Fish Oils Fail To Stave Off Mental Decline

Dietary supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids did not prevent cognitive decline in older individuals according to a study which reviewed the subject in the online magazine MedPage, a publication of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  By the year 2040, more than 80 million people will be affected with dementia. There has been increasing interest in identifying dietary factors that could help diminish these numbers.

The study was performed by Emma Sydenham, MSc of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in response to some previous observational studies that suggested that consuming high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline with aging. Some evidence does exist that fatty acids play an important role in brain health through the maintenance of neuronal functioning while acting as mediators of inflammation and oxidative stress.

Sydenham and associates looked back at three major studies designed primarily to assess the efficacy of Omega-3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease.  Cognitive function was assessed by various methods in all three well-designed studies.  All three studies indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids played no role in preventing cognitive decline.

Sydenham’s team suggested that more research is needed in this area. I believe this study emphasizes the wisdom of eating a balanced diet prepared in a way to retain the nutrients – inclusive of several portions of cold water fleshy fish per week.

In general, if you provide your body with the nutrients it needs by consuming appropriately prepared healthy portions, your body will extract what it needs.

Dark Chocolate: Cardiovascular Prevention

A study from Australia predicts that if 10,000 men with big bellies and the “metabolic syndrome” (abdominal obesity, diabetes, hyperlipidemia , hypertension)  ate 100 grams of  dark chocolate daily, it would prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal heart attacks per year.  The total yearly cost of the chocolate is less than $50 per patient.   Recent studies have shown that dark chocolate can reduce high blood pressure and lower lipids.  This study was based on a model that predicted the effects of dark chocolate lasting for 10 years when, in fact, true research studies have not lasted that long.

This is a promising avenue of research involving a food substance that most of us enjoy.  For my patients, almost any food in moderation produces success.

Drinking Coffee, Lower Mortality

Over the years, the consumption of coffee and its relationship to your health has been controversial.  In my medical school, internship, and training years in the late 1970‘s, it was thought that consuming more than five caffeinated beverages per day was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. That relationship has since been disproved.

The May 17th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published a study on coffee drinking that will certainly make coffee drinkers more comfortable with a consuming a “cup of Joe.” They looked at a National Institute of Health – AARP study that began 1995 and includes almost 230,000 men and 173,000 women. They found that coffee drinking was associated with many negative behaviors including cigarette smoking, less exercise, eating more red meat, and eating less fresh fruits and vegetables.  Upon initially looking at the data, coffee drinking was associated with an increased mortality. However, when researches removed the negative behaviors from the data, and looked at the people who drank coffee but didn’t smoke and exercised; they found a significant drop in the mortality of coffee drinkers. Over 13 years, men who drank 4-5 cups of coffee per day had a risk reduction of 12% while women had a risk reduction of 16%.

The risk reduction was considered “modest” by Neal Freedman, PhD of the National Cancer Institute.  Lona Sandon, RD (registered dietitian) of the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said, “Based on this study alone I would not tell people to start drinking more coffee to lower their risk of death.”   She felt individuals should “stop smoking, be more physically active, and eat fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats…. A little coffee doesn’t appear to hurt.”  Cheryl Williams, RD, of Emory Heart and Vascular Center in Atlanta commented that “if you are not a coffee drinker, this study is not a good enough reason to start.”

The study seemed to show that with consumption of 4-5 cups of coffee per day your risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections decreased. Coffee consumption did not appear to protect against cancer-related deaths. The design of the study does not allow us the luxury of saying drinking coffee is the “cause” of an “effect” of lowered overall mortality, but does certainly hint at it.

What is clear is that coffee drinking does not appear to have an adverse effect on already healthy lifestyles, but will not protect an individual from the detrimental effects of smoking, poor dietary choices and inactivity.

Soda – Does it Cause Asthma and COPD?

With the USA dealing with a youth epidemic of obesity we have been educated as to the large amount of sugar and calories we get from drinking a can of  carbonated soda pop or pouring a glass of soda.   Vending machines for soda as well as fountain service have been removed from schools and school cafeterias in an effort to stop the youth intake of cheap inefficient calories.  Nobody criticizes the occasional use of soda pop in moderation but the continued use at 250-500 calories per 8 ounce serving will cause anyone to gain weight easily.

We now have another disease entity to think about. Australian researchers, in a pulmonary journal named  Respirology, have published the results of a “cross sectional study” that seems to link drinking at least a half liter of soda per day with the development of asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease.   By design, cross sectional studies will not show that drinking a half liter of soda a day is a cause of asthma or COPD, but it certainly can establish a relationship.

US researchers looking at the preliminary data seem to feel that individuals who consume that much soda a day probably have a poor overall diet and pay poor attention to their overall health putting themselves at risk for many types of diseases.  Additional research is needed on the subject but the message is clear, keep your soda intake to occasional use at moderate levels until more is known.

Higher Death Risk with Dietary Supplements

The vitamin, mineral and herbal supplement industry in the United States has been so effective in marketing that currently 50% of adults regularly consume their products.  Traditional health care advocates have believed that a well balanced varied diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, appropriately prepared, will provide all the nutrients, Co-enzymes and anti-oxidants that you need.

A recent article in Medpage Today cited the long-term study of Jaakko Mursu, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland which states that dietary supplements are linked to a higher death risk. The use of multivitamins and vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper supplements was associated with a greater “all cause mortality” during the 19 years the study was in progress.

Mursu evaluated the use of vitamin and mineral supplements among 38,772 post-menopausal women participating in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Initiated in 1986, the average age of the participants in the study was 61.6 years.

“Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.” stated Mursu.  “Calcium supplementation, on the other hand, was associated with a lower risk of death.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers of these products to reveal their efficacy or safety.  At this point I will continue to recommend a balanced, healthy and well prepared diet to my patients with avoidance of supplements unless we can demonstrate safety and efficacy.

Honey May Be Effective at Killing Bacteria and Thwarting Antibiotic Resistance

I have on many occasions advised my patient’s ill with an upper respiratory infection and a cough to try some tea and honey. The recommendation is based on family suggestions bridging generations plus practical experience in noting its therapeutic effect when I have a cold and cough.  Of course in today’s world of randomized double blinded objective research studies it is nice to have some evidence to back the recommendation up.

Pri-Med released a summary of a study done at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff which shows the benefits of Manuka honey.  The honey is made from the nectar collected by bees from the Manuka tree in New Zealand. This honey apparently can hamper the ability of pathogenic streptococci and pseudomonas from attaching to tissue. This is an essential step in the initiation of acute infections.

Lead author Rose Cooper additionally pointed out that Manuka honey was effective at making Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus “more susceptible to the antibiotic Oxacillin.” Methicillin resistant staph aureus is resistant to drugs like Methicillin and Oxacillin. They do not improve or cure the infection. If you add honey, the infections are now showing a response to Oxacillin .

This is very clearly early data with more studies needed. It will not prevent me from continuing to extol the virtues of tea and honey, as well as chicken soup, as part of the treatment of a viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection.