Eating chocolate during pregnancy may benefit fetal growth, development

Good news for all you expectant mothers out there: eating 30 g of chocolate every day during pregnancy may benefit fetal growth and development. This is the conclusion of a new study recently presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA.

The study results are likely to be warmly welcomed by moms-to-be, given the lengthy list of foods women are told to avoid during pregnancy.

While chocolate itself is – thankfully – absent from this no-go list, expectant mothers are recommended against overindulging in the tasty treat due to its fat, sugar and caffeine content.

There are many benefits that may come with moderate chocolate consumption, however. Chocolate contains flavanols – a type of flavonoid – that have been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular problems and lower cholesterol; the darker the chocolate, the more flavanols it contains.

Previous studies have also suggested that moderate chocolate consumption during pregnancy may lower the risk of preeclampsia – where the blood supply to the fetus is reduced due to the mother’s high blood pressure.

However, Dr. Emmanuel Bujold, of the Université Laval Québec City, Canada, notes that the results of research assessing the link between chocolate intake during pregnancy and preeclampsia have been conflicting, spurring him and his colleagues to find out more.

The researchers enrolled 129 expectant mothers with a singleton pregnancy who were between 11-14 weeks’ gestation.

All women had double notching on the uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index at study baseline. The uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index is a test that measures uterine, placental and fetal blood flow, and notches are an indicator of the risk of preeclampsia, hypertension and other possible pregnancy outcomes.

The expectant mothers were randomized to consume 30 g of either low- or high-flavanol chocolate daily for 12 weeks. Uterine artery Doppler pulsatility was measured again at the end of the 12 weeks, and the women were followed-up until they gave birth.

The team found that there were no differences in preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, placental weight and birthweight between the low- and high-flavanol chocolate groups.

However, the researchers identified a significant improvement in uterine artery Doppler pulsatility among both chocolate groups, suggesting that both low- and high-flavonol chocolate may benefit fetal growth and development.

This improvement was much greater than what is normally expected among the general population, the team notes.

“This study indicates that chocolate could have a positive impact on placenta and fetal growth and development and that chocolate’s effects are not solely and directly due to flavanol content,” says Dr. Bujold.

Medical News Today asked Dr. Bujold whether they recommend that expectant mothers indulge in a daily dose of chocolate to improve fetal outcome. He replied:

We cannot speculate on the overall effect of chocolate on the risk of preeclampsia from our study results because we did not have a group of women who were not taking chocolate.

However, previous epidemiological studies along with our results suggest that consumption of dark chocolate during pregnancy could help in the improvement of placental function and the reduction of preeclampsia.”

He added that the next step for the team is to conduct a large randomized control trial in order to better determine whether chocolate intake among expectant mothers can lower the risk of preeclampsia and other pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders.

Our Knowledge Center article – “Chocolate: health benefits, facts, research” – provides more information on how chocolate may be good for us, as well as the risks associated with its consumption.

Last November, MNT reported on another study that is likely to have been welcomed by expectant mothers. Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study suggests that consuming moderate amounts of caffeine during pregnancy does not impact offspring’s intelligence.

Cranberries help urinary tract infections, but not as juice

Dashing out for a bottle of cranberry juice when a urinary tract infection hits may not be so helpful after all. Research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests it could just be an old wives’ tale.

urinary tract infection (UTI) can affect any part of the urinary system, kidneys, bladder or urethra.

More than 3 million Americans, mostly women, experience a UTI every year.

Symptoms include frequent, painful urination, pelvic pain and traces blood in the urine. The infection does not normally last long, and most patients self-diagnose.

For many, the first port of call is a box of cranberry juice. However, new research suggests that while cranberry capsules can help, cranberry juice may be little more than a panacea.

Dr. Timothy Boone, PhD, vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Houston, and colleagues wanted to know if cranberries can really help.

Cranberry capsules reduce the prevalence of UTI

The team studied 160 patients aged 23-88 years who were undergoing elective gynecological surgery between 2011-2013. Normally, 10-64% of women undergoing this kind of surgery will develop a UTI following the removal of the catheter.

