Monday, April 30, 2007

"Astounding Bombshell" About Vitamin D

Results of a Creighton University (Nebraska) study show vitamin D reduced cancer risk by 60 percent. Canada's Globe and Mail speculates the research will be "the biggest bombshell about vitamin D's effects," and referred to the study results as "nothing short of astounding." (Read full story here.)

Why? According to the Globe and Mail's report, vitamin D is more effective at reducing cancer than quitting cigarettes.

According to one expert quoted in the story, "there is no better anti-cancer agent than activated vitamin D."

While Pound 360 has watched the supposed benefits of many foods and vitamins come and go over the past year, we've been strong proponents of vitamin D since
the LA Times declared it a "wonder pill" last June. Click on that link to learn why vitamin D is such a powerful supplement.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Link Between Bacteria & Health Gets More Interesting

Pound360 cleary remembers being taught that bacteria are bad when we were kids. But as we've come to learn, that's not entirely true. Some bacteria are bad, yes. For example, E. coli can be bad. But reports over the last year have increasingly convinced us that bacteria can do just as much good.

For example, the right amount of the right bacteria in your gut can
control weight. Other bacteria can keep you regular.

Now we're learning the right bacteria can keep your skin healthy, too. This according to a new article at Wired.com, "Hacking Your Body's Bacteria for Better Health." In the piece we learn pills containing bacteria (probiotics) are successfully used to treat eczema. But that's not all, bacteria may also be responsible for controlling allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and diabetes.

The mounting evidence of a link between bacteria and health should force us all to rethink our phobia of bacteria. As Wired put it, "it now appears that our daily antibacterial regimens are disrupting a balance that once protected humans."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Starbuck's Latest Competitor: A Bar of Soap?

A new brand of soap, "Shower Shock", contains caffeine, which is absorbed through a bather's skin. Per shower, Shower Shock users can expect the same amount of caffeine as contained in two cups of coffee to seep into their blood stream. Check out coverage of the product launch at the Guardian UK.

Sounds pretty incredible, yes. Then again,
you can buy water laced with nicotine these days.

If you want a jolt with your suds, you'll be paying about $7 for a bar. That may sound expensive, but consider that you'd pay as much for two cups of Starbucks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol

Environmentalism is all the rage these days. Or is it energy independence? New research is going to force America to think about this distinction, particularly when it comes to promoting ethanol over gasoline.

According to a Stanford report, ethanol doesn't burn as clean as gasoline,
reports the BBC. Pollution from vehicles burning ethanol could cause an extra 200 deaths per year in the US. That's on top of the 10,000 "premature" deaths gasoline burning engines cause.

As it would happen, ethanol combustion cranks out more ozone than the gasoline variety. This is not good for human respiratory systems, but I wonder if it helps the hole in the ozone layer? Or is there even a hole up there anymore?

Back to this ethanol thing. What's the solution? How about electric cars? Sure, we depend on electricity, which comes (mostly) from coal,
but coal doesn't have to be so dirty. Does it? (That's a legit question, I'm really asking.) Besides, coal comes from the US (energy independence, people) and it should only be viewed as a temporary solution until renewable techs like wind, solar, tide and geothermal become more economically viable.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Teen Suicide on the Rise, FDA to Blame?

A couple years ago, you may recall studies showing kids on antidepressants had suicidal thoughts. You may have even thought some kids committed suicide after having these drug-induced urges. Maybe the FDA believed this was the case, so they slapped a "black box" warning on a class of antidepressants called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors" (SSRIs).

Then something bad happened. The teen suicide rate went up. What's worse, the increase followed ten years of declining teen suicide rates, according to
a report by Reuters of a University of Pittsburgh study. "No other causes of child death increased during that period."

Researchers also found the information used by the FDA to issue their warning were exaggerated. For example, despite the suicidal thoughts (and attempts) by kids on antidepressants, "there were no completed suicides."

