Sunday, 26 March 2017

Lactic Acid May Affect Cancer Development, According to a New Study

Just in time for another round of disempowering nonsense, telling us all that cancer is caused by "bad luck", a new study appears that may help to vindicate the Warburg effect. At the beginning of the 20th century, the German scientist Otto Warburg found that cancer cells have a higher demand for sugar than normal cells. They are more reliant on glycolysis than healthy cells, which is far less efficient at turning sugar into cellular energy than aerobic (oxygen-dependent) respiration. All cells use glycolysis as the first stage in energy production (Principles of Anatomy and Physiology - Tortora and Derrickson, 2012), but in the presence of oxygen a healthy cell will then use the breakdown products of glycolysis to begin aerobic respiration. Without oxygen, these breakdown products will enter the Cori Cycle to produce lactic acid, or lactate. A buildup of lactic acid in the muscles causes them to become tired and stiff; you may notice this during intense exercise. Warburg found that even in the presence of oxygen, cancer cells seem to produce more lactic acid than healthy cells.

Source: Steve Barnes (CC BY-SA: 2.0)
In this new research led by Inigo San Millan, director of the Sports Performance Department and physiology laboratory at the University of Colorado-Boulder's Sports Medicine and Performance Center, he and his team set out to understand why the Warburg effect happens. They found that common changes to gene expression, found in most cancers, also seem to deregulate lactic acid production. The researchers also explain that lactic acid helps to create an acidic environment outside the cancer cells, which helps them to spread around the body. In fact, San Millan and colleagues suggest that lactic acid is the "only metabolic compound involved and necessary" in the five stages of cancer development after carcinogenesis, the transformation of healthy cells into cancerous ones. It could also help to explain why regular exercise helps to prevent cancer. Regular workouts help to train the body to efficiently recycle lactic acid into something that actually can be used for energy, which prevents harmful accumulation (why you eventually grow accustomed to that workout). High sugar intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle may be even worse for cancer risk. It may also explain why regular exercise has been shown to increase cancer survival rates.

This research may lead to therapies that reduce the accumulation of lactic acid, in order to prevent cancer cells from spreading and avoiding the immune system. Although the effects of improved stress management on immunity are a likely factor, it could also help explain why living in the greenest spaces has been linked to a 13% lower risk of cancer death compared to living in an urban jungle. This Harvard University study on 110,000 women also found a 12% higher risk of all-cause mortality among the urban jungle dwellers. Overall, any evidence that can point to methods of natural cancer prevention is a good thing, and hopefully the health industries will stand up and take notice of these findings.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Is Ibuprofen Dangerous?

Most people think that because something is legal and easily accessible, it is safe to use in "recommended" amounts and methods. However, new research shows that one of the most accessible pharmaceutical drugs, ibuprofen, may in fact be killing thousands of people every year.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, sudden cardiac arrest - literally, your heart stopping - is a leading cause of death in adults over 40 around the world. In the USA alone, 326,000 people suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, and around 90% of them do not survive. Last year, this included the actress Carrie Fisher, but sadly nothing seems to have changed in the average person's consciousness in regards to cardiac event prevention. The conventional medical world still points the finger at vague, often uncontrollable risk factors like family history, previous heart problems or high LDL cholesterol.

Studying how to treat cardiac arrest, although prevention
is vastly superior.
Finally, a recent press release issued by the European Society of Cardiology titled "Harmless" Painkillers Associated with Increased Risk of Cardiac Arrest attempted to alert the health industry of a not-so-obvious but easily preventable cause of death. This was based on a study published on the Christmas Eve of 2016, a few days before Carrie Fisher died. The study is no joke: the cases of 28,947 people on the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry were analysed, which was everyone who had suffered an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest from the years 2001-2010. Of these, 3,376 had used NSAIDs up to 30 days before cardiac arrest. Their cases were compared to 115,788 people, matched for age and sex, who did not have a cardiac arrest. Ibuprofen and diclofenac were the most common NSAIDs, representing 51% and 21.8% respectively of total NSAID use. Ibuprofen was linked with a 31% increased risk of cardiac arrest, and diclofenac was linked with a higher risk. Naproxen, celecoxib and rofecoxib were also linked with higher risk of cardiac arrest, but these were not seen as significant (caused by use of the drugs). However, these groups only had a few cardiac events.

