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Two studies published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) looked at Vitamin D. From NY Times:

Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Disease in Two Big Studies

People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease and to suffer from other illnesses, scientists reported in two large studies published on Tuesday.

The new research suggests strongly that blood levels of vitamin D are a good barometer of overall health. But it does not resolve the question of whether low levels are a cause of disease or simply an indicator of behaviors that contribute to poor health, like a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and a diet heavy in processed and unhealthful foods.

Nicknamed the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It can be obtained from a small assortment of foods, including fish, eggs, fortified dairy products and organ meats, and vegetables like mushrooms and kale. And blood levels of it can be lowered by smoking, obesity, and inflammation.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is an important part of the immune system. Receptors for the vitamin and related enzymes are found throughout cells and tissues of the body, suggesting it may be vital to many physiological functions, said Dr. Oscar H. Franco, a professor of preventive medicine at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and an author of one of the new studies, which appeared in the journal BMJ.

The two studies were meta-analyses that included data on more than a million people. They included observational findings on the relationship between disease and blood levels of vitamin D. The researchers also reviewed evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in scientific research — that assessed whether taking vitamin D daily was beneficial.

Dr. Franco and his co-authors — a team of scientists at Harvard, Oxford and other universities — found persuasive evidence that vitamin D protects against major diseases. Adults with lower levels of the vitamin in their systems had a 35 percent increased risk of death from heart disease, 14 percent greater likelihood of death from cancer, and a greater mortality risk overall.

When the researchers looked at supplement use, they found no benefit to taking vitamin D2. But middle-aged and older adults who took another form, vitamin D3 — which is the type found in fish and dairy products and produced in response to sunlight — had an 11 percent reduction in mortality from all causes, compared to adults who did not. In the United States and Europe, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the population is deficient in vitamin D. In their paper, Dr. Franco and his colleagues calculated that roughly 13 percent of all deaths in the United States, and 9 percent in Europe, could be attributed to low vitamin D levels.

In the second study, also published in BMJ, a team of researchers at Stanford and several universities in Europe presented a more nuanced view of vitamin D.

They concluded there was “suggestive evidence” that high vitamin D levels protect against diabetes, stroke, hypertension and a host of other illnesses. But they also said there was no “highly convincing” evidence that vitamin D pills affected any of the outcomes they examined.

Dr. Theodoratou was not alone in suggesting people hold off on taking vitamin D supplements for now. Even though Dr. Franco found them to be beneficial, he said that more research was needed to show what levels are best. Instead of taking pills, people could improve their vitamin D levels with an adequate diet and 30 minutes of sunlight twice a week, he said.

A small study, but interesting to see if it holds up. Note that watermelon extract is not actual watermelon. From Science Daily:

Chowing down on watermelon could lower blood pressure, study suggests

A new study by Florida State University Associate Professor Arturo Figueroa, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, found that watermelon could significantly reduce blood pressure in overweight individuals both at rest and while under stress.

The study started with a simple concept. More people die of heart attacks in cold weather because the stress of the cold temperatures causes blood pressure to increase and the heart has to work harder to pump blood into the aorta. That often leads to less blood flow to the heart.

Thus, people with obesity and high blood pressure face a higher risk for stroke or heart attack when exposed to the cold either during the winter or in rooms with low temperatures.

So, what might help their hearts? It turned out that watermelon may be part of the answer.

Figueroa's 12-week study focused on 13 middle-aged, obese men and women who also suffered from high blood pressure. To simulate cold weather conditions, one hand of the subject was dipped into 39 degree water (or 4 degrees Celsius) while Figueroa's team took their blood pressure and other vital measurements.

Meanwhile, the group was divided into two. For the first six weeks, one group was given four grams of the amino acid L-citrulline and two grams of L-arginine per day, both from watermelon extract. The other group was given a placebo for 6 weeks. Then, they switched for the second six weeks. Participants also had to refrain from taking any medication for blood pressure or making any significant changes in their lifestyle, particularly related to diet and exercise, during the study.

The results showed that consuming watermelon had a positive impact on aortic blood pressure and other vascular parametersNotably, study participants showed improvements in blood pressure and cardiac stress while both at rest and while they were exposed to the cold water.

This exciting research opens a whole new way of thinking about the female breast and breast cancer. First of all, note that even our breasts have a microbiome (the microbial community). Key finding: the breast microbial population (specifically the bacteria) is different in healthy breasts (in the breast tissue) as compared to cancerous breasts. From Science Daily:

First look at breast microbiota raises tantalizing questions

The female breast contains a unique population of microbes relative to the rest of the body, according to the first-ever study of the breast microbiome. That study sought to lay the groundwork for understanding how this bacterial community contributes to health and disease, says first author Camilla Urbaniak, a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario. 

