News flashes are posted here frequently to keep you up-to-date with the latest advances in health and longevity. We have an unparalleled track record of breaking stories about life extension advances.
Grape seed extract provokes leukemia cell suicide
The January 1, 2009, issue of the American Association for Cancer Research journal Clinical Cancer Research published an article describing the discovery of Xianglin Shi, PhD and colleagues at the University of Kentucky of programmed cell death (apoptosis) in leukemia cells exposed to grape seed extract.
Grape seed extract has shown anticancer activity in studies using stomach, breast, colon, lung, skin and prostate cancer cell lines. "This is a natural compound that appears to have relatively important properties," noted Dr Shi, who is a professor at the University of Kentucky Graduate Center for Toxicology.
For the current research, the team administered varying concentrations of a commercially available grape seed extract to leukemia cell cultures. They found that higher doses of the extract resulted in 76 percent of the leukemia cells undergoing apoptosis within 24 hours following exposure, while healthy cells remained unharmed. Dr Shi's team determined that grape seed extract activates a protein known as JNK, which regulates apoptosis, leading to upregulation of Cip/p21, which controls the cell cycle. The scientists were able to confirm this mechanism through the use of a JNK inhibitor as well as by silencing the JNK gene, both of which rendered grape seed extract ineffective against the cancerous cells.
"These results could have implications for the incorporation of agents such as grape seed extract into prevention or treatment of hematological malignancies and possibly other cancers," Dr Shi stated. "What everyone seeks is an agent that has an effect on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone, and this shows that grape seed extract fits into this category. This is very promising research, but it is too early to say this is chemoprotective."
Scientists agree: chocolate and wine are good for the mind
In a study that adds evidence to what chocolate lovers, tea drinkers, and wine aficionados have been claiming for years, A. David Smith of the University of Oxford in England and his colleagues have demonstrated that these foods do appear to be good for the brain.
Writing in the December, 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Dr Smith and his associates describe their study of 2,031 men and women aged 70 to 74 recruited from the Hordaland Health Study in Norway. Responses to dietary questionnaires were analyzed for the intake of wine, tea, and chocolate--common dietary items that are high in flavonoids. Cognitive evaluation included six tests of memory and learning.
Subjects who reported consuming wine, chocolate or tea had significantly better average cognitive test scores and than nonconsumers. The risk of performing poorly on the cognitive tests decreased as a greater number of the three foods were consumed, with a 64 to 74 percent reduction in the risk of poor test performance associated with the intake of all three compared to the risk experienced by those who did not consume these foods.
In their discussion of the possible effects of these foods upon the brain, the authors note that wine drinkers have been shown to have a lower risk of dementia compared with nondrinkers, cocoa is a rich source of flavonoids which have antioxidant benefits, and green tea polyphenol intake has been correlated with a reduction in cognitive impairment.
"In a population-based study, we showed that intake of flavonoid-rich food, including chocolate, wine, and tea, is associated with better performance across several cognitive abilities and that the associations are dose dependent," the authors conclude. "We suggest that further studies should directly examine the flavonoid status and take into account other bioactive dietary substances in these foods."
Low folate and vitamin B12, elevated homocysteine predict cognitive decline
The December, 2008 issue of the journal Clinical Nutrition published a report by researchers in Japan who confirmed an association between low levels of folate and vitamin B12 with the development of cognitive decline in older men and women. The researchers also found an association between cognitive decline and high plasma homocysteine, an amino acid that has been shown to be an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis when elevated.
Scientists at Yagoya University graduate School of Medicine recruited 28 men and 71 women aged 60 to 94 for the current research. Blood samples were analyzed for plasma homocysteine, serum folate and vitamin B12, and other factors. Participants underwent examinations for cognitive function, and were also tested for depression.
Thirty one percent of the subjects had cognitive function test scores that were suspicious for cognitive impairment, and 11 percent were categorized as depressed. High homocysteine levels, and low folate and vitamin B12 levels were associated with a greater adjusted risk of cognitive impairment, but not depression.
Elevated homocysteine levels have been associated with the development with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The effect of higher homocysteine levels on cognitive decline observed in this study could be attributed to coexisting folate and/or vitamin B12 insufficiency, since reduced levels of these vitamins can increase homocysteine.
"We assume folate and/or vitamin B12 supplementation, which would be useful to improve total homocysteine, folate, and vitamin B12 status, might reduce the risk of developing cognitive decline in the Japanese elderly population," the authors conclude. "Moreover it is conceivable that keeping appropriate levels of B vitamins and homocysteine throughout life are useful to prevent cognitive decline in later life. From this standpoint, the appropriate supplementation of B vitamins needs to be considered as the relevant issue for all age groups in Japan."
