Friday, July 30, 2010

Eating Nuts May Help Cholesterol Levels

By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- An analysis of studies has produced what its authors describe as a precise description of the beneficial effects of nut consumption on cholesterol and other heart-related fats.

It provides "the best evidence yet that eating nuts reduces LDL cholesterol and improves the blood lipids profile," said Dr. Joan Sabate, who chairs the nutrition department at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California and was a co-author of the report, published May 10 in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Sabate and fellow researchers at the university pooled data on 583 men and women who had participated in 25 nut consumption trials. The results showed that eating about 2.3 ounces of nuts a day -- a third of a cupful -- reduced total cholesterol levels by 5.1 percent and "bad" LDL cholesterol by 7.4 percent.

That amount of nut eating also improved the ratio of LDL cholesterol to "good" HDL cholesterol by 8.3 percent and caused a decrease of 10.2 percent in triglyceride levels among people with high levels of those blood fats.

Sabate is a leading figure in the somewhat limited field of nut nutrition. His first report on the beneficial effects, published in 1993, led to other studies that eventually prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a qualified health claim for nuts a decade later.

The 2003 FDA statement said that "scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

On food labels, that claim is followed by a caution: "See nutrition information for fat content."

The FDA statement was issued in response to a petition filed by the International Tree Nut Council Research and Education Foundation, which supports the work done by Sabate and other nut nutrition researchers. The foundation helped fund the latest report.

The new study found that the benefits from eating nuts was greatest among thin people, those with high LDL cholesterol and those consuming a fat-rich diet.

But enthusiasm for nuts should be restrained, Sabate said. They are highly caloric, and thus can contribute to obesity. A 3-ounce-a-day limit was recommended.

Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association who is in private practice in Sacramento, Calif., said that "nuts can be a very healthy addition to any diet," but she recommends eating somewhat less of them.

She said she suggests that her clients consume about an ounce a day of nuts -- about 22 walnuts, for example, providing about 150 calories -- as part of their daily diet. "They are rich in protein and dietary fiber as well as numerous proteins and in various vitamins," Gazzaniga-Moloo said.

"They should eat the nuts they enjoy," she said. "They can try a variety."

Sabata said that the type of nuts eaten doesn't seem to matter. The study found essentially the same results for walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias and pistachios.

"Nuts are a matrix of healthy nutrients, and the most obvious reason for the cholesterol-lowering effect is their unsaturated fat content," Sabate said. "Nuts also contain fiber, vegetable protein, phytoesterols and other antioxidants."

The best evidence for the beneficial effect of nuts, though, has come from studies of walnuts and almonds, he added.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Are you removing years from your life?

April 26, 2010 | 1:01 pm

From the Los Angeles Times:

You know that smoking is bad for your health. Ditto heavy drinking, a slovenly lifestyle or a preference for chili cheese fries over fruits and vegetables.

Epidemiologists have linked each of these behaviors to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. But few people engage in only one unhealthy habit. (C’mon, what are you more likely to be snacking on while parked on the couch watching three consecutive NBA playoff games – carrot sticks and bottled water, or chips, guacamole and beer?) So an international group of researchers – including USC cancer epidemiologist Dr. Giske Ursin – studied the effect of all four bad behaviors at once.

What defines “bad”? Smokers fill that bill, while nonsmokers and former smokers did not. Men who consumed more than 21 8-gram servings of alcohol and women who drank more than 14 servings of alcohol were considered to have poor drinking behavior. Anyone who got less than 120 minutes of exercise each week was defined as having poor physical activity, and bad diets were those that contained fewer than 3 fruits or vegetables each day.

After tracking nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years, the researchers were able to correlate these behaviors with risk of disease and death. (In case you were wondering, men and women, average age 43.7, were equally lazy, but men were more likely to smoke, drink to excess and skip the fruits and veggies.)

The researchers found that Britons who indulged in all four bad behaviors were 3.49 times more likely to die over the course of the study than their countrymen (and women) who practiced clean living. That included a 3.14 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease; a 3.35 times greater risk of death from cancer; and a 4.29 times greater risk of death form any other cause.

Overall, 96% of those with healthy behaviors were alive at the end of the study, compared with 85% of those with the worst health habits. “The increase in mortality risk from no to 4 poor health behavior was equivalent to an increase in chronological age of about 12 years,” the researchers wrote.

The study will appear in Tuesday’s edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

-- Karen Kaplan

Friday, July 16, 2010

Companies Developing Systems to Help the Blind See Again

From the Wall Street Journal

By Jonathan Matsey

While the phrase bionic retinas may conjure images of Steve Austin in “The Six Million Dollar Man” or Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” technology to create vision where none, or very little, exists, is not a television fantasy. Companies concentrating on damaged retinas look poised for success as the technology inches toward measurable achievement.

“We will be approved on the market in Europe this year,” said Bill Link, managing director at Versant Ventures, an investor in Second Sight Medical Products Inc.

Second Sight, based in Sylmar, Calif., is also looking at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration submission at the end of 2011, according to Link. The company has raised $16 million in venture capital.

Second Sight’s system uses a pair of glasses to send images to a receiver implanted on the retina. From there, the image is transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve. The device is targeted to patients who have lost most of their vision as a result of retinal degeneration and whose nerve connections are still intact.

A similar approach is being developed by Nano Retina Inc. of Herzliya Pituach, Israel, though Nano Retina aims for much greater visual clarity than Second Sight, it says. “We have a much higher resolution – about 1,000 pixels,” said Ra’anan Gefen, managing director of the company. “Second Sight is the most advanced (clinically) but on the other hand, it is really a limited device.”