"Proteobacteria was the dominant phylum in healthy breast tissue," says Urbaniak, noting that it is found only in small proportions at other sites in the body. That may reflect the fact that breast tissue produces high concentrations of fatty acids, and these bacteria are fatty acid metabolizers. Proteobacteria is also the predominant phylum in human milk.

"The fact that beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, were also detected makes us wonder whether their presence might be protective for both mother and child," says principal investigator Gregor Reid of the University of Western Ontario. Breast milk is one of the initial sources of gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria for newborns, and their GI microbiota are different if they are formula fed, says Urbaniak.

Conversely, Escherichia and Bacillus predominated in cancerous breasts.

"Strains of Escherichia have been shown to have mutagenic and carcinogenic activity in the gut and the bladder," says Urbaniak.

In the study, the investigators collected breast tissue from 81 women. Ten of these had undergone breast reduction, and their breast microbiota served as controls. The remaining women had had benign or cancerous tumors. The tissue collected from these women was taken from about five centimeters from the tumor, from what is known as "normal adjacent" tissue. Bacterial censuses were taken using a molecular technique known as 16S ribosomal sequencing, and with cultures.

Studies of the microbiome in other parts of the body, most notably the gastrointestinal tract, have shown that certain changes in bacterial populations can lead to a variety of ills, from obvious gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease to those more unexpected, such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and even neurological conditions.

The complete reference: C. Urbaniak, J. Cummins, M. Brackstone, J. M. Macklaim, G. B. Gloor, C. K. Baban, L. Scott, D. M. O'Hanlon, J. P. Burton, K. P. Francis, M. Tangney, G. Reid.Bacterial microbiota of human breast tissueApplied and Environmental Microbiology, 2014; DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00242-14

The numbers are so staggering that at first I thought it was a joke (it being April 1). But no, these are the real study results. From Science Daily:

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death by 42 percent

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42% compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new UCL study.

Researchers used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.

Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more. These figures are adjusted for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake, and exclude deaths within a year of the food survey.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.

"We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering," says Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL's Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study. "The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you're happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good."

The researchers found no evidence of significant benefit from fruit juice, and canned and frozen fruit appeared to increase risk of death by 17% per portion. The survey did not distinguish between canned and frozen fruit so this finding is difficult to interpret. Canned fruit products are almost four times more popular than frozen fruit in Europe*, so it is likely that canned fruit dominated this effect.

"Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice," explains Dr Oyebode. "The negative health impacts of the sugar may well outweigh any benefits. Another possibility is that there are confounding factors that we could not control for, such as poor access to fresh groceries among people who have pre-existing health conditions, hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas."

This is a depressing research finding, with long-term negative results. From Science Daily:

Four in 10 infants lack strong parental attachments

In a study of 14,000 U.S. children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds -- what psychologists call "secure attachment" -- with their parents that are crucial to success later in life, according to a new report. The researchers found that these children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems.

In a report published by Sutton Trust, a London-based institute that has published more than 140 research papers on education and social mobility, researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol found that infants under the age of three who do not form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant and hyperactive as adults. These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child.

Written by Moullin, Jane Waldfogel from Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science and Elizabeth Washbrook from the University of Bristol, the report uses data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.

Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby's needs. Such actions support children's social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.

The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. This effect continues throughout the children's lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training, the researchers write. Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school. Of the 40 percent who lack secure attachments, 25 percent avoid their parents when they are upset (because their parents are ignoring their needs), and 15 percent resist their parents because their parents cause them distress.

Susan Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who studies social and emotional development in young children and infants, said insecure attachments emerge when primary caregivers are not "tuned in" to their infant's social signals, especially their cries of distress during infancy.

"When helpless infants learn early that their cries will be responded to, they also learn that their needs will be met, and they are likely to form a secure attachment to their parents," Campbell said. "However, when caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place -- leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn or disorganized."

The report, which is titled "Baby Bonds: Parenting, attachment and a secure base for children," was published March 21 by the Sutton Trust and is available online: http://www.suttontrust.com/our-work/research/item/baby-bonds/.

Hopefully these research results hold up for humans. But just the possibility is a wonderful and delicious reason to eat peaches. From Science Daily:

Peaches inhibit breast cancer metastasis in mice

Lab tests at Texas A&M AgriLife Research have shown that treatments with peach extract inhibit breast cancer metastasis in mice.

