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 I'm starting to see studies questioning whether some of the beneficial health effects that many attribute to vitamin D may actually be due to sunlight. In the first study, researchers said that sunlight also has low levels of "blue light" which energizes T cells. T cells are a type of white blood cell, are part of the immune system, and help protect the body from infection and cellular abnormalities (cancer). So the blue light in sunlight had a positive effect on the T cells.

The second study examined whether it was low levels of vitamin D that is linked to multiple sclerosis (which is the widely accepted medical view) or was it low exposure to sunlight? They found that vitamin D is not associated with multiple sclerosis risk in blacks or Hispanics (but is in whites). But sun exposure is protective in all three racial/ethnic groups (blacks, Hispanics, whites). Thus it was the sunlight that was important in protecting against multiple sclerosis rather than vitamin D. Bottom line: for various beneficial health reasons, go out in sunshine frequently (20 minutes a day is fine). Remember, sunlight is the "natural source" for vitamin D (the ultraviolet light hitting our bare skin allows us to make vitamin D).

From Dec. 2016 in Science Daily: Sunlight offers surprise benefit: It energizes infection fighting T cells

Sunlight allows us to make vitamin D, credited with healthier living, but a surprise research finding could reveal another powerful benefit of getting some sun. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have found that sunlight, through a mechanism separate than vitamin D production, energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity.

Their findings, published today in Scientific Reports, suggest how the skin, the body's largest organ, stays alert to the many microbes that can nest there. They specifically found that low levels of blue light, found in sun rays, makes T cells move faster -- marking the first reported human cell responding to sunlight by speeding its pace.

"T cells, whether they are helper or killer, need to move to do their work, which is to get to the site of an infection and orchestrate a response," Ahern says. "This study shows that sunlight directly activates key immune cells by increasing their movement."

"We know that blue light can reach the dermis, the second layer of the skin, and that those T cells can move throughout the body," he says. ...."We found that sunlight makes hydrogen peroxide in T cells, which makes the cells move. And we know that an immune response also uses hydrogen peroxide to make T cells move to the damage," Ahern says. "This all fits together." Ahern says there is much work to do to understand the impact of these findings, but he suggests that if blue light T cell activation has only beneficial responses, it might make sense to offer patients blue light therapy to boost their immunity.

From Medscape: Is It Time to Rethink Low Vitamin D as a Contributor to MS?

The idea that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) has been well established in the literature and has, for the most part, been etched into recent neurology dogma. Yet, research by Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD—a clinical assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles—suggests that the association might not be that simple. ....As background, the vitamin D–multiple sclerosis hypothesis originated from the observation that the prevalence of MS increases with increasing distance from the Equator, as ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun becomes less intense. But this is also where more white people live.

The main result of our study is that vitamin D is not associated with MS risk in blacks or Hispanics, regardless of genotype. In contrast, sun exposure is protective in all three racial/ethnic groups.

Image result for older couple holding hands Hah! Another study showing that YES, older adults have sex, and that more frequent sexual activity (as in at least weekly vs never or only monthly) may also be good for the brain and brain function in older adults. 73 people between the ages of 50 and 83 participated in this study. As the researchers wrote: "The current study demonstrates that older men and women who engage in regular sexual activity have better cognitive functioning than those who do not engage in sexual activity, or do so infrequently."

The researchers suggest that there could be biological reasons that sexual activity is beneficial - for example, it increases dopamine secretion. A number of researchers feel that the increased dopamine secretion from sexual activity is linked to improved working memory and executive function in older adults. But they admit that there could also be beneficial and "neuroprotective" effects from being involved in a social and physical relationship. At any rate, this was not a large study, and it can only show an "association", not definite cause. But other studies have similar findings - that overall cognitive scores are consistently higher in those who are sexually active compared to those than those who are not. From Science Daily:

Frequent sexual activity can boost brain power in older adults

More frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, according to a study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford. Researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and the spaces between them.

The study, published today in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved 73 people aged between 50 and 83. Participants filled in a questionnaire on how often, on average, they had engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months -- whether that was never, monthly or weekly -- as well as answering questions about their general health and lifestyle. The 28 men and 45 women also took part in a standardized test, which is typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focusing on attention, memory, fluency, language and visuospatial ability.

It was these two sets of tests [verbal fluency and visuospatial ability] where participants who engaged in weekly sexual activity scored the most highly, with the verbal fluency tests showing the strongest effect. The results suggested that frequency of sexual activity was not linked to attention, memory or language. In these tests, the participants performed just as well regardless of whether they reported weekly, monthly or no sexual activity.