Half of the patients received two cranberry juice capsules twice daily – the equivalent in strength to two 8-ounce servings of cranberry juice – for 6 weeks after surgery. The others took a placebo.

Cranberry capsules lowered the risk of UTIs by 50%. In the cranberry treatment group, 19% of patients developed a UTI, compared with 38% of the placebo group.

So, how does it work? For a UTI to occur, bacteria must adhere to and invade the lining of the bladder. Cranberries contain A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), which interfere with the bacteria’s ability to the bladder wall, reducing the likelihood of infection.

Cranberry juice will not do the trick

However, the researchers point out that since a cranberry capsule provides the equivalent of 8 ounces of cranberry juice, a patient would need a lot of pure cranberry to prevent an infection.

Dr. Boone explains: “It takes an extremely large concentration of cranberry to prevent bacterial adhesion. This amount of concentration is not found in the juices we drink. There’s a possibility it was stronger back in our grandparents’ day, but definitely not in modern times.”

He adds:

Cranberry juice, especially the juice concentrates you find at the grocery store, will not treat a UTI or bladder infection. It can offer more hydration and possibly wash bacteria from your body more effectively, but the active ingredient in cranberry is long gone by the time it reaches your bladder.”

He also cautions that a UTI and an overactive bladder may show similar symptoms, and people should seek medical advice if any adverse symptoms appear, to prevent UTIs from developing into kidney infections.

Treatment of UTIs can be complicated. Approximately 20-30% of women have recurring UTIs, and concerns about antibiotic resistance mean that both doctors and patients may be unwilling to use such medication.

As a result, the researchers propose using probiotics as a safe alternative to antibiotics in the treatment of UTIs. Probiotics are “good” bacteria found in the digestive tract and naturally occurring in certain foods, such as fermented vegetables – including sauerkraut and kimchi – and live-cultured yogurt.

Dr. Boone points out that there are many benefits of probiotics, although more research is still needed.

Our Knowledge Center article features more information about the health benefits of cranberries.

Medical News Today has previously reported on research suggesting that painkillers may help to prevent UTIs.

How a single bout of exercise instantly protects the heart

A new review of existing studies examines the evidence behind the idea that an acute bout of exercise is able to offer immediate protection for the heart against cardiovascular disease through a mechanism called “cardiovascular preconditioning.”
The results of the new research — led by Dick Thijssen, who is a professor of cardiovascular physiology and exercise at the Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom — have been published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

As Prof. Thijssen and colleagues explain, it is a widely accepted fact that exercise protects the heart over time. However, it is less known that it can also do so within hours, and that a single workout episode is enough to yield clinically significant benefits.

This under-appreciated advantage of exercise may be due to a phenomenon called ischemic, or cardiovascular, preconditioning.

The team explains the reasoning behind the theory of cardiovascular preconditioning: repeatedly exposing the heart to short, non-life-threatening episodes of ischemia — an inadequate supply of blood to the heart — makes the heart more resistant to a more serious, future ischemia episode.

The “paradox” of ischemic preconditioning is a concept first introduced in the mid-1980s, and it has been suggested that one of the ways to induce this cardioprotective effect is through exercise.

So, the review by Prof. Thijssen and colleagues aimed to examine the evidence for this theory in existing preclinical studies.

Protection through exercise preconditioning

The review found that between one and three workout sessions per week can provide “strong” protection for the heart.

Moreover, one single workout episode can provide cardioprotection for 2–3 hours, and even stronger and longer-lasting benefits emerge 24 hours after the exercise session has finished.

“Importantly,” the authors write, “these associations are present on the first episode of exercise, with subsequent exercise sessions reactivating protective pathways and leading to ongoing beneficial effects.”

This cardioprotective effect could be explained by ischemic preconditioning, write the researchers, given that an intense episode of exercise can have systematic effects such as inducing myocardial ischemia.

Although factors such as obesity and age may interfere with some of these immediate protective effects of exercise, regular training can restore these benefits. The authors explain:

Taken together, cardioprotection through exercise preconditioning is a facile, inexpensive, and potent therapy that deserves greater recognition and further resources to establish the optimal dose.”

