Jan
02
2017

Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

The neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter gave a keynote address where he pointed out that gut bacteria can protect your brain. The topic of his actual talk was “Rewrite your brain’s destiny” and the venue was the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas. Many of the talks centered around the gut microbiome. Specifically, in this talk Dr. Perlmutter stressed the fact that the right mix of gut bacteria will protect your brain, while the wrong mix can make you sick. There were many slides, but too much information to mention all of details of the talk here. With this in mind, I will summarize the broad outline of Dr. Perlmutter’s presentation and certainly emphasize the practical implications this has for everyday life to prevent degenerative brain diseases.

A few facts

Did you know that the brain uses 25% of the body’s energy, but has only a 3% of the body’s weight?

There are trillions of gut bacteria

The gut flora has trillions of gut bacteria with its own DNA material. 99% of the DNA material in our body comes from the gut bacteria and the bacteria on our skin surface; only 1% of the entire DNA in the body is your own DNA. We are eating for 100 trillion bacteria, but it is important to remember that if they are good bacteria they provide us with important vitamins and they produce molecules that stimulate our immune system.

We need healthy gut bacteria

This means we better have bacteria in our guts that are friendly, not the bad bacteria that can cause us problems. An Italian study determined the gut flora of children in central Africa (Burkina Faso) and compared the gut flora to children from developed countries in Europe. There was a significant difference with the African children having a healthy microbiome in the gut and the children from developed Europe having unhealthy gut bacteria. This is important new information. Many other research papers have established that leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases are linked to dysbiosis, which is the name for the unhealthy microbiome in the gut.

Chronic inflammation

Dr. Perlmutter showed several slides where literature was cited showing that chronic inflammation in the civilized world is increasing. He also showed that dysbiosis (unhealthy gut bacteria taking over) is also increasing. On several slides Dr. Perlmutter showed that in civilized countries like Iceland, Denmark, Germany, the US, Japan and others the bacterial diversity of the gut bacteria in people was vastly reduced compared to the diversity of gut bacteria of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India.

Diminished gut bacterial diversity causes more Alzheimer’s disease

The same countries that have diminished gut bacterial diversity (dysbiosis) also have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand the same countries with diverse gut bacteria have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. When infestation with parasites was examined there was also a parallel between increased parasitic stress and low Alzheimer’s disease rates, again in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India. The same countries where gut dysbiosis was present the parasitic infestation was low.

Further research has established that gut dysbiosis leads to an inflammatory condition of the gut where lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from gut bacteria are absorbed causing inflammatory reactions within the body.

Leaky gut syndrome causes neurological diseases

At the same time this leaky gut syndrome can cause obesity and leakage in the gut/brain barrier as indicated in this link. The result is neuroinflammation, cognitive impairment and vulnerability to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Our most dreaded brain diseases come from inflammation: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, autism, multiple sclerosis etc. These are degenerative brain disorders due to chronic inflammation. If you eat a lot of red meat, sausages and processed foods your gut microbiome will undergo negative changes. If you eat healthy food with lots of vegetables, fruit and you cut out sugar and too many starches, you have a healthy microbiome, which develops a robust immune system. We have to rethink the gut/brain connection and learn how to prevent these chronic illnesses.

Obesity and gut dysbiosis

The link above showed that obesity has a connection to inflammation. It was also shown with MRI scans that the part in the brain, called hippocampus was shrivelled up (atrophied). This is a typical sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The investigators also confirmed with mental health functional tests that these patients had cognitive decline.

Another study also noticed that in a group of obese patients the hippocampus part of the brain was shriveled up the more obese people were. Obesity and dysbiosis of the gut flora are part of the same problem.

Practical application: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are both healthy, balanced diets, strikingly different from the Standard American diet. In a study the hypothesis was tested whether the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet would postpone dementia in a group of elderly patients. The answer was: yes, the hypothesis is true.

What does gut dysbiosis do?

It was shown in mice that chronic inflammation of the gut through ingestion of an irritant (dextran sodium sulfate) led to reduced new nerve growth in the hippocampus compared to control animals. It only took 29 days to show a marked difference between experimental and control animals in terms of reduced growth in the nerve cells of the hippocampus, the center of cognitive control.

