Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Latest Good News About Red Wine

By now, you've certainly heard the buzz over resveratrol, the substance in red wine that's been proven to significantly extend the lives of lab mice. The initial question was, could this explain the French paradox?

Of course, the
French paradox is where French people eat a diet rich in saturated fats, but manage to have low rates of coronary disease.

But resveratrol probably isn't the catalyst for the Paradox, because you would have to drink dozens of glasses of wine per day to get the results. And I'm sure that would turn your liver to Swiss cheese, so what's the point? There must be another answer.

One possible solution is a substance in red wine called "procyanidins,"
reports the Washington Post. "Procyanidins appeared to have the most potent beneficial effect on the cells that enable arteries to power the heart," read the Post article.

Interestingly enough, people who live in the region where wines highest in procyanidins are made, southwest France, tend to live the longest.

The Post points out that procyanidins also turn up in dark chocolate, apples and cranberries.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Connection Between Fat and Cancer Risk

A couple of recent studies shed light on a link between excess weight and cancer. However, each study comes to a different basis for that connection.

At Rutgers University,
scientists experimenting with mice found that, "fatty tissue may decrease the body's ability to kill off cancer." This may occur because fat cells produce a substance that "short-circuits" a body process, apoptosis, which fights cancer. Apoptosis is a kind of cellular suicide that occurs when cells become damaged (for example, by overexposure to the sun). If apoptosis occurs properly, damaged cells do not grow into tumors.

In
another study, carried out at Cedars-Sinai, researchers found that obese women develop more aggressive forms of ovarian cancer. According to the research team, "it's possible that fat tissue may be secreting factors or hormones that accelerate tumor growth."

Taken together, these studies suggest that A) you're more likely to get cancer if you're overweight and B) once you get it, it's going to be more aggressive than in lean people.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Some People Can Literally Taste Words

It sounds absurd, but it's true. People know as "lexical-gustatory synaesthetes" experience tastes when they hear or see certain words, reported the NY Times. For example, one person tastes tuna fish when the word "castanets" is uttered, and another tastes gravy when the word "civil" comes up.

Less strange, but bizarre still, are synaesthetes that experience music, letters or numbers as colors. For example, when you hear a specific note, you "see" a color. Such rare neurological disorders are extremely rare and run in families.

While I could personally live with hearing notes and seeing colors, the hearing words and tasting flavors would be tough. Imagine, friends, family and colleagues would need to have a list of words they can not say (yes, some words may trigger pleasant flavors, but others may set off disgusting ones).

But what happens when you're out in public, or driving your car? Accordgin to the Times, one synaesthete "hates driving because road signs flood his mouth with the flavors of things like pistachio ice cream and earwax."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Supposedly, Happy People are Healthier

Over at Carnegie Mellon University, it looks like somebody scored a grant to test who gets sicker: happy people or angry ones. Surprise, surprise: the happy people seem healthier, reports CNN.

In the experiment, volunteers were collected, parsed into emotional groups (happy and angry), given nose drops carrying cold or flu bugs, then asked to report on their condition. As you might expect, the people with a "positive emotional style," appeared to resist colds better.

"People with a positive emotional style may have different immune responses to the virus," one scientist told CNN. Hm… interesting theory.

Is it just me, or does this sound like new age, pseudo-science nonsense? How do you determine a "positive emotional style," or, for that matter, a negative one? Since I'm so critical of this study, do I fall under the negative banner? I rarely get sick. And, come to think of it, the liveliest people in my office take the most sick days. Are they really sick, or does their zest for life just lead them to fake being sick so they can take more days off to frolic in the sun, maybe walk their dogs or help old ladies across the street?

The CNN report was vague on the research method used to measure both emotional state and illness in the Carnegie Mellon study.

"Researchers had 193 healthy adults complete standard measures of personality traits, self-perceived health and emotional "style," read the CNN article. But what does all that mean? Sounds like weak science to me. How can you repeat this experiment using such a broad range of vague tests? Furthermore, how can you repeat it for another culture?

Another questionable part of the study is this: researchers measured sickness by asking subjects how they felt, and collecting "objective data, like daily mucus production." On the first point, of course positive people will tell you they feel better than they actually are, that's why they're positive people. And this business of measuring snot. Seriously. Is this the basis of good, hard science?