“Nonetheless,” they continue, “as is so often the case with the benefits of exercise, its prescription follows the cardinal rule: use it or lose it.”

Prof. Thijssen comments on the results of the study, saying, “This is a key review summarizing how a single bout of exercise can have a clear impact in keeping the heart adequately supplied with blood.”

“Firstly,” he explains, “this means that one bout of exercise can cause clinically relevant protection against cardiovascular disease.”

“Secondly,” Prof. Thijssen continues, “this means that benefits of exercise are present, even in the absence of changes in risk factors. These are both important and powerful messages for all who want to take up exercise.”

The team explains that the findings could be used to help cardiac patients through a procedure of so-called prehabilitation; an optimized dose of physical exercise in the days before a cardiac intervention may help to decrease in-hospital mortality and disease, they suggest.

Sugar and cancer: A surprise connection or 50-year cover-up?

Can sugar cause cancer? It seems that evidence pointing this way was discovered in a study funded by the sugar industry nearly 50 years ago — but the work was never published.

Most of us — me included — are partial to the occasional sweet treat. But we all know that large amounts of sugar aren’t good for our health. In fact, there are plenty of studies showing links between sugar and diabetesheart disease, and even mental health.

Cancer only entered the mix relatively recently. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that showed that over half of mice fed a sucrose-rich diet developed breast cancer.

However, an article published this week in the journal PLOS Biology cites internal documents by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), suggesting that knowledge of a possible link between sugar and cancer goes back as far as the 1960s.

Was it a cover-up? And what evidence is there to say that the odd donut might leave me with cancer?

Sugar and the microbiome: ‘Project 259’

Back in the 1960s, the debate was all about heart disease. Who is the culprit: sugar or fat?

A 1967 review article in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that dietary fats were to blame. What wasn’t clear at the time, though, was that the authors received funding from the SRF equivalent to roughly $50,000 in today’s money to publish their review.

Disclosure of conflict of interest wasn’t mandatory until the 1980s, so technically, this wasn’t wrong. But what it did do was set the scene for more clandestine research to follow.

The review revealed that rats fed a high-sucrose diet had higher serum cholesterol levels than those on a starch-based diet. The authors speculated that gut bacteria were to blame.

And so ‘Project 259’ was born in 1968. This was a study to compare “the nutritional effects of [bacterial] organisms in the intestinal tract” in rats fed sucrose versus those fed starch.

A substantial funding grant — the equivalent of $187,583 in today’s money — went to W.F.R. Pover, from the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.

Stanton A. Glantz is the senior author of the paper published in the journal PLOS Biology and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

He cites an SRF internal report, which explains that “[a]mong [Project 259’s] observations was […] that the urine from rats on the basic diet contained an inhibitor of beta-glucuronidase activity in a quantity greater than that from sucrose-fed animals. This is one of the first demonstrations of a biological difference between sucrose and starch fed rats.”

So, there was a difference. But what does this have to do with cancer?

Beta-glucuronidase and cancer

Beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme that helps to break down large molecules. It is also plays a role in cancer. At the time of Project 259, a link between beta-glucuronidase and bladder cancer had already been implied.

Of course, Pover’s findings were only preliminary, and he was running behind schedule to finish his work. When he asked for a 3-month extension to conclude his experiments, the SRF — which had, by now, become the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) — stopped the funding.

“Based on ISRF’s interpretation of preliminary results,” explains Prof. Glantz in the paper, “extending Project 259’s funding would have been unfavorable to the sugar industry’s commercial interests.”

“In addition,” he goes on to say, “publication of results suggesting an association between sucrose consumption and bladder cancer would likely have had further adverse regulatory implications to the sugar industry.”

He suggests that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may have taken a close look at sucrose and its possible link to cancer.

Had ISRF disclosed Project 259’s findings, it is likely that sucrose would have received scrutiny as a potential carcinogen.”

Prof. Stanton Glantz

In a press release, the Sugar Association — a United States trade association – explain their own viewpoint on why the study wasn’t funded to completion. “[T]he study was significantly delayed; it was consequently over budget; and the delay overlapped with an organizational restructuring […].”

