Skip to content

What's with the blueberry obsession in medical studies? Another study finding health benefits with frequent eating of blueberries was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at the Univ. of Anglia in the United Kingdom found that eating one cup of blueberries daily for 6 months reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease (e.g. improvements in endothelial function, systemic arterial stiffness, and HDL cholesterol concentrations). They predicted that this would result in 12 to 15% reductions in heart (cardiovascular) disease risk.

The nicely done study was conducted on 138 overweight or obese men aged 50 to 75 years, all with Metabolic syndrome (e.g. hypertension, low levels of HDL cholesterol, impaired fasting glucose) - thus a group at risk for heart disease. Interestingly, ingesting 1/2 cup of blueberries a day did not have health benefits  - only 1 cup of blueberries a day did. So it was dose dependent -the more, the better. However, the study did not find any improvements in blood pressure or insulin resistance (glucose control) at the end of 6 months.

Remember, one should not focus on individual foods (e.g. blueberries), but should strive for a good dietary pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet. That means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. These foods have lots of fiber and feed the beneficial microbes in the gut. Eating one beneficial food such as blueberries won't overcome an entire unhealthy dietary pattern, such as the Western one (lots of highly processed foods, low in fiber, lots of fast food, sugary drinks, etc).

BOTTOM LINE: While this study focused on blueberries, research shows that eating all types of berries (blueberriesblackberries, raspberries, lingonberries, bilberries, strawberries, etc.) have health benefits. One should actually try eating a variety of berries, if possible, because they all have different nutrients, microbes (to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut), and different health benefits.

From Medical Xpress: Eating blueberries every day improves heart health   ...continue reading "Eating Blueberries Frequently and Heart Health"

There has been much discussion recently over why the incidence of allergies and chronic diseases is rising in Western industrialized countries. Some theories have been proposed, such as the hygiene hypothesis (that early childhood environments are too sterile and so that the developing immune system isn't properly "trained"), or that medicines such as antibiotics kill off beneficial bacteria, whille others say it is due to our Western diet and lifestyle. However, recently some researchers have proposed that the absence of intestinal worms, called helminths, in our bodies is actually negative for our health and could be a reason for the rising incidence of allergies and these diseases.

Over the centuries intestinal worms (such as hookworms) have caused a lot of human suffering, and therefore have been viewed as disease causing parasites. Western industrialized countries made major efforts (such as improved sanitation) to get rid of all intestinal worms in humans, and were generally successful. It is now rare to hear of someone in these countries having intestinal worms.

Dr. William Parker, an associate professor of surgery at Duke University in North Carolina, has written an interesting and thought-provoking article about the role of helminths in human health. He states: "A barrage of scientific evidence points toward helminths as being important regulators of immune function." In other words, we need them in order for our immune system to function properly.

Research actually shows that introducing certain species of intestinal worms, such as roundworms or flatworms, into the human gut successfully treats certain diseases in humans. But medicine has been slow to adopt such a view. Dr. Parker writes that viewing certain helminths as beneficial for proper immune functioning would be a "paradigm shift" in medicine.

By the way, the research looking at intestinal worms found benefits from low levels of helminths, not huge amounts. Having higher levels of helminths (such as roundworms) results in various symptoms (e.g. fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea)

Do go read the full article. Excerpts are from Dr. William Parker's article in Aeon: We Need Worms   ...continue reading "Will We Use Intestinal Worms To Treat Diseases?"

There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether older adults form new neurons in the brain. Neurons are specialized cells transmitting nerve impulses in the brain - they are nerve cells. In other words, if elderly people form new neurons in the brain, then this is excellent news for brain function. This means we can look for ways to enhance neurogenesis (formation of new neurons) and slow or prevent cognitive decline, whether in diseases such as Alzheimer's or normal age-related cognitive declines. Because yes, it is normal to have age-related declines, but some people have more declines while others far, far less.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago studied the hippocampus of 18 elderly brains (mean age 90.6 years!) after death (post-mortem). They found both new neural stem cells (neural progenitor cells) and developing neurons in each person's brain, but the numbers varied a lot between the brains. For example, brains with evidence of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairments had significantly fewer developing neurons than those without cognitive declines.

