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Good news for those who enjoy drinking a little wine. From Medical Xpress:

A little wine might help kidneys stay healthy

An occasional glass of wine might help keep your kidneys healthy, new research suggests. And for those who already have kidney disease, which puts one at higher risk for cardiovascular problems, moderate wine drinking might help the heart. the researchers added.

"Those [with healthy kidneys] who drank less than one glass of wine a day had a 37 percent lower risk of having chronic kidney disease than those who drank no wine," said study author Dr. Tapan Mehta, a renal fellow at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, in Aurora.

"Those with chronic kidney disease who drank less than one glass a day had a 29 percent lower risk of cardiovascular events [than those who drank no wine]," he added.

Mehta and his colleagues looked at data from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination that included nearly 6,000 people. Of those, about 1,000 had chronic kidney disease.

Having chronic kidney disease increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. About 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, often caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Previous research has found that moderate drinking is linked to heart benefits.

Exactly why wine might do that is not known for sure, Mehta said. Drinking moderate amounts is linked with lower levels of protein in the urine. In those who have kidney disease, higher protein levels in the urine are linked with an increased risk of progression of kidney disease. The polyphenols found in wine have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may help explain the protective heart effects, he said.

It would be exciting if vitamin D supplementation improves cognitive function in the elderly. From Science Daily:

Vitamin D deficiency, cognition appear to be linked in older adults

Vitamin D deficiency and cognitive impairment are common in older adults, but there isn't a lot of conclusive research into whether there's a relationship between the two.

"This study provides increasing evidence that suggests there is an association between low vitamin D levels and cognitive decline over time," said lead author Valerie Wilson, M.D., assistant professor of geriatrics at Wake Forest Baptist. "Although this study cannot establish a direct cause and effect relationship, it would have a huge public health implication if vitamin D supplementation could be shown to improve cognitive performance over time because deficiency is so common in the population."

Wilson and colleagues were interested in the association between vitamin D levels and cognitive function over time in older adults. They used data from the Health, Aging and Body composition (Health ABC) study to look at the relationship. The researchers looked at 2,777 well-functioning adults aged 70 to 79 whose cognitive function was measured at the study's onset and again four years later. Vitamin D levels were measured at the 12-month follow-up visit.

The Health ABC study cohort consists of 3,075 Medicare-eligible, white and black, well-functioning, community-dwelling older adults who were recruited between April 1997 and June 1998 from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn.

"With just the baseline observational data, you can't conclude that low vitamin D causes cognitive decline. When we looked four years down the road, low vitamin D was associated with worse cognitive performance on one of the two cognitive tests used," Wilson said. "It is interesting that there is this association and ultimately the next question is whether or not supplementing vitamin D would improve cognitive function over time."

An excellent reason to listen to your mother and eat your vegetables. From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site healthfinder.gov:

Vegetables in Childhood May Benefit Breast Health

Girls who ate the most fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids were less likely to get benign breast disease, a new study suggests.

Carotenoids are a group of pigments that typically produce an orange, red or dark green color. They are believed to have antioxidant properties that may guard against disease. Benign breast disease describes a variety of noncancerous conditions of the breast; some forms raise the risk of breast cancer. 

For her study, Boeke and her colleagues looked at food reports from 1996 through 1998 and then evaluated reports in 2005, 2007 and 2010 from girls who got a diagnosis of benign breast disease from a doctor after having a biopsy. In all, Boeke studied nearly 6,600 girls, and 122 reported a diagnosis of benign breast disease.

When she looked at carotenoid intake, she found high intakes were protective. "The odds of benign breast disease in those who consumed the most beta carotene were about half that of those who consumed the least," she said. Girls in the highest intake group ate two to three servings of carotenoid-rich foods weekly, she said.

She did take into account other factors that might affect the risk of benign breast disease, such as alcohol intake, physical activity, family history and body mass index (a measure of body fat using height and weight).

Why might the fruits and vegetables help? It's not known for sure, but Boeke said it may be due partly to their antioxidant properties. Carotenoids absorb harmful substances known as free radicals which can harm cells.

The study looked only at food intake, not supplements, and Boeke said she would not recommend supplements since other research has found some harmful effects with supplement use. Other foods that are rich in carotenoids include yams, melons, spinach and kale.

The period of time between the start of a girl's period and the first birth is a sensitive one for the breasts, as they are very vulnerable to environmental exposures, according to background information in the study.