Whether the ISRF withheld the results of the study on purpose is hard to say with certainty. Yet the evidence supporting a link between sugar and cancer is mounting.

Sucrose and cancer today

Sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks have been increasingly scrutinized for their role in promoting cancer development and cancer spread.

In an editorial in Nutrition, Dr. Undurti N. Das highlighted the fact that fructose, a constituent of table sugar, or sucrose, changes cell metabolism and raises the activity of cancer-promoting proteins.

In an accompanying article, Ashutosh Kumar, Ph.D., and his colleagues — from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research in Hyderabad in India — echo this sentiment.

But Kumar also highlights that “[t]here are many published reports with conflicting results regarding the role of carbohydrates (mainly fructose) and cancer prevalence.”

For instance, several studies have found an increased risk of endometrial cancer in women who consumed high levels of sucrose, yet when it comes to other types of cancer, the data are less clear.

While some studies have linked sugar intake to colon cancer — particularly in men — a 2014 studyfailed to find a clear-cut association.

As mentioned earlier, we have previously reported on a study that revealed that sucrose increases breast cancer rates. Over half of mice fed a sucrose-rich diet developed breast cancer, while only 30 percent of mice that consumed a starch-based diet did. While a number of population studies concur with this finding, others refute such a link.

Whether and how sugar contributes to the many different types of cancer that are plaguing the human race is not entirely clear at this point. Perhaps we should all be cutting down our sugar consumption.

The question is, how easy is it to get away from the sweet temptation that is sugar?

Sugar lurks everywhere

It makes sense that food and drinks that taste sweet contain sugar. However, hidden sugars are increasingly being unearthed in a plethora of foods — there is no getting away from the stuff.

To my own surprise, I found that sugar was listed as one of the ingredients in a jar of roasted bell peppers in the grocery store last week. Luckily, few things pass my scrutinizing eyes, otherwise my supposedly healthful salad may have been anything but.

For more information on the what lurks in our food, check out our article on “Added sugar: What you need to know.” I was particularly surprised to read that sugar makes its way into our food hidden as fruit juice concentrates.

So, what does it all mean? There is clearly plenty of evidence that too much sugar is bad for our health. Whether we can rely on industry-funded research to get to the bottom of this is a contentious issue and is perhaps best left to personal choice.

A healthful diet is one of the key ingredients to personal health, and there are countless studies supporting this claim. Taking a measured look at the amount of sugar that we put into our bodies, whether consciously or hidden in plain sight by the food industry, is certainly not going to do us any harm. If anything, it’s going to sweeten up our health.

Loneliness a bigger killer than obesity, say researchers

Obesity has become a major public health concern, affecting more than a third of adults in the United States. New research, however, suggests that there are two bigger threats: loneliness and social isolation.
Two new meta-analyses from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT, reveal that loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent.

Study co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at BYU, and colleagues recently presented their findings at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, held in Washington, D.C.

While loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two. Social isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other individuals, while loneliness is the feeling that one is emotionally disconnected from others. In essence, a person can be in the presence of others and still feel lonely.

According to a survey from the AARP, around 35 percent of adults aged 45 and older can be categorized as lonely.

Loneliness and social isolation have both been associated with poor health. One study reported by Medical News Today last year, for example, suggested that loneliness may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, while other research linked social isolation to reduced survival for breast cancer patients.

For this latest research, Prof. Holt-Lunstad and team sought to determine how loneliness and social isolation influence the risk of early death.

‘Robust evidence’ that loneliness kills

The researchers came to their findings by conducting two meta-analyses of studies that looked at the link between loneliness, social isolation, and mortality.

The first meta-analysis included more than 300,000 adults across 148 studies, while the second comprised 70 studies involving more than 3.4 million adults.

The data from the first meta-analysis revealed that the risk of premature death was 50 percent lower for adults who had a greater connection with others, compared with those who were socially isolated.

From the second meta-analysis, the researchers found that loneliness, social isolation, and living alone were all associated with an increased risk of early death.