The gut wall released inflammatory kinins, which were the negative mediators affecting the brain.

Antibiotic residue and Roundup in food causes gut dysbiosis

Antibiotic treatments and antibiotic residues in milk, milk products, meat, but also in all GMO foods are the irritants of the gut wall in humans. The antibiotics change the gut flora and lead to dysbiosis, which then causes gut wall inflammation and the cascade of events described above. The new finding is that GMO food contains RoundUp (they are “Roundup ready” crops). The herbicide Roundup was originally patented as an antibiotic and still leads to significant dysbiosis. Dr. Perlmutter urged the audience to buy organic food as the only method to reduce our exposure to Roundup. Roundup contributes to causing celiac disease and gluten intolerance in addition to exposure to the modern wheat (Clearfield wheat). The FDA is starting to do testing on foods for Roundup (glyphosate).

Roundup linked to cancer

If things are sounding bad for Roundup, it only gets worse: Roundup has now been linked to causing cancer. In medicine it usually takes some time before the effect becomes obvious is. The agriculture industry has embraced the use of Roundup; I suspect that denial will be the first line of defense. My first line of defense in turn is to stick to organic food.

To sum up: Roundup and the Standard American diet lead to dysbiosis in the gut, which causes leaky gut syndrome. This causes inflammation with the release of cytokines and LPS from the gut wall to the blood. These substances cross the blood/brain barrier and lead to inflammation in the brain. This affects the hippocampus with the classical sign of shrinkage.

Chronic inflammation and neurological disease

But Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism in children and Alzheimer’s disease in older people are all caused by chronic inflammation. There are three more brain-related diseases that are related to gut inflammation: stroke, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Perlmutter spent some time explaining that antibiotic overuse even leads to an increase of breast cancer as a Danish study has shown. Antibiotic use showed a linear increase of breast cancer as a result of increased antibiotic amounts used. The highest group had a twofold risk compared to a control group with no antibiotic use. Dr. Perlmutter interpreted this to indicate that chronic gut inflammation can even cause a disease like breast cancer.

What can we do to diversify our gut bacteria?

  1. Exercise: A recent study has shown that regular exercise is associated with a diversified gut flora. The reason seems to be the production of butyrate with exercise, which leads to a diversified gut flora. LPS levels (lipopolysaccharides from gut bacteria) are lower in people with a higher fitness score.
  2. Eat a DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet as indicated above.
  3. Avoid GMO foods because of the presence of Roundup, which functions like an antibiotic and leads to gut bacteria dysbiosis.
  4. Remember “Antibiotics are weapons of mass microbial destruction”. If you need to take them be careful that you rebuild your gut flora with probiotics. Use of antibiotics increases the risk of type-2 diabetes by 1.53-fold. It also causes a quadrupling of Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. A woman should consider natural childbirth whenever possible, as with a vaginal birth the child gets into contact with gut bacteria. Vaginally delivered children remain healthier than children delivered by Cesarean section for several years.
  6. Acid-suppressing medications and NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis) can also lead to dysbiosis. Proton pump inhibitors increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 44%.
  7. Prebiotic fiber can prevent Alzheimer’s. Probiotics do the same.
  8. Avoid sugar: even the Oompa Loompa knew that “If you eat sugar, you get fat”. Obesity and gut dysbiosis cause a higher risk of degenerative brain diseases.
  9. Take magnesium supplements (250 mg twice per day) and DHA from fish oil capsules. It stabilizes your brain metabolism.
  10. In severe, persistent cases of gut dysbiosis a fecal transplant can be considered by your gastroenterologist. This procedure takes place in more than 500 hospitals in the US.
Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

Gut Bacteria Can Protect Your Brain

Conclusion

The diversity of gut bacteria is immensely important. As discussed, in rural areas of the world there is gut bacteria diversity. In civilized parts of the world dysbiosis of the gut flora frequently occurs. This can lead to gut inflammation and the inflammation eventually becomes internal and can even reach the brain. These are the points to remember: exercise; avoid GMO foods, use prebiotics and probiotics. Avoid antibiotics; also avoid meat from animals that were fed antibiotics for faster growth. Don’t eat processed foods and avoid sugar. A healthy gut creates a healthy body, and this includes a healthy brain as well.