I expect to see this kind of feel good story on the local TV news, but not at CNN online. I'm a tad angry. And you know what? I feel healthier than ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Red Meat Harms, Soy Helps, Vitamins Do Nothing

CNN is reporting on a couple of Harvard Medical School studies suggest vitamins have no affect on heart disease and red meat ups breast cancer risk in women. On the flip side, Reuters reports a new University of Hawaii study showing women raised on soy are 58 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.

In the University of Hawaii study, "The women who ate the most soy-based foods such as tofu and miso when aged 5 to 11 reduced their risk of developing breast cancer," reported Reuters.

Now, if you didn't eat a lot of soy as a kid, try cutting back on red meat later in life to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. For women that ate the most red meat later in life (age 26 to 46), the University of Harvard found an increased risk of breast cancer.

"Meat consumption was linked to a risk of developing tumors whose growth was fueled by estrogen or progesterone -- the most common type," reported CNN.

Also from the University of Harvard, we learned this week that vitamin supplements "will do little if anything to protect her heart." This doesn't mean that vitamin supplements are completely useless, just for heart disease, it seems.

In the heart study, 8,000 women were randomly assigned various combinations of vitamin C, E, B, beta carotene and folic acid for seven to ten years. After sifting through the results, scientists concluded that, "there was minimal evidence of any cardiovascular benefit of any of these antioxidants."

However, researchers did find that vitamin C was found to reduce the risk of stroke by 42 percent.

Healthlines: November 15, 2006

It doesn't look like the vaccine itself helps. Instead, it appears that flu triggers heart troubles, so if you can stay healthy, your heart is happy…
Flu vaccine helps cut heart attacks, deaths: study (Reuters)

Another loose connection… the migraine doesn't trigger heart disease, but it's a "marker" for risk…
Migraines Linked to Heart Risk in Men (Washington Post)

It turns out that obese patients with clogged arteries have lower death rates than lean patients with clogged arteries. Unbelievable? Well, obese patients tend to get more immediate attention and they're younger…
Study explains "obesity paradox" in heart treatment (Reuters)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Sweet Discovery" for Chocoholics, BUT…

A Johns Hopkins University study (reported by Reuters) found that chocolate contains chemicals which help keep the platelets in your blood from clumping, which can form deadly clots.

What's really interesting about this finding is how researchers came across the results. In a test on aspirin's affect on heart disease, patients were asked to abstain from wine, chocolate, grapefruit and other foods suspected in maintaining cardiovascular health. But that's a tall order for your typical chocoholic.

How widespread is chocolate addiction? Well, in the study of 1,200 people, 139 people could not stay away from the stuff. That's about 12 percent of the population. But instead of telling the addicts to get lost, Johns Hopkins researchers tested their blood anyway, and discovered that their blood was slower to clot than people who had not eaten chocolate.

However, if you're a chocolate fan, don't start celebrating just yet. The affect of chocolate on blood clotting was small. "[Chocolate] does not have anywhere near the magnitude of the effects of a single baby aspirin a day," one scientist told Reuters. Furthermore, "the high sugar and fat content of most chocolate candy might cancel out some of the benefits."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Vegetarian Diet Better for Losing Weight

If you're trying to loose weight, or keep weight off, a vegetarian diet may be the best way to go. In a weight loss study by the University of Pittsburgh (reported by WebMD), participants on a meatless diet not only lost more weight, they stuck with the diet longer and had lower levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol.

Of course, people on the vegetarian diet consumed less calories. In my opinion, there are two possible reasons. One, a higher fiber diet makes you feel fuller, longer and control the insulin crashes that can make you hungry. Two, when you're cutting meat from your diet, you're forced to concentrate more closely on what you're eating.

An interesting footnote to the study is how most participants pretty abandoned their diets after the study ended. "People on a structured diet plan need regular follow-up with a nutritionist, nurse practitioner or other health care professional," one researcher told WebMD. If that's what it takes to keep people slim, then I think health insurance companies should cover it. The short term costs (of the counseling) could lead to big long term savings (from obesity-related health problems).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is Obesity Caused by Your Neighborhood?

Those crazy economists are at it again, stirring up the medical community with a challenging new study. Last time, it was a link between TV and autism. This time, it's a link between the neighborhood you live in and your waistline.

Previous medical studies had shown, "overwhelmingly," that neighborhood and weight are linked, one expert told the LA Times in a
report on the new issue. It's suspected that sprawling neighborhoods, where businesses are beyond walking distance from residences, contribute to obesity. However, the news study by University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner found otherwise.