This study expanded on previous research from 2016, which found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active. But this time the research looked more specifically at the impact of the frequency of sexual activity (i.e. does it make a difference how often you engage in sexual activity) and also used a broader range of tests to investigate different areas of cognitive function. [Original study.]

 Should the results of this study determine what kind of coffee one drinks? Does it really make a difference? Eh...Not for me (because all coffee seems to be beneficial), but it might for you.

Studies show that daily drinking of coffee appears to have health benefits. Studies have linked coffee consumption with lower rates of cancer (here and here), cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Coffee contains beneficial chemicals (such as caffeine and chlorogenic acid) that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and could help fight chronic inflammatory diseases. It turns out that how much coffee beans are roasted changes how much chlorogenic acid they contain, but the amount of caffeine basically stays the same among the different roasting levels.

Researchers in Korea compared the caffeine and chlorogenic acid components of Arabica coffee beans at different roasting levels: Light, Medium, City, and French roast. They then tested various protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the different coffee extracts in various "cell models" (meaning in the lab, not on real people). They found that chlorogenic acid levels were higher in light roasted coffee extract than the other roasted groups, and also light roasted coffee extract had the highest antioxidant activity. The results found that increasing degrees of roasting reduced antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

From the Journal of Medicinal Food: Cellular Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Coffee Extracts with Different Roasting Levels

During roasting, major changes occur in the composition and physiological effects of coffee beans. In this study, in vitro antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory effects of Coffea arabica green coffee extracts were investigated at different roasting levels corresponding to Light, Medium, City, and French roast. Total caffeine did not show huge difference according to roasting level, but total chlorogenic acid contents were higher in light roasted coffee extract than other roasted groups. In addition, light roasted coffee extract had the highest antioxidant activity.... The expression of mRNA for tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6 was decreased in cells treated with the coffee extracts and the expression decreased with increasing roasting levels. These data suggest that coffee has physiological antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and these effects are negatively correlated with roasting levels in the cell models.

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide. Increasing consumption of coffee is related to the pleasing taste and aroma, as well as its physiological effects. Coffee is proposed to exert beneficial effects against cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. Coffee contains phenolic compounds such as caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, vanillic acid, and other phytochemicals. The quality of coffee is significantly related to the roasting process.... During roasting, there are numerous changes in coffee bean compound profiles and the aroma is increased. Major changes in coffee bean composition occur during roasting as a result of the Maillard reaction..... Roasting markedly affects chlorogenic acid, leading to hydrolysis of chlorogenic acid. New compounds are formed during the roasting process; one of these is melanoidin. Its formation might alter the overall antioxidant capacity of coffee beans after roasting.

Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants that may contribute to prevention of oxidative stress-related diseases. The antioxidant properties of coffee may reflect the presence of both phenolic and nonphenolic bioactive compounds, such as caffeine and chlorogenic acids. Previous studies have shown that coffee has protective effects against oxidation and DNA damage in human cell models and has been shown to possess an in vitro antioxidant activity that lessens lipid peroxidation and neoplastic activity. 

Caffeine is the major component in coffee extract and has antioxidant property. Chlorogenic acid is another well-known efficient antioxidant in coffee extract; it was highest in Light roast coffee extract and highest with low roasting temperature and lowest in Dark roasted extract. Carbohydrates, protein, and chlorogenic acid are all decreased in coffee during the roasting process.... Caffeine contents showed no differences among roasting levels, but chlorogenic acid content decreased as roasting degree increased..... The effect of coffee roasting on the antioxidant properties of coffee extracts was investigated in several earlier studies; antioxidant capacity decreased in Dark roast coffee. The antioxidant property of coffee extracts prepared with different roasting levels was also determined in this study. The best antioxidant activity was evident in Light roast coffee extract and the lowest in French roast coffee.

 Guess what? Instead of babying our backs, we may have to be sure to get plenty of running, jogging, or brisk walking to make our backs stronger - specifically, to strengthen the discs in our spines. Once again, a study finds that exercise (here the upright exercise of running, jogging, or fast walking) has benefits. The authors of the study state that the research results go against conventional medical wisdom - that instead of weakening the spine (conventional view), those people who run or jog  many miles each week may actually be strengthening the discs of the spine. And maybe... the researchers suggest (though it needs to be verified first)... in the future, we may get medical prescriptions to jog or fast walk a certain number of miles each week to strengthen the discs in our spines.

The study found that the ideal speed for the spine health was a slow run or a fast walk (4 miles per hour). Specifically fast walking and slow running at about 2 meters per second (m/s) appeared the most beneficial. However, high impact exercises, or aerobic exercises, slower walking, or no exercise did not have these benefits.