Dec
17
2016

Magnesium Is Essential To Life

Magnesium is an important co-factor in many biochemical reactions, so magnesium is essential to life.

Many diverse diseases and cancers can develop from magnesium deficiency. The key is to supplement with magnesium regularly to get more than the government recommended daily allowance (RDA). The RDA for magnesium is 420 mg a day for males and 320 mg a day for females.

In the following I will review the diseases that occur without enough magnesium on board.

A lack of magnesium can cause heart disease

In this 2014 study 7216 men and women aged 55-80 with at high risk for heart attacks were followed for 4.8 years. The risk of death from a heart attack was found to be 34% lower in the high tertile magnesium group when compared to the lower magnesium tertile group.

The protective mechanism of magnesium was found to be as follows. Magnesium counteracts calcium and stabilizes heart rhythms. Magnesium helps to maintain regular heart beats and prevents irregular heart beats (arrhythmias). It also prevents the accumulation of calcium in the coronary artery walls. This in turn is known to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Another study, which was part of the Framingham Heart Study, examined calcification of the heart vessels and the aorta as a function of magnesium intake.

There were 2,695 participants in this study. For each increase of 50 mg of magnesium per day there was a 22% decrease in calcification of the coronary arteries. For the same increase of magnesium the calcification of the body’s main artery, the aorta, fell by 12%. Those with the highest magnesium intake were 58% less likely to have calcifications in their coronary arteries. At the same time they were 34% less likely to have calcifications of the aorta.

In a Korean study a group with low magnesium levels was at a 2.1-fold higher risk of developing coronary artery calcifications compared to a group with normal magnesium levels.

Low magnesium increases your stroke risk

In a 2015 study 4443 subjects, men and women aged 40-75 were followed along.

928 stroke cases developed. The researchers compared the group with the highest 30% of magnesium intake with the lowest 10% of magnesium intake. They had significantly lower blood pressure (7 mm mercury) and lower total cholesterol levels. They also had 41% less strokes than those with low magnesium intake.

In a 2015 study that lasted 24 years the authors investigated 43,000 men.

Those with the highest magnesium supplement had a 26% lower stroke risk. Those with the lowest magnesium intake served as a control.

Among women low magnesium levels were shown to cause 34% more ischemic strokes than in controls.

This study included 32,826 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study. Examiners followed them for 11 years.

It is clear from all these studies that supplementation with magnesium can prevent strokes.

Magnesium protects kidney function

This study examined 13,000 adults for 20 years to see how kidney function was dependent on magnesium levels. Those with the lowest magnesium levels had a 58% higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease. It makes sense when you consider that magnesium is necessary to keep arteries healthy, blood pressure low, and blood sugars stable. When diabetics do not control their blood sugars optimally their kidneys develop kidney disease. The term for this is diabetic nephropathy. In the presence of magnesium supplementation and a low sugar diet people are less likely to develop diabetes or kidney disease.

Magnesium helps blood sugar control

A metaanalysis showed that magnesium supplementation was able to improve blood sugar control. This occurred in both diabetics and borderline non-diabetics within 4 months of supplementing with magnesium.

An important factor in helping control blood sugar is magnesium. Here is an article as an example.

Magnesium good for bones and teeth

Magnesium is important for calcium metabolism and this is helping your bones and teeth to stay strong. The bones store half of the body’s magnesium. Another location for magnesium are in our teeth.

Low levels of magnesium lead to osteoporosis, because one of the two structural components of bone (calcium and magnesium) is missing. In addition low magnesium causes inflammatory cytokines to increase. These break down bones. The Women’s Health Initiative showed that when daily magnesium intake exceeded 422.5 mg their hip and whole-body bone mineral density was significantly greater than in those who consumed less than 206.6 mg daily.

With regard to healthy teeth magnesium is important as it prevents periodontal disease.

This study found that there was less tooth loss and there were healthier periodontal tissues in 4290 subjects between 20 and 80.

Those who took magnesium supplements had healthier teeth.

Migraine sufferers improve with magnesium

A double blind randomized study showed that magnesium supplementation can reduce migraines. The researchers in this trial used 600 mg of magnesium supplementation for 4 weeks.

This reduced migraines by 41.6% in the magnesium group compared to the non-supplemented control group.

