cancer

 Amazing study results - if true - about some health benefits of eating nuts. Just tree nuts, not peanuts (which are actually a legume). Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that colon cancer survivors who ate at least two ounces (57 grams) of tree nuts a week were 42% less likely to have their cancer return or a 53% lower chance of dying from their cancer than those who did not eat nuts. One ounce or a handful of nuts is considered a serving, but two ounces of nuts is about 48 almonds, or 36 cashews, or 96 shelled pistachios, or 38 pecan halves, or 28 walnut halves, or 42 hazelnuts.

The benefits of eating tree nuts was so surprising and so big, that the researchers caution that the study needs to be repeated (and improved) to make sure. The problem is that the study was observational, and so can't say a definite cause and effect. Perhaps people eating the tree nuts may also be doing some other protective behavior - thus there is just an association. So can't say for sure, but....the studies are adding up that eating nuts is linked with all sorts of health benefits. From STAT:

Can cashews keep colon cancer patients alive? Study says yes — but cautions abound

Surprising new research scheduled to be unveiled at a major cancer meeting next month suggests that cashews and other tree nuts might be as effective as some of oncology’s most effective treatments at keeping colon cancer from recurring after treatment — and even keeping patients from dying. If the benefit is real, a daily handful or two of cashews (cost: less than $1) could work as well as standard chemotherapy (cost: thousands of dollars). But the reported benefit comes with a big “if.”

Although the study is from a respected clinical trial, this finding was not from the original research but, instead, an add-on. The original trial randomly assigned colon cancer patients to either of two drug treatments. Later, researchers looked at cancer survivors who simply went about their lives, doing as they pleased, and tried to evaluate whether eating nuts was associated with better outcomes.In that kind of observational study, it’s not possible to say whether a given behavior — in this case, eating nuts — caused an outcome, or was instead simply associated with the true cause.

Even the study’s lead author was cautious. “This is the first study to show an association between nut consumption and cancer outcomes,” said Dr. Temidayo Fadelu of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “When you see an association that is more dramatic than you expect, you have to repeat [the study] in another [group of patients]. … There could be underlying confounders that we didn’t control for.” In other words, people who eat tree nuts, such as pecans, almonds, and walnuts, might be different from people who do not, something called “healthy patient bias.” They “might be more health-conscious,” said Shah. They might be wealthier, or better connected to the health care system, or have healthier habits in general. Any of those attributes might help patients survive colon cancer.

The researchers did not find an association with eating peanuts. Only tree nuts seemed to matter, to an eye-popping degree. Of 826 patients, those who reported having two or more servings per week (as 19 percent did) had a 46 percent lower risk of their cancer returning and a 53 percent lower risk of dying than those who said they did not eat tree nuts.

The study is an outgrowth of a famous clinical trial that began in 1999, testing chemotherapies in 1,264 patients with stage 3 colon cancer (meaning it had spread to lymph nodes but not to distant sites like the liver and lungs). Some patients filled out questionnaires about diet and lifestyle, once while receiving chemotherapy and again six months after treatment ended. 

Fadelu and his colleagues studied nut consumption because that has been associated with lower mortality, mostly because of a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. “We definitely think something is going on,” with tree nuts providing a biological benefit, Fadelu said. For one thing, they decrease insulin resistance, “a potential mechanism” by which they might keep colon cancer from recurring, he said.

 This is a thought-provoking study that looked at environmental quality and cancer incidence in counties throughout the US. The researchers found that the more polluted the county, the higher the cancer incidence. An increase in cancer rates was associated with poorer air quality and the "built environment" (such as major highways). They correctly point out that many things together can contribute to cancer occurring - and this is why looking at how polluted the air, water, etc. together is important.

They looked at the most common causes of cancer death in both men (lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer), and women (lung, breast, and colorectal cancer). They found that prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest associations with poor environmental quality. [Original study.]

The researchers point out that about half of cancers are thought to have a genetic component, but therefore the other half have environmental causes. Other studies already find that environmental exposures (e.g., pesticides, diesel exhaust) are linked to various cancers. But this study was an attempt to look at interactions of various things in the environment with rates of cancer - because we all are exposed to a number of things simultaneously wherever we live, not just to exposures to one thing. Thus this study looked at associations in rates of cancer. 