According to Link, Second Sight’s first-generation device offers 16 pixels while a second-generation system will have 60. “They can read letters on a computer screen, they can tell light from dark, they can see a line on the ground,” said Link of people using Second Sight’s system.

Gefen, on the other hand, is more ambitious. “We will give them back vision so that they can see almost normally,” he said.

Gefen’s company was founded as a joint venture with nanotech company Zyvex Labs LLC of Richardson, Texas, and is backed by several million dollars from Rainbow Medical, an Israeli business accelerator, according to Rainbow Founding Partner Yossi Gross. Nano Retina is still a couple of years away from clinical studies, Gross said.

Costs for the two systems appear to be about the same. Link estimates Second Sight’s device will sell for $50,000 to $100,000 per system; Gefen says Nano Retina’s will cost around $60,000. Both companies said they expect much of that cost to be picked up by insurance companies. Link said his portfolio company is currently in discussion with potential payers.

Waiting in the wings is a third player – Optobionics Corp. – which had raised around $50 million from investors including Advanced Medical Optics Inc., Advanced Technology Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Medtronic Inc. and Polaris Venture Partners and had taken its device through Phase II trials before hitting a snag in fund-raising for Phase III trials.

“There was no appetite to put in another $100 million,” said Alan Chow, chief executive of Optobionics. As a result, his company entered bankruptcy in 2007, recently relaunching after Chow bought the technology.

Unlike the other two companies, Optobionics is pursuing a trickier and more costly approach: restoring function to the damaged retina by using the device to stimulate the rods and cones, rather than using the system as an adjunct to the retina.

Chow said he is looking into ways to continue financing the Phase III development although he said it might not be through venture financing.

Despite the lengthy development times and funding challenges, those involved with the companies say they are motivated by the importance of their work. “Everybody says that this is a very ambitious project, but everybody admits that there is a real need here,” said Gross.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arteries Age Twice as Fast in Smokers

By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- It's well-known that smoking is bad for the heart and other parts of the body, and researchers now have chronicled in detail one reason why -- because continual smoking causes progressive stiffening of the arteries.

In fact, smokers' arteries stiffen with age at about double the speed of those of nonsmokers, Japanese researchers have found.

Stiffer arteries are prone to blockages that can cause heart attacks, strokes and other problems.

"We've known that arteries become more stiff in time as one ages," said Dr. William B. Borden, a preventive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "This shows that smoking accelerates the process. But it also adds more information in terms of the role smoking plays as a cause of cardiovascular disease."

For the study, researchers at Tokyo Medical University measured the brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity, the speed with which blood pumped from the heart reaches the nearby brachial artery, the main blood vessel of the upper arm, and the faraway ankle. Blood moves slower through stiff arteries, so a bigger time difference means stiffer blood vessels.

Looking at more than 2,000 Japanese adults, the researchers found that the annual change in that velocity was greater in smokers than nonsmokers over the five to six years of the study.

Smokers' large- and medium-sized arteries stiffened at twice the rate of nonsmokers', according to the report released online April 26 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by the team from Tokyo and the University of Texas at Austin.

That's no big surprise, said Borden, noting there's definitely a dose-response relationship. "The more smoking, the more arterial stiffening there is per day."

The study authors measured stiffening by years, not by day, but the damaging effect of smoking was clear over the long run.

The finding gives doctors one more argument to use in their continuing effort to get smokers to quit, said Dr. David Vorchheimer, associate professor of medicine and cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"One of the challenges that physicians face when trying to get people to stop smoking is the argument, 'Well, I've been smoking for years and nothing has happened to me yet,'" Vorchheimer said. "What this study emphasizes is that the damage is cumulative. The fact that you've gotten away with it so far doesn't mean you'll get away with it forever."

The stiffening of arteries is "one of the earliest and most subtle changes that occur" in smokers' bodies, Vorchheimer said. "Some people's arteries can be safe for a few years. The good thing about that is the possibility that the damage will heal if you give up smoking."

Another notable aspect of the study was the analysis of the effect of smoking on C-reactive protein, a molecular marker of inflammation that appears to play a role in cardiovascular disease. The study found no relationship between blood levels of C-reactive protein and arterial stiffening.

That finding adds one more piece to the puzzle of C-reactive protein and cardiovascular disease that researchers are trying to assemble, Borden said. "We're still trying to understand the role of CRP, whether it's a cause or a marker of other factors that lead to cardiovascular disease," he said.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Grapes could reduce diabetes and heart disease

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent for the UK Telegraph
Published: 2:54PM BST 26 Apr 2010

The fruit lowered blood pressure, improved heart function and reduced other risk factors for heart disease and metabolic syndrome, it was claimed.

American researchers found this could be due to phytochemicals – naturally occurring antioxidants – that grapes contain.
Following animal tests, the research revealed a grape-enriched diet preventing risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a condition which is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Mixing a blend of green, red and black grapes into the diets of laboratory rats as part of a high-fat, American style diet, they were compared with a test group fed with a similar diet full of fat and sugars.

After three months, the rats that received the grape-enriched diet had lower blood pressure, better heart function, and reduced indicators of inflammation in the heart and the blood than rats who received no grape powder.

Rats also had lower triglycerides and improved glucose tolerance.

Heart surgeon Dr Steven Bolling said: "The possible reasoning behind the lessening of metabolic syndrome is that the phytochemicals were active in protecting the heart cells from the damaging effects of metabolic syndrome.

"In the rats, inflammation of the heart and heart function was maintained far better.

"Although there's not a particular direct correlation between this study and what humans should do, it's very interesting to postulate that a diet higher in phytochemical-rich fruits, such as grapes, may benefit humans."

Although he added those wanting to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes should follow some tried-and-true advice such as eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, maintain a desirable weight and exercise more.

The findings are published at the Experimental Biology convention in California.