25 August, 2008

Diet, Lifestyle Change Effect at Genetic Level

Dr. Dean Ornish, head of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, is a well-known author advocating lifestyle changes to improve health. Dr. Ornish is also affiliated with the University of California at San Francisco. He recently reported on the Gene Expression Modulation by Intervention with Nutrition and Lifestyle (GEMINAL) study. This study indicated that making positive changes in one's diet, exercise, and stress management can affect more than a person's weight. Dr. Ornish's study was published in the June 16, 2008 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study followed 30 men who had opted out of conventional treatment for low-risk prostate cancer. The men decided, before they were recruited to take part in the study, not to undergo treatments such as surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy normally advocated for the disease. The men were closely monitored for tumor progression through the duration of the study.

Instead, for three months, they made changes in their lifestyle: They ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products. They exercised moderately, walking for half an hour a day. Each day they spent an hour practicing stress management methods such as meditation. Additionally, the men participated in support group sessions.

As the study progressed, the men lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally saw improvements in their health. Previous studies gave evidence of lowered prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels with dietary changes.

Biopsies taken at the beginning and end of the study demonstrated some more significant changes. About 500 genes evidenced changes in activity at the end of the study. 48 disease preventing genes were turned on. 453 genes which promote disease, like breast and prostate cancers, were turned off.

Dr. Ornish expressed excitement over the results in a Reuters interview. The implications of this study go beyond men and prostate cancer. People are not doomed by their genetics. They can make positive changes fairly quickly. In three months, genetic changes can be made through the choices we make in food, exercise, and the way we handle stress.

This is an area of study that merits further investigation, the researchers concluded.






22 August, 2008

Omega 3 Fats Superior to Anti-Depressants During Pregnancy

The demands on a woman’s body during pregnancy often leave her feeling depleted, physically and emotionally. Depression is common among pregnant women. Concerns have been raised about possible harm from antidepressants which might affect both mother and child. Mothers-to-be and their health care providers often look for other choices than pharmaceuticals.

Researchers at China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan noted a possible reason why many women experience depression during pregnancy, reports Reuters Health ((http://in.reuters.com/article/health/id...) . Depression is often associated with lower levels of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

Dr. Kuan-Pin Su and colleagues presented their findings in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry ((http://www.psychiatrist.com/abstracts/a...). Dr. Su supplemented subjects’ diets with 3.4 grams Omega-3 each day. Control subjects received an olive oil derived placebo. At 6 and 8 week follow up testing, the Omega-3 receiving women scored lower on depression measuring scales than the placebo group. These scores indicated less depression. Two thirds of the women consuming the PUFAs showed significant improvement, the study said, compared with 27 per cent of the control group. Many became free from depression altogether.

The best news came when researchers noted the absence of negative effects on either mothers or their newborn babies. A few mothers experienced minor stomach upset the first few days while their systems got used to the new substances.

Many pregnant women are deficient in a variety of nutrients, including Omega-3 PUFAs. In an effort to provide for the baby’s needs, a woman may lose 3 percent of her brain mass during the last trimester. This loss is thought to be responsible for postpartum depression. The diminished supply of Omega-3 PUFAs can have far-reaching effects on both mother and baby beyond perinatal and postpartum depression. Deficiencies in these PUFAs can lead to pre-eclampsia, prematurity, and low birth weight babies.

The American Chronicle ((http://www.americanchronicle.com/articl...) reports that Omega-3s consumed during pregnancy are also beneficial for the baby. EPA and DHA, components of Omega-3 oils, make up nearly 70 percent of the developing baby’s brain, nervous system, and the retinal tissue of the eyes. The article summarizes findings presented in the American Journal of Epidemiology ((http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNe...) .

The need for these PUFAs, the article goes on to say, begins even before conception. Omega-3 oils are required to produce healthy and vigorous eggs and sperm.

The Chronicle article suggests salmon and fish oil as good sources for these essential Omega-3 oils. Yet, there are concerns about mercury contamination in fish, points out an article from Reuters Health ((http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNe...) . The solution recommended by the researchers: avoid farm raised fish and large long-lived fish like swordfish and tuna. They also call for lowering levels of environmental contamination with mercury. Over-all these researchers suggest that mothers-to-be should eat at least two servings a week of fish lower in mercury.