Of course there is also a lifestyle contribution to many cancers that wasn't looked at here (nutrition, alcohol use, exercise). They also pointed out that many counties in the US are large and encompass both very polluted and non-polluted areas - and that those counties should be broken up into smaller geographic areas when studied. [More air pollution studies.] From Science Daily:

Poor overall environmental quality linked to elevated cancer rates

Nationwide, counties with the poorest quality across five domains -- air, water, land, the built environment and sociodemographic -- had the highest incidence of cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer. Poor air quality and factors of the built environment -- such as the presence of major highways and the availability of public transit and housing -- -- were the most strongly associated with high cancer rates, while water quality and land pollution had no measurable effect.

Previous research has shown that genetics can be blamed for only about half of all cancers, suggesting that exposure to environmental toxins or socioeconomic factors may also play a role. "Most research has focused on single environmental factors like air pollution or toxins in water," said Jyotsna Jagai, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study. "But these single factors don't paint a comprehensive picture of what a person is exposed to in their environment -- and may not be as helpful in predicting cancer risk, which is impacted by multiple factors including the air you breathe, the water you drink, the neighborhood you live in, and your exposure to myriad toxins, chemicals and pollutants."

To investigate the effects of overall environmental quality, the researchers looked at hundreds of variables, including air and water pollution, pesticide and radon levels, neighborhood safety, access to health services and healthy food, presence of heavily-trafficked highways and roads, and sociodemographic factors, such as poverty. Jagai and her colleagues used the U.S. EPA's Environmental Quality Index, a county-level measure incorporating more than 200 of these environmental variables and obtained cancer incidence rates from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program State Cancer Profiles. Cancer data were available for 85 percent of the 3,142 U.S. counties.

The average age-adjusted rate for all types of cancer was 451 cases per 100,000 people. Counties with poor environmental quality had higher incidence of cancer -- on average, 39 more cases per 100,000 people -- than counties with high environmental quality. Increased rates were seen for both males and females, and prostate and breast cancer demonstrated the strongest association with poor environmental quality.

The researchers found that high levels of air pollution, poor quality in the built environment and high levels of sociodemographic risk factors were most strongly associated with increased cancer rates in men and women. The strongest associations were seen in urban areas, especially for the air and built environment domains. Breast and prostate cancer were most strongly associated with poor air quality.

 The research finding of so many baby foods with elevated arsenic levels (above the legal limit) in the European Union made me wonder about arsenic standards in baby cereals in the US. It turns out that the US has "parallel" standards to the European Union. The EU has "maximum 0.1 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of rice" (this standard has been in place since January 2016), and in  2016 the US the FDA proposed a "maximum allowed standard of 100 ppb (parts per billion)" in infant rice cereal.

Why is there so much arsenic in baby cereal? It's in the rice - rice plants absorb arsenic from the soil (it may be naturally occurring in the soil or in the soil because of arsenic pesticides that were used for years). And why should we be concerned about arsenic in food? The health effects of regularly consuming infant rice cereal — and other rice-based products —containing traces of arsenic are currently unclear. But...the researchers stated that early-life exposure to arsenic, even at low concentrations, is of particular concern because infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the adverse health effects of arsenic. Arsenic is a carcinogen (causes cancer), and can have "neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic" effects.

A Harvard Health Publication (Harvard Medical School) publication in 2016 stated: "In high doses it is lethal, but even small amounts can damage the brain, nerves, blood vessels, or skin — and increase the risk of birth defects and cancer." The FDA found that inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning, based on epidemiological evidence including dietary exposures.

So what should parents do? The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) encourages that babies and toddlers eat a variety of foods, and that this will decrease a child's exposure to arsenic from rice. They also encourage other options as first foods (rather than just rice cereal), such as oat, barley, and multigrain cereals - all of which have lower arsenic levels than rice cereal. From Science Daily:

New research shows illegal levels of arsenic found in baby foods

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's have found that little has changed since this law was passed and that 50 per cent of baby rice food products still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic. Professor Meharg, lead author of the study and Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen's, said: "....Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby's growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few."