These results go hand in hand with studies showing a number of known age related brain changes, such as the volume of the brain shrinking a little as we age (this is considered normal). Studies find that there are ways to slow down this shrinkage such as good nutrition (including nuts, fruits and vegetables, coffee or tea containing caffeine, eating seafood), physical activity, exercise, having mentally stimulating activities. Also, avoiding medicines with anticholinergics, and avoiding air pollution and an unhealthy Western style diet (highly processed foods, low fiber, lots of meat).

From Medical Xpress: New neurons form in the brain into the tenth decade of life, even in people with Alzheimer's  ...continue reading "New Neurons Form In the Brains Of Older Adults"

Two years ago scientists reported an alarming and steep decline in sperm counts in men from Western industrialized countries over the last 40 years. Both sperm count and sperm concentration declined 50 to 60% in this period in men in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Especially concerning was that there was no evidence of this year by year decline leveling off.

What does this mean? As these declines continue, more and more men will have sperm counts below the point at which they can reproduce. Instead they will be infertile or "sub-fertile" (fertilization is unlikely). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a sperm count of below 15 million per ml makes a man subfertile. However, also of concern is the threshold level associated with a "decreased monthly probability of conception", which is 40 million/ml - which means conception will take significantly longer (due to impaired ability to fertilize an egg).

A recent Univ. of Geneva study looked at semen quality of 2523 young men (aged 18 to 22 years old) who were being drafted into the military in Switzerland. They found that average sperm quality and sperm concentration of the men, who were from all regions of Switzerland, was among the lowest in Europe (along with Germany, Denmark, and Norway).

In Europe, median sperm count ranges from 41 to 67 million per milliliter (ml), depending on the country. The researchers found that the group of Swiss men had a median sperm count of 48 million per ml. And 17 percent of the men had sperm counts below 15 million per ml (thus subfertile). By the way, countries with lower sperm counts and quality, have higher rates of testicular cancer - they go hand in hand.

Also, in a quarter of the Swiss men studied, less than 40 percent of sperm cells were motile (moved normally), and 43 percent of men had less than 4 percent normally formed sperm. Overall, only 38 percent of Swiss men had healthy sperm - that is, with concentration, motility, and morphology (shape, form) that met the WHO’s criteria for healthy sperm.

Why is this happening? The researchers found that of the men with very low sperm concentration, more of their mothers smoked during the pregnancy, which means there could be changes during embryonic development. Also, while this study did not discuss this, many other researchers say that sperm health is "the canary in the mine" for male health - evidence of harm to men from environmental and lifestyle influences. 

These Western developed countries are awash in chemicals and plastics, also with endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors) in our foods, our personal care products, in products all around us - and so studies find these chemicals in all of us (in varying degrees). Same with flame retardants, pesticides, "scented" products. Exposure to all sorts of environmental pollutants - whether in air, water, soil, our food - such as high levels of aluminum. All of these can have an effect on sperm counts and reproductive health. You can't totally avoid these chemicals, but you can try to lower your amounts of exposure (some tips to lower exposures).

From Medical Xpress: Poor semen quality in Switzerland   ...continue reading "Male Fertility Is Plunging In Switzerland"

Eat real foods, not supplements. Study after study has found beneficial health effects from eating real foods, but not from taking supplements. Now another large study found similar effects - eating real foods was linked to a lower risk of death for any reason (all cause mortality) and death from heart disease (cardiovascular), which was not found with supplements. The only dietary supplement that was associated with a lower risk of death and cancer was lycopene.

In fact, the Tufts University researchers also found that excess intake of calcium from supplements (exceeding 1,000 mg/day) was associated with a 62% increased risk for dying from cancer, but this was not found with foods. And even in persons with a low intake of nutrients from foods, the use of dietary supplements had no effect on the risk of death.The study conclusions were that: "Use of dietary supplements is not associated with mortality benefits among U.S. adults."