Certainly, there are risks to taking antidepressants, but the new report strongly suggests the risks outweigh the benefit. Furthermore, the FDA warning seems to be doing more harm than good.

Despite the reasonable case to remove the warnings, the FDA ain't budging. "At this time nothing indicates a need for change in the 'black box' warning," said an FDA spokesperson.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Canada beats US in Health Care

Here in the United States we pay $7,100 per capita for care in a private health system. Up in Canada, they spend $2,900 per capita for a public, universal health care system. And it's well know that health care costs continue to spiral in the US, and it's crippling businesses. But we're getting better health care in the States, right? Wrong.

According to research aggregating the findings of 38 health care studies, "health outcomes for patients in Canada are as good as or better than in the United States,"
reports the CBC (that's the Canadian Broadcasting Company for you Yankees). However, this study was conducted by US researchers.

I am as shocked as you are.

When comparing patients who had similar medical conditions, researchers found that, "Overall, Canada did better, and in fact we found a statistically significant five per cent mortality advantage to people with diagnoses in Canada compared to their counterparts in the United States."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is the BBQ Causing Breast Cancer?

A University of Leeds (UK) study shows a positive relationship between red meat consumption and breast cancer, reports CNN. For women that consumed more than 3 ounces per day, there was a 56 percent increase in risk.

"Processed" meat also appeared to be dangerous. Women consuming more than three quarters of an ounce of processed meat per day had a 64 percent increase in risk.

What's going on here? Scientists don't really know. One theory is the saturated fats in red meat or the compounds resulting from grilling meat are to blame. Research has shown that both saturated fat and grilling-related compounds may promote tumor growth.

When you grill meat, as when you cook anything, a whole slew of new compounds and chemicals are created. Cooking is just another word for food-related chemistry, right? As it turns out, some of the cooking byproducts are harmful to us in large or regular amounts. For example, "heterocyclic amines" and "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," two compounds which result from grilling meat.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why Broccoli, Soy Fight Cancer

You're probably used to reading about studies showing a connection between certain foods and a reduced risk of cancer. But we seldom hear of the biological reasons why. And this is the part that truly fascinates me. Why? Because when we know that, I think, we can build cures.

Finally, for cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) and food with genistein (like soy), we have a biological reason why they may fight cancer. When the body digests these foods, a compound called "diindolymethane" (DIM) results. As it turns out, this stuff "will reduce the production of two proteins needed for breast and ovarian cancers to spread,"
according to a Reuters report.

But it's not just breast and ovarian diseases, the cancer-disrupting properties of broccoli, soy and similar foods may fight as many as "23 different types of cancer," reports Reuters.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blood Transfusion Breakthrough

If you're critically injured and in need of a blood transfusion, it's not as simple as grabbing a pint from the cooler and tapping a vein. The blood type has to match yours. Otherwise, there's a danger that cells could "clump together" and cause problems. This according to a report at ABC.net.au news, which looks at a solution for this complication.

The solution, developed by "an international team of scientists" synthesizes a universal blood type using a special enzyme. Yes, type O blood is universal, but it's rare. So having a way to synthesize a universal blood type has a lot of potential upside.

What's a blood type anyway? Basically, the difference between types A, B, AB and O is the type of "agglutinogen" molecule found on a blood cell's surface. The aforementioned enzyme strips agglutinogen from all cells, thus creating a safe, universal type for all recipients.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Have A Heart? Get to know it better…

A couple more interesting pieces this week focus on your ticker. Specifically, they look at how stress affects the heart and how your job can crank up blood pressure.

Over in Belgium, researchers found that stressful jobs can raise your blood pressure around the clock. Even when you sleep. How much of an increase? "Enough to confer a substantial risk of heart disease." This according to
a report at WebMD. The worst kind of stress comes from jobs with "high psychological demands" where you have "low job control." So be aware of that.