What is more, the team found that the risk of early death associated with loneliness, social isolation, and living alone was equal to or greater than the premature death risk associated with obesity and other major health conditions.

There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D.

Prof. Holt-Lunstad notes that these results are particularly concerning given that the aging population is increasing.

“Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic,'” she adds. “The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”

According to Prof. Holt-Lunstad, one way to help overcome the loneliness epidemic is to put more resources into tackling loneliness among individuals and as a society.

For example, she suggests that there should be more focus on social skills training for schoolchildren, and that doctors should look to incorporate social connectedness in medical screening.

Furthermore, Prof. Holt-Lunstad says that older adults should not only prepare for the financial implications of retirement, but for the social ones, too, noting that the social connections of many adults stem from the workplace.

Black tea boosts weight loss by altering gut bacteria

With obesity affecting more than a third of adults in the United States, identifying new weight loss strategies is a key priority for researchers. In a new study, scientists reveal how drinking black tea could be one such strategy.
Black tea is one of America’s best-loved beverages, accounting for around 80 percent of all tea consumed in the country.

When it comes to the health benefits, however, black tea is often overshadowed by green tea, which many studies have hailed for its ability to boost weight loss.

But the new study indicates that black tea should not be disregarded; it may be just as effective as green tea for losing the pounds – it just works in a different way.

Lead study author Susanne Henning – of the Center for Human Nutrition at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – and colleagues recently reported their findings in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Both black tea and green tea contain polyphenols. These are antioxidants that protect cellular structures – such as DNA and cell membranes – against damage from free radicals.

Polyphenols from green tea are small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and body tissues, and studies have shown that they can alter the liver’s energy metabolism in a way that promotes weight loss.

As Henning explains, “Our new findings suggest that black tea, through a specific mechanism through the gut microbiome, may also contribute to good health and weight loss in humans.”

Black tea vs. green tea

The team came to its findings by studying four groups of mice. Each group followed a different diet for a period of 4 weeks: a high-fat, high-sugar diet; a high-fat, high-sugar diet supplemented with green tea extract; a high-fat, high-sugar diet supplemented with black tea extract; and a low-fat, high-sugar diet.

The researchers collected liver tissue samples from the rodents in order to measure fat deposits, and they also collected samples from the large intestine, which enabled them to assess bacterial diversity.

At the end of the 4-week dietary intervention, the researchers found that both the green tea and black tea groups lost weight, and their weights became comparable with the low-fat, high-sugar diet group.

The study also revealed that both tea groups experienced increases in gut bacteria related to lean body mass and decreases in gut bacteria associated with obesity.

‘A new reason to drink black tea’

On further investigation, the researchers noticed that black tea and green tea affected the liver metabolism of rodents in different ways.

Henning explains that the smaller green tea molecules are absorbed more easily, meaning they can reach the liver directly to affect energy metabolism.

However, black tea molecules are too large to be absorbed in this way. Instead, they remain in the intestine, where they boost the growth of “friendly” gut bacteria and form metabolites that help to control liver energy metabolism.

It was also found that the black tea group had higher levels of a bacteria called Pseudobutyrivibrio, which they suggest could play a role in the differing effects of green and black tea on energy metabolism.

Overall, they believe that their findings indicate that black tea may be just as beneficial for health as the widely acclaimed green tea.

The results suggest that both green and black teas are prebiotics, substances that induce the growth of good microorganisms that contribute to a person’s well-being.”

Susanne Henning

Just 20 minutes of exercise enough to reduce inflammation

New research adds to the long list of health benefits brought by regular physical activity. As little as 20 minutes of exercise could have anti-inflammatory effects, according to a new study.
The long-term health benefits of physical exercise are numerous; they include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving metabolism and weight control, as well as generally strengthening the heart, muscles, and bones.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, a regular dose of physical activity also lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.

New research, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, investigates the benefits of 20-minute exercise sessions on the body’s immune system.

Researchers from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine – led by Suzi Hong, Ph.D., from the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health – hypothesized that exercise would improve the body’s anti-inflammatory response by activating the sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system helps to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Physical exercise activates this system to help the body keep up.

