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Is the Source of Back Pain on Your Plate?
We all know that blocked arteries can lead to high blood pressure, chest pain, heart attack, and stroke. Now, thanks to a recent study in the journal Spine, we're aware of the connection between blocked arteries in the abdomen and low back pain. Forty-eight percent of patients with low back pain also had aortic damage as compared to just 8 percent of those who had no pain. A loss of blood flow from the aorta through the lumbar arteries to the spine is believed to be a major cause of disc degeneration.
Blocked arteries and related health risks are not unavoidable consequences of aging. Eating a variety of low-fat, nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and getting regular exercise can significantly improve circulation throughout the body. More information on diet and back pain can be found in Foods That Fight Pain.
Kurunlahti M, Tervonen O, Vanharanta H, Ilkko E, Suramo I. Association of atherosclerosis with low back pain and the degree of disc degeneration. Spine 1999;24:2080-4.
Estrogen Does Not Prevent Heart Attacks
A second major study has shown that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) in women after menopause does not protect them from having a heart attack. Post-menopausal women with heart disease were studied to find out whether hormone replacement slows the build-up of fatty deposits in the heart arteries. No benefits were found.
Millions of women are prescribed hormones to ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and mood changes. For the past two decades, doctors believed that estrogen also helps the heart by lowering cholesterol levels and have passed this information onto their female patients.
The first major study focusing on this issue followed 2,763 women for four years and found that, if anything, hormones may aggravate heart problems and also contribute to blood clots and gallbladder disease.
In countries where women consume less meat and more fiber-rich grains and vegetables, menopausal symptoms are much rarer.
A recent study also revealed that ERT does not halt Alzheimer's disease. In a 12-month study of 120 patients with the disease, researchers found no significant difference in cognitive functioning between those given ERT and those given placebo.
Herrington DM. The HERS trial results: paradigms lost? Heart and estrogen/progestin replacement study. Ann Intern Med 1999 Sep 21;131:463-6.
Hulley S, Grady D, Bush T, et al. Randomized trial of estrogen plus progestin for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. JAMA 1998;280:605-13.
More Praise for Vegan Foods
The power of vegan foods has long been known to facilitate weight loss and help prevent a number of chronic illnesses. And, if that wasn't enough incentive to try veganism, it's now been shown that a vegan diet lowers levels of an amino acid linked to heart disease.
Researchers found that after just one week on a vegan diet, study participants lowered their homocysteine level by 13 percent. The participants also engaged in moderate exercise and avoided tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Those with heart disease, who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the beginning of the study, experienced the greatest decreases—more than 20 percent.
DeRose DJ, Charles-Marcel ZL, Jamison JM, et al. Vegan diet-based lifestyle program rapidly lowers homocysteine levels. Prev Med 2000;30:225-33.
ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL RESEARCH
At the request of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Parke-Davis/Warner-Lambert has agreed to remove the diabetes drug Rezulin from the market. Severe liver toxicity has been known to occur with Rezulin since 1997. Although stronger warning labels and close monitoring of liver function were recommended, they were not sufficient in making the drug safe.
Rezulin was an enormously popular medication and is the latest in a long line of prescription drugs that tested safe in animals in laboratories and proved harmful, even fatal, in humans.
Whole Grains Help Prevent Diabetes
People who consumed the most whole grains had the greatest protection against developing Type 2 diabetes, report researchers at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota after studying the eating habits of 35,988 post-menopausal women.
Researchers analyzed the women's consumption of grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and, after adjusting for family history of diabetes, weight, smoking, and other risk factors, concluded there is "a strong inverse association between incidence of diabetes and intakes of total grains."
Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases and is highly responsive to changes in diet and exercise. This study confirms the value of whole grains, dietary fiber, cereal fiber, and dietary magnesium for lowering diabetes risk.
Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grain bread, rice, vegetables, and beans, also help people who already have diabetes keep blood sugar levels under control, according to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Thirteen people with diabetes followed both the American Diabetes Association's (ADA's) recom- mended diet and a diet with twice the amount of fiber for six weeks each. By making small changes in food choices, such as trading grits for oatmeal, white bread for whole wheat bread, and snacking on fresh fruits, patients boosted their fiber intake to twice that of the ADA diet.
Both diets, unfortunately, still contained many fiberless foods such as ham, chicken, and eggs. A vegan diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes is very high in fiber and eliminates animal fat completely. It has shown remarkable results in controlling blood sugar, promoting weight loss, and reducing or eliminating diabetes-related leg pain.
Chandalia M, Garg A, Lutjohann D, von Bergmann K, Grundy SM, Brinkley LJ. Beneficial effects of high dietary fiber intake in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1392-8.
Meyer KA, Kushi LH, Jacobs DR Jr, Slavin J, Sellers TA, Folsom AR. Carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and incident type 2 diabetes in older women. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;Apr:71:921-30.
Activity Is Vital
It is well-known that people who exercise lower their risk of developing diabetes. Now physicians at the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research have established that staying active helps those who already have diabetes live longer.
Being physically fit helps control weight gain and prevents cardiovascular disease, common outgrowths of the illness.
Wei M, Gibbons LW, Kampert JB, Nichaman MZ, Blair SN. Low cardiorespiratory fitness and physical inactivity as predictors of mortality in men with type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med 2000;132:605-11.
More Powerful Plant Iron
You probably steam, boil, or stir-fry most of the vegetables you eat. As you do, you are naturally increasing their available iron. Researchers found that 37 of 48 vegetables tested provided more iron after being cooked for 15 minutes.
After cooking, the available iron in broccoli increases five-fold, and in cabbage, three-fold. Plant irons are most beneficial to the body because their absorption remains safely regulated, whereas iron from animal sources tends to accumulate to levels which increase free radical activity contributing to heart disease, cancer, and the aging process.
Presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society by Tung-Ching Lee, a food scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., April 2000.
Eating Fish Is Risky Business
Eating from the sea invites a host of unwanted pollutants that would be wise to avoid, according to a study of Danish people who consume a typical native diet of sea mammals, fish, and seabirds. The study found persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the majority of men and women tested.
A high intake of sea animals increased pollutant levels in plasma. And the study also showed that those who smoked accumulated as much as double the amount as non-smokers. It has been observed that the cadmium in tobacco smoke stimulates uptake of PCBs from quail, and the same may be true of fish.
Deutch B, Hansen JC. High human plasma levels of organochlorine compounds in Greenland. Regional differences and lifestyle effects. Dan Med Bull April 2000;47:132-7.
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