Another study showed that both intravenous and oral magnesium are effective in reducing migraine headaches.

Intravenous magnesium showed effects on improving migraines within 15 – 45 minutes. The authors concluded that one could supplement other migraine treatments with both oral and intravenous magnesium.

Too little magnesium can cause cancer

It may surprise you to hear that magnesium can even prevent some cancers. Two cancers have been studied in detail. I will limit my discussion to these two.

Pancreatic cancer

One study found that pancreatic cancer was reduced. Researchers recruited 142,203 men and 334,999 women between 1992 and 2000 and included them in the study. After 11.3 years on average 396 men and 469 women came down with pancreatic cancer. On the male side they found that when the body mass index (BMI) was greater than 25.0 there was a 21% reduction of pancreatic cancer for every 100 mg of added magnesium per day. There were a lot of smokers on the female side, which interfered with the study as confounding factors undermined statistical validity.

In another study, the US male Health Professionals Follow-up Study was examined after 20 years of follow-up. Those with a BMI of above 25.0 on magnesium supplementation had a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. The pancreatic cancer rate in the higher magnesium group was 33% lower than in the lower magnesium group. The higher group consumed 423 mg of magnesium daily, the lower group 281 mg per day. It is significant that in both studies it was the heavier patients who came down with pancreatic cancer. It is common knowledge that obesity is a pancreatic risk factor.

Colorectal cancer

A study done on Japanese men showed that magnesium could protect them significantly from colon cancer.

Men who consumed the highest amount of magnesium developed 52% less colon cancer over 7.9 years. Researchers compared them to the group with the lowest 20% intake of magnesium. The women in this study did not reach statistical significance.

A study from the Netherlands examined colon cancer in patients. They found that only in patients with a BMI of greater than 25.0 magnesium did have protective effects. For every 100 mg of magnesium per day increase there was a 19% reduction of colon polyps. And there was also a 12% reduction of colorectal cancer for every 100 mg increase of magnesium per day.

Magnesium plays an important role in genome stability, DNA maintenance and repair. It also prevents chronic inflammation and reduces insulin resistance, all factors contributing to cancer reduction.

Live longer with magnesium

Consider that magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in the body. Add to this that magnesium is a co-factor of more than 300 enzymes in the body. Magnesium is an important co-factor in the conversion of chemical energy from food that we ingest. Magnesium is regulating blood sugar, blood vessel health and our brain electrical activity. 50% of our stored magnesium is located in our bones, which helps the strength and integrity of them.

Because of the distribution of the enzymes to which magnesium is a co-factor, virtually every cell in the body depends on our regular intake of magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency develops in older age

Since the 1950’s soils have lost magnesium where farmers grow vegetables and raise fruit trees. We simply do not get enough magnesium from food.

But chelated magnesium is freely available in health food stores. Take 250 mg twice per day, and you will have enough.

Because our metabolism slows down, there is a critical age where magnesium deficiency becomes more obvious than when we are younger. By the age of 70 there are 80% of men and 70% of women who do not get the minimum of magnesium-required amount they should get (350 mg for men and 265 mg for women).

Proton pump inhibitors lowering magnesium levels

At this age many people are on multiple drugs. For many proton pump inhibitors (PPI) are used to suppress acid production in the stomach. PPI’s have been associated with low magnesium blood levels. This link explains that when a patient takes PPI’s the total time of taking the medication should not exceed 1 year.

Low magnesium levels accelerate the aging process on a cellular level. Low magnesium levels increase senescent cells that can no longer multiply. Some of them could cause the development of cancer. These senescent cells also can no longer contribute to the immune system. This causes more infections with an adverse outcome.

Remember to take chelated magnesium capsules or tablets 250 mg twice per day and you will be protected from low magnesium levels in your body.

Here is why we live longer with magnesium supplementation

Our blood vessels will not calcify as early; they keep elastic for longer, preventing high blood pressure. Our kidneys will function longer with magnesium, preventing end-stage kidney disease. We need our kidneys to detoxify our system! More than 300 enzymatic reactions all over our body help that we have more energy and also help to prevent cancer. When there are fewer strokes and less heart attacks this helps reduce mortality. Magnesium supplementation helps to lessen the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and also reduces insulin resistance. Researchers have shown that this prevents Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line is we live longer and healthier; that is the meaning of longevity.