Now to the BBC where
a column today looks at the connection between our minds, hearts and stress. As it turns out, areas of higher brain function trigger stress responses in the heart (as opposed to more primitive areas of the brain). Though the article did not explain why more developed areas of the brain activate increased heart rate, the piece did point out why. "This is designed to maximise blood flow, so that the body is primed to take quick action."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cocoa Beats Tea at Blood Pressure Control

According to a German study reported by Reuters, chocolate reduces blood pressure more effectively than green or black tea. Among study participants, chocolate was just as strong as "drugs commonly prescribed to control high blood pressure."

What the report left out was how much chocolate study participants were taking.

Both tea and chocolate contain powerful compounds called polyphenols, which are believed to protect against heart disease. In fact, many fruits and vegetables have the stuff. But cocoa has a particularly strong brand of polyphenols called "procyanids."

Before you start throwing Reese's Pieces on your salads, one researcher cautioned that cocoa should be "rationally applied" to your diet. Pick dark chocolate over milk chocolate and eat it sparingly.

Mysterious, Glorious Fiber

Scientists don't know exactly why (it could be that it's fiber-rich foods are high in antioxidants), but they agree fiber is great stuff. In addition to keeping you "regular," fiber may also "reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems like diverticular disease," according to a recent Newsweek article, "Is Fiber the New Protien?"

Fiber (the part of food that our bodies can't digest) also makes you feel full, which may help control weight.

For the record, fiber comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. The soluble stuff helps you absorb nutrients and slows digestion. Insoluble fiber helps food pass through the intestines.

The FDA suggests you eat 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day. While most Americans don't hit that goal on a daily basis, it' shouldn't be too hard to do as a cup of broccoli has 5g of fiber and the same amount of chickpeas pack 10g.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Heatlhtlines: April 9, 2007

Look, it's a World Health Organization report telling us there's too much salt in world diets, but guess what's missing? It's the reason why too much salt is bad. Without this kind of info, these recommendations go in one ear and out the other…
World's Food Still Far Too Salty (ScienceDaily)

Ugh… I'm tired of hearing about how terrible whole-wheat pasta tastes. Seriously. Put some salt and olive oil on it, drench it in red sauce and get over it…
A Healthier Bowl of Pasta (WebMD)

Guess where the most germs are in your car? Steering wheel? Nope. Try the dashboard. Next, it's areas stained by spilled food or drinks…
How Germy Is Your Car? (Forbes)

Friday, April 06, 2007

4 Food Myths Under Attack!

Eggs don't raise your cholesterol, carbs don't make you fat, and you don't need eight glasses of water a day or multivitamins. So says Eastern Washington University exercise physiologist Wendy Repovich. Really?

According to
a report at CNN, Repovich dismantled these food myths at the American College of Sports Medicine fitness summit this week. Eggs raising cholesterol, for example. Yes, they have the "most concentrated amount of cholesterol in any food," but it's not enough to threaten your health. Moderation is really the key.

Heck, moderation is the key for pretty much the rest of the food myths Repovich debunked. Carbs won't make you fat, as long as you eat them in moderation. But you could say the same thing about (almost) any type of food.

You ought to moderate your water intake, too. Drinking too much water can lead to a condition called "hpyonatremia" where your body has an imbalance of sodium. Most importantly, Repovich reminds us that you get water from "other sources in the diet" -- like soup, fruit, too a small degree meat, and most anything else you eat. The rule I was given about drinking water back before the eight-glasses-a-day craze, when I was a wide-eyed high school student in physiology class, is this: drink enough so your urine is clear all day. Seriously.

As far as the vitamins, so long as you "eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, along with moderate amounts of a variety of low-fat dairy and protein," you're okay. Though Repovich admits she still takes a multi each morning.

Despite the fact that I eat tons of fruits, veggies and different proteins, I take a multi everyday. And I will continue to do so (pretty much) forever. Why? I think of it as insurance. In case there's some obscure nutrient that I'm not getting enough of, that's later proven to protect against some common disease, I'll be okay. I hope.