During this time, the body releases hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream, which activate the adrenergic receptors of immune cells.

Analyzing the body’s immune response to exercise

More specifically, the researchers tested the hypothesis that a single 20-minute session of exercise would be enough to trigger sympathoadrenergic activation, which, in turn, would suppress the production of monocytic cytokines.

Monocytes are a type of white blood cell, or immune cell, that help to fight off bacteria and infections. Cytokines are a type of protein that help other cells to become so-called effector cells, which, in turn, kill off cancerous or infected cells.

TNF is one of these cytokines. TNF can induce cell differentiation and proliferation, but also cell death, including cancerous ones. TNF also has pro-inflammatory properties, which help the body to bring its inflammatory cells to the site of the injury, creating an immunological response.

Inflammation is a necessary part of the body’s immune response, but too much inflammation can lead to disease. Chronic inflammation may contribute to diabetesobesityceliac diseasearthritisfibromyalgia, or bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers asked 47 participants to walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes at an intensity rate adjusted to suit each individual’s fitness level. Hong and team took blood samples from the participants both before and immediately after the exercise sessions.

As little as 20 minutes of exercise reduces inflammation

The results revealed that a 20-minute session of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects.

The study confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis. Exercise did seem to produce an anti-inflammatory cellular response, which could be seen in the reduction of the cytokine TNF.

“Our study found one session of about 20 minutes of moderate treadmill exercise resulted in a 5 percent decrease in the number of stimulated immune cells producing TNF,” says Hong.

Although the anti-inflammatory benefits of physical activity are already known to researchers, Hong explains, this study explains the process in more detail.

“Knowing what sets regulatory mechanisms of inflammatory proteins in motion may contribute to developing new therapies for the overwhelming number of individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including nearly 25 million Americans who suffer from autoimmune diseases,” Hong adds.

The lead author also highlights the importance of this study for people with reduced strength or mobility who are under the impression that physical exercise needs to be extremely intense in order to be effective.

Our study shows a workout session does not actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects. Twenty minutes to half an hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient. Feeling like a workout needs to be at a peak exertion level for a long duration can intimidate those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases and could greatly benefit from physical activity.”

 Suzi Hong

Chili pepper compound can stop breast cancer, study finds

Research has identified different subtypes of breast cancer that respond to varying treatment types. Of these, the so-called triple-negative breast cancer is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat. However, new research may have uncovered a molecule that slows down this kind of cancer.
Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in women around the world, with almost 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012.

In the United States, breast cancer is also the most common form of cancer in women, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Genetic research has enabled scientists to classify breast cancer into subtypes, which respond differently to various kinds of treatment. These subtypes are categorized according to the presence or absence of three receptors that are known to promote breast cancer: estrogenprogesterone, and the epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).

Breast cancers that test positively for HER2 typically respond well to treatment and even to some specific drugs. However, there are types of cancer that test negatively for HER2, as well as for estrogen and progesterone – this is called triple-negative breast cancer.

As some studies have shown, triple-negative cancer is more difficult to treat, with chemotherapybeing the only option.

New research, from the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, tested the effects of a spicy molecule on cultivated tumor cells of this particularly aggressive cancer type.

Researchers were led by Dr. Hanns Hatt and Dr. Lea Weber, and they collaborated with several institutions in Germany. These included the Augusta clinics in Bochum, the hospital Herz-Jesu-Krankenhaus in Dernbach, and the Centre of Genomics in Cologne.

Examining the effect of spicy molecule on cancer cells

The researchers tested the effect of an active ingredient commonly found in chili or pepper – called capsaicin – on SUM149PT cell culture, which is a model for triple-negative breast cancer.

The scientists were motivated by existing research, which suggests that several transient receptor potential (TRP) channels influence cancer cell growth. As the authors explain, TRP channels are membranous ion channels that conduct calcium and sodium ions, and which can be influenced by several stimuli including temperature or pH changes.

One of the TRP channels that play a significant role in the development of several diseases – and received a great deal of attention from researchers – is the olfactory receptor TRPV1.