The authors wrote that this was not the first time that NSAID use, especially the selective COX-2 inhibitors, have been linked to adverse cardiac events (there are two versions of the inflammatory cyclo-oxygenase enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2). One meta-analysis they described, by Bhala et al., reported double the risk of major coronary events with the use of ibuprofen, a 70% higher risk of major coronary events with diclofenac and a 65% higher risk of vascular deaths with diclofenac use. When Trelle et al. compared ibuprofen use with placebo, they found a 30% higher risk of heart attack, cardiovascular death and death from any cause. With diclofenac, they found a higher risk of cardiovascular death with a rate ratio of four. However, these analysed high-dose use of ibuprofen, at 2,400mg a day, but this may be more common than we think. Other research had found harmful effects of rofecoxib, which was withdrawn from the market in Denmark in 2006.

All of this means that it's now time to look at more natural ways of controlling pain. Depending on the cause of pain, a qualified naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor or osteopath can help to uncover the root causes of pain and put together a treatment plan so you can truly heal, not just mask the symptoms.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Is Staying Inside a Public Health Emergency?

Vitamin D is unique among the nutrients, as it is the only one that we can produce by sun exposure. It is made from cholesterol molecules, so naturally-occurring food sources of the vitamin are always from animals, but there are many products fortified with vitamin D such as milk. This is why so many people do not consider the possibility of vitamin D deficiency being found in a wealthy country. However, the best way to "consume" vitamin D is still by sun exposure without burning. But the sun is dangerous, the government says. So, is there a problem?

Unfortunately, yes there is. After the Industrial Revolution and before foods were fortified with vitamin D, rickets (severe deficiency) affected 85% of children in European and American cities. But despite these public health measures, recent research has uncovered more subtle deficiencies at unbelievably high rates. For example, over half of certain elderly populations and 30% of healthy young adults in Boston have been found to be vitamin D deficient. In one Boston study, half of the women admitted to hospital for hip fractures were deficient. Older people do not produce vitamin D at the same efficiency as younger people, while our society seems to encourage them to stay inside. However, low vitamin D has been linked to weaker quadriceps, reduced postural stability, slower reaction times and overall poorer physical function in people admitted to fall clinics. On the other hand, a large placebo-controlled study found that giving adults aged 65-85 100,000 units of vitamin D every three months reduced the risk of any fracture by 22%, and osteoporosis by 33%. This was without an additional calcium supplement. Society tells us that when someone is infirm, we must "look after" them by keeping them shut inside and away from "doing too much". It looks like it's time to re-evaluate our ideas, and the way our lives are structured. Our previous struggles for survival may have led us to associate nature with danger, and so favour the indoors, but the way we work, play and even build our houses possibly should be restructured to enable the right amount of exposure to sun and air.

Many of us now seem to fear the sun because of its association with skin cancers. However, this may be an all-or-nothing approach, taken to extremes. Dr David Hoel writes:

"The body of science concerning the benefits of moderate sun exposure is growing rapidly, and is causing a different perception of sun/UV as it relates to human health. Melanoma and its relationship to sun exposure and sunburn is not adequately addressed in most of the scientific literature."

Research has also shown that outdoor workers may actually have a 14% lower risk of melanoma than people who work inside. It is not as one-sided as the PSAs tell you: non-burning sun exposure has been linked to a reduced risk of melanoma, while sunburn doubles the risk of developing the cancer. Many others have shown that vitamin D reduces the risk of different types of cancer such as breast, colon and prostate cancers. Some of these benefits are only seen with sun exposure, not vitamin D status in general which includes supplementation.

High blood levels of vitamin D are also linked with lower all-cause mortality. When 32 studies were analysed in a meta-analysis (research on research), vitamin D levels under 9ng/mL were associated with a 90% higher all-cause death rate compared to people with levels over 50ng/mL. In a study involving women in Sweden, avoiding sun exposure was linked with double the risk of death over the research period, compared to those who embraced the outdoors. Looking at all of this, it's no surprise that researchers have now said:

"Insufficient sun exposure has become a major public health problem, demanding an immediate change in the current sun-avoidance public health advice. The degree of change needed is small but critically important."

Let's change things sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Some of Aging May Be Man-Made

Our lifespan and many other aspects of our quality of life have greatly improved over the centuries. We came from a world where almost all of us lived in extreme poverty and half died by 30, to a world where global life expectancy is 72 and counting, less than 10% of us are extremely poor and an increasing number of us have the freedom to live on our own terms. But some of our progress isn't really progress, as it has come to the detriment of our health. What went wrong, and how can we live a more balanced life, with the best of both worlds?