Three-fourths of youths with type 1 diabetes found to be vitamin D insufficient
In an article published in the January, 2009 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers at Boston's Joslin Diabetes Center report that 76 percent of diabetic teens examined had inadequate levels of vitamin D. Insufficient vitamin D levels in childhood prevents the attainment of optimal bone mass, and can increase fracture risk later in life.
Lori M. B. Laffel, MD, MPH, who is Chief of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Section at Joslin, along with colleagues from Children's Hospital in Boston, measured serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in 128 diabetic boys and girls aged 1.5 to 17.5 years. Participants included those with recent onset of type 1 diabetes as well as those with long-established disease.
While 24 percent of the youths had sufficient vitamin D levels, 61 percent were classified as insufficient and 15 percent as deficient. Deficiency tended to occur in older subjects, with only 15 percent of adolescents demonstrating vitamin D adequacy.
"To our surprise, we found extremely high rates of vitamin D inadequacy," stated Dr Laffel. "We didn't expect to find that only 24 percent of the study population would have adequate levels."
"We need to make sure all youths in general are getting enough vitamin D in their diets," commented lead author Britta Svoren, MD, who is a member of Joslin's Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Section and the Section on Genetics and Epidemiology. "And, we need to pay particular attention to those with diabetes as they appear to be at an even higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. For children who are not drinking sufficient amounts of vitamin D fortified milk, we are encouraging them to take a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU daily. Many cereals are fortified with vitamin D as well."
Nutty diet recommended
In the December 8/22, 2008 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, a team of Spanish researchers report that men and women who consume a Mediterranean diet with added nuts have a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, which can be a precursor to cardiovascular disease, is a set of metabolic abnormalities that includes increased obesity, cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose.
Jordi Salas-Salvadó, MD, PhD of the University of Rovira i Virgili and colleagues recruited 1,224 participants from the PREDIMED (Prevencion con Dieta Mediterranea) study of older individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants were assigned to receive quarterly advice regarding a low fat diet, advice on the Mediterranean diet, supplemented with olive oil provided by the researchers; or advice on the Mediterranean diet, supplemented daily with mixed nuts.
While 61.4 percent of the participants met the criteria for metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the study, after one year the number decreased by 2 percent among those who received the low fat diet advice, by 6.7 percent among those who received the Mediterranean diet advice along with olive oil consumption, and by 13.7 among those who consumed the Mediterranean diet plus nuts. Waist circumference, triglycerides, and blood pressure decreased significantly among the group that received nuts compared with the group that received low fat diet advice.
"A traditional Mediterranean diet—characterized by a high intake of cereals, vegetables, fruits and olive oil, a moderate intake of fish and alcohol and a low intake of dairy, meats and sweets—has been associated with a lower risk for metabolic abnormalities," the authors write. "The results of the present study show that a non–energy-restricted traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts, which is high in fat, high in unsaturated fat and palatable, is a useful tool in managing the metabolic syndrome."
Higher selenium intake associated with reduced bladder cancer risk
The December, 2008 issue of the American Association for Cancer Research journal Cancer Prevention Research reports that having higher levels of the mineral selenium could help protect against the development of high-risk bladder cancer. High-risk bladder cancer is characterized by alterations in the p53 protein, which is normally associated with tumor suppression. P53 has been called the guardian of the genome due to its role in preventing gene mutation.
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School compared toenail selenium levels in 767 men and women with newly diagnosed with bladder cancer to those of 1,108 individuals without the disease. They found that women and moderate smokers who had higher selenium levels had a lower risk of bladder cancer. Cancers that were p53 positive were also fewer in those with increased selenium, a finding that the current study is among the first to reveal.
"There are different pathways by which bladder cancer evolves and it is thought that one of the major pathways involves alterations in the p53 gene," explained study author Margaret Karagas, PhD, who is a professor of community and family medicine of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School. "Bladder cancers stemming from these alternations are associated with more advanced disease."
"Ultimately, if it is true that selenium can prevent a certain subset of individuals, like women, from developing bladder cancer, or prevent certain types of tumors, such as those evolving through the p53 pathway, from developing, it gives us clues about how the tumors could be prevented in the future and potentially lead to chemopreventive efforts," Dr Karagas noted.
Dr Karagas is planning a larger study to further investigate the protective effect of selenium against bladder cancer in women and those with high risk disease.
Vitamin K supplementation improves insulin resistance in men
An article published in the November, 2008 issue of Diabetes Care revealed an association between improved insulin resistance and vitamin K supplementation in men. Resistance to the effects of insulin characterizes type 2 diabetes, and can also occur among those at risk of developing the disease.
In a randomized, double-blinded trial, researchers from Tufts University in Boston administered 500 micrograms vitamin K1 or a placebo daily for three years to 142 men and 213 women without diabetes. Plasma insulin, glucose and vitamin K1 levels, insulin resistance were assessed before the trial and at 6 and 36 months.