Capsaicin has also been shown to induce cell death and inhibit cancer cell growth in several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

In this new study, the researchers aimed to investigate the expression of TRP channels in a vast amount of breast cancer tissue, as well as to analyze and understand how TRPV1 could be used in breast cancer therapy.

Capsaicin activates TRPV1 to inhibit cancer cells

Researchers found several typical olfactory receptors in the cultivated cells. Olfactory receptors are proteins that bind smell molecules together and are located on olfactory receptor cells lining the nose.

The scientists found that the TRPV1 receptor appeared very frequently. TRPV1 is normally found in the fifth cranial nerve, which is called the trigeminal nerve.

This olfactory receptor is activated by the spicy molecule capsaicin as well as by helional – a chemical compound giving the scent of fresh sea breeze.

Dr. Hatt and team found TRPV1 in the tumor cells of nine different samples from breast cancer patients.

Researchers added capsaicin and helional to the culture for several hours or days. This activated the TRPV1 receptor in the cell culture.

As a result of TRPV1 being activated, the cancer cells died more slowly. Additionally, tumor cells died in larger numbers, and the remaining ones were not able to move as quickly as before. This suggests that their ability to metastasize was reduced.

Implications for breast cancer treatment

The authors note that an intake of capsaicin through food or inhalation would be insufficient to treat triple-negative cancer. However, specially designed drugs might help.

If we could switch on the TRPV1 receptor with specific drugs, this might constitute a new treatment approach for this type of cancer.”

Dr. Hanns Hatt, lead study author

Previous studies have shown that the drug arvanil effectively treated brain tumors in mice. Arvanil has a chemical makeup that is similar to the spicy molecule capsaicin and can reduce tumor growth in rodents.

However, the substance cannot be used in humans because of its side effects.

Endovanilloids were also found to activate the TRPV1 receptor in previous studies. These are fat molecules naturally produced by the body, particularly when the brain grows and develops in infants and children.

Cinnamon may reduce the harms of a high-fat diet

A diet high in fat is considered a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as it can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other harmful conditions. New research, however, suggests that it may be possible to offset some of this risk by incorporating cinnamon in the diet.

Researchers found that rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with cinnamon for 12 weeks gained less weight and abdominal fat and had healthier blood levels of fat, sugar, and insulin, when compared with rodents fed a high-fat diet without cinnamon.

Study co-author Vijaya Juturu, Ph.D., of OmniActive Health Technologies Inc in Morrison, NJ, and colleagues recently presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease 2017 Scientific Sessions, held in Minneapolis, MN.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including heart attackstroke, and heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, killing around 610,000 people every year.

Diet plays a major role in CVD. An unhealthful diet – such as one high in fat – can cause obesitytype 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and other conditions that raise the risk of poor cardiovascular health.

According to Juturu, research has shown that cinnamon – a spice derived from the bark of trees from the Cinnamomum genus – contains a polyphenol that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidantproperties, which may reduce some of the risk factors for CVD caused by poor diet.

For their study, the researchers set out to investigate whether cinnamon might help to reduce the harms associated with a high-fat diet.

Cinnamon protects against inflammation, oxidative stress

For 12 weeks, the researchers fed rats a high-fat diet supplemented with cinnamon and compared them with rodents that were fed a high-fat diet without the spice (the controls).

The team found that rats whose diets were supplemented with cinnamon weighed less and developed less abdominal fat than those fed a high-fat diet without the spice. Rats fed a high-fat diet with cinnamon also had healthier blood glucose and insulin concentrations, as well as better lipid profiles, than the controls.

Additionally, the researchers found that rats that received cinnamon had fewer molecules associated with the storing of fat, as well as increased levels of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant molecules.

Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress, which is an imbalance of free radicals that has been associated with numerous health conditions, including heart attack and heart disease.

Based on their findings, Juturu and colleagues believe that cinnamon may decrease the damaging effects of a high-fat diet.