Rice has, typically, ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage. As babies are rapidly growing they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

The research findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal today, compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas which includes rice-fortified formulas favoured for infants with dietary requirements such as wheat or dairy intolerance. The weaning process further increased infants' exposure to arsenic, with babies five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process, highlighting the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

In this new study, researchers at Queen's also compared baby food products containing rice before and after the law was passed and discovered that higher levels of arsenic were in fact found in the products since the new regulations were implemented. Nearly 75 per cent of the rice-based products specifically marketed for infants and young children contained more than the standard level of arsenic stipulated by the EU law.[Original study.]

A 2016 study done in New Hampshire also showed that babies eating rice cereals and other rice-based snacks had higher amounts of arsenic in their urine compared to infants who did not eat rice foods. From JAMA Pediatrics: Association of Rice and Rice-Product Consumption With Arsenic Exposure Early in Life

 This site has several recent posts about the controversial pesticide glyphosate (found in Monsanto's Round-Up). Glyphosate is the most heavily used pesticide in the world, and is used as a weed-killer (herbicide). It is used extensively in the USA - on farms, on roadsides, on residential properties, on school properties - basically everywhere, and its use is increasing. Studies have reported to have a number of worrisome health effects (including cancer) which its manufacturer is vigorously denying. There have even been recently revealed ties between Monsanto and some officials in the EPA.

United States government agencies only looked for the presence of glyphosate residues in some foods for a short time last year, and then stopped all testing. So WE DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH GLYPHOSATE WE ARE INGESTING DAILY in the United States. Our government refuses to test. Journalist Carey Gillam wrote that "a source within the FDA said there has been political pressure not to delve too deeply into the issue of glyphosate residues". To many it smacks of: if we don't test for glyphosate in foods, then there is no problem of how much is in foods. Because everyone agrees it is found in food - that's why there are standards for maximum residue levels or "tolerances" (but note they were increased when Monsanto asked to have them increased).

Well.....Canada does test for the pesticide in foods. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency just released a report of the results of testing 3,188 foods for traces of glyphosate residues, and found the pesticide in nearly 30% of the foods tested. Residue levels were above the Canadian acceptable limits in 1.3% of the foods. Glyphosate was found the most in: beans, peas, and lentil products (47.4%); grain products (36.6%); and baby cereals (31%). Only 1.3 percent of the total samples were found with glyphosate residue levels above what Canadian regulators allow, though 3.9 percent of grain products contained more of the weed killer than is permissible.

Legally allowable levels or Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) vary from food to food and pesticide to pesticide, as well as from country to country. The European Union allowable residues for glyphosate on foods are lower than the US maximum allowable amount (yes, once again American standards are more lax). And remember that people ingest numerous pesticides in their foods, and no one knows what health effects are from these combinations of chronic low level pesticide exposures. NOTE: The only way to avoid glyphosate residues in foods is to eat organic foods. Glyphosate is not allowed to be used on organic foods or in organic feed for organically raised animals.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Safeguarding with Science: Glyphosate Testing in 2015-2016

 Nice research that basically says: food is medicine. In other words, eat lots of whole grains and legumes (beans) for gut health - to feed the beneficial microbes in your gut and prevent (hopefully) colon cancer. While the clinical trial studied colorectal cancer survivors and the effects of 4 weeks of adding rice bran or navy beans or placebo (nothing extra) daily to their diet - the positive effects of adding the extra dietary fiber included increased microbiome richness and diversity in the rice bran group (which is good).

And when researchers treated colorectal cancer cells with stool extracts from these groups, they saw reduced cell growth from the groups that had increased rice bran and navy bean consumption. This was an important finding and stresses that adding fiber to the diet is beneficial to gut health, and perhaps may prevent colorectal cancer.

Other studies have also found a diet with lots of legumes (beans), whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to be beneficial for gut microbes and gut health. A classic study (from 2015) found dramatic changes in the colon (specifically in the colonic mucosa) from dietary changes in as little as 2 weeks. They compared the typical low-fat, high fiber diet of South Africa with an “American” high-fat, low-fiber diet, and found that after two weeks on the high fiber African diet, there was significantly less inflammation in the colon and reduced biomarkers of cancer risk. On the other hand, measurements indicating cancer risk dramatically increased after two weeks on the western diet. That study found that a major reason for the changes in cancer risk was the way in which the bacteria in the gut (the microbiome) were altered in adapting to the new diet. The researchers suggested trying for at least 50 grams of fiber per day for gut health benefits.

