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From the Feb. 6, 2014 Science Daily:

Whole diet approach to lower cardiovascular risk has more evidence than low-fat diets

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.

This new study explains that while strictly low-fat diets have the ability to lower cholesterol, they are not as conclusive in reducing cardiac deaths. By analyzing major diet and heart disease studies conducted over the last several decades, investigators found that participants directed to adopt a whole diet approach instead of limiting fat intake had a greater reduction in cardiovascular death and non-fatal myocardial infarction.

"Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats," says study co-author James E. Dalen, MD, MPH, Weil Foundation, and University of Arizona College of Medicine. "These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths."

Carefully analyzing studies and trials from 1957 to the present, investigators found that the whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, are effective in preventing heart disease, even though they may not lower total serum or LDL cholesterol. The Mediterranean-style diet is low in animal products and saturated fat, and encourages intake of monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. In particular, the diet emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish.

"The potency of combining individual cardioprotective foods is substantial -- and perhaps even stronger than many of the medications and procedures that have been the focus of modern cardiology," explains co-author Stephen Devries, MD, FACC.

More evidence in support of Mediterranean style diet. From the Feb. 4, 2014 Science Daily:

Mediterranean diet linked with lower risk of heart disease among young U.S. workers

Among a large group of Midwestern firefighters, greater adherence to Mediterranean-style diet was associated with lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA). The study is the first to assess the effects of Mediterranean-style diet among a group of young, working U.S. adults.

The researchers analyzed medical and lifestyle data, including dietary habits, from an existing cohort of 780 male firefighters in the Midwest. They developed a modified Mediterranean diet score (mMDS) to assess the participants' dietary patterns.

The firefighter group with greatest adherence to Mediterranean-style diet showed a 35% decreased risk in metabolic syndrome, a condition with risk factors that include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, low HDL ("good") cholesterol level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. The group with the highest mMDS also had a 43% lower risk of weight gain compared with the lowest mMDS group. Additionally, greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was significantly associated with higher HDL cholesterol and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Consistent with previous investigations, obese participants in the firefighter study reported a higher intake of both fast foods and sugary drinks.

Take note: all of us are exposed to these contaminants because they are in our environment.  The Inuit exposure is just more concentrated. From Feb. 7, 2014 Environmental Health News:

Contaminants have variety of effects on Arctic baby IQs

Babies in Arctic Canada are at risk of specific effects on their mental abilities, depending on which contaminants they are exposed to in the womb, according to a new study.While lead, methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) all are linked to neurological effects, each seems to have a different effect on infants, the scientists concluded. For example, PCBs seemed to impair the babies’ ability to recognize things they have seen.

The study involved 94 Inuit infants and their mothers from Nunavik, in northern Quebec. PCBs, mercury and other pollutants hitchhike north via prevailing winds and currents from industrialized areas, and then accumulate in food webs, predominantly in the eastern Arctic. Because the Inuit in Canada and Greenland eat top predators such as beluga whales and seals, they are among the world’s most contaminated human beings. The scientists measured the babies’ prenatal exposure to the three contaminants by testing cord blood, and then administered standard mental development tests at 6.5 months and 11 months. 

“Each contaminant was independently associated with impairment of distinct aspects of cognitive function with long-term implications for cognitive development PCBs with visual recognition memory, methylmercury with working memory and an early precursor of executive function, lead with processing speed – deficits that can already be detected during the first year of life,” the authors wrote.

For the research, scientists at Quebec’s Centre de Recherche du CHUQ, who have been studying effects of contaminants on Inuit children for two decades, teamed up with Wayne State University scientists who conducted groundbreaking work in the Great Lakes linking PCBs to reduced IQs in the 1990s.

 Well, it looks like the researchers devised a nutritional supplement, which they then tested and found beneficial effects on the thinking processes of older adults - so some bias there, but still interesting. What was in the supplement they called NT-020? Extracts of blueberries, green tea, vitamin D3, and amino acids such as carnosine. Science Daily:

Nutritional supplement improves cognitive performance in older adults, study finds

Now a University of South Florida (USF) study reports that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components helped boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.

The USF-developed nutritional supplement, containing extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine, was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85. The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.

Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not. Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has been associated with advancing age, the researchers said. Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.

In several preclinical trials, researchers gave aging laboratory rats NT-020 to see if it boosted memory and other cognitive performance by promoting the health of neurons in the aging brain. Those studies demonstrated that NT-020 promoted the growth of stem cells in the brain, produced an overall rejuvenating effect, benefited animals with simulated stroke, and led to better cognitive performance.

From the Medical Daily:

High Blood Pressure In Teens, Young Adults A Sign Of Hardened Arteries Down The Road

Your blood pressure during your teens and early twenties, though often naturally low due to youth, may have something to do with your cardiovascular health in later years, according to new research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. In the new study, which was published in JAMA, researchers found that having higher blood pressure during your teens and twenties was actually linked to hardened arteries at age 40.