In Truner's study, reported by the LA Times, it was found that fat people who moved from sprawling neighborhoods to dense neighborhoods, stayed fat.

From the report, it was unclear whether or not people moving from dense environments to sprawling ones gained weight. But there were other criticisms. Doctors cited that the study was small, brief and poorly calculated sprawl.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Happy Ending for Three Blind Mice

Actually, I'm sure it was more than three, but scientists have restored sight to mice blinded by a condition similar to macular degeneration, reports Reuters.

To restore vision in mice, scientists successfully transplanted new photoreceptor cells to replace damaged ones in the back of the eye. Photoreceptors are critical for sight, and the loss of them is among "the more common causes of blindness" in people, a scientist told Reuters. The new experiment, carried out by the Institute of Ophthalmology and the Institute of Child Health in London and the University of Michigan Medical School in the United States, may lead to the transplant of photoreceptors in humans.

In the past, scientists had used stem cells to replace damaged photoreceptors. The experiments failed. The latest experiment succeeded using more mature cells.

This is particularly surprising news. According to Reuters, "researchers had thought that the mature retina, the part of the eye that senses light and forms images, did not have the capacity for repair."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Which Drinks Cause the Worst Hangovers?

Many of us have suspected for years that certain drinks caused worse hangovers than others, but where was the science to back it up? According to a new column at the New York Times, a British study looked into the affects of different alcohols, and found that there are differences in the intensity of hangovers.

In order of most extreme to less extreme: brandy, red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin and vodka.

A good rule of thumb: the darker the drink, the more extreme your hangover will be.

Why different alcohols cause different hangovers is due to many factors. But "among the most important," reports the Times, "is the amount of congeners -- complex organic molecules, like methanol -- in a particular drink."

Healthlines: November 7, 2006

It's not? I didn't know it was? I missed this in my book of 1001 Home Remedies…
Duct tape no magical cure for warts, study finds (CNN)

Who'd have thunk it, people speaking in tongues are legitimately out-of-their minds…
A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues (NY Times)

When I was a kid, I used to wonder why there were no seatbelts on school buses. And when I asked, adults always told me that bus drivers were the safest drivers and they never got into accidents, well…
17,000 Kids Hurt on School Bus Each Year (WA Post)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Can Jet-Lag Lead to an Early Grave?

Mice are once again the subject of unusual torture, this time to show the affects of jet-lag and unusual sleep patterns. Listen up if you're a frequent international traveler, or you work the graveyard shift.

In a University of Virginia study,
reported by Reuters, "old mice forced to live on a confusing schedules of light and darkness, simulating rotating shifts or international travel, died sooner than those on gentler schedules."

Survival rates were cut in half by the confusing schedule.

I'd like everyone reading this post to take a moment and thank the poor mice that gave their lives in this study. How many creatures would you guess die from a "confusing" light schedule? Very few, I hope. But with any luck, this study will lead to advancements that save the lives of thousands.

So what killed the mice? Researchers aren't sure, but it probably wasn't stress. During the study, "their daily levels of a stress hormone called corticosterone did not increase."

It could be the hormones that adjust ones sleeping schedule, like melatonin. In previous studies, these hormones were found to "affect aging and immune system processes," Reported Reuters.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More on the Longevity Drug

Yesterday I concluded my blog post with a quote from the very popular New York Times article, "One for the Ages: A Prescription That May Extend Life," that I was covering.

If you're too lazy to scroll down, here it is again: "a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140."

This pill is based on a super-antioxidant found in red wine called "resveratrol."

I still think it sounds too good (or, easy) to be true, but Newsweek
posted a "web exclusive" today on the resveratrol that caught my eye. At Newsweek, they report that resveratrol "may help reverse some of the complications of obesity and even extend life." This according to a study where resveratrol was given to mice on a high-fat diet (60 percent of their daily calories came from fat). Despite the unhealthy diet, mice on the drug had a 31 percent lower death rate than those that were not on the drug.

The study, conducted by the Harvard Medical School, found that mice on reserveratrol showed the same physiological changes as animals that either A) exercised a lot, or B) were on a reduced-calorie diet. According to scientists, reserveratrol activates the Sir2 family of genes, which act as a natural defense against aging.

Does this mean there's a pill on the way that gives you the benefits of exercising and a low-cal diet without ever setting foot on a treadmill or passing on seconds? I don't know, but I stick with what I said yesterday: Too easy… I'm skeptical.

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.