From Medical Xpress: Phase II trial: Rice bran adds microbiome diversity, slows growth of colon cancer cells

Today at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2017, University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers at Colorado State University present results of a phase II clinical trial of 29 people exploring the effects of adding rice bran or navy beans to the diets of colorectal cancer survivors. After the 4-week randomized-controlled trial during which people added rice bran, navy bean powder or neither, both the rice bran and navy bean groups showed increased dietary fiber, iron, zinc, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and alpha-tocopherol. The rice bran group also showed increased microbiome richness and diversity. When researchers treated colorectal cancer cells with stool extracts from these groups, they saw reduced cell growth from the groups that had increased rice bran and navy bean consumption.

Previous work shows the ability of these diets to decrease colorectal cancer risk in animal models. The current trial confirms that people can eat enough bean- and rice bran-enhanced foods to promote gut health at levels shown to prevent colorectal cancer in animals. Guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend reducing the risk of cancer by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, such as beans. Ryan has established from these studies that eating a half-cup of beans and 30 grams of rice bran per day is enough to see changes in small molecules that can confer protection against colorectal cancer.

"The simple message is, 'Food is medicine,' and we are looking at how to simplify that and make it apply to our everyday lives," says study co-author Regina Brown, MD, assistant professor at the CU School of Medicine and oncologist for CUHealth...."The evidence is there in animals and we can now study this in people. The question is, what are we doing to achieve adequate levels of intake of these foods?" Ryan said. "It's not enough to say 'I eat them once in a while.' That's not going to work, particularly if you are at higher risk. You have to meet a dose, just like you need a dose of a certain drug, you need to reach intake levels and consume increased amounts of these foods, and that's where people, including me, are challenged. Not everyone wants to open up a can of beans and eat them every day."

  Does vitamin D prevent cancer? There has been much debate over whether increasing levels of vitamin D (as measured in a person's blood) results in a lower incidence of cancer. Studies find a number of health problems linked to low levels of vitamin D (here, here, here), while studies looking at vitamin D and cancer have been "inconsistent" in their results. Some say yes - vitamin D is protective, while some say there is no effect from vitamin D supplements. Now a 4 year study (yes, yes - it's a very short length of time in which to study the onset of cancer) found no difference in the rate of cancer among two groups of postmenopausal women who received either: 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D3 and 1,500 mg per day of calcium OR an identical looking placebo. They looked for any kind of cancer occurring.

The Creighton University researchers found a difference among the women after 4 years, with the vitamin D plus calcium supplement group having fewer cancers (and a lower percentage of cancer) as compared to the placebo group, but...it did not reach statistical significance. So you could say it was due to chance. But when the researchers looked at the number of cancers from year 2 to 4, then the difference was statistically significant - that vitamin D was protective. The researchers wonder if the cancers diagnosed in year 1 were already developing before the study started. Note: The 2,000 IU per day vitamin D3 supplements in this study are considered high doses - "high dose supplementation".

The researchers point out that the women who were given vitamin D3 and calcium supplements had a 30% lower risk of cancer, even though this difference in cancer incidence rates between the 2 groups did not quite reach statistical significance. But both groups started with a fairly high vitamin D level -  an average 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) levels of 32.8 ng/m (which is above the average US population level). And in the supplement group it was raised to 43.9 ng/mL. Note that some researchers view vitamin D levels of 33 ng/mL  (the baseline level in both groups) as already protective against cancer.

Also, even during the study the placebo group was allowed to take their own vitamin D and calcium supplements as long as it wasn't more than the recommended amounts (800 IU per day for vitamin D and 1500 mg per day for calcium) - which makes those individuals actually a low vitamin D supplementation group rather than no supplementation, which might hide any treatment effects and so make the results for the 2 groups look similar. What is needed is a much longer follow-up, larger groups of women, and both high and low dose vitamin D supplement groups. Some studies suggest that whether a low or high dose taken has an effect on cancer incidence.