Rainforest in Bolivia. Source: Elias Bizannes
Recently, a study emerged on the Tsimane, a hunter-gatherer society in the Bolivian Amazon. At about 16,000 people, they are a small culture, but one of the most researched indigenous groups in the world. For this study, 705 people first spent a day canoeing, as usual, then took a 6-hour drive to the nearest city so doctors could take computer scans of their hearts and measure their weight, heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. In exchange for their time, they were given small gifts such as thread and yarn, things they can actually use. After all this, it was found that the average middle-aged Tsimane has arteries that are 28 years younger than those of average Westerners! When compared to over 6,800 Americans, they were one-fifth as likely to have heart disease, and 9 out of 10 had absolutely no risk of developing it. The Tsimane don't drink or smoke often, their traditional diet is low in added fat and sugar, and they exercise four to seven hours daily on average. However, those using motorised canoes and eating processed foods are showing signs that they are at risk of heart disease, such as higher blood cholesterol. Fortunately this means that lifestyle has power over genetics. Unfortunately (for some), it means that we do have to restructure our lives and society to allow for more incidental exercise. Perhaps cycling to work and other places should be made easier; and workplaces should be re-imagined in a way that physical activity is built-in to the job.

Similar situations have been seen around the world, when people switch from traditional, unprocessed foods to processed, "modern" diets. Often, significant degeneration has taken place within one or two generations, and people of different towns or islands were found to have radically different states of health depending on whether they continued to eat traditional foods, or adopted modern products. In conclusion, the overzealous modernisation of the past century really does need to be tempered by an acknowledgement of the nature of our bodies; we are not meant to be entirely dependent on machines.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

UN Admits Pesticides Aren't Necessary

Since World War Two, the idea of "better living through chemistry" has remained persistent throughout the world. We have been told that we can't live without chemicals, that we would starve without those such as pesticides, but it's becoming common knowledge now that this is not the case. Even the United Nations is now waking up to this, with a new report due to be presented to the UN human rights council.

The new report is strongly critical of the corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of unethical marketing, systematic denials of harm and lobbying governments to prevent regulations against chemical usage. It describes catastrophic effects on the environment, human health and society, including 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. "Acute" does not include whatever chronic illnesses that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals may cause.

Organic farmland growth, 2000-8.
About the supposed "benefits" of pesticides, “It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.” Many of these pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as soy and palm oil, which are not typically used in food. Elver has visited Paraguay, the Philippines, Morocco and Poland in order to write this report, and says that while corporations will always deny the harms of pesticides, the testimony of the people still stands.

Some of the diseases belong to one of our biggest killers: cancer. Multiple studies have shown that pesticide exposure, whether at home or after parental exposure at work, is linked with an up to three, even four or six, times increased risk of childhood leukaemia. For brain cancer, exposure during pregnancy has been linked with the greatest increased risks, as well as home and garden use. There is also some evidence linking pesticide use to other childhood cancers such as Wilm's tumour, retinoblastoma (eye cancer), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and neuroblastoma.

Fortunately, organic agriculture is more popular than ever. In 2015, the number of organic farmers stood at 2.4 million, up by 7.2% from 2014. Organic farmland was up to 50.9 million hectares, up by 14.7% from 2014. The highest market share was Denmark, at 8.4%, while Australia has the most organic farmland at 22.7 million hectares (as we are a quite arid country, the quality may not be as high as in other regions). India has more than half a million organic farmers, the most of any country, with Ethiopia and Mexico following at over 200,000 each.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dementia, Caffeine and Prevention

Dementia is a horrible set of neurodegenerative diseases, affecting not only our physical bodies and abilities, but also our mental health and abilities, to the point of destroying everything that we are. Fortunately, dementia rates among people over 60 years old are declining, at least in the USA. From 1986-1991, 3.6% of people over 60 had dementia. In 2004-2008, it was only 2% of over-60s. Overall, there has been a 20% drop in dementia rates per decade since 1977. Another found a drop in dementia rates among over-65s from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, benefitting around one million people. But how can we join in with these benefits? Well, a common so-called "vice" may actually be another way to help prevent dementia.

This vice is coffee, not decaf, but the regular caffeinated variety. So how does it work? In a study on mice, which are biologically similar to humans, researchers found that mice genetically "destined" to produce the mis-folded tau proteins seen in Alzheimer's disease did not produce enough of an enzyme known as NMNAT2. Because of this, they tested over 1,280 compounds to see if they had any effects on NMNAT2 production in brain cells. Caffeine was one of the most active substances in increasing NMNAT2, and when they tested it on the mice, they began to produce normal levels of the enzyme. Of course, this is just an animal study; we need human research to confirm these effects.