Magnesium Is Essential To Life

Magnesium Is Essential To Life

Conclusion

Magnesium is a key essential mineral. It balances calcium in the body and participates in many enzymatic reactions in the body as a cofactor. As long as we have enough of this mineral we won’t notice anything. It is with magnesium deficiency that things go haywire. Heart disease or a stroke could affect you . You could get kidney disease. And you could even get pancreatic cancer or colorectal cancer. If this is not enough, magnesium deficiency can cause diabetes, osteoporosis and bad teeth. You may suddenly die with no obvious cause. But, if balance your your magnesium blood level by taking regular supplements, you will carry on living and eliminate a lot of health problems.

Nov
05
2016

Health Risks Of Night Shifts

One of the news stories in 2016 was about health risks of night shifts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2000 that 15 million workers (16.8 % of the working population) were doing alternative shifts (night shift work mixed with daytime shifts). In 2016 they reported 14.8% were working alternate shifts. Among blacks, Asians and Latino Americans the percentage of working alternative shifts was higher, namely 20.8%, 15.7% and 16%, respectively.

Shift work is more common in certain industries, such as protective services like the police force, food services, health services and transportation.

Evidence of health risks of night shifts

1.There are several publications that showed evidence of health risks of night shift workers. Here is a random selection to illustrate the health risks of night shifts.A study from 2015 examined the sleep patterns of 315 shift nurses and health care workers in Iranian teaching hospitals. They found that 83.2% suffered from poor sleep and half of them had moderate to excessive sleepiness when they were awake.

2.This South Korean study examined 244 male workers, aged 20 to 39 in a manufacturing plant. Researchers compared blood tests from daytime workers to blood tests from night shift workers. They also obtained inflammatory markers like the C-reactive protein and leukocyte counts. Night shift workers had significantly higher values. The investigators concluded that shift workers have increased inflammatory markers. This is a sign of a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future.

Higher mortality and higher cancer risk in nighttime workers

3. A Swedish study found that white-collar shift workers had a 2.6-fold higher mortality over a control group of daytime white-collar workers.

4. Another study compared night workers in the age group of 45 to 54 with daytime workers and found a 1.47-fold higher mortality rate in the night shift workers.

5.In a study from China 25,377 participants were included in a study that investigated cancer risk in males with more than 20 years of night shift work. They had a 2.03-fold increased risk to develop cancer compared to males working day shifts. Women with night shift work in this study showed no effect with regard to cancer development.

BMI and estrogen levels higher in women nighttime workers

6.A Polish study examined hormones and the body mass index (BMI) among 263 women who worked night shifts and 269 women who worked day shifts. When night shift workers had worked more than 15 years at nights, their estrogen levels, particularly in postmenopausal women were elevated compared to the daytime workers who served as controls. The BMI was also increased in the nighttime workers.

Risk for chronic lymphocytic leukemia higher in nighttime workers

7.Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL): a study in Spain showed that working for more than 20 years in rotating night shifts was associated with a 1.77-fold higher risk of developing CLL. The authors noted that melatonin levels in that group were much lower than in controls that worked only day shifts. Working in straight night shifts did not show higher risks of CLL compared to daytime workers.

8. In a Korean study from Seoul 100 female medical technologist who worked nighttime had their melatonin levels tested, which were compared to daytime workers.  They measured 1.84 pg/mL of melatonin for the nighttime workers compared to 4.04 pg/mL of melatonin in the daytime workers. The authors felt that this is proof that the diurnal hormone system has been disrupted. Altering the melatonin level also changes the circadian hormone rhythm.

Flatter cortisol curves at night in nighttime workers, also increased diabetes risk

9.A group of 168 female hospital employees doing rotating nightshift work in Southern Ontario hospitals were compared to 160 day workers. Cortisol production was assessed. Cortisol production in day workers and in shift workers on their day shift was similar. However, shift workers on their night shift had flatter cortisol curves and produced less cortisol. The authors felt that this disruption of cortisol production would explain why rotating night shift workers have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.