Until now, discs had been considered a "slow tissue," thought to take much longer to respond to exercise than muscle. And that with age and use the discs degenerate, and nothing could really be done to improve them. But the study's findings suggest that exercise can benefit and strengthen the intervertebral disc (IVD) in the spine. As researcher Dr. Belavy said: "It's also important to reduce the amount of time spent in static postures, such as sitting or even standing still. Even going for a walk during a break at work, or choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator is good for the discs, as well as for overall back health."

From NY Times: Why Running May Be Good for Your Back

People who regularly run or walk briskly appear to have healthier discs in their spines than people who do not exercise, according to one of the first studies to closely examine links between movement and disc health. The findings refute a widely held belief that activities like running might overtax the spine and indicate that, instead, they make it sturdierThe human spine is a complicated mechanism, composed of vertebral bones cushioned between intervertebral discs. These discs, shaped like tiny whoopee cushions, contain a viscous fluid that compresses and absorbs pressure during movement, keeping the back in good working form. With age, disease or injury, spinal discs can degenerate and bulge, resulting in back pain, which can be debilitating.

There were tantalizing hints in animal studies, however, that this idea could be out of date. ....So for the new study, which was published in April in Scientific Reports, researchers at Deakin University in Australia and other institutions decided to examine the backs of people who run and others who do not. Eventually they recruited 79 adult men and women, two-thirds of whom said that they were runners. Some of these told the researchers that they covered more than 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) a week in training. The researchers designated these as the “long-distance” group. The others said that they ran between 12 and 25 miles a week. All had been training for at least five years. The final group rarely exercised at all.

To ensure that people’s reported activity levels were accurate, the researchers asked their volunteers to wear accelerometers for a week. Then they scanned everyone’s spines, using a sophisticated type of M.R.I. that precisely measures the size and liquidity of each disc. And they found differences. In general, the runners’ discs were larger and contained more fluid than the discs of the men and women who did not exerciseSince both greater size and increased levels of internal fluid indicate better disc health, the runners harbored fundamentally healthier spines than the people who were sedentary, says Daniel Belavy, a professor of physical activity at Deakin University who led the study. Interestingly, mileage barely mattered

 Stop using the damn antibacterial products! Yes, stop using stuff that says "antibacterial", "antimicrobial", "germ-killing",  or "anti-odor". Whether in personal care items, or bedding, or socks, or hand wipes, or wherever else you see those labels - don't buy them and try to avoid using them. Plain soap works just as well for cleaning hands (see FDA page). The "antibacterial" chemicals in soaps, toothpastes, body washes, etc. are absorbed by the body where they may do harm. Yes - HARM. The harms may not be known initially, but over and over, at some later point, the various chemicals are shown to cause harm - whether in humans or the environment, or both.

A case in point is the antimicrobial triclosan. It has been used for years in soooo many products, and religiously used by those concerned with "killing germs". It is now finally banned by the FDA from soaps and body washes because of the harms it causes. These include various health effects - and also because it's an endocrine disruptor (disrupts hormones).  And yes, it also crosses the placenta and has been associated with effects on the developing baby. For example, a recent study found an "inverse relationship" - that higher levels of triclosan in the mothers' urine during pregnancy (meaning they had used and absorbed more triclosan products) were associated with lower birth weight, length, head circumference, and gestational age (length of pregnancy). Of special concern to us at Lacto Bacto is that it also disrupts our microbes - remember that antimicrobial products (whether Triclosan in soap or antibiotics) kill off both beneficial and harmful bacteria.

As a recent study shows - triclosan is absorbed by pregnant women (and can be measured in their urine) and, it is absorbed and found in the urine of children who washed their hands or brushed their teeth with products containing triclosan.  And the higher the socioeconomic status, the more triclosan in the body - after all, people pay a premium for products that are "antimicrobial". While triclosan is now banned from being used in certain products (soaps and body washes), it is still allowed in many, many other products. And there are all those other antimicrobials that also should NOT be used. So please read the labels, especially the ingredient lists, and try to avoid antimicrobial, antibacterial, germ-killing, and anti-odor products. From Environmental health News:

Hygiene leaves kids with loads of triclosan

Levels of a controversial chemical meant to kill bacteria spike in the bodies of young children after they brush their teeth or wash their hands, according to a new study. U.S. manufacturers are phasing triclosan out of hand soaps after the Food and Drug Administration banned it effective last year amid concerns that the compound disrupted the body's hormone systems. It remains in Colgate Total toothpaste, some cleaning products and cosmetics. Health experts say exposure is best avoided for babies in the womb and developing children.