Source: Julius Schorzman
There in fact have been population studies on the effects of caffeine and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. One of these is the CAIDE study. Previous research found inconsistent results, but 3 of the 5 studies were in agreement that coffee drinking can help prevent dementia and cognitive decline. Another two that combined coffee and tea consumption also found positive effects on cognition. In the CAIDE study, drinking 3-5 cups of coffee every day in "midlife" was linked with a 65% reduction in Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia later in life. Researchers thought that this may be because of the antioxidant, insulin-sensitising benefits of coffee, or the caffeine itself.

Caffeine is more than an intoxicant, in fact, there is a lot of science behind its effects against dementia - this is far from "wishful thinking" by busy doctors who want an excuse for their coffee habit. There is a strong inflammatory component of the development of Alzheimer's disease, and part of this is over-reactivity of the glial cells, which act as part of the brain's immune system. Caffeine's effects on the adenosine receptors in the central nervous system have been found to reduce this over-reaction, and so inhibit inflammation. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) has also been shown to play a role in Alzheimer's disease; if it is too "leaky", it can speed the buildup of harmful proteins. And yes, caffeine may protect BBB integrity, partly by calming the glial cells. Animal studies have shown that all of this reduction in inflammation may translate to the prevention of memory problems. Despite a lack of human clinical trials, all of this helps to validate the benefits of caffeine seen in population studies. In conclusion, it may not be best to completely give up coffee in order to improve your health, as moderate caffeine consumption could prevent you from nasty neurodegenerative diseases later.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Three Herbs and Spices That May Help With Weight Loss

Living in a world of over-convenience and seemingly addictive sugary, processed foods, being overweight or obese is sadly the new normal for many. Conventional methods of losing weight, in other words being told "just eat less" and "cut out fat" just aren't working, and sometimes just finding the motivation to go outside and exercise is a battle itself, with concurrent chronic conditions also common. But what if there was a weight loss tool that could both taste great and work in a holistic manner?

Source: Simon A. Eugster
It turns out that some spices, often simply seen as a way to improve taste and bring another culture into the recipe, may actually aid weight loss. One of these is turmeric, commonly used in South Asian cooking. A randomised, controlled clinical trial tested the effects of curcumin, the "main" active constituent of turmeric, on 44 overweight people with metabolic syndrome who were not doing well with losing weight. After the 30 days, curcumin increased monthly weight loss from 1.88% on average to 4.91%, increased body fat reduction from 0.7 to 8.43% and increased waist circumference reduction from 2.36% to 4.14%. Waistline and body fat reduction is particularly important, as these go beyond simply fitting "beauty standards". Abdominal fat, or visceral fat, is in many ways a functioning endocrine organ. It produces inflammatory immune chemicals, which promote insulin resistance, which promotes abdominal obesity. Abdominal fat can also produce relatively large amounts of an enzyme that activates cortisol, which breaks down proteins (such as that in muscles and bones!) and promotes obesity. Curcumin has other anti-inflammatory effects too, and as inflammation causes pain and fatigue, reducing it may help you gain the motivation to go outside.

Coming back to European cooking, rosemary is another possible fat fighter. In an animal study, mice were given either a low-fat diet, a high-fat diet on its own or a high-fat diet supplemented with rosemary extract. Compared to the high-fat diet alone, supplementing with rosemary extract reduced weight gain, circulating liver enzymes, liver weight, blood glucose and insulin levels. This means rosemary extract may protect against fatty liver disease and diabetes. Rosemary extract also significantly reduced advanced glycation end-products and the expression of liver receptors for them. These are hard-to-remove substances that get tangled in tissues, disrupting their structure and function while creating a vicious cycle of damage and inflammation. They are thought to be behind much of the aging process. However, this is only an animal study, we need human clinical trials to confirm these benefits.

Now let's go somewhere in between these two regions, Iran. Dill is a now-common herb used in cooking and medicinally for its effects as an aromatic digestive herb (Phytotherapy Desk Reference). Now, a recent study on mice suggests that dill extract could also help with the often-elusive willpower needed to cut excessive kilojoule intake. A significant drop in body weight and food intake was seen over five weeks of dill seed extract administration, alongside a significant rise in serotonin. Serotonin promotes a sense of satiety; if you have enough serotonin, you know when to stop eating. As this was another animal study, we need human clinical trials to confirm these effects in people. Overall, herbs and spices may be an important missing link in your efforts to lose weight, although extracts available from natural health practitioners seem to be the only products of the necessary strength.