Egged on by massive food-industry marketing budgets, Americans eat a lot of sugary foods. We know the habit is quite probably wrecking our bodies, triggering high rates of overweight and diabetes. Is it also wrecking our brains?
That’s the disturbing conclusion emerging in a body of research linking Alzheimer’s disease to insulin resistance—which is in turn linked to excess sweetener consumption. A blockbuster story in the Sept. 3 issue of the UK magazine The New Scientist teases out the connections.
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Older adults who drink coffee have a lower risk of death by about 10 percent, according to a large observational study of over 400,000 people published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which followed participants aged 50 to 71 during a 14-year window, examined common causes of death, including heart and respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections. For each life-ending ailment, coffee drinking correlated with lower risk of death in both men and women, with cancer being the only condition that showed no correlation in women and a slight increase in risk of death for men who are heavy coffee drinkers.
However, while it would be easy to draw the conclusion that drinking coffee helps you live longer, the raw data from the study actually shows coffee drinkers die younger. Why? Because a number of bad habits and detriments to longevity are associated with coffee drinking, likely negating any benefits from coffee itself.
The study was conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute and funded by the NIH and AARP as part of a diet and health study in older Americans (unfortunately, the full article is behind a paywall, but you can access the abstract here). The data were collected via a baseline questionnaire that gauged demographic and lifestyle characteristics along with diet, then monitored until they died or the study ended.
When the data were first analyzed, coffee consumption was associated with an increase in the mortality of both men and women. To arrive at the result that coffee drinking may lower the risk of death, the researchers accounted for particularly damaging vices that coffee drinkers are more prone to engage in, such as smoking. It was only after accounting for the statistical contribution that smoking adds to increasing the rate of mortality did they arrive at the result that coffee drinkers have increased longevity.
A quote from the study indicates the bad habits that coffee drinkers are guilty of:
As compared with persons who did not drink coffee, coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke cigarettes and consume more than three alcoholic drinks per day, and they consumed more red meat. Coffee drinkers also tended to have a lower level of education; were less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity; and reported lower levels of consumption of fruits, vegetables, and white meat.
With over 170 million Americans drinking coffee and over 1 billion coffee drinkers worldwide (coffee is the second largest commodity in the world, after all), the effects of coffee on health have been researched and disputed for a long time. Previous studies have shown that coffee has multiple benefits that can fight depression, prevent diabetes, protect against liver fibrosis, and even help fight cancer, but the scope of this most recent study helps to take a much broader view of its benefits, even taking into account the known problems with observational studies. Although this study shifts the tug-of-war between the health benefits and risks of coffee back toward the healthy side, the particularly damning observation that the health benefits of coffee are negated by a slew of poor lifestyle choices is a lesson for both coffee and non-coffee drinkers alike.
But ultimately the issue of this study is, if coffee is preventative medicine, drink it up. If it’s poison, everyone should avoid it. Simple, right? Well, not exactly.
The question of whether coffee is good or bad for you is inherently a complex one. The process of roasting coffee produces over 1,000 compounds — some of which are antioxidants, while about 19 are known rodent carcinogens. These compounds create the taste and aromatic richness associated with different roasts. But the fact remains that the vast majority of these compounds have not been tested individually for their health effects and likely won’t be for a long time to come.
Furthermore, the study suffers from another longstanding problem from large-scale statistical analyses, which the authors admitted: correlation does not mean causation. In other words, it is impossible to tell whether coffee itself directly contributed to extending the lifetimes of drinkers or if coffee drinking is part of a lifestyle of people who tend to live longer.
But coffee drinkers in general can help their longevity through some simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking (in case you haven’t heard that before) and joining the 35 percent of coffee drinkers who take it black, which eliminates the milk and sugar both of which are detrimental if you’re drinking 4-5 cups a day.
This study illustrates just how tricky it is to fish out all the lifestyle factors that impact health. But in the end, one thing is clear: coffee’s reputation isn’t as black as previously labeled.