I still think this study period was way too short - to me, 5 or more years would have been more convincing, and the groups too small. Also, it was unfortunate that they were also given calcium supplements or that there wasn't a just vitamin D group. Combining vitamin D with calcium supplements just muddies the results (in my opinion), and also because calcium supplements are linked to health problems such as cardiovascular disease. So in this study can't tell what the separate effects of calcium and vitamin D are. (Note that calcium rich foods, however, are beneficial to health.)

But a big positive of the study was that the women were randomly assigned to either the vitamin D plus calcium group or the placebo group, and no one - not the women or their doctors knew who got what until the end of the study (to eliminate bias it was "double-blind"). Note The supplements used were vitamin D3 and not D2. Vitamin D can also be easily obtained by exposure to sunlight in the summer months.

Excerpts from Creighton University release about the study in Science Daily: Does Vitamin D decrease risk of cancer?

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a randomized clinical trial of the effects of vitamin D supplementation on all types of cancer combined. The four-year study included 2,303 healthy postmenopausal women 55 years and older from 31 counties in Nebraska. Participants were randomly assigned to take either 2000 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 and 1500 mg. of calcium or identical placebos daily for 4 years. The vitamin D3 dose was about three times the US government's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 600 IU for adults through age 70, and 800 IU for those 71 and older. Women who were given vitamin D3 and calcium supplements had 30% lower risk of cancer. This difference in cancer incidence rates between groups did not quite reach statistical significance. However, in further analyses, blood levels of vitamin D, specifically 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), were significantly lower in women who developed cancer during the study than in those who remained healthy.

 Since my last post on the most commonly used pesticide in the world - glyphosate - there have been a number of important developments. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed-killer or herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by the chemical giant Monsanto. There have been more questions raised about the safety of glyphosate, and also what went on behind the scenes recently between Monsanto and some officials at the EPA, especially EPA deputy division director Jess Rowland.

Was there a downplaying of the pesticide's health effects or squashing of researchers and studies that raised health concerns? (Remember that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found glyphosate to be a "probable carcinogen" in 2015, but the manufacturer Monsanto has fought long and hard against that designation) Was there corruption? Or ...?

A big problem is that the EPA relies on industry-funded studies to determine if something is safe or not - which is like the fox guarding the chicken house. Also, were the so-called "independent" research articles actually ghost-written by industry (Monsanto), which is what some documents are suggesting? And why was a government review of the pesticide squashed? Tsk.... tsk.... Another problem is that the EPA can choose which studies to include when making a decision - and they can choose to disregard independent peer-reviewed research (the better research) and rely on industry studies that are not peer-reviewed (definitely bias in these studies). And yes, this happened here. For example, the EPA has ignored more than 1500 published (and peer reviewed) studies on glyphosate from the last decade and instead relied largely on less than 300 unpublished, non-peer-reviewed studies. Another tsk...tsk....

Now a published paper by noted researchers (see below) makes the case that the debate over glyphosate remains unsettled and requires further review. The researchers recommend such things as better testing of glyphosate levels and its metabolites in the human body. They pointed out that some studies with rodents found that glyphosate is a carcinogen (can "induce cancers"), and other studies find glyphosate is associated with negative health effects in humans, such as chronic kidney disease and some cancers. Some research suggests that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor. Also, chemical mixtures can be more toxic than individual chemicals - this is a concern with the chemicals in Roundup. Studies are needed examining people exposed through their occupations (e.g., pesticide applicators), and also "vulnerable populations (e.g., pregnant women, babies, children). The researchers added that current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment.

I would like to add that this is why glyphosate residues need to be studied in food - we are eating the stuff unless we only eat organic food. Due to the practices of "preharvest application" of glyphosate (Roundup) and the increasing use of genetically modified crops (such as Roundup Ready crops) that allow the herbicide to be applied without killing the crop (but which means the pesticide is in the crop), the use of glyphosate is increasing rapidly. And then there is the use on school grounds, in suburban yards, and properties. Yikes! This is not a political issue - this is a health issue, and of having the right-to-know what is in our food, our bodies, and our environment (you don't think it just stays on the fields where it is used, do you?)

Excerpts from the NY Times article: Monsanto Weed Killer Roundup Faces New Doubts on Safety in Unsealed Documents

The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.... A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.

The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.