The study, led by epidemiologist Norrina Allen, points out the significance of maintaining cardiovascular health at a young age.

The study reviewed 4,600 men and women throughout several different states and followed them for 25 years. They found that 19 percent of them had blood pressure that was much higher than their peers, and that another 5 percent started with high blood pressure that gradually rose. Though these blood pressure readings fell within “normal” range for their age, it was higher than average and thus they were more likely to develop hypertension by age 40. Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure or arterial hypertension.

“While you wouldn’t prescribe medications for this group, you might have conversations with those individuals about ways they can improve their diet or increase physical activity,” Allen told NPR. She notes that “many of these cardiovascular risk factors are cumulative,” meaning they often occur over a long period of time and are a combination of things, from smoking to living a sedentary lifestyle.

From Science Daily:

Overweight or obese people breathe more air pollutants

Overweight or obese adults can breathe 7-50% more air per day than an adult with healthy weight does, which makes them more vulnerable to air contaminants causing asthma and other pulmonary diseases, according to a study by Dr. Pierre Brochu, a professor at Université de Montréal's School of Public Health. For overweight or obese children, daily inhalation rates are 10-24% higher than for normal weight children.

Study based on more than 1,900 participants: Brochu's study is based on an analysis of data from 1,069 participants aged 5-96 years, compared with data collected from 902 normal weight people (in a study conducted by Dr. Brochu in 2011). Data were analyzed, among other things, according to participant age and gender. Adults were also classified according to their body mass index

The situation for obese children may be even more worrisome, according to the data analyzed by Dr. Brochu. In fact, because of their much higher metabolism -- in relation to their low body weight -- they breathe more air per kilogram of weight than obese adults do to maintain their basic functions and perform their daily activities. The same trend applies to men compared to women. "It remains to be seen if high inhalation rates are a factor in the development of asthma and other lung diseases in adults and children," said Dr. Brochu, who hopes to eventually validate this hypothesis.

The study results suggest that the effect of higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years. The researchers suggest that these higher levels can be achieved through diet or the use of supplements (about 1000 mg of EPA + DHA daily, or by eating a portion of fish such as salmon or sardines every day).  From the January 22, 2014 Science Daily:

Can fish oil help preserve brain cells?

People with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also have larger brain volumes in old age equivalent to preserving one to two years of brain health, according to a study published in the January 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Shrinking brain volume is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease as well as normal aging.

For the study, the levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA+DHA in red blood cells were tested in 1,111 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Eight years later, when the women were an average age of 78, MRI scans were taken to measure their brain volume.

Those with higher levels of omega-3s had larger total brain volumes eight years later. Those with twice as high levels of fatty acids (7.5 vs. 3.4 percent) had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume.

Those with higher levels of omega-3s also had a 2.7 percent larger volume in the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays an important role in memory. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to atrophy even before symptoms appear.

Very interesting research that may change how we view Lyme Disease - that the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi — the cause of Lyme disease — may be a contagious illness, sexually transmitted between partners. From the January 27, 2014 Medical Daily:

Is Lyme Disease Contagious? Clues Hint That It May Be A Sexually Transmitted Disease

 A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine suggests the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi — the cause of Lyme disease — may be a contagious illness, sexually transmitted between partners.

The transmission from person-to-person has been an idea refuted by the CDC who believes it is solely transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. “The CDC position on sexual intra-human Borrelia burgdorferi transmission is that it does not occur,” the agency said in a 2011 statement.

The study — presented at the annual Western Regional Meeting of the American Federation for Medical Research — a collaborative effort by an international team of scientists — tested semen samples and vaginal secretions of three groups of patients to investigate whether passing Lyme disease to a partner through unprotected sex is a possibility. The study observed control subjects without evidence of Lyme disease, random subjects who tested positive for Lyme disease, and married heterosexual couples engaging in unprotected sex who tested positive for the disease. The presence of B. burgdorferi and identical strains of the bacterium were of particular interest to the researchers in unprotected sex in spouses.

The control subjects were found to test negative for the bacterium in semen samples or vaginal secretions, as expected by the researchers. The researchers found traces of B. burgdorferi in the vaginal secretions of all women with Lyme disease. In contrast, approximately half of the men with the disease tested positive for the bacterium in semen samples. In addition, one of the heterosexual couples with Lyme disease were found to have identical strains of the bacterium in their genital secretions.