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Goodness, the legal drug-makers have been busy! This week the Associated Press revealed that in 2010, US pharmacies dispensed the equivalent of 69 tons of pure oxycodone (used as ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan) and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone (used in Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab). That’s enough to give forty 5-milligram Percocets and twenty-four 5-milligram Vicodins to every single person in the United States.
The production and sale of both drugs has increased tremendously over the past decade; in some locations, sales have increased by 1,500 percent. Distribution is particularly high in Appalachia, the Midwest—particularly suburbia—and the Southwest.
Why the increase? Our poor diets and inactive lifestyles increase inflammation and pain. Older people are especially vulnerable in this regard. And doctors are increasingly willing to treat pain with drugs. Sales are also being driven by addiction, as users become physically dependent on painkillers and begin “doctor shopping” to keep the prescriptions coming.
As with all opiates, oxycodone and hydrocodone bind to opiate receptors in the brain, blocking not only pain signals but any negative emotions like stress or anxiety. The euphoria associated with early use fades relatively quickly as tolerance builds. The pain-managing efficacy will also be reduced as tolerance builds—which is why these drugs should not be used for long-term or chronic pain. If users take the drug for longer than prescribed, or in higher doses, it is likely that they will become addicted.
Addicts die from drug overdoses at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Opioid pain relievers like oxycodone and hydrocodone caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008. Addiction is also responsible for the alarming rise in pharmacy robberies nationwide.
The epidemic is not likely to abate soon. The explosion of pain management clinics in Florida, dubbed “pill mills,” prompted the state legislature to close a loophole that had allowed physicians to fill oxycodone prescriptions on the spot. Authorities say a half-billion doses of the drug and its generic equivalents were distributed in the state during 2009 alone. An unknown number wound up in the hands of “patients” who had come from out of state to have prescriptions filled by multiple pill mills, before driving home to resell the pills on the black market.
According to Gene Haislip, who for seventeen years was head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control, the DEA’s policy of allowing increases in the production of these drugs in the face of widespread illegal and non-medical use shows a “serious lack of accountability and oversight”:
The DEA is the lone federal agency with the power to decide how much of the drug gets made and put out there; it alone has had all the responsibility to do something about this problem. The way I did it for seventeen years, which was basically the way it had always been done even before the DEA was the DEA, is that when a significant diversion problem occurred, the quota increase requests would come under greater scrutiny. With Oxy, there has been a significant diversion problem since the late 1990s, so the requests should have come under greater scrutiny.
That apparently didn’t happen, Haislip says. Instead, the DEA has rubber-stamped Big Pharma’s requests to increase oxycodone production. And why is that? Political influence, plain and simple.
As Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, pointed out in her 2004 book The Truth about the Drug Companies, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) employs more lobbyists in Washington than there are members of Congress. Since 2007, the group has spent more than $20 million annually on lobbying in Washington to see that its interests are protected. Haislip says DEA won’t block a company’s requested quota increase “if that company is supporting members of Congress who have the power to block the agency’s funding.”
Then there’s the revolving door between the Office of Diversion Control and drug manufacturers or consulting firms that work with both industry and DEA. People working in the Office of Diversion Control know they might get lucrative work with drug companies upon retirement, and this constitutes a huge conflict of interest that prevents DEA officials from doing their duty. They certainly aren’t going to offer an opinion or do something that’s going to cut off their future prospects.
Contrast the “hands-off” approach dealing with incredibly addictive narcotics with the aggressive disapproval of perfectly safe supplements like DHEA. DHEA, which is short for dehydroepiandrosterone, is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the gonads, and the brain. DHEA is the most abundant circulating steroid hormone in humans and is sometimes referred to as the mother hormone since other hormones can be made from it. In its supplement form, DHEA is used for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, weight loss, decreasing the symptoms of menopause, and boosting the immune system.