10.A Danish study with female nurses followed 28,731 nurses between 1993 and 2015. Researchers measured the incidence of diabetes in rotating nighttime nurses in comparison to the data from daytime nurses. Night shift workers had a risk between 1.58-fold to 1.99-fold when compared to daytime workers to develop diabetes. The risk for evening shift workers was less (between 1.29-fold and 1.59-fold).

Diurnal hormone rhythm behind health risks of night shifts

Your body has its own rules. It rewards you, if you sleep 7 to 8 hours during the night, but it will penalize you severely, if you turn it upside down. The reason is our built-in diurnal hormone rhythm. A peak of melatonin regulates sleep during the night. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland (on the base of the skull) when it gets dark outside. Daytime wakefulness regulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. These two hormones inhibit each other, cortisol inhibits melatonin and melatonin inhibits cortisol. All the other hormones are also regulated according to the diurnal rhythm: testosterone is highest in the morning, human growth hormone is highest between midnight and 3 AM etc.

Adjustment of the diurnal hormone system

When you work daytime shifts, your diurnal hormone rhythm works just fine. But if you work nighttime shifts, your hormones have to adapt. This is very similar to traveling east or west where you cross several time zones. Your internal diurnal hormone system has to adjust to these changes. Typically it takes 1 day to adjust to a 1-hour time zone difference.

Rotating shift workers have the highest risk of getting sick

In people who work permanent night shifts, the hormone changes stay adjusted and there is no further switching. But most employers want to be “fair” to everybody, so they introduced the rotating night shifts. The publications above show that this is the worst thing you can do. It messes with your diurnal hormone rhythm, and some people never switch completely to the new hours worked. They don’t get enough daytime sleep because the kids are loud during the day etc. The rotating shift workers are running the highest risk of getting sick. The get cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer, leukemia, and they have low levels of melatonin.

Health Risks Of Night Shifts

Health Risks Of Night Shifts

Conclusion

Shift workers working constant night shifts is less stressful than the more common rotating shift work. This is where you work night shifts for a period of time. Then the schedule switches to day shift, and you keep on rotating. The least health risks occur with regular daytime work. People exposed to rotating night shifts suffer from poor sleep. They have a higher risk of gaining weight, getting obese and acquiring diabetes in time. They are at a higher risk for heart attacks, strokes and cancer. All-cause mortality is about twofold higher than for workers who work day shifts.

The underlying problem seems to be a disturbance of the diurnal hormone rhythm. Normally this regulates our waking/sleeping rhythm and keeps us healthy. But with nighttime work melatonin production weakens, there is less cortisol production and hormone rejuvenation during rest periods suffers greatly. This weakens the immune system, allows cancer to develop and leads to chronic inflammation causing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The remedy to prevent this from happening is to catch little naps whenever you can during the day. And, if at all possible, work daytime shifts permanently.

Jul
02
2016

Zika Virus

Recently the question was asked on the news whether it was safe to go to the Olympics in Brazil; so here is some background information about the Zika virus. Zika virus was first isolated from mosquitoes in a forest named Zika forest in Uganda, which was in 1947.

Zika virus belongs into the virus family of Flaviviridae. Other members in that family are dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. Since the 1950’s Zika virus has occupied a narrow equatorial belt around the globe (Africa and Asia). But between 2007 and 2016 it spread further to the Americas and to the Pacific. This includes specifically French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Easter Island and New Caledonia. Since May 2015 Brazil has joined the countries where mosquitoes are infected with Zika virus. This is an important point to know for the coming up Olympics in Rio on August 5 to 21, 2016.

Symptoms of Zika virus

For most people, particularly the young and middle aged ones Zika is  not be that symptomatic. The most common symptoms are a fever, a skin rash, joint aches and red eyes (conjunctivitis). However, when a pregnant woman gets Zika virus, this will likely affect the fetus and will lead to a baby born with a small head (microcephalus), a severe complication from Zika virus. When a woman contracts Zika virus, the virus disappears after about one week. But in men the virus seems to stay longer, particularly in semen. This is why the CDC recommends for men using a condom or refraining from sex when returning from a holiday in a Zika endemic area. It may take up to 8 weeks for the semen to no longer be infective. The CDC recommends that a man who has come down with Zika to use a condom for 6 months.