The team concludes:

These results suggest CNM [cinnamon] supplementation reduces hyperlipidemia, inflammation, and oxidative stress through activating transcription factors (SREBP-1c, LXR-α, NF-κB, and Nrf2) and anti-oxidative defense signaling pathway.”

Diet drinks not ‘diet’ after all

From soft drinks to white bread, almost everything on the menu seems to contain sugar. Although “diet” drinks have been promoted as a healthful alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages, researchers now argue this is not the case.
There are currently numerous campaigns trying to raise awareness of the negative health effects of sugar, particularly on weight gain and obesity.

Sugar is highly pervasive in our diet. Approximately 75 percent of processed foods and drinks contain added sugar.

Additionally, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has increased fivefold since the 1950s.

Numerous studies have pointed to a link between SSBs and cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

The alternative to SSBs promoted by soft drink companies is the sugar-free, “diet” drink. These artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) are said to be healthful and prevent weight gain.

But researchers from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom argue otherwise.

Full-sugar versus ‘diet’ drinks

A new commentary on existing ASB research and policy – published in the journal PLOS Medicine – argues that ASBs are just as ineffective in preventing weight loss as their full-sugar counterparts.

The commentary is a collaborative effort between Imperial College London, University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Pelotas – both in Brazil – and Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

According to the authors, in the U.K., SSBs make up a third of the total sugar intake among teenagers. In Brazil, they are the second largest source of dietary sugar, and in the United States, SSBs account for almost half of the added sugar in Americans’ diet.

The researchers – led by Prof. Christopher Millett – argue that although SSBs are very high in calories, they contain almost no essential nutrients. Additionally, “convincing epidemiological evidence” has suggested that consuming SSBs increases the risk of being overweight or obese, as well as developing diabetes.

ASBs are becoming more and more popular as an alternative to harmful sugary drinks. By 2008, the number of American children consuming ASBs had doubled, compared with 1999.

Soft drinks, fruit juices, flavored water, and ready-to-drink coffee and tea are all artificially sweetened. Because they taste similar to their full-sugar counterparts and have none of their energy content, ASBs are perceived as healthful, as it is believed they do not trigger any energy compensation mechanisms.

Additionally, “taxes and regulation on SBS and not ASBs will ultimately promote the consumption of diet drinks rather than plain water – the desirable source of hydration for everyone,” mentions Prof. Carlos Monteiro, one of the authors of the review.

Diet drinks a ‘potential risk factor for chronic diseases’

However, researchers explain why the common perception of diet drinks might be wrong.

ASBs can still cause a compensatory mechanism by stimulating sweet taste receptors. This can, in turn, increase appetite and stimulate the secretion of gut hormones. Knowing that ASBs are low in calories might amplify these effects and lead to excessive consumption of other foods.

This chain reaction could lead to weight gain, obesity, and obesity-related complications.

In fact, Millett and team point out that several observational studies and meta-analyses have correlated ASBs with increased body mass index (BMI) and a higher risk of cardiometabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and stroke.

However, observational studies are vulnerable to so-called reverse causality – for example, people with obesity might tend to consume more ASBs because they are trying to control their weight, rather than the ASBs causing the weight gain themselves.

Even so, randomized controlled trials of ASBs have shown either no effect at all on weight loss, or only minor reductions in weight.

The authors warn against the dangers of biased research and conflicting interests. They refer to a systematic review that has shown studies sponsored by beverage companies tend to report positive effects of ASB on weight management.

“The lack of solid evidence on the health effects of ASBs and the potential influence of bias from industry-funded studies should be taken seriously when discussing whether ASBs are adequate alternatives to SSBs,” says Dr. Maria Carolina Borges, first author of the new review.

Finally, while the evidence reviewed does not directly demonstrate that ASBs trigger weight gain or metabolic disorders, it does not show ASBs to be effective for weight loss either.

The authors conclude:

The absence of evidence to support the role of ASBs in preventing weight gain and the lack of studies on other long-term effects on health strengthen the position that ASBs should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet.

Far from helping to solve the global obesity crisis, characteristics related to ASB composition […], consumption patterns […], and environmental impact make them a potential risk factor for highly prevalent chronic diseases.”