As we reported last October, DHEA supplementation also helps create improvements in muscle strength and bone mineral density with a reduction in body fat mass. And there is substantial support for its effectiveness in fighting adrenal insufficiency, hypopituitarism, general osteoporosis, systemic lupus, depression, schizophrenia, and balancing the overproduction of cortisol produced by excessive stress. Too much cortisol ages us rapidly; a little extra DHEA can make all the difference.
There are a number of different forms of DHEA. 5-DHEA is the form most commonly sold on the market and used for aging, depression, obesity, cardiovascular risk, and adrenal insufficiency. However, it can result in an increased production of male hormones, which may be positive or negative depending on various factors. For example, some aging males convert extra testosterone to estrogen, a process called aromatization, and too much in women can cause unwanted hair growth. For men with prostate troubles, 1-DHEA might be a better choice (no estrogenicity and decreased androgenicity), while 19Nor-DHEA might be better for women (little estrogenicity and anti-androgenic metabolites). But these little-known forms of DHEA are especially vulnerable to being lumped together with dangerous drugs and banned—simply because they are not well known.
DHEA has had a fifteen-year record of complete safety. Despite this, FDA and certain members of Congress keep trying to regulate it as a controlled substance, specifically as an anabolic steroid, even when used in dietary supplements.
Currently DHEA could be classified as an illegal anabolic steroid if the DEA were to present evidence that it meets all eight requirements under the Anabolic Steroids/Controlled Substances law. As the DEA has not yet put DHEA on the list, they clearly either don’t think it fits or hesitate for other reasons. Legislation was introduced a few years ago to add DHEA to the DEA’s controlled substances list, even though DEA already had the power to put it on the list if they met the burden of proof.
No deaths from DHEA. No addictions. No shameful deals between the manufacturer and federal agencies. No organized crime because of DHEA in America’s heartland. And yet DHEA is under attack, while big Pharma keeps churning out dangerous opiates by the ton.
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Osteoporosis is not caused by a lack of limestone, oyster shell or bone meal. Heart attack, however, may be caused by supplementation with these exact same “elemental” forms of calcium, according to two meta-analyses published last year in the British Medical Journal.
Back in July of 2011, the British Medical Journal published the results of a high-powered meta-analysis which looked at whether or not calcium supplementation had any effect on cardiovascular disease risk. Indeed, this groundbreaking report, which was based on the results of five clinical trials conducted in the US, Britain and New Zealand, involving over 8,000 people, showed that taking elemental calcium supplements of 500 mg or more increased the relative risk of heart attack by 27%.
Though the study made international headlines at the time, critics soon took issue with the fact that it involved calcium supplementation without co-administered vitamin D. However, in April of that same year, another meta-analysis published in the same journal showed that even with co-administered D elemental calcium increased the risk of heart attack by 24%, and in addition, the composite of heart attack and stroke by 15% — in essence, putting those doubts to rest.
The idea that calcium supplementation may be toxic to cardiovascular health is not new, as many in the field of nutrition have long warned against supplementation with elemental calcium; which is to say, calcium from limestone, oyster shell, egg shell and bone meal (hydroxylapatite). Despite the growing popularity of elemental calcium supplementation, largely reinforced by conventional health “experts” and organizations like the National Osteoporosis Foundation (whose corporate sponsors include calcium manufacturers like Oscal, and Citrical), the habit simply does not make sense. After all, have you ever experienced visceral disgust after accidentally consuming eggshell? If you have, you know your body is “hard-wired” to reject low-quality calcium sources (stones and bones as it were), in favor of getting calcium from food.