Treatment of Zika virus

Make sure you get lots of rest. Take acetaminophen for fever or pain. Don’t take aspirin (ASA) or anti-inflammatory medication. Be aware that for between 1 and 3 weeks your blood likely is infectious. You want to avoid a bit from a mosquito and it is sensible to use insect repellants. The same insect could have bitten another person and spread the virus this way. A person who gets the Zika virus depends on the immune system to overcome the infection as there is no cure for this viral infection.

At this point no vaccine against Zika exists. There is research in an attempt to develop a Zika vaccine, which may become available in 2 to 3 years.

Zika virus risk with travel

If you travel to endemic areas, but visit mountainous areas above an elevation of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) you are safe from Zika transmitting mosquitoes as they do not survive in these heights.

With regard to the Olympic Summer Games in Rio 2016 the CDC recommends to take a few precautions. Use insect repellents. Be aware as a woman that men infected with Zika virus can transmit the virus through sex. If you want to protect yourself from the risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly, you may decide to use the birth control pill and ask your partner to use a condom. When you return back home, do not plan for a pregnancy for 6 months to avoid the risk.

The only recommendation for the Olympics by the CDC is that pregnant women should categorically not go to the games for fear of getting Zika infection resulting in a bad outcome of the pregnancy with microcephaly.

Microcephaly and other brain abnormalities from Zika virus

The CDC has stated that it is now established that Zika virus can cause microcephaly, but that it likely does not do so in all cases of Zika virus infection.

We know from German measles (rubella) that it can cause serious health risks for the fetus including death.

Zika is similarly neurotropic, meaning that it likes to multiply in nervous tissue including the brain. With rubella there is a vaccine available, which has made it much safer for pregnant women. But with Zika no vaccine is available. The only prevention is to stay away from endemic Zika areas and otherwise use reliable birth control methods.

Zika Virus

Zika Virus

Conclusion

I have briefly reviewed Zika virus in this blog. Unfortunately there are still many gaps in the knowledge of this disease. We need an effective Zika virus vaccine. It would also help to have antiviral antibiotics. Research is necessary to research all of this. For now we need to use prevention and avoid endemic Zika regions by reading updates by the CDC.

Jun
18
2016

High Vitamin D3 Prevents Cancer

In the last few years we learnt a lot about vitamin D3, but the newest thing is that high vitamin D3 prevents cancer.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine reported that with respect to several cancer types higher doses of vitamin D3 led to less cancer over a period of time.

The cancers investigated were colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung and bladder cancer. People absorb vitamin D3 differently.  The researchers found that the best way to measure vitamin D3 concentration in the body is to use serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D). In the past people did not pay much attention to this matter. However, several studies including the present study showed that in patients who had a lower level of 20 ng/ml cancer rates were higher.

Comparison of two cohort studies

The researchers used data from two prior studies, a randomized clinical trial of 1,169 women and a prospective cohort study of 1,135 women. The researchers found that the age-adjusted cancer incidence was 1,020 cases per 100,000 person-years in the randomized clinical trial, called “Lappe cohort”. The other prospective cohort study was called the “GrassrootsHealth cohort” where cancer incidence was 722 per 100,000 person-years. The interesting fact was that the Lappe cohort median blood serum level of 25(OH)D was 30 nanograms per milliliter, while the GrassrootsHealth cohort had a higher level of 25(OH)D of 48 ng/ml.

Higher vitamin D levels correlate with lower cancer incidence

This likely explains the lower cancer rate in the GrassrootsHealth cohort. Researchers combined the two trials in order to increase the statistical significance . The striking finding was that above 40 ng/ml the overall cancer risk was more than 71% lower than for the group of people whose level of 25(OH)D was 20 ng/ml or lower. The above ScienceDaily article was based on this scientific study.

Other studies showing high vitamin D3 prevents cancer

AfroAmerican men had less prostate cancer, if vitamin D level was higher

In a 2015 study Afro American men were found to have 71% less prostate cancer, if their serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level was at least 30 ng/ml or higher.

Prospective study showing high vitamin D levels cancer protective

This 2006 study reported a 14-year prospective follow-up in men where all cancers were counted and blood serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were correlated to cancer incidence. An increase of 25 nmol/L (=10 ng/ml) in predicted serum 25(OH)D level showed an association of a 17% reduction in total cancer incidence, with a 29% reduction in total cancer mortality and a 45% reduction in digestive-system cancer mortality. These investigators stated that it takes about 1500 IU of vitamin D3 increase per day to achieve an increment of serum 25(OH)D increment of 25 nmol/L (=10 ng/ml).

