A strawberry a day keeps the doctor away!

A new study by Alvarez-Suarez et al. in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicates that adding strawberries to your diet may lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. The study was based on 23 healthy volunteers adding 500 grams of fresh strawberries to their diet everyday for a month. The result- volunteer blood samples showed a decrease of total cholesterol levels by 8.78%, of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 13.72% and triglyceride levels by 20.80%, when compared to baseline.

Additional benefits from the consumption of strawberries included improvements in platelet function, anti hemolytic defenses and antioxidant biomarkers. These changes returned to baseline levels within 15 days of removing the strawberries from the diet.

Strawberries and other soft berries are known for their high anti-oxidant content and several studies indicate a multitude of potential health benefits from their consumption. But this study demonstrates for the first time a statistically significant decrease in cholesterol resulting from strawberry intake.

Pretty sweet news for people at risk for high cholesterol. The only thing sweeter would be…well, chocolate-dipped strawberries!

New Study Indicates Aspirin Use May Reduce the Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is commonly used to relieve minor aches and pains and to reduce fever. Interestingly, ancient Greeks and Native Americans benefitted, for centuries from salicylic acid, the active form of aspirin, found naturally in the barks of willow trees.

A versatile drug, aspirin, has been shown to reduce the risk of several health conditions, including colorectal cancer and heart attacks.

A new study published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute now indicates that daily intake of aspirin can also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women by 20%, and by 34% from low-dose aspirin usage.

The results are based on statistical analyses of pooled data from 12 population-based case-control studies of ovarian cancer, spanning 15 years, with a total of 7776 cases and 11843-control subjects – the largest study so far investigating this issue.

The exact mechanism by which aspirin prevents ovarian cancer is yet to be understood, but it may have to do with aspirin’s inhibition of COX-1, the enzyme responsible for prostaglandin biosynthesis.

Further research is needed, however, before making any clinical recommendations for the use of aspirin as an ovarian cancer preventative drug, since long-term aspirin use is associated with serious adverse effects such as peptic ulcers, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, and hemorrhagic stroke.

Nevertheless, the incipient news brings optimism for the prevention of a devastating malignancy, responsible for more than 140,000 deaths of women worldwide. Although the disease is treatable in the early stages, it is often detected only when the cancer has advanced to later stages. Thus, any strategies designed to prevent ovarian cancer hold the key to reducing the disease burden.

Late Nights: A Bad Idea

The 19th century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said of sleep:

 Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at
 death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is
 paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But we have all experienced physical as well as emotional distress from disrupted sleep caused by frequent jet lags or late night work schedules.

Data from a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences now provides molecular insights into the impact on gene expression profiles of people, whose sleep is delayed by 4 hours for 3 consecutive days.

The researchers subjected 22 healthy volunteers, 11 males, 11 females, to a consistent sleep-wake routine for 28 days to evaluate the changes in gene expression profile from sleep delay, when compared to baseline. The gene expressions were studied using microarray technology with RNA samples extracted from volunteer blood samples.

When compared to baseline, delays in sleep caused a six-fold reduction of circadian rhythm-related gene expression in the blood samples tested.

The genes affected were involved in imperative functions such as  “blood cell development and function, vascular function, immunity, and lipid metabolism.” Moreover, previous work from the same group shows that there is a significant decrease in the circadian rhythm-related gene expression in blood with just one week of insufficient sleep.

The increase in people suffering from jet lags, as well as working shift jobs necessitates the investigation of how our health is impacted by sleep delay and deprivation. This study provides a molecular basis for understanding the adverse effects of these on the human health, and perhaps even longevity. After all, Schopenhauer might just be right.

Antioxidants: to take or not to take?

A new study published in Science Translational Medicine shows that antioxidants, specifically vitamin E and acetylcysteine (NAC), can actually worsen lung cancer in mice, putting to question the popular belief that antioxidants fight cancer.

An antioxidant is any molecule that prevents oxidation of other molecules by reacting with free radicals produced naturally as a byproduct of oxygen metabolism. Free radicals can react with normal cells and cause damage to cells and even to their DNA. A damaged DNA can increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Luckily, the body has its own line of antioxidants that neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals on healthy cells. Based on this reasoning, several companies actually extract antioxidants from various sources and sell them for use as dietary supplements, supporting the notion that antioxidants promote good health.

DNA damage, however, is not always a bad thing. It can induce the expression of tumor suppressor genes such as p53, which work to prevent emergence of cancerous cells. Thus, the running debate among scientists and doctors alike has been whether or not antioxidants should be recommended to patients with cancer. On one hand, they reduce DNA damage, which can lead to cancerous cells, while on the other hand; they obstruct the beneficial tumor suppressor genes.

According to the data generated by Sayin et al., antioxidants are a bad idea, if cancer already exists. The authors report “antioxidant supplementation of the diet reduces DNA damage in mice, prevents p53 activation, and markedly increases tumor cell proliferation and tumor growth in mice.”

The authors speculate that “antioxidants are unsafe in patients with early stages of lung cancer and in people at risk of developing the disease…this may be relevant to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, who are often smokers with an increased risk of developing lung cancer and ingest high amounts of NAC to relieve mucus production.”

It seems that when it comes to good health, there is really no magic pill. Thus, like most dietary supplements, antioxidants should also be taken only at the recommendation of a doctor.