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Health Headlines - August 18

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Off-hours hospital visit delays heart treatment

Patients who've suffered a heart attack and visit the hospital during off-hours do not receive angioplasty, a common blood-vessel opening procedure, as quickly as those who show up during regular hours, new research shows. This is particularly concerning since most patients do come during off-hours.

Eating fruits and vegetables may cut arthritis risk

Drinking a glass of orange juice a day may help stave off arthritis, new research suggests. Certain carotenoids, compounds commonly found in some fruits and vegetables, appear to be responsible.

The findings from previous studies have suggested that dietary carotenoids, the chemicals responsible for the orange and yellow coloring of fruits and vegetables, can reduce inflammation through antioxidant effects.

Dr. Alan J. Silman, from The University of Manchester in the UK, and colleagues analyzed data from a study of more than 25,000 subjects to investigate the association between dietary carotenoids and arthritis risk. Between 1993 and 2001, the subjects were followed to assess the occurrence of arthritis affecting multiple joints.

The researchers' findings appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Eighty-eight subjects developed arthritis during follow-up and they were matched to 176 healthy comparison subjects.

Average daily intakes of the carotenoids beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin were 40 and 20 percent lower, respectively, for arthritis patients compared with healthy subjects. By contrast, consumption of two other well-known carotenoids, lutein and lycopene, did not seem to protect against arthritis.

Further analysis showed that subjects with the highest beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin intake were about half as likely to develop inflammatory polyarthritis than those with the lowest intake.

"These data add to a growing body of evidence that some dietary antioxidants, such as the carotenoids beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin as well as vitamin C, may be protective against the development of" arthritis, the authors conclude.

Chickenpox vaccine lowers need for hospital care

There has been a marked drop in chickenpox-related hospitalizations, office visits and related expenditures since a routine chickenpox vaccination program was started in the US in 1995, new research shows.

Anemia Raises Heart Failure Risks

Heart failure patients with anemia are at increased risk of dangerous complications and death, according to a new study.

Brain Protein Influences Weight Gain

A weight control protein called SH2-B that helps the brain monitor body fat may help scientists develop new treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes, researchers report.

How Garlic Works Its Cardiovascular Magic

The way in which garlic inflicts gastric pain may also be the way it confers cardiovascular benefits, a new study suggests.

The finding, reported in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is preliminary, however, and far from convincing for some experts.

"It's a possible mechanism for cardiovascular benefit from garlic, but they're a long way off from tying the two together," said Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "They didn't do anything that convinced me that they've discovered the mechanism."

"It's still in the realm of very basic research," added Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health in New York City. "Whether or not it's going to have any real impact in terms of human health, it's much too early to say."

If the study is confirmed and replicated by other researchers, however, "it may provide a role for future pharmaceuticals," Kava added.

Garlic, along with onion, leek, chives and shallots, belongs to the plant genus Allium, and is known for its pungency and spiciness.

According to the study, these plants have been used for centuries to treat hypertension, high cholesterol and blood clots.

Garlic, in particular, has been tentatively linked to a variety of beneficial health effects, from reducing blood pressure and cholesterol to treating cancer.

"Garlic lowers your blood pressure, sometimes lowers your cholesterol, sometimes relaxes your arteries," Vinson said. "I say sometimes because not every study showed this."

But garlic has darker side effects, namely skin irritation and swelling of the legs.

Study co-author David Julius, a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, has been interested in this darker side, studying how plants produce pain as a way to figure out how our sensory neurons detect painful stimuli.

For example, capsaicin in chili peppers causes an intense burning pain by activating specific neurons. Julius has discovered that capsaicin acts specifically on a cellular ion channel belonging to the TRP channel family.

Once activated, this channel lets sodium and calcium ions enter cells. This sends distress messages to the spinal cord, and then on to the pain centers of the brain.

Wasabi and mustard oil work in a similar way, generating pain and inflammation via TRPA1, another member of the TRP family.

"It's kind of a shared molecular mechanism where plants have developed all these interesting and, in some cases, potent defenses that probably serve a plant well because they act as anti-predatory mechanisms to tell squirrels and rats and other organisms that haven't learned how to cook with these to 'stay away, you don't want to eat this,'" Julius explained.

And garlic apparently works the same way.

In this study, Julius and his co-authors showed that a molecule in garlic called allicin stimulated sensory pain neurons in rats by activating the TRPA1 channel.

"Allicin was already known to be the main pungent ingredient in garlic," Julius said. "Consistent with this, we showed that allicin is, indeed, an activator of TRPA1."

The neurons released neurotransmitters in the spinal cord to generate pain signals, and released neuropeptides at the site of sensory nerve activation (meaning the skin, lips etc.), which resulted in vasodilation -- a healthy enlargement of blood vessels -- as well as inflammation.

These were test tube experiments only, however, and the work needs to be replicated in animals and humans.

"This is possible good news about garlic, but it's not related directly to the heart," Vinson said. "It's not getting me convinced that I should be taking garlic personally."

Food Fact:

Juicy, red watermelon is not only delicious, it may help men avoid prostate cancer. As long as you spit out the seeds, watermelon is the biggest supplier among fresh fruits and vegetables in the antioxidant lycopene, which is believed to play a big role in the prevention of the killer disease. Antioxidants such as lycopene work in your body by disarming free oxygen radicals, which are thought to contribute to the development of many cancers. A 2-cup serving of watermelon contains 15 - 20 milligrams of this vital plant pigment. Other sources include tomatoes, red grapefruits and guavas.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Food for thought.

If weight loss is part of your plan, you've got good reasons to watch your portions. Don't deny yourself your favorite foods, but don't go overboard, either. Keep track of what you eat and each day focus on small successes. They can add up to a new you, and a lifetime of feeling better about yourself and your weight.

FAQ of the day:
Do I need fiber in my diet?

While psyllium-based supplements can help relieve constipation, and have been shown to reduce high blood cholesterol, dietary changes have the same benefits. Better yet, if you get your fiber from whole foods -- whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- you'll get hundreds of health-protective compounds that your fiber supplement won't provide.
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