AgriLife Research scientists say that the mixture of phenolic compounds present in the peach extract are responsible for the inhibition of metastasis, according to the study, which was this month published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

"Cancer cells were implanted under the skin of mice with an aggressive type of breast cancer cells, the MDA-MB-435, and what we saw was an inhibition of a marker gene in the lungs after a few weeks indicating an inhibition of metastasis when the mice were consuming the peach extract," said Dr. Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, a food scientist for AgriLife Research in College Station. "Furthermore, after determining the dose necessary to see the effects in mice, it was calculated that for humans it would be equivalent to consuming two to three peaches per day."

This work builds upon previous work at AgriLife Research released a few years ago, which showed that peach and plum polyphenols selectively killed aggressive breast cancer cells and not the normal ones, Cisneros-Zavallos said.

In the western hemisphere, breast cancer is the most common malignant disease for women, he said. In the U.S. last year, the American Cancer Society estimated about 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer among women.

The study was conducted using the peach variety Rich Lady. However, according to Cisneros-Zevallos, most peach fruit share similar polyphenolic compounds but might differ in content

"In general, peach fruit has chemical compounds that are responsible for killing cancer cells while not affecting normal cells as we reported previously, and now we are seeing that this mixture of compounds can inhibit metastasis," said Cisneros-Zevallos. "We are enthusiastic about the idea that perhaps by consuming only two to three peaches a day we can obtain similar effects in humans. However, this will have to be the next step in the study for its confirmation."

A totally off the wall study that I think will interest those who have wondered if we can control our dreams. This is especially appealing for everyone wanting pleasant dreams and wanting to avoid nightmares. From Science Daily:

Mass participation experiment reveals how to create the perfect dream

Today psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire announces the results of a two-year study into dream control. The experiment shows that it is now possible for people to create their perfect dream, and so wake up feeling especially happy and refreshed.

In 2010, Professor Wiseman teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create 'Dream:ON' -- an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted 'soundscape' when they dream. Each soundscape was carefully designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach, and the team hoped that these sounds would influence people's dreams. At the end of the dream, the app sounded a gentle alarm and prompted the person to submit a description of their dream.

The app was downloaded over 500,000 times and the researchers collected millions of dream reports. After studying the data, Professor Wiseman discovered that the soundscapes did indeed influence people's dreams.

Richard Wiseman, professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, said: "If someone chose the nature landscape then they were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers. In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin."

"In 2013, neuroscientists from the University of Basel discovered that people experience more disturbed sleeping patterns around the time of a full Moon," remarked Wiseman. "We have seen a similar pattern, with more bizarre dreams being associated with a full moon."

Finally, the team also found that certain soundscapes produced far more pleasant dreams.

The findings are described in Professor Wiseman's book on sleep and dreaming, Night School. The Dream:ON app and all of the soundscapes are currently available free of charge.

First researchers talked about second-hand cigarette smoke, but now there is a concern with third-hand smoke. From Science Daily:

Major 'third-hand smoke' compound causes DNA damage and potentially cancer

Leftover cigarette smoke that clings to walls and furniture is a smelly nuisance, but now research suggests that it could pose a far more serious threat, especially to young children who put toys and other smoke-affected items into their mouths. Scientists reported today that one compound from this "third-hand smoke," which forms when second-hand smoke reacts with indoor air, damages DNA and clings to it in a way that could potentially cause cancer.

Bo Hang, Ph.D., who presented the research, said that although the idea of third-hand smoke made its debut in research circles just a few years ago in 2009, evidence already strongly suggests it could threaten human health.

"The best argument for instituting a ban on smoking indoors is actually third-hand smoke," said Hang, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Researchers have found that many of the more than 4,000 compounds in second-hand smoke, which wafts through the air as a cigarette is smoked, can linger indoors long after a cigarette is stubbed out. Based on studies led by Hugo Destaillats, also at LBNL, these substances can go on to react with indoor pollutants such as ozone and nitrous acid, creating brand-new compounds, some of which may be carcinogenic.

One of those compounds goes by the acronym NNA. Hang's research has shown that NNA, a tobacco-specific nitrosamine, locks onto DNA to form a bulky adduct (a piece of DNA bound to a cancer-causing chemical), as well as other adducts, in lab test tubes. Other large compounds that attach to DNA tend to cause genetic mutations. NNA also breaks the DNA about as often as a related compound called NNK, which is a well-studied byproduct of nicotine and a known potent carcinogen. This kind of DNA damage can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and the formation of cancerous tumors.

The biggest potential health risk is for babies and toddlers, he noted. As they crawl and put their hands or toys in their mouths, they could touch, swallow or inhale compounds from third-hand smoke. Their small size and early developmental stage make them more vulnerable than adults to the effects of environmental hazards.