Don't buy that? How about the placebo effect? I (usually) feel (physically) great and don't get sick very much!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What Came First, Our Brains or God?

A headline in my CNN feed grabbed my attention today: "Are humans hard-wired for faith?" In the piece, they discussed a burgeoning field called "neurotheology" that looks at the link between our brain's architecture and a belief in God. According to the piece, "there may be universal features of the human mind that actually make it easier for us to believe in a higher power."

While the article is a bit thin, you can visit this super-thick piece (no, I couldn't come up with anything in between!) at the NY Times: "
Darwin's God." There, they look at two schools of thought regarding our brain's wiring and a belief in God. On one side, there are scientist arguing the "spandrel" theory, which supposes our belief in God is an "unintended byproduct" of survival mechanisms evolved in our species over the millennia. On the other side are scientists that argue a belief in God is a direct product of evolution, a survival mechanism in itself.

Regarding the direct approach, scientists reason that a belief in God, "made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves," according to the Times piece. Further, a belief in God, "made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obedience and sober living."

On the other side, the "spandrel" side, there are a number of adaptations that may converge to create a belief in God. For example, take the adaptation of "agent detection." Through experiments, scientists have show people have a tendency to consider inanimate things are very much alive. How does this help you survive? According to the Times:

"If you are a caveman on the savannah, you are better off presuming that the motion you detect out of the corner of your eye is an agent and something to run from, even if you are wrong. If it turns out to have been just the rustling of leaves, you are still alive; if what you took to be leaves rustling was really a hyena about to pounce, you are dead."

Now what does this have to do with a believe in God? "[Agent detection] means our brains are primed for [a believe in the supernatural], ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic." Therefore, it's easier for us to believe God exists when there is no positive reason to.

Spandrel theory or the direct approach? As with most things, I'm sure the answer is somewhere in between.

Is Irradiated Food Harmful?

Irradiation is in the news as the FDA considers rolling back regulations for the labeling of foods treated this way. One of the most controversial points allows manufacturers to label food as "pasteurized" instead of irradiated.

I don't like this… not for me personally… then again, well…

Don't get me wrong, best I can tell, irradiation is no more harmful than microwaving. "The technique kills bacteria but does not cause food to become radioactive," read a CNN report. Furthermore, it sounds like a very thorough, effective way to make food safe.

However, if the food's been zapped, I'd like to know that.

On the other hand, watching the news last night, I caught some on-the-street interviews with people who were clearly frightened at the possibility of eating irradiated food. People naturally assume that something with the word "radiation" in it is harmful. Nevermind the fact that the sun's "radiation" makes life on Earth possible.

Then again, the frightened man-on-the-street might ask, "but didn't radiation cause such horrors as Godzilla?" Yes, my fellow American, but it also brought us wonderful superheroes like Spiderman.

So maybe the FDA should let friendly euphemisms like "pasteurized" (everyone loves pasteurization, right?) replace scary ones like "irradiated."

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cure for Hiccups: A Thumb in the Rear?

I could be the victim of an April fools joke, but I heard on The Science Show podcast (an Australian Broadcasting Company program I listen to regularly) that "digital rectal stimulation" may cure hiccups.

Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like. "Digital" meaning finger(s) and "rectal" meaning… well, you get the rest.

This bizarre revelation came when Mark Abrahams, editor of "
The Journal of Improbable Research" and creator of the "Ig Nobel Prize," was a guest on this week's show. I'm not sure why, there wasn't much of a lead-in to the discussion, but Abrahams went into detail on the work of Tennessee doctor Francis Fesmire who somehow discovered digital rectal stimulation could stop hiccups.

How? "Nothing else seemed to work," of course. And since Dr. Fesmire knew of a peculiar "tangle of nerves" near the rectum that was "connected to all sorts of stuff," he tried stimulating it and the rest is history.

Of course, this amazing discovery won a recent Ig Noble Prize.

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.