Excerpts from an article about the BMJ paper (see below) at Science Daily: Weedkiller chemical (glyphosate) safety standards need urgent review

But most of the science used to support the safety standards applied in the US was carried out more than 30 years ago, and relatively little of it was subject to peer review, they point out. More than 1500 studies have been published on the chemical over the past decade alone. "It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," say the experts. And despite the rapid increase in use there is no systematic monitoring system for tracking levels in human tissue, and few studies have looked at potential harms to human health.

But recent animal studies have suggested that glyphosate at doses lower than those used to assess risk, may be linked to heightened risks of liver, kidney, eye and cardiovascular system damage. And weed-killers, which combine glyphosate with other 'so-called inert ingredients,' may be even more potent. But these mixtures are regarded as commercially sensitive by the manufacturers and are therefore not available for public scrutiny, say the experts.

Excerpt from the BMJ Journal of Epidiomology and Community Health: Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) increased ∼100-fold from 1974 to 2014. Additional increases are expected due to widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, increased application of GBHs, and preharvest uses of GBHs as desiccants. Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago. We have considered information on GBH use, exposures, mechanisms of action, toxicity and epidemiology. Human exposures to glyphosate are rising, and a number of in vitro and in vivo studies challenge the basis for the current safety assessment of glyphosate and GBHs. We conclude that current safety standards for GBHs are outdated and may fail to protect public health or the environment.

 Why is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropping plans to test for glyphosate residues in food? It was supposed to start soon (April 1, 2017), in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but now all plans to test have been dropped. Why is this worrisome? The issue is that glyphosate is currently the most widely used pesticide in the world. It is a herbicide that is the active ingredient in the herbicide commonly known as Roundup. Global use was 1.65 billion pounds in 2014 , while overall use in the US was 276.4 million pounds in 2014. Glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen and linked to various health effects, and research shows that glyphosate residues are commonly found in foods.

Even though whether glyphosate is a carcinogen is hotly debated by some groups (with Monsanto fiercely fighting against such a label), it shouldn't matter in the decision of whether to test for glyphosate residues in foods. What is going on with our food, and whether and how much glyphosate residues are in food should be monitored. Government agencies (such as USDA) test for other pesticide residues, and they should do the same for glyphosate, especially because it is so widely used.

The FDA did test for a short while last year (2016) and then stopped in the fall, and yes, they found residues in the foods they studied. Government and private testing has already found glyphosate residues in breast milk, soybeans, corn, honey, cereal, wheat flour, oatmeal, soy sauce, beer, and infant formula. It is currently unknown what the glyphosate residues in food that we eat means for human health. Several studies have linked glyphosate to human health ailments, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney and liver problems. Of special concern is that because glyphosate is so pervasive in the environment, even trace amounts might be harmful due to chronic exposure. Glyphosate is patented by its manufacturer (Monsanto) for its antibacterial properties - thus it can be viewed as an antibiotic. What is it doing to our gut microbes when ingested? Some people (including researchers) are even suggesting that much of "gluten sensitivity" or "gluten intolerance" that people complain of, may actually be sensitivity to glyphosate residues in food. There are many unanswered questions.

So....is this a case of burying the head in the sand? That there are no problems if no one looks for them? The EPA has long known that glyphosate residues are occurring in food because in 2013 the EPA raised "tolerance limits" for human exposure to glyphosate for certain foods, stating with "reasonable certainty that no harm will result" from human exposure to the chemical. This increase in tolerance levels came about from a request from Monsanto (the manufacturer of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup), and even though numerous groups protested the increase, the EPA went along with Monsanto's request. Some tolerances doubled. Pesticide residues are an important issue - because we don't know what chronic exposure to mixtures of low levels of pesticides (which includes glyphosate) in foods does to us. To babies and children, to pregnant women, to the elderly, to all of us.

But remember.... there are very strong industry pressures on the EPA and USDA, with some government officials also having ties to the industry, and so perhaps it's a case of keeping the head firmly in the sand for all sorts of pesticide issues. Maybe the motto is: see no evil...hear no evil....There have been some lawsuits from people claiming harm from the pesticide, as well as push back from scientists and environmental groups. Some influential scientists and physicians came out with a Statement of Concern in 2016 regarding their serious concerns with glyphosate.