Although many public places prohibit smoking, Hang noted that people can still smoke in most rental apartments and private residences -- and smoking remains a huge public health issue. In 2011, nearly 44 million American adults reported smoking cigarettes, which ranks as the leading cause of preventable death in this country. And 34 million people smoke every day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

So far, the best way to get rid of third-hand smoke is by removing affected items, such as sofas and carpeting, as well as sealing and repainting walls, and sometimes even replacing contaminated wallboard, he explained. Replacing furniture can be pricey, but Hang said vacuuming and washing clothes, curtains and bedding can also help.

Article about the growing body of research supporting exercise in the treatment of depression. From The Atlantic:

For Depression, Prescribing Exercise Before Medication

Depression is the most common mental illness—affecting a staggering 25 percent of Americans—but a growing body of research suggests that one of its best cures is cheap and ubiquitous. In 1999, a randomized controlled trial showed that depressed adults who took part in aerobic exercise improved as much as those treated with Zoloft. A 2006 meta-analysis of 11 studies bolstered those findings and recommended that physicians counsel their depressed patients to try it. A 2011 study took this conclusion even further: It looked at 127 depressed people who hadn’t experienced relief from SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant, and found that exercise led 30 percent of them into remission—a result that was as good as, or better than, drugs alone.

Though we don’t know exactly how any antidepressant works, we think exercise combats depression by enhancing endorphins: natural chemicals that act like morphine and other painkillers. There’s also a theory that aerobic activity boosts norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. And like antidepressants, exercise helps the brain grow new neurons.

But this powerful, non-drug treatment hasn’t yet become a mainstream remedy. In a 2009 study, only 40 percent of patients reported being counseled to try exercise at their last physician visit.

Instead, Americans are awash in pills. The use of antidepressants has increased 400 percent between 1988 and 2008. They’re now one of the three most-prescribed categories of drugs, coming in right after painkillers and cholesterol medications.

After 15 years of research on the depression-relieving effects of exercise, why are there still so many people on pills? The answer speaks volumes about our mental-health infrastructure and physician reimbursement system, as well as about how difficult it remains to decipher the nature of depression and what patients want from their doctors.

When it comes to non-drug remedies for depression, exercise is actually just one of several promising options. Over the past few months, research has shown that other common lifestyle adjustments, like meditating or getting more sleep, might also relieve symptoms. Therapy has been shown to work just as well as SSRIs and other medications. In fact, a major JAMA study a few years ago cast doubt on the effectiveness of antidepressants in general, finding that the drugs don't function any better than placebo pills for people with mild or moderate depression.

The half-dozen psychiatrists I interviewed said they’ve started to incorporate non-drug treatments into their plans for depressed patients. But they said they’re only able to do that because they don’t accept insurance. (One of the doctors works for a college system and only sees students.)

That’s because insurers still largely reimburse psychiatrists, like all other doctors, for each appointment—whatever that appointment may entail—rather than for curing a given patient. It takes less time to write a prescription for Zoloft than it does to tease out a patient’s options for sleeping better and breaking a sweat. Fewer moments spent mapping out jogging routes or sleep schedules means being able to squeeze in more patients for medications each day.

Another study discussing how physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer for women of all ages and sizes. From Science Daily:

Regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk irrespective of age

Practicing sport for more than an hour day reduces the risk of contracting breast cancer, and this applies to women of any age and any weight, and also unaffected by geographical location, according to research presented to the 9th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-9). Compared with the least active women, those with the highest level of physical activity reduced their risk of breast cancer by 12%, researchers say.

Professor Mathieu Boniol, Research Director at the International Prevention Research Institute, Lyon, France, recently reported the results of a meta-analysis of 37 studies published between 1987 and 2013, representing over four million women. "These are all the studies looking at the relationship between physical exercise and breast cancer risk that have been published to date, so we are confident that the results of our analysis are robust," he said.

Although the results varied according to tumour type, the overall message was encouraging, the researchers say. However, in women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the protective effect of exercise seemed to be cancelled out. But increased awareness of the side effects of HRT means that its use is decreasing in a number of countries, and this means that the beneficial effects of activity will most likely grow in the years to come. 

Physical activity is known to have a protective role in other cancers, as well as in disorders such as cardiovascular disease. Although the mechanisms for its effect are unclear, the results are largely independent of body mass index (BMI), so the effect must be due to more than weight control. And the age at which sporting activity starts also appears to be immaterial; the researchers found no indication that breast cancer risk would decrease only when physical activity started at a young age.

"Adding breast cancer, including its aggressive types, to the list of diseases that can be prevented by physical activity should encourage the development of cities that foster sport by becoming bike and walk-friendly, the creation of new sports facilities, and the promotion of exercise through education campaigns," said Prof Boniol.