The latest study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is one of the first to show that children’s levels rise through their first few years of life. Hand washing and teeth brushing have speedy, significant impact on levels, the researchers found. Braun and colleagues tested the urine of 389 mothers and their children from Cincinnati, collecting samples from the women three times during pregnancy and from the children periodically between 1 and 8 years old.

They found triclosan in more than 70 percent of the samples. Among 8 year olds, levels were 66 percent higher in those that used hand soap. And more washing left the children with higher loads—those who reported washing their hands more than five times per day had more than four times the triclosan concentrations than those washing once or less per day. Children who had brushed their teeth within the last day had levels 2.5 times higher than those who had a toothpaste-free 24-hour span.

Braun said the levels of triclosan rose as the children aged, eventually leveling off. “Their levels were almost to moms’ levels by the time they reached 5 to 8 years of age.” This, he said, is likely due to more frequent use of personal care products as the kids aged. Despite the hand soap ban, triclosan remains on the market because it is effective at fighting plaque and gingivitis. Colgate uses 0.3 percent of the antibacterial to “fight harmful plaque germs.”.

Braun, however, said there is “quite compelling” evidence from animal studies that triclosan decreases thyroid hormone levels. Properly functioning thyroid hormones are critical for brain development. Just last month, using the same mothers and children, Braun and others reported that mothers’ triclosan exposure during pregnancy was linked to lower birth weights, smaller heads and earlier births. In addition, Pessah and colleagues reported triclosan hinders proper muscle development. The researchers used mice and fish, finding that triclosan affects the process responsible for muscle contraction.

Image result for stethoscope We spend so much on health care, but the USA really lags behind other developed countries in quality of health care. The United States is ranked number 35 on the just released ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries list. It is called the Healthcare Access and Quality Index, and is a highly regarded and much anticipated analysis, which was just published in the journal Lancet.

How did such health care rankings start? In the late 1970s, some researchers first talked about the idea of “unnecessary, untimely deaths”, and they proposed a list of causes from which death should not occur if the person received "timely and effective medical care". This approach has been modified and extended over time, and now there is a list of 32 medical conditions looked at in 195 countries. The researchers looked at the death rate in each country for the diseases that can be avoided or can be effectively treated with proper medical care. Some of the diseases: diabetes, hypertension, some cancers, appendicitis, etc.

Virtually all the high ranking countries (the top 20) have universal health care, and yet they spend less on medical costs per person. Remember, when one can't afford the costs of medicines or treatments, and consequently dies - then that is the same as a "death panel" or "death sentence". So....is medical care a right for all or a privilege for some? From Medical Xpress:

Which countries have the best healthcare?

Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15).

Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet. Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States—where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time—ranked below Britain, which placed 30th.

The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990. Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many—especially in Africa and Oceania—fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all.

Furthermore, he added in a statement, the standard of primary care was lower in many nations than expected given levels of wealth and development.....Among rich nations, the worst offender in this category [underachievers] was the United States, which tops the world in per capita healthcare expenditure by some measures. Within Europe, Britain ranked well below expected levels.

The gap between actual and expected rating widened over the last quarter century in 62 of the 195 nations examined. "Overall, our results are a warning sign that heightened healthcare access and quality is not an inevitable product of increased development," Murray said.... The 32 diseases for which death rates were tracked included tuberculosis and other respiratory infections; illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles); several forms of treatable cancer and heart disease; and maternal or neonatal disorders. [Original study.]

 Once again a great reason to exercise - a study found that adults with the highest levels of weekly physical activity had the longest telomeres, which are markers of overall health and aging. Think of it this way: we all age, but some people seem young for their age, while others seem old for their age. This study looked at differences among groups of people at the cellular level.

The multi-year study looked at both physical activity levels of 5,823 adults and their telomeres. The adults provided DNA samples, from which the researchers measured telomere length. Telomeres are "protein caps positioned at the end of chromosomes". Aging causes telomeres to shorten and results in gradual cell deterioration - thus they are good markers of our biological age, that is, how we're aging (rather than just our chronological age). Study author Larry A. Tucker said “We know that, in general, people with shorter telomeres die sooner and are more likely to develop many of our chronic diseases. It's not perfect, but it's a very good index of biological aging.”

What causes telomeres to shrink faster?  Telomere shortening  can be hastened by things that result in inflammation and oxidative stress, such as obesity, smoking, poor diet, type 2 diabetes, and low socioeconomic levels. On the other hand, this study found that adults with high levels of physical activity had significantly longer telomeres. The longer telomeres found in the active adults reduced cellular aging by about 9 years, as compared to those adults who were sedentary or had low to medium levels of physical activity. Nine years less of biological aging is a lot! The shortest telomeres were in sedentary people.