The reason that glyphosate tolerance limits needed to be increased in the USA is because Roundup Ready crops are now so extensively planted, and this has resulted in skyrocketing use of glyphosate in the last 20 years. Roundup Ready crops are genetically modified to tolerate repeated glyphosate spraying (against weeds)  during the growing season. However, the crops take up and accumulate  glyphosate, and so glyphosate residues are increasing in crops. Another reason for increased residue of glyphosate in crops is the current practice of applying an herbicide such as Roundup right at the time of harvest to non-GMO crops such as wheat, so that the crop dies at once and dries out (pre-harvest crop dessication), and which is called a "preharvest application" by Monsanto. Glyphosate is now off-patent so many other companies are also using glyphosate in their products throughout the world.

How to lower your daily intake of glyphosate? Eat organic foods as much as possible, including wheat, corn, oats, soybeans. Glyphosate is not allowed to be used in organic food production. The following excerpts are from an article by journalist Carey Gillam, and it is well worth reading the entire article. From The Huffington Post:

USDA Drops Plan to Test for Monsanto Weed Killer in Food

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed killer and the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicides. The agency spent the last year coordinating with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in preparation to start testing samples of corn syrup for glyphosate residues on April 1, according to internal agency documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Documents show that at least since January 2016 into January of this year, the glyphosate testing plan was moving forward. But when asked about the plan this week, a USDA spokesman said no glyphosate residue testing would be done at all by USDA this year.

The USDA’s plan called for the collection and testing of 315 samples of corn syrup from around the United States from April through August, according to the documents. Researchers were also supposed to test for the AMPA metabolite, the documents state. AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) is created as glyphosate breaks down. Measuring residues that include those from AMPA is important because AMPA is not a benign byproduct but carries its own set of safety concerns, scientists believe.

The USDA does not routinely test for glyphosate as it does for other pesticides used in food production. But that stance has made the USDA the subject of criticism as controversy over glyphosate safety has mounted in recent years. The discussions of testing this year come as U.S. and European regulators are wrestling with cancer concerns about the chemical, and as Monsanto, which has made billions of dollars from its glyphosate-based herbicides, is being sued by hundreds of people who claim exposures to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Internal Monsanto documents obtained by plaintiffs’ attorneys in those cases indicate that Monsanto may have manipulated research regulators relied on to garner favorable safety assessments, and last week, Congressman Ted Lieu called for a probe by the Department of Justice into Monsanto’s actions.

Along with the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration also annually tests thousands of food samples for pesticide residues. Both agencies have done so for decades as a means to ensure that traces of weed killers, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals used in farming do not persist at unsafe levels in food products commonly eaten by American families. If they find residues above the “maximum residue level” (MRL) allowed for that pesticide and that food, the agencies are supposed to inform the EPA, and actions can be taken against the supplier. The EPA is the regulator charged with establishing MRLs, also called “tolerances,” for different types of pesticides in foods, and the agency coordinates with USDA and FDA on the pesticide testing programs.

But despite the fact that glyphosate use has surged in the last 20 years alongside the marketing of glyphosate-tolerant crops, both USDA and FDA have declined to test for glyphosate residues aside from one time in 2011 when the USDA tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and AMPA residues. At that time the agency found 271 samples contained glyphosate, but said the levels were under the MRL - low enough not to be worrisome. The Government Accountability Office took both agencies to task in 2014 for the failure to test regularly for glyphosate.

The USDA’s most recent published report on pesticide residues in food found that for 2015 testing, only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples tested were free from any detectable pesticide residues. That’s a marked difference from 2014, when the USDA found that over 41 percent of samples were “clean” or showed no detectable pesticide residues. But the agency said the important point was that most of the samples, over 99 percent, had residues below the EPA’s established tolerances and are at levels that “do not pose risk to consumers’ health and are safe.” Many scientists take issue with using MRLs as a standard associated with safety, arguing they are based on pesticide industry data and rely on flawed analyses. Much more research is needed to understand the impact on human health of chronic dietary exposures to pesticides, many say.

Mediterranean Diet is Healthy Eating – A Good Option for Seniors Once again the Mediterranean diet is linked to health benefits - this time a 40% lower incidence of certain types of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Following a Mediterranean style diet has been linked in earlier studies to various health benefits, such as lower rates of heart disease, lower rates of early death, and certain cancers.