From Medical Xpress: Nutrients from food, not supplements, linked to lower risks of death, cancer

...continue reading "Getting Nutrients From Food (But Not Supplements) Linked to Lower Risk of Death"

Are you aware that other countries do not recommend all the tests and screenings that medical specialty organizations in the U.S. recommend? Medical panels in different parts of the world may issue guidelines that vary from U.S. medical specialty guidelines, and sometimes even conflict with them. This is happening even though all groups in various countries are looking at the same medical evidence on which to base recommendations.

This is because in the United States (unlike European countries and Canada) there is a fee for service medical system - the more tests, screenings, and procedures, the more a doctor is paid. Conflict of interest? Bias? Of course. Does it make for better care for patients? Based on the evidence - no.

Interestingly, independent medical groups in the U.S. (such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) that don't have financial interests in the medical services at stake recommend guidelines that are more in line with Canadian and European country guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an "independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine".

As many have pointed out, the approach recommended by medical specialty groups of more and more tests and screening leads to  overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and increasing health care costs. There also is specialty bias - which means whatever the physician is trained in, they are biased toward recommending those treatments and procedures. [Similarly, Dr. John Mandrola has written about the issue of employers evaluating physicians on the number of tests and procedures done (with the more, the better the evaluation), and on the harms that can result from screening, tests, and procedures.]

Dr. Ismail Jatoi (Univ. of Texas Health) and Dr. Sunita Sah (at Cornell) have written a thought provoking article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal about these issues with a call to reduce these conflicts when medical organizations give medical guidelines. The panels should be multidisciplinary in composition, independent of specialty societies, and avoid fee-for-service conflicts of interest.

From Science Daily: Medical guidelines may be biased, overly aggressive in US ...continue reading "Why Do Medical Guidelines Vary So Much?"

How frequently do you eat foods with nanoparticles in them? The use of nanoparticles in foods is increasing every year, with the result that people may eat foods with them daily (thus having chronic exposure). Nanoparticles in foods are ingredients so small that they are measured in nanometers or billionths of one meter. The most common nanoparticle is the food additive titanium dioxide, which in Europe is known as E171. Titanium dioxide is added to many processed foods, candy, and even supplements  and non-prescription medicines (e.g. antihistamines) as a "coloring" to make foods whiter or brighter. Currently there are no restrictions on using titanium dioxide nanoparticles in foods.

We still know very little about whether titanium dioxide nanoparticles have health risks to humans, but studies suggest they may cause intestinal inflammation, may disrupt gut microbes, and may migrate to other parts of the body. Now another study is raising more questions about the safety of titanium dioxide in food. It was done in mice, but the researchers feel it applies to humans. The researchers found that titanium dioxide resulted in a "pro-inflammatory environment and biofilm formation" in the intestines of the mice, and in this way could predispose humans to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. Bottom line: Read food ingredient lists!

From Science  Daily: Common food additive found to affect gut microbiota

...continue reading "Do You Eat Foods With Nanoparticles In Them?"

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans have pesticide residues in their bodies? How do we know this? From studies and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which does biomonitoring of large groups of Americans in order to measure pesticides (and other toxic environmental chemicals) in their bodies. Biomonitoring tells us the "body burden" of toxic chemicals, usually by measuring them in our blood and urine, but also in hair, breast milk and meconium (an infant's first feces gives a measure of prenatal exposure to pesticides). Biomonitoring studies have detected hundreds of different chemicals (including many pesticides) in people, and shown that every single person has a mixture of many contaminants in their body.

The bad news is that we don't really know what all these chronic low level mixtures of pesticides are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems (e.g. various cancers, endocrine disruption, neurological and reproductive problems, even semen quality) with pesticide exposures - especially during pregnancy (the developing fetus), and during childhood. We're talking about pesticide exposures of ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

How do pesticides get into us? Pesticides get into us from inhalation, through the skin, and through ingestion (foods, water). Studies find that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are good ways to ingest pesticides, and with more of these foods eaten, the higher the pesticide residue levels in the body. Unfortunately, as more and more pesticides such as fungicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D are used on crops, our exposures and levels of these pesticides in our bodies are increasing.

When our homes, our gardens, and lawns are treated with pesticides, we also get exposed to pesticides. We track them from the outside, and children (and pets) play in them on treated lawns. We are exposed to pesticide "drift" from neighboring properties. Pesticides used inside the house stay in the house dust (they don't break down easily in homes). Pesticides are even found in rain and fog. Scary, isn't it?

