and olive oil may protect the heart, said study author Dr. Domenico Palli of the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute in Florence. “Probably the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of plant-origin foods on cardiovascular diseases involve micronutrients such as folate, antioxidant vitamins and potassium, all present in green leafy vegetables.” Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, Palli explained, which is thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by damaging the inner lining of arteries. Other studies have shown people who eat more potassium have lower blood pressure, which can protect the cardiovascular system. Virgin olive oil may be particularly effective at lowering heart disease risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, he added.

This is not the first study to link olive oil or vegetables to good heart health. Most famously, the traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables and monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat from meat and dairy — has been tied to a decreased risk of heart disease. Mediterranean-style eating has also been credited with lowering risk for some cancers, diabetes, and, more recently, with slowing brain aging. Cardiovascular disease is a major killer, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths worldwide and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

To look more closely at the role of foods in protecting against heart disease, Palli and colleagues reviewed dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 Italian women participating in a large national health study. Researchers followed the women, whose mean age was 50 at the beginning of the study, for an average of 8 years, noting who developed heart disease. In that time, the women experienced 144 major heart disease-related events, such as heart attack or bypass surgery, the authors report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Women who ate at least one daily serving (about two ounces) of leafy vegetables – such as raw lettuce or endives, or cooked vegetables like spinach or chard — had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than women who ate at most two portions per week. Consuming at least an ounce of olive oil per day lowered their risk by 44 percent relative to women who consumed a half-ounce or less daily, the authors found.

The women's intake of other types of vegetables, such as roots and cabbages, and their consumption of tomatoes or fruit did not seem to be linked to their risk for major heart events. Both fruits and vegetables have been associated with heart benefits in past studies conducted elsewhere in Europe and in North America. The authors caution that the apparent lack of positive effect from high fruit consumption in their results may have something to do with a different attitude toward fruit in Italy. It is cheap, varied and easily available, so eating a lot of fruit is a widespread habit but it does not necessarily signal that the rest of someone's diet is as healthy, the authors wrote. Another issue with the study, Palli noted, is that women had to report how much they ate of various items, and some may not have remembered their diets accurately, or may have changed their eating habits during the study period. In addition, people sometimes over-estimate their healthy behaviors, believing they eat healthier than they really do.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online December 22, 2010.

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Fructose Intolerance

Researchers have a new theory on why some kids get unexplained tummy aches.

In some people, the small intestine is unable to efficiently break down fructose (and sometimes other forms of sugar). This problem is sometimes referred to as fructose intolerance. The undigested fructose passes into the large intestine, where it is broken down by bacteria. A by-product of this process is the creation of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. These two gases build up in the intestine, causing bloating, gas, pain and diarrhea. In some cases, the problem can affect absorption of important nutrients, like calcium and iron.

Researchers estimate about 33 percent of Americans have some level of sensitivity to sugar, most commonly to fructose, but the symptoms are often vague. Some people with fructose intolerance can eat small amounts of the sugar and not have any problems, making diagnosis even trickier.

Daniel Lustig, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center in Tacoma, WA, says patients with chronic digestive problems should have a physician’s evaluation to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. Once those conditions have been ruled out, he recommends a diagnostic tool called the breath hydrogen test.

A patient is given a dose of fructose. Then, periodically, he/she breathes into an air collection bag. The gases from the bag are retrieved and analyzed for the presence of hydrogen (one of the gases given off when fructose is broken down in the large intestine). Patients whose hydrogen levels exceed 20 points beyond a baseline reading are likely to be fructose intolerant.

Lustig explains the main treatment of fructose intolerance is avoidance of foods containing fructose. That includes fruits, fruit juices, sodas and processed foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup. Since fructose is in so many foods, it can be tricky to find and hard to avoid.

Lustig recently performed a study to look at possible fructose intolerance in 245 children and adolescents (ages 2 to 18) with unexplained chronic abdominal pain, gas or bloating. The breath hydrogen test found that nearly 54 percent of the participants tested positive for fructose intolerance. Lustig says the problem appeared to be especially high among teen girls.