A strength of this study is that so many (62,573) Dutch postmenopausal women were followed for a long time (about 20 years). Their diet was analyzed, especially how closely it matched the Mediterranean diet or not. Since alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer, and dose-related - it was not included as part of the Mediterranean diet in this study. The study found that following a Mediterranean diet with higher consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, appeared to be protective against certain breast cancers - it was associated with a reduced risk of estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancers. Unfortunately the researchers did not look at olive oil use in this study, because when it started in 1986, it was not typically used in the Netherlands. However, another good study found extra virgin olive oil to be a protective part (against breast cancer) of the Mediterranean diet. From Medscape:

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Some Breast Cancer Risk by 40%

Closely following a Mediterranean diet in everyday life may significantly reduce the risk for types of breast cancer that are associated with poorer prognoses in postmenopausal women, new research indicates. The traditional Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of plant proteins, whole grains, fish, and monounsaturated fat, as well as moderate alcohol intake and low intake of refined grains, red meat, and sweets, say the study authors, led by Piet A. van den Brandt, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The new findings come from 62,573 Dutch women aged 55 to 69 years who provided information on dietary and lifestyle habits in 1986 and have since been followed for more than 20 years....The investigators found that women who most closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet had a 40% reduced risk for estrogen receptor–negative (ER-) breast cancer compared to women who adhered to the diet the least. They found a 39% reduced risk for progesterone receptor–negative (PR-)/ER- disease when comparing these same high- and low-adherence groups. Notably, in these results, the definition of the diet excluded alcohol intake, because the consumption of alcohol is a known risk factor for breast cancer....The authors also report that there were no significant associations with the diet and the risk of ER+ disease or total breast cancer.

Dr van den Brandt also explained that older women, who were the subjects of the new study, are more likely to derive benefit than younger women. "Generally speaking, postmenopausal breast cancer seems somewhat more influenced by environmental factors, such as lifestyle and diet, than premenopausal breast cancer, where genetic factors seem to play a more prominent role," he told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Toledo was the senior author of the only large, randomized trial to date in which postmenopausal women were assigned to a dietary intervention to promote their adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet (JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175:1752–60). The study found that women with a higher adherence to the diet (supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil) showed a substantial reduction of their risk for breast cancer compared to a control group, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

 This past week a study was published linking 8 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables per day with a lower risk of early death, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. This confirms other research linking many daily servings of fruits and vegetables with various health benefits. For example, the study findings discussed in the Nov. 2, 2016 post: "Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (more than 10 servings a day!)  is linked to better cognitive functioning in both normal weight and overweight adults (both young and older adults), and may delay the onset of cognitive decline that occurs with aging and also dementia."

This new study led by researchers from the Imperial College London reviewed 95 previous studies of the relationship between diet and health. They found that people who ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day had nearly a third lower risk of premature death and stroke than those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables. The researchers pointed out that as the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily went up, the health benefits also increased (lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer), and the risk of premature death decreased - thus a dose related relationship. So better to eat some fruits and vegetables than none! A portion is about 80 grams, equivalent to a medium apple, 1 banana, or generally about 1/2 cup of vegetables or fruits.

From Science Daily: Eating up to ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day may prevent 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide

A fruit and vegetable intake above five-a-day shows major benefit in reducing the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death. This is the finding of new research, led by scientists from Imperial College London, which analysed 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake....the greatest benefit came from eating 800 g a day (roughly equivalent to ten portions -- one portion of fruit or vegetables if defined as 80 g).

The results revealed that even a daily intake of 200 g was associated with a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, an 18 per cent reduced risk of stroke, and a 13 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This amount, which is equivalent to two and a half portions, was also associated with 4 per cent reduced risk in cancer risk, and 15 per cent reduction in the risk of premature death. Further benefits were observed with higher intakes. Eating up to 800 g fruit and vegetables a day -- or 10 portions -- was associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, a 33 per cent reduced risk of stroke, a 28 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13 per cent reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31 per cent reduction in dying prematurely. This risk was calculated in comparison to not eating any fruit and vegetables. [Original study.]