How much physical activity should one aim for? The study found that activity levels in the study were measured in MET-minutes (metabolic equivalent minutes) - which can sound confusing, but can be achieved by incorporating exercise into daily routines, as well as also doing vigorous activities or exercises. In the present study, men had to attain >1887 MET-minutes per week and women >1375 to be included in the category with the highest activity levels (longest telomeres). It does mean several hours a week of physical activity, which can include gardening, bicycling, walking, vacuuming, exercising, running, etc. From Science Daily:

High levels of exercise linked to nine years of less aging at the cellular level

Despite their best efforts, no scientist has ever come close to stopping humans from aging. But new research from Brigham Young University reveals you may be able to slow one type of aging -- the kind that happens inside your cells. As long as you're willing to sweat. "Just because you're 40, doesn't mean you're 40 years old biologically," Tucker said. "We all know people that seem younger than their actual age. The more physically active we are, the less biological aging takes place in our bodies."

The study, published in the medical journal Preventive Medicine, finds that people who have consistently high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those who have sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who are moderately activeTelomeres are the protein endcaps of our chromosomes. They're like our biological clock and they're extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres.

Exercise science professor Larry Tucker found adults with high physical activity levels have telomeres with a biological aging advantage of nine years over those who are sedentary, and a seven-year advantage compared to those who are moderately active. To be highly active, women had to engage in 30 minutes of jogging per day (40 minutes for men), five days a week.

Tucker analyzed data from 5,823 adults who participated in the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one of the few indexes that includes telomere length values for study subjects....His study found the shortest telomeres came from sedentary people -- they had 140 base pairs of DNA less at the end of their telomeres than highly active folks. Surprisingly, he also found there was no significant difference in telomere length between those with low or moderate physical activity and the sedentary people.

Image result for gout in toe Gout is something that is not discussed that much, but it has been increasing in recent years and now afflicts about  3.9% of adults in the US. Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis, characterized by recurrent attacks of pain, tenderness, and swelling of a joint, frequently the joint of the big toe. It is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood (known as hyperuricaemia).

Gout occurs more commonly in men ages 40 and older, who eat a lot of meat and seafood, drink a lot of alcohol (especially beer) or sweetened drinks, have high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, or are overweight.  Gout used to be known as "the disease of kings" or "rich man's disease". [On the other hand, past research has shown that consumption of coffee, cherries, vitamin C foods, and dairy products, losing weight and physical fitness seems to decrease the risk.]

Recent research showed that the DASH diet reduces blood pressure and reduces uric acid in the blood, which is why a research team (study in The BMJ) now looked at  whether it lowers the risk of gout. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet is high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy, and low in red and processed meats, salt, and sugary drinks. On the other hand, the typical Western diet has higher intakes of red and processed meats, sweetened beverages, sweets, desserts, French fries, and refined grains. The researchers analysed data on a total of 44,444 male health professionals, who had no history of gout at the start of the study. During the 26 years of the observational study, they documented 1731 cases of gout.

The researchers found that eating a more DASH type diet - a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and low in salt, sugary drinks, and red and processed meats, is associated with a lower risk of gout. On the other hand, a more 'Western' diet is associated with a higher risk of gout. They found that the effects are dose dependent - the more DASH-type diet, the lower the risk of gout. Bottom line: Once again, eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains is linked to health benefits. From Science Daily:

Diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains may lower risk of gout

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables, nuts and whole grains and low in salt, sugary drinks, and red and processed meats, is associated with a lower risk of gout, whereas a typical 'Western' diet is associated with a higher risk of gout, finds a study published by The BMJ.

Gout is a joint disease which causes extreme pain and swelling. It is most common in men aged 40 and older and is caused by excess uric acid in the blood (known as hyperuricaemia) which leads to uric acid crystals collecting around the joints. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet reduces blood pressure and is recommended to prevent heart disease. It has also been found to lower uric acid levels in the blood. Therefore, the DASH diet may lower the risk of gout.

To investigate this further, a team of US and Canada based researchers examined the relationship between the DASH and Western dietary patterns and the risk of gout. They analysed data on over 44,000 men aged 40 to 75 years with no history of gout who completed detailed food questionnaires in 1986 that was updated every four years through to 2012.

Each participant was assigned a DASH score (reflecting high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils, low-fat dairy products and whole grains, and low intake of salt, sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats) and a Western pattern score (reflecting higher intake of red and processed meats, French fries, refined grains, sweets and desserts). During 26 years of follow-up, a higher DASH score was associated with a lower risk for gout, while a higher Western pattern was associated with an increased risk for gout.

Image result for gout NHS Credit: Both photos of gout on this page are from NHS.UK

 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