Those who were judged to be fructose intolerant were given advice on using a low-fructose diet. The investigators found that nearly 68 percent of those who followed the recommended diet had an improvement or resolution in their symptoms.

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Omega-3 foods prevent eye disease

Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect seniors against the onset of a serious eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Researchers did a fresh analysis of a one-year dietary survey conducted in the early 1990s. The poll involved nearly 2,400 seniors between the ages of 65 and 84 living in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, where fish and shellfish are eaten routinely.

While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD had consumed less fish and seafood containing omega-3 fatty acids. After their food intake was assessed, participants underwent eye examinations. About 450 had AMD, including 68 who had an advanced stage of the disease, which can lead to severe vision impairment or blindness. Prior evidence suggested that dietary zinc is similarly protective against AMD, so the researchers looked to see if zinc consumption from a diet of oysters and crabs reduced risk of AMD, but no such association was seen.

The researchers believe that the low dietary zinc levels relative to zinc supplements could account for the absence of such a link. However, they cautioned against people to start taking omega-3 supplements to protect against AMD based on this study because they are not sure that the above results have sufficient power to draw any conclusions. The correlation is important but larger studies with longer term follow-up are needed before being able to properly assess the impact.

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Mediterranean diet cuts Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease, a major form of dementia, has no cure. Luckily, diet and lifestyle can be modified to reduce the risk. For instance, Mediterranean diet and physical activity may each independently reduce the risk of the condition, according to a study in the Aug 2009 issue of Journal of American Medical Association. Dr. N. Scarmeas and colleagues of Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center found men and women those who adhered most closely to Mediterranean diet were 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during a average of 5.4-year follow-up, compared to those who adhered to the diet least closely.

The researchers also found those who most actively engaged in physical activity were up to 33 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s compared with those who were least active. For the study, Scarneas et al. followed 1880 community-dwelling elderly people who lived without dementia at baseline in New York for their dietary habits and physical activity.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was assessed on a scale of 0-9, or trichotomized into low, middle, or high and dichotomized into low and high. Physical activity was trichotomized into no physical activity, some, and much and dichotomized into low and high. Neurological and neuropsychological measures were conducted about every 1.5 years from 1992 to 2006. During the 5.4-year follow-up, 282 incident cases of Alzheimer’s were identified.

Those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet with a high score were at 40 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer, compared to those on the diet with a low score. A Mediterranean diet with a middle score did not seem to help compared to a diet with a low score. Those who engaged in some physical activity or much physical activity were at a 25 percent or 33 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, respectively, compared with those who did no physical activity. Men and women who had neither followed Mediterranean diet nor much physical activity had an absolute Alzheimer’s risk of 19 percent. This is compared to 12 percent for those who followed both high scored Mediterranean diet and engaged in much physical activity – a difference of 45 percent.

The researchers concluded “both higher Mediterranean-type diet adherence and higher physical activity were independently associated with reduced risk for AD (Alzheimer’s disease).”

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Red meat increases women stroke risk

Women consuming too much red meat may have a higher risk of stroke than women eating less, says a new study. Red meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol; both are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests lowering saturated fat intake and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables to help reduce your risk of stroke. Writing in the journal Stroke, researchers examined nearly 35,000 Swedish women, ages 39 to 73. None of the women had heart disease prior to the start of the study in 1997.

After ten years, results showed 4% of the study participants, 1,680 women, had a stroke. Those consuming the most red meat had the highest risk of stroke. Women in the top tenth of red meat intake, consuming at least 3.6 ounces each day, were 42% more likely to have a stroke, compared to women who ate just under one ounce of red meat daily.