A surprising finding for the researchers was why women with Lyme disease had consistently positive vaginal secretions, compared with the semen samples that showed greater variability. Although this warrants further research, overall, the results indicate the presence of the bacterium in genital secretions and identical strains in married couples, which means the disease may be contracted through sexual transmission. “Our findings will change the way Lyme disease is viewed by doctors and patients,” said Marianne Middelveen, lead author of the study presented in Carmel, 

The possibility of Lyme disease being a sexually transmitted disease could help explain the increase in reported cases throughout the years, suggesting ticks aren’t the only way of infection. The disease is commonly undiagnosed due to the signature “bull’s eye rash” absence in nearly half of those who are infected. 

Another inadvertent way to kill off good bacteria. From the January 27, 2014 Medical Daily:

Antiseptic Mouthwash Raises Heart Attack Risk, Blood Pressure: Chlorhexidine Kills Off 'Good' Bacteria That Helps Blood Vessels Relax

Antiseptic mouthwash is commonly used to quickly refresh and clean the mouth after brushing your teeth in the morning, after eating, and before going to bed. According to a recent study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, using a mouthwash twice daily — such as Corsodyl — may increase blood pressure up to 3.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), raising your heart attack risk.

Now a team of researchers at Queen Mary University of London believe using antiseptic mouthwash daily could increase the odds of HBP (high blood pressure) due to a chemical that kills the “good” bacteria responsible for helping the blood vessels relax.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia, lead author of the study, and her team of researchers, observed the effects of a chlorhexidine-based antiseptic mouthwash — Corsodyl — by measuring the blood pressure of a small cohort of healthy participants during a two-week period. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic that treats gingivitis and others problems of the mouth and gums. A total of 19 participants were recruited for the study during an initial seven-day control period followed by a seven-day treatment period with the antiseptic mouthwash. 

The findings revealed Cordosyl use retracts the oral bacterial conversion from nitrate to nitrate which reduces the plasma nitrate levels that are associated with increases in blood pressure. The mouthwash led the participants’ blood pressure to rise between 2 to 3.5 mmHg, with a noticeable effect found within one day of using the mouthwash twice.

The study authors believe killing off “good” oral bacteria plays a vital role in determining the plasma nitrate levels, and the bodily control of blood pressure. “Killing off all these bugs each day is a disaster, when small rises in blood pressure have significant impact on morbidity and mortality from heart disease and stroke,” said Ahluwalia, the Daily Mail reported. However, she adds, “We are not telling people to stop using antiseptic mouthwashes if they have a gum or tooth infection — but we would ask why anyone else would want to.”

The findings of the study do not apply to all mouthwashes because not all mouthwashes contain the chemical chlorhexidine, such as the popular Listerine. The study authors caution other mouthwashes could still produce the same effects as Corsodyl by damaging the mouth’s healthy bacteria.

Another study showing the benefits of eating berries. From the January 23, 2014 Science Daily:

Lingonberries halt effects of high-fat diet

Lingonberries almost completely prevented weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet, a study at Lund University in Sweden has found -- whereas the 'super berry' açai led to increased weight gain. The Scandinavian berries also produced lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

Some of the mice were fed a low-fat diet, while the majority of the animals were fed a diet high in fat. They were then divided into groups, where all except a control group were fed a type of berry -- lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or açai berry.

When the mice were compared after three months, it could be observed that the lingonberry group had by far the best results. The mice that had eaten lingonberries had not put on more weight than the mice that had eaten a low-fat diet -- and their blood sugar and insulin readings were similar to those of the 'low-fat' mice. Their cholesterol levels and levels of fat in the liver were also lower than those of the animals who received a high-fat diet without any berries.

Blackcurrants and bilberries also produced good effects, although not as pronounced as the lingonberries. The açai berries, on the other hand, came last, although they had actually been included in the study for the opposite reason -- the researchers wanted to see how well the Nordic berries would do in comparison with the Brazilian 'super berry'.

The good results from lingonberries may be due to their polyphenol content, according to the researchers. They will now continue to work on understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in the effect of the lingonberries. They will also see whether the effect can be observed in humans.

Keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. From the January 21, 2014 Science Daily:

Large Amounts of Folic Acid Shown to Promote Growth of Breast Cancer in Rats

Folic acid supplements at levels consumed by breast cancer patients and survivors in North America promoted the growth of existing breast cancer in rats, new research found.

The role of folate, a B vitamin, and its synthetic form, folic acid, in the development and progression of breast cancer is highly controversial. Although some studies have found it may offer protection against breast cancer, recent studies have suggested that taking high amounts of folic acid may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Dr. Young-In Kim, a physician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital, said his lab has shown for the first time that folic acid supplements in doses 2.5 to five times the daily requirement "significantly promotes" the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats. 

This is a critically important issue because breast cancer patients and survivors in North America are exposed to high levels of folic acid through folic acid fortification in food and widespread use of vitamin supplements after a cancer diagnosis," Dr. Kim said. "Cancer patients and survivors in North America have a high prevalence of multivitamin and supplement use, with breast cancer patients and survivors having the highest prevalence."