Inorganic or “elemental” calcium, when not bound to the natural co-factors, e.g. amino acids, lipids and glyconutrients, found in “food” (which is to say other living beings, e.g. plants and animals), no longer has the intelligent delivery system that enables the body to utilize it in a biologically appropriate manner. Lacking this “delivery system,” the calcium may end up going to places we do not want (ectopic calcification), or go to places we do want (e.g. the bones), but excessively, stimulating unnaturally accelerated cell-division (osteoblasts), resulting in higher bone turn over rates later in life (this is explained in the article below). Or, the body attempts to disburden itself of this inappropriate calcium and keeps it cordained off in the bowel (constipation), or pushes it through the kidneys (stones). Worse, high levels of calcium can ensue in the blood (hypercalcemia), which can contribute to destabilizing the atherosclerotic plaque through the formation of a brittle calcium cap on the atheroma, can contribute to thrombosis (clot) formation, hypertension (that’s why we use calcium channel blockers to lower blood pressure), and perhaps causing arrhythmias/fibrillation and or heart muscle cramping (a rather common, though rarely recognized cause of ‘heart attack’).
The breasts too are uniquely susceptible to calcification, which is why we use the same x-rays to ascertain bone density that we do to discern pathological microcalcifications in the breast, i.e. x-ray mammography. Due to the fact that the hydroxyapatitate crystals found in malignant breast cancer may act as a cellular ‘signaling molecule’ or mitogen (inducing cell proliferation) it is possible that certain breast calcifications may be a cause, and not just an effect, of the tumorous lesions found there. This may also help to explain why women with the highest bone density (often obtained through massive, lifelong calcium supplementation) have up to 300% higher incidence of malignant breast cancer.
“Brain gravel” is also an increasingly prevalent phenomenon, where autoposied patients have been found to have pebble-size calcium deposits distributed throughout their brains, including the pineal gland (‘the seat of the soul’). The wide range of existing calcium-associateted pathologies, and their increasing prevalence in calcium-fixated cultures, demand further investigation and explanation. Could one aspect be our cultural fixation on mega-dose calcium supplementation?
To learn more, read “How Too Much Calcium & Over-Medication Can Break Your Bones”
Wed, 04 Jan 2012 11:00 CST
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Sodium lauryl sulfate is an effective degreaser used to clean oil stains from the floor of my mechanic’s repair shop; what’s it doing in my toothpaste and my daughter’s bubble bath? And, why is the long-known carcinogen nitrosamine, banned in Canada and the European Union, still a common ingredient in my mascara, concealer, sunless tanning lotion and baby shampoo?
The simple answer is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still doesn’t bother to regulate anything it dismisses as cosmetics — any products used topically — despite the growing science showing how easily poisons and pollutants can be absorbed through the skin. Since the 1930s, the only thing the FDA regulates is the accuracy of the labeling on cosmetics.
As long as manufacturers list in gory detail the witches’ brew of industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and toxic substances they blend into your eye cream or face wash, they are free to dump whatever they want into your epidermis.
As consumers, we are left to defend ourselves armed only with unintelligible ingredient labels and confusing news reports about what parts per billion of something can cause cancer or Alzheimer’s. Americans are taking their bodies on a magical mystery tour full of chemicals and heavy metal toxins by way of basic grooming habits.
Just a little Googling reveals that every day we are exposed through personal care products to more than 10,000 nasty chemicals banned elsewhere in the world. Everything from lip balm to hand lotion is filled with stuff we wouldn’t dream of putting in our stomachs. Instead, we eagerly spread it over the largest organ of the body — ensuring effective absorption and exposure to a daily dose of illness-inducing and cancer-causing garbage. The american medicine cabinet has become a virtual love canal of hidden industrial waste that wouldn’t be allowed anywhere else.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency requires workers to wear protective gloves, clothing, and goggles when handling chemicals like Diazolidinyl Urea and Propylene Glycol when they manufacture your favorite antiperspirant. The EPA warns workers against skin contact with these chemicals because they are known to cause brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities — in concentrations lower than those found in off-the-shelf stick deodorants. By contrast, you are not even given a fair warning by the deodorant industry as it encourages you to apply these very same poisons to your naked underarms every morning.