Eating processed meat also increased stroke risk. Women eating 1.5 ounces of processed meat each day were 24% more likely to suffer a cerebral infarction, compared to woman consuming less than half an ounce of processed meat each day. Processed meat was not linked to any other form of stroke. Cerebral infarction is a type of stroke caused by a disturbance in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. Other types of stroke involve a rupturing of a blood vessel, called hemorrhagic strokes.

The scientists blame red meat and processed meat’s effect on raising blood pressure for the increased stroke risk. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year an estimated 17 million people die due to cardiovascular diseases, most notably stroke and heart attack. The WHO lists physical inactivity and unhealthy diet as the main risk factors for heart disease and major cardiac events.

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Teen soft drinks risk heart disease

Excessive intake of sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices that offer no nutritional value other than calories to the diet of teenagers can elevate their risk of heart disease in later life, claims a new study. According to health experts, there is growing evidence of the link between excess sugar consumption among youngsters and a number of health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, elevated triglycerides that are considered markers for heart disease. Lead author of the study, Jean Welsh, post-doctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta stated, “We need to be aware of sugar consumption. “It’s a significant contributor of calories to our diet and there are these associations that may prove to be very negative. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and sodas are the major contributor of added sugar and are a major source of calories without other important nutrients. “Parents and adolescents need to become aware of the amount of added sugar they are consuming and be aware that there may be some negative health implications if not now, then down the line.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations, a teenager who requires 2,200 calories may have an upper limit of 150 calories from added sugar while someone with an energy requirement of 1,800 calories per day should limit added sugar to 100 calories. However, the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) of 2,157 teenagers aged 12 to 18 years found that the average teenager consumes close to 500 calories added sugars each day. “Adolescents are eating 20 per cent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,” said Jean Welsh.

In order to get an insight into the impact of high sugar consumption in adolescence on the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life the researchers studied 646 teenagers. For the purpose of the study, they analyzed the 24-hour dietary recall by teens with data from the US Department of Agriculture on sugar content in foods. It was noted that the teens’ average daily consumption of added sugars was three to five times higher that the limit acceptable by the AHA.

The study found, that teens who consumed 30 percent or more of total calories from added sugars exhibited lower levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, compared to those who ate less than 10 percent of added sugar. In addition, it was observed that obese and overweight teenagers who consumed more sugar also had the most insulin resistance.

Although the study hints at a possible association between added sugar intake and poor cholesterol profiles as well as other heart disease risk factors, researchers feel there is need for more research to substantiate the findings. Welsh stated, “We need controlled studies to really understand the role of added sugars in cardiovascular disease. But it is important to be aware of the added sugar in the foods we all eat.”

The study is published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal ‘Circulation.’

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Low vitamin D common in lung disease

Kinder and his colleagues assessed the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in a cohort of patients with interstitial lung disease, who are often treated with corticosteroids. The detrimental effect of chronic use of corticosteroids on bone health has been well established, according to the researchers. Of the patients included in the study, 51 had interstitial lung disease and 67 had other forms of interstitial lung disease related to autoimmune connective tissue diseases.

A vitamin D insufficiency was defined as a serum level of less than 30 ng/mL. A level of less than 20 ng/mL was considered deficient. Both insufficient and deficient levels were prevalent in the study. In the overall sample, lower vitamin D levels were associated with reduced forced vital capacity (P=0.01). When the analysis was restricted to patients with connective tissue disease, both forced vital capacity and diffusing capacity of lung for carbon monoxide — a measure of the lung’s ability to transfer gases from the air to the blood — were significantly reduced (P<0.05 for both). After adjustment for several potential confounders — including age, corticosteroid use, race, and season, the presence of connective lung disease was a strong predictor of vitamin D insufficiency (OR 11.8, 95% CI 3.5 to 40.6).