Can we lower the levels of pesticides in our bodies? Absolutely yes. Eat as many organic foods as possible - the levels of pesticide residues in the body (as measured in the blood and urine) will go down rapidly. Study after study shows this. A study even found an association with eating organic foods and a lower cancer rateDon't use pesticides on lawns. Think of weeds as "native grasses" and clover as beneficial. When dealing with indoor pest problems, use least-toxic Integrated Pest Management.

A nice discussion of this is in a recent article by journalist Liza Gross. Excerpts from The Nation: More Than 90 Percent of Americans Have Pesticides or Their Byproducts in Their Bodies

...continue reading "Almost All Americans Have Pesticide Residues In Their Bodies"

Another study finds beneficial health effects from eating real foods - this time eating Montmorency tart cherries reduces blood pressure and insulin levels up to 5 hours after ingestion. Of course. It was a small study done in the United Kingdom, with only 11 middle-aged participants, all with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels). It is estimated that about a third of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome, which significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

It was a nicely designed study, and the Montmorency tart cherries were taken in either juice form or capsules which contained freeze-dried Montmorency tart cherry powder. Drinking the juice had slightly better health effects than the freeze dried capsules. It would have been nice if they had also looked at a group of people eating fresh Montmorency tart cherries, rather than just juice or freeze dried cherries.

Keep in mind that this study found positive health effects from real food. However, in contrast, studies find that taking supplements and vitamins generally don't result in health benefits (e.g. calcium, omega-3, niacin, antioxidants), and can even cause harm - unless one has a nutritional deficiency. Studies also don't find that there are "superfoods" - instead, what is beneficial or not is the overall dietary pattern. Studies show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes has many health benefits (something along the line of the Mediterranean dietary pattern). Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables - each has different micronutrients, and even different microbes (good!). Eating that way also results in a high fiber intake, which has many health benefits.

From EurekAlert!: Montmorency tart cherries may provide benefits for adults with metabolic syndrome

Montmorency tart cherries reduced systolic blood pressure, insulin levels and insulin concentrations in adults with metabolic syndrome participating in a small pilot study published in the Journal of Functional Foods.  ...continue reading "Add Cherries To Your Diet"

A recent study found that within hours of applying sunscreen, the chemicals in the sunscreen appear in the person's blood - and at levels high enough to be of concern. Of course the chemicals enter the body! Why is anyone surprised? Generally, assume that what you put or get on your skin enters your body - lotions, pesticides, etc.

The small study was conducted by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which is a part of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Commonly available sunscreens (2 different sprays, a lotion, and a cream) were applied on 24 volunteers according to directions. Within hours the four sunscreen ingredients being studied (avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene) had entered the bloodstream at levels high enough to cause concern.  They also found that the blood concentration of three of the ingredients continued to rise as daily use continued and then remained in the body for at least 24 hours after sunscreen use ended.

The four chemicals studied are among a dozen chemicals that the FDA recently said needed to be researched by manufacturers before they could be considered "generally regarded as safe and effective." Especially worrisome is oxybenzone, which is in 85% of chemically based sunscreens - and has also been found in breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine, and blood. It is an endocrine disruptor, and linked to various health problems. With these chemicals, the more one uses, the more gets into the body - and people may apply sunscreen several times a day. They may also be found in personal care products and cosmetics. But unfortunately, as with so many chemicals that we are exposed to - long-term effects of frequent or chronic exposure are unknown.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates sunscreen chemicals and is an excellent resource in finding safe sunscreens, as well as those that should be avoided. The EWG has a page discussing the problems with these chemicals, including that they are endocrine disruptors. They also have a page on nanoparticles (typically zinc and titanium dioxide), which are also used in sunscreens.ided. The EWG has a page discussing the problems with these chemicals, including that they are endocrine disruptors. They also have a page on nanoparticles (typically zinc and titanium dioxide), which are also used in sunscreens.

...continue reading "Sunscreen Chemicals Enter the Bloodstream"