Okay, so according to Washington it’s every woman for herself, but ever try to read the ingredients of your shampoo? I mean the ingredients that are actually listed? Good luck even pronouncing isobutylparaben. And if “fragrance” is involved you’ll never actually get the straight story. Fragrance is protected as a trade secret and up to 200 suspect ingredients can be buried in there with no call-out.
In a recent Congressional hearing the head of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Stephen Sundlof, waved the white flag when he said, “The law as it is currently written allows virtually anything to be incorporated into a cosmetic.” This lack of oversight means that consumers actually know very little about what makes up their make-up. And there is little rigor to the enforcement of existing policies: only nine out of tens of thousands of chemicals have been banned in the U.S., compared to 11,000 so far in the E.U.. Even more alarming is the fact that only 11 percent of ingredients used by Americans in personal care products have even been reviewed for safety — by anyone.
So, what have the Europeans and Canadians figured out that we have not? For one, their governments don’t rely on a voluntary reporting system to monitor product safety. Incidents — from adverse reactions to longitudinal health surveys — are made public by law. Under decades-old U.S. law, cosmetics companies are not required to publicly submit information on the safety of their products so, surprise, they don’t. And the toothless FDA relies almost solely on the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the industry’s self-policing safety panel, for its product safety data. European regulators do their own safety research and reporting.
While the poets may consider your body a wonderland, the truth is it’s more likely a wasteland of built-up toxins that would earn perpetrators federal jail time if they dumped it into any canal other than the alimentary.
What we need is a green movement for the human body. Improving consumer protections against “body dumping” must start with the FDA. Fortunately, even with a regulation-averse Congress, much of the FDA’s powers are interpreted internally. There are numerous administrative steps the FDA can take without Congress butting in — if it so motivated by public alarm. You can contact your regional FDA office and make some noise. Several good organizations under the banner of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics — including the Environmental Working Group and Health Care Without Harm — have been banging the drum in Washington, but they need our help to be effective.
It seems our city sewers have more protections than we do. As a creative alternative, perhaps we could declare ourselves micro-dumps and ask for protections under the EPA. Or we might seek relief from broader protections granted to us under the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA). Hazmat-clad technicians could scan our ditty bags for offending lipstick and hand creams.
One has to wonder if all this would be different if men wore makeup and a tad more product in their hair.
Source: The Huffington Post, Estelle Hayes is a Silicon Valley journalist and blogger.
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SLU scientist says findings could re-frame how to fight aging
A compound which acts in the opposite way as growth hormone can reverse some of the signs of aging, a research team that includes a Saint Louis University physician has shown. The finding may be counter-intuitive to some older adults who take growth hormone, thinking it will help revitalize them.
Their research was published in the Dec. 6 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings are significant, says John E. Morley, M.D., study co-investigator and director of the divisions of geriatric medicine and endocrinology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, because people sometimes take growth hormone, believing it will be the fountain of youth.
“Many older people have been taking growth hormone to rejuvenate themselves,” Morley said. “These results strongly suggest that growth hormone, when given to middle aged and older people, may be hazardous.”
The scientists studied the compound MZ-5-156, a “growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) antagonist.” They conducted their research in the SAMP8 mouse model, a strain engineered for studies of the aging process. Overall, the researchers found that MZ-5-156 had positive effects on oxidative stress in the brain, improving cognition, telomerase activity (the actions of an enzyme which protects DNA material) and life span, while decreasing tumor activity.
MZ-5-156, like many GHRH antagonists, inhibited several human cancers, including prostate, breast, brain and lung cancers. It also had positive effects on learning, and is linked to improvements in short-term memory. The antioxidant actions led to less oxidative stress, reversing cognitive impairment in the aging mouse.
William A. Banks, M.D., lead study author and professor of internal medicine and geriatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said the results lead the team “to determine that antagonists of growth hormone-releasing hormone have beneficial effects on aging.”
The study team included as its corresponding author Andrew V. Schally, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the department of pathology and division of hematology/oncology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.