Well, I usually choose my topic-of-the-week by which file is bulging the worst and this week is no exception. The medical file is just full of juicy stories about what ails us so off we go on another excursion in the wonderful world of medicine. We’ll start off with some things that are good for us.
GO FOR THE CURRY
Have you ever tried Indian food? Do you like curry? Well, it turns out that it’s good for you and you might want to eat some more of it. The spice turmeric is the main ingredient in curry powder and the active chemical in turmeric is curcumin. A recent study on curcumin by researchers at the Medical College of Georgia shows that it not only lowers your chances of getting cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but may reduce the size of a hemorrhagic stroke.
The researchers are using animal models to study curcumin’s effect on intracerebral hemorrhages, bleeding in the brain caused by ruptured vessels. Patients with this type of stroke are often treated for symptoms – such as headache and nausea – with medications, but not the stroke itself. Invasive surgery to remove the clot is usually needed, but many of the patients who suffer this kind of stroke are not good candidates for surgery. About 17 percent of all strokes are hemorrhagic, according to the American Stroke Association, and they usually occur in people with high blood pressure.
The researchers discovered that curcumin significantly decreased the size of a blood clot but they remain unsure about why it does so. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Timing is critical for patients who often don’t know they have had a stroke and may not be seen by a physician for several hours. Stroke victims experience symptoms like seizures, vision or cognitive problems but sometimes they ignore the symptoms. Head injuries can also cause hemorrhagic bleeding. But treating the victims can become tricky after an hour or so.
Patients likely will need to get curcumin intravenously. The researchers believe it may also help prevent strokes; they intend to pursue this line of study with the idea of also making it available in a concentrated tablet form for those at-risk.
So next time you eat out choose an Indian restaurant. Or learn to make dynamite curry at home!
And now, a new benefit from one of the oldest drugs in the pharmacopoeia
AN ASPIRIN A DAY
Although I take my daily aspirin, I’m one of those people who bleeds a little more freely because of it. I was actually thinking about asking my doctor if I really need to take it because it doesn’t appear to make much difference with heart attacks in women. But apparently the heart isn’t the whole story for this ancient drug.
Simple aspirin may prevent liver damage in millions of people suffering from side effects of common drugs, alcohol abuse, and obesity-related liver disease, a new Yale University study suggests. The study documents that in mice, aspirin reduced mortality caused by Tylenols overdoses. It further showed that molecules known as TLR antagonists, which block receptors known to activate inflammation, have a similar effect as aspirin.
Since these agents seem to work by reducing injury-induced inflammation, the results suggest aspirin may help prevent and treat liver damage from a host of non-infectious causes like drugs and alcohol.
Aspirin and the TLR antagonists apparently block a central pathway responsible for liver injury caused by these factors. Many promising drugs have failed their clinical trials because they were toxic to the liver and they just might work if they were combined with aspirin.
And even though I don’t do drugs or alcohol, a healthy liver just might be worth putting up with the “Where did all this blood come from?” episodes a little longer.
I do take my daily aspirin, but for years I’ve defied the “Eat a healthy breakfast every day” because I don’t like most breakfast foods like eggs and cereal. But what I have done every day for many years is eat a Golden Delicious apple for breakfast. And it turns out I may have had the right idea all along.
An Apple a Day
Six studies published in the past year by a Cornell researcher add to growing evidence that an apple a day — as well as daily helpings of other fruits and vegetables — can help keep the breast-cancer doctor away.
In one of his recent papers, Rui Hai Liu, Cornell associate professor of food science, reports that fresh apple extracts significantly inhibited the size of mammary tumors in rats; and the more extracts they were given, the greater the inhibition.
“We not only observed that the treated animals had fewer tumors, but the tumors were smaller, less malignant and grew more slowly compared with the tumors in the untreated rats,” said Liu, pointing out that the study confirmed the findings of his preliminary study in rats published in 2007.
In his latest study, he found that a type of adenocarcinoma — a highly malignant tumor and the main cause of death of breast-cancer patients, as well as of animals with mammary cancer — was evident in 81 percent of tumors in the control animals. However, it developed in only 57 percent, 50 percent and 23 percent of the rats fed low, middle and high doses of apple extracts.
Liu found that phytochemicals (active chemicals produced by plants) called phenolics were the agents that were involved. Phenolics are mainly found in apple peel, so if you routinely peel your apples before eating them, you don’t get the benefits. Liu found that apples provide 33% of the phenolics that Americans consume annually.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed invasive cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States. Liu said that his studies add to the growing evidence that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, including apples, would provide consumers with more phenolics, which are proving to have important health benefits. He encourages consumers to eat more and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
I certainly agree with him about the fruits and vegetables, but I did find one thing rather disconcerting about his study. The breast cancer developed in only 57 percent, 50 percent and 23 percent of the rats fed low, middle and high doses of apple extracts. These low, middle and high doses were the equivalent of one, three and six apples a day in humans. I like apples, but I’m not sure I’m ready to eat six a day!
Americans get about 33 percent of phenolics from apples. This chart from one of Liu’s recent papers shows the percentage of phenolics (phytochemicals) that Americans get from various fruits. (Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University)
Well, we’ve had three positive stories that tell you to eat more curry, eat more apples and take your medicine. Now we’ll end on something that research says you should do less of.
EAT LESS MEAT
A new study has shown that people who eat more red meat and processed meat appear to have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes and also from cancer or heart disease over a 10-year period, according to a new article. In contrast, a higher intake of white meat appeared to be associated with a slightly decreased risk for overall death and cancer death.
Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D., and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md., assessed the association between meat intake and risk of death among more than 500,000 individuals who were part of the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants, who were between 50 and 71 years old when the study began in 1995, provided demographic information and completed a food frequency questionnaire to estimate their intake of white, red and processed meats. They were then followed for 10 years through Social Security Administration Death Master File and National Death Index databases.
During the follow-up period, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died. The one-fifth of men and women who ate the most red meat had a higher risk for overall death, death from heart disease and death from cancer than the one-fifth of men and women who ate the least red meat, as did the one-fifth of men and women who ate the most vs. the least amount of processed meat.
When comparing the one-fifth of participants who ate the most white meat to the one-fifth who ate the least white meat, those with high white meat intake had a slightly lower risk for total death, death from cancer and death from causes other than heart disease or cancer. The researchers say that 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could have been prevented if the people had decreased their red meat consumption.
So why would eating meat cause you to die early? There are several reasons. Cancer-causing compounds are formed during high-temperature cooking of meat. Meat also is a major source of saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer. In addition, lower meat intake has been linked to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Individuals who eat more red meat and processed meat appear to have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes and also from cancer or heart disease over a 10-year period, according to a new article. (Credit: iStockphoto/Ron Bailey)
Eat more, eat less. Just work at what keeps you healthy and you’ll live a lot longer.