Although there was no association between vitamin K and insulin levels or insulin resistance observed in women by the end of the study, men who received the vitamin experienced a significant reduction in both. The authors suggest that the discrepancy between men and women to may be due to the increase in body fat that occurred among the women over the course of the three years, which may enhance storage of the fat-soluble vitamin, rendering it unavailable for peripheral organs. In the current study, women who had a greater body mass index were found to have lower levels of plasma vitamin K.
The authors propose that vitamin K could improve insulin sensitivity by suppressing inflammation. Vitamin K has been shown to lower induced inflammation in both cell culture and animal studies. Additionally, a recent observational study revealed a reduction in inflammatory markers associated with increased measures of vitamin K status.
The authors concluded that "Vitamin K supplementation for 36 months at doses attainable in the diet may reduce progression of insulin resistance in older men."
Wine boosts omega-3 levels
In an article published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, European researchers report that moderate intake of alcoholic beverages, particularly wine, is associated with an increase in plasma and red blood cell omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Wine intake has been associated with a reduction in heart disease, as has the intake of fish, whose high omega-3 fatty acid content is believed to be responsible for its benefits.
For the current research, Romina di Giuseppe, of the Research Laboratories at Catholic University of Campobasso, and her colleagues analyzed data from the IMMIDIET study of 1,604 adults living in England, Belgium, and Italy, which sought to obtain information concerning genetics and lifestyle in cardiovascular disease. Participants received medical examinations upon enrollment which included the administration of questionnaires concerning dietary and alcohol intake.
"Alcohol intake was associated with higher plasma and red blood cell concentrations of marine omega–3 fatty acids," the authors reported. Dr di Giuseppe observed that "Several studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption, including wine, is associated with protection against coronary heart disease and ischemic stroke. Although the mechanisms are not completely defined, there was some evidence that alcohol intake might influence the metabolism of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, as omega-3. That is exactly what we found in our population study. People drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, one drink a day for women and two for men, had higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells independently of their fish intake".
"The association was stronger between wine drinking and omega-3 fatty acids levels," noted coauthor Licia Iacoviello. "This suggests that components of wine other than alcohol is associated with omega-3 fatty acids concentration. We may guess this effect can be ascribed to polyphenols".
How broccoli works against breast cancer
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered a mechanism for indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, in combating breast cancer. The compound has been shown to halt the growth of breast and prostate cancer tumors in mice, and has been associated with the reduction of some types of cancer among individuals who include vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts in their diet.
In a study summarized online early in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California Berkeley professor molecular and cell biology Gary Firestone and colleagues demonstrated that I3C inhibits elastase, an enzyme that shortens a compound known as cyclin E, which, in turn, accelerates cancer cell proliferation. Increased elastase levels have been associated with decreased chemotherapy and endocrine therapy response, and lowered survival rates.
In earlier research conducted by the team, it was found that I3C disrupts the migration of cancer cells.
"We have connected the dots on one extremely important pathway" Dr Firestone announced. "I think one of the real uses of this compound and its derivatives is combining it with other kinds of therapies, such as tamoxifen for breast cancer and antiandrogens for prostate cancer. Humans have co-evolved with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, so this natural source has a lot fewer side effects."
"This is a major breakthrough in trying to understand what the specific targets of these natural products are," added coauthor Leonard Bjeldanes, who is a Berkeley professor of toxicology. "The field is awash with different results in various cells, but no real identification of a specific molecular target for these substances. The beauty of identifying the target like this is that it suggests further studies that could augment the activity of this type of molecule and really specify uses for specific cancers."
Improved behavior and screening responsible for cancer death decline
An article published in the Fall, 2008 issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives concludes that improved behavior and increased screening among Americans are major contributors to the 13 percent decline in cancer mortality from 1990 to 2004 recently announced by the National Cancer Institute. In a study that is the first to evaluate the reasons for the decline, David Cutler of Harvard University examined data for breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer, and uncovered three factors leading to improved cancer survival. The most important of these is cancer screening, such as mammography and colonoscopy, which can detect cancer at an early, treatable stage. Second in importance is improved personal behavior, including a reduction in smoking. Dr Cutler ranks improved treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as third in importance, and notes that their contribution comes at a high cost.
"Drugs that are quite expensive have been shown to extend life by only a few months among patients with metastatic cancer, which raises questions about the relative value of such costly treatments," Dr Cutler stated. "In contrast, while screening can be expensive, increased screening has led to significantly longer life expectancy for those diagnosed early with colorectal or breast cancer."
"We typically think of the war on cancer as developing a new cure," Dr Cutler remarked. "An equally important question is figuring out how we can take what we know and make it work for more people. We should think about the war as not just developing the next weapon, but using what we have in a smarter way. A health care system working for cancer would prevent people from getting it, catch it early, and then treat people accordingly. If our healthcare system was focused in this way, there could be a huge benefit."