Again, more support for eating a mainly plant based diet and lowering intake of saturated fat. From MedlinePlus:

High-Fat Diet May Boost Breast Cancer Risk

For more than three decades, experts have debated whether eating a high-fat diet increases breast cancer risk. Now, new research suggests it might boost the chances of three common types of breast cancer.

In a large European study evaluating more than 337,000 women in 10 countries over 11 years, researchers found that women who ate the most saturated fat were about 30 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who ate the least. The study is published April 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sieri and her team found that a high intake of total fat and saturated fat was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer subtypes known as estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) and progesterone receptor-positive (PR-positive). High-fat diets also were tied to a raised risk of developing HER2-negative breast cancer, the investigators noted.

The breast cancer subtypes linked with fat intake are common, she said. "The majority of breast cancers in the U.S. and Europe are ER-positive, PR-positive, HER2-negative," she noted.

In the new study, women answered questions about their fat intake and other habits that could affect risk, including smoking, age at first period, pregnancy history, use of hormone therapy and their body mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight). To correct for measurement errors in the diet questionnaire, the researchers interviewed a random sample of 8 percent of the women, asking for a 24-hour dietary recall.

After an average follow up of 11.5 years, just over 10,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.When the cases of cancer were compared with fat intake, "we found an association between exposure to saturated-fat intake and breast cancer," Sieri said.

Women in the group eating the most saturated fat averaged 48 grams a day, compared to 15 grams in the group eating the least. The link can't be explained with certainty, Sieri said, but it's possible that the high-fat intake raises the levels of the body's own estrogen, which can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Until more study is done, Sieri tells women: "In general, it is recommended that the percent of total calories from saturated fat should not exceed 10 percent for women." Gaudet agreed. "If you have a mainly plant-based diet, that is going to help you keep your fat intake low."

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.

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."

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."

The United Nations has proclaimed today as the International Day of Happiness. In that spirit is the following article. From Science Daily:

Precise reason for health benefits of dark chocolate: Thank hungry gut microbes

The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been extolled for centuries, but the exact reason has remained a mystery -- until now. Researchers have just reported that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.

"We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones," explained Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study's researchers.

"The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate," she said. "When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory." The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.

"When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke," said John Finley, Ph.D., who led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. The researchers are with Louisiana State University.

The team tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, composed of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, according to Finley.

He explained that cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. "In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity," he said.

Finley also noted that combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person's overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds. "When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems," he added. Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods like raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can't digest but that good bacteria like to eat. This food for your gut's helpful inhabitants also comes in dietary supplements.

Two studies about Vitamin D. From Science Daily:

Vitamin D increases breast cancer patient survival, study shows

Breast cancer patients with high levels of vitamin D in their blood are twice as likely to survive the disease as women with low levels of this nutrient, report University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers in the March issue of Anticancer Research.

In previous studies, Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, showed that low vitamin D levels were linked to a high risk of premenopausal breast cancer. That finding, he said, prompted him to question the relationship between 25-hydroxyvitamin D -- a metabolite produced by the body from the ingestion of vitamin D -- and breast cancer survival rates.

Garland and colleagues performed a statistical analysis of five studies of 25-hydroxyvitamin D obtained at the time of patient diagnosis and their follow-up for an average of nine years. Combined, the studies included 4,443 breast cancer patients.

Women in the high serum group had an average level of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood. The low group averaged 17 ng/ml. The average level in patients with breast cancer in the United States is 17 ng/ml.

A 2011 meta-analysis by Garland and colleagues estimated that a serum level of 50 ng/ml is associated with 50 percent lower risk of breast cancer. While there are some variations in absorption, those who consume 4,000 International Units (IU) per day of vitamin D from food or a supplement normally would reach a serum level of 50 ng/ml. 

From Science Daily:

Vitamin D deficiency may compromise immune function

Older individuals who are vitamin D deficient also tend to have compromised immune function, according to new research accepted for publication in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

"Our data suggest vitamin D may be involved in maintaining the health of the immune system as well as the skeletal system," said one of the study's authors, Mary Ward, PhD, of the University of Ulster in Coleraine, U.K.

The observational study of 957 Irish adults who were at least 60 years old examined vitamin D levels as well as biomarkers of inflammation. Participants who were vitamin D deficient were more likely to have high levels of these biomarkers, which are linked to cardiovascular disease and inflammatory conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.