According to the researchers, a pathogenic role of low vitamin D in the development of autoimmune diseases such as interstitial lung disease is plausible because of the immunoregulatory role of the biologically active form of vitamin D, 1,25-(OH)2D. “All cells of the adaptive immune system express vitamin D receptors and are sensitive to the action of 1,25-(OH)2D,” they wrote. “High levels of 1,25-(OH)2D are potent inhibitors of dendritic cell maturation with lower expression of major histocompatibility complex class II molecules, down-regulation of costimulatory molecules, and lower production of proinflammatory cytokines.” “A common theme in the immunomodulatory functions of vitamin D is that higher levels are immunosuppressive,” they continued, “which is consistent with a potential role for hypovitaminosis D in the pathogenesis of autoimmune disorders.”

In a statement, Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, commented that “vitamin D is known to promote wound healing, and to benefit the immune system. So it is not surprising to find that patients with immune lung disorders are vitamin D deficient.” He said that all of his patients are screened and treated for vitamin D deficiency with supplements. The study authors noted that further research is needed to determine whether supplementation is associated with improved outcomes. The study was limited, Kinder and his colleagues wrote, by its use of patients from a single center in Cincinnati.

In addition, the cross-sectional design of the study did not evaluate whether vitamin D supplementation is associated with any improved clinical outcomes. To examine that issue, the team called for prospective controlled interventional studies to determine whether vitamin D7 supplements can ameliorate symptoms and improve outcomes in connective tissue disease-related interstitial lung disease.

Source reference: Hagaman J, et al “Vitamin D deficiency and reduced lung function in connective tissue-associated interstitial lung diseases” Chest 2011; DOI: 10.1378/chest.10-0968.

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Why the rise in Multiple Sclerosis

New research may help explain why multiple sclerosis rates have risen sharply in the U.S. and some other countries among women, while rates appear stable in men.The study could also broaden understanding of how environmental influences alter genes to cause a wide range of diseases. The causes of multiple sclerosis (MS) are not well understood, but experts have long suspected that environmental factors trigger the disease in people who are genetically susceptible. In the newly published study, researchers found that women with MS were more likely than men with MS to have a specific genetic mutation that has been linked to the disease.

Women were also more likely to pass the mutation to their daughters than their sons and more likely to share the MS-susceptibility gene with more distant female family members. If genes alone were involved, mothers would pass the MS-related gene to their sons as often as their daughters, said researcher George C. Ebers, MD, of the University of Oxford. Ebers’ research suggests that the ability of environmental factors to alter gene expression — a relatively new field of genetic study known as epigenetics — plays a key role in multiple sclerosis and that this role is gender-specific.

The theory is that environmental influences such as diet, smoking, stress, and even exposure to sunlight can change gene expression and this altered gene expression is passed on for a generation or two. “The idea that the environment would change genes was once thought to be ridiculous,” Ebers says. “Now it is looking like this is a much bigger influence on disease than we ever imagined.”

The study by Ebers and colleagues included 1,055 families with more than one person with MS. Close to 7,100 genes were tested, including around 2,100 from patients with the disease. The researchers were looking for MS-specific alterations in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene region. They found that women with MS were 1.4 times more likely than men with the disease to carry the gene variant linked to disease risk. A total of 919 women and 302 men had the variant in the MHC region, compared to 626 women and 280 men who did not have it.

The study appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of Neurology.

Epigenetics is not evolution. Genetic alterations linked to environmental assaults can be passed down for a generation or two, but DNA usually rights itself over time, Ebers says. “This may explain why we hardly ever see MS in families over more than three generations,” he says. Earlier studies by Ebers and colleagues suggest that vitamin D deficiency may be the environmental stressor that triggers the MS-linked gene alterations. Rates of the disease are highest among people living farthest from the equator, and there is widespread speculation that lack of vitamin D due to low sun exposure may explain this. Other than Ebers’ research team, Orhun Kantarci, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is one of the few researches studying epigenetics as it relates to multiple sclerosis.

Kantarci calls the new research a potentially important piece of the puzzle to explain the gender difference in MS, but he adds that the research must be replicated. “This study provides more questions than answers, but it is very interesting,” he says. “We are learning that inheritance isn’t as simple as [Gregor] Mendel described.”

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