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods ((http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tnam...) Omega oils are best absorbed from whole foods. If you choose to use supplements: “remember that these oils are highly sensitive to damage from heat, light and oxygen. Choose a certified organic product that has been refrigerated and is packaged in a dark brown or green glass jar and be sure to store the product in your refrigerator or freezer.”

Nutrition Data ((http://www.nutritiondata.com/foods-0001...) gives a comprehensive list of food sources for Omega oils. Most of those listed at the top are concentrated oils, fats, and salad dressings, beginning with flax seed oil. Within the top ten, these concentrated oils begin to be interspersed among food sources:

* Whole flax seed appears first among the actual food sources with 22,813 milligrams per 100 grams –- far above the others.

* The next highest source from food: chia seeds with 17,552 milligrams per 100 grams.

* Foods following these include English walnuts (9,079) and butternuts (8,719). Black walnuts offer 2,006 and beechnuts contain 1700 milligrams per 100 grams. Toppings of nuts in syrup (2,420) and pecans (1031) are also on the chart.

* Surprisingly high on the list we find familiar spices like clove (4,279), oregano (4,180), marjoram (3,230), and tarragon (2,955). Other spices offering more than 1 gram in 100 grams of mass include: Spearmint (2,792); yellow mustard seed (2,680); basil (1509); saffron (1,248); sage (1,230); rosemary (1076), and bay leaf (1050). Of course, we do not use these in large quantities, but we see how they can add more than flavor to our meals.

* Fish are numerous at the top of this list. Among the fishes we first encounter caviar (6,789) and mackerel (5,134). Finally, at number 58, we come to Atlantic native red sockeye salmon with skin, which has received so much press, weighing in at 2,865 milligrams per hundred grams of fish. These are followed by another variety of mackerel (2,670), shad (2,649), wild Atlantic salmon (2,586; farmed - 2,260; canned - 1,480), herring (2,418 and kippered - 2,365), and sardines (1,480). Note that varieties and sources for the same species of fish can have widely differing amounts of nutrients.

* Among soy foods we find: tofu dried (2,024) and fried (1,346); roasted soybeans (1,694); soy flour (1,458); and raw soybeans (1,330).

* These are the stellar sources which offer more than one percent of their substance as Omega-3 oils. Many other foods are considered good sources, even with a lower density of the nutrient. The World’s Healthiest Foods recommends cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collard greens and Brussels sprouts as good sources in addition to many of those listed above.

Pregnancy is a good time to take extra special care of yourself, even if you fall short at other times. Indulge in the sheer delight of sampling the vast variety of nutrient dense foods. Your body –- and your baby –- will reap abundant benefits.

17 August, 2008

Increase in Organic Crops Would Help the World Food Supply

Over a year ago, researchers presented a solution for world hunger: a switch of even half of North America's and Europe's farming regions to organic methods could produce enough food to feed the current world's population. This shift has the added benefit of improving the environment. Talk about an amazing insight!

We, who have encouraged consumption of organics for years are not surprised by this revelation. Yet, who is listening? When will we see the shift made? Don't hold your breath.

An article in USA Today last May reported on the UN presentation. With all the concern over food shortages and world hunger, how far has anyone progressed on this initiative?

One study, by the University of Michigan, found that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day and as many as 4,381 kilocalories per person per day. The world's current farmers' production yields 2,786 kilocalories per person each day.

Of course, the other side of the coin, as we have seen in the Myanmar debacle, is the political powers-that-be. It is amazing how fingers point at this small country, but as we look at our own country's handling of natural disasters over the past several years, can we say that the politicians handled them in everyone's best interest?

I also have a hard time believing that such a small country contributes significantly enough to the world rice market that rice prices have quintupled in the past couple of months.

"World rice production in 2007 was approximately 645 million tons. At least 114 countries grow rice and more than 50 have an annual production of 100,000 tons or more. Asian farmers produce about 90% of the total, with two countries, China and India, growing more than half the total crop." (http://www.irri.org/science/ricestat/)

A chart of rice production by country from that same site shows Myanmar contributing only 4 percent of the production from Asia. Asia does indeed provide ninety percent of the world's rice. I imagine a good portion of rice is also consumed on that continent. The chart also shows that world wide production of rice has doubled in the last 35 years, ((http://www.irri.org/science/ricestat/pd...) .