University of Arizona Cancer Center study

A publication from the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Jan. 2016 is more critical of the evidence regarding vitamin D3 and the claim that it lowers cancer rates. The researchers reviewed the cancer literature and found that for colorectal cancer there is a clear inverse relationship between serum 25(OH)D levels on the one hand and rates and mortality of colorectal cancer on the other hand. However, with breast cancer the literature was more divided. Only higher vitamin D levels were related to a lower risk for progression of breast cancer and a lower mortality rate. Randomized, double-blind clinical trials with regard to breast cancer failed to show effectiveness on cancer prevention or reduction of mortality. For prostate cancer conditions were similar with the exception of a study using 4000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, which inhibited progression of prostate cancer.

Mouse model regarding ovarian cancer and vitamin D

In a mouse model using a carcinogen to induce ovarian cancer there was an inverse dose-relationship between vitamin D3 and ovarian tumor development both in tissue culture and in the animal.

How high vitamin D3 prevents cancer

Immune stimulating effect of vitamin D3

Several studies have attempted to speculate how vitamin D3 may prevent cancer. Chirumbolo summarized the literature and noted that vitamin D3 has been shown to function as an immune cytokine stimulating the immune system non-specifically.  Vitamin D3 is also anti-inflammatory and counters insulin resistance and inflammatory kinins in obesity. Flavonoids with their antioxidant activity are also cancer preventing. We know that low levels of vitamin D have an association with higher cancer frequency. This means,. it is important to use vitamin D3 as supplements in our diet.

Chinese study describing action of vitamin D3 in detail

This Chinese study examined the effects of vitamin D3 on cancer prevention. It found that vitamin D3 combines three specific actions in one. Vitamin D3 is anti-proliferative meaning that it stops uncontrolled cell division. Secondly, it has an apoptotic (cell death) effect, which means it supports the removal of cells that are dying. If they are dying, but not removed, cancer can occur from these cell remnants. The third effect of vitamin D3 is that it has differentiating effects in several malignant cell types. When cancer cells are non-differentiated (=more immature cells) cancer can multiply quickly. Mature cells find it more difficult to turn cancerous. This is an effect that controls the speed by which cancer cells divide and how quickly cancer metastasizes.

High Vitamin D3 Prevents Cancer

High Vitamin D3 Prevents Cancer

Conclusion

There still is some confusion about the effects of vitamin D3 regarding cancer prevention. In colorectal cancer the statistics are clear: vitamin D3 can significantly prevent colorectal cancer to a large extent. There are also preventative effects in breast cancer and prostate cancer. But individuals may have to take at least 4000 IU of vitamin D3 or more. This is particularly true in higher latitudes where sunlight exposure is lower in the wintertime. Also, people absorb vitamin D3 differently. For this reason it is important to at least check your serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels on a few occasions. This will tell you whether your vitamin D3 supplementation is sufficient. Aim for levels in the 50-80 ng/ml, which is health promoting.

Apart from cancer prevention vitamin D3 is also important for prevention of cardiovascular disease. This is particularly true for diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Apr
29
2016

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

Toxic levels of formaldehyde in laminate wood flooring were underestimated, concealing the hazards of formaldehyde. Specifically, laminate wood flooring produced in China and sold by Lumber Liquidators, based in Toano, Virginia were identified as a problem.

News about the hazards of formaldehyde in Chinese laminate flooring

Last year CBS ran a story with Anderson Cooper regarding Chinese imported laminate flooring that emitted more than the stated amount of toxic formaldehyde. This was based on independent testing by CBS. Examiners found that laminate packages released between 6 and 7 times the amount of allowable formaldehyde. Moreover, some packages of the cheap Chinese made laminate flooring even released 20 times the allowable amount.

Certainly, formaldehyde is part of the glue in use to bind the wood particles together to make the laminate flooring. The laminate top seals the wooden core and keeps most of the formaldehyde inside.

Formaldehyde leaks into the home slowly

But over time it gradually leaks into the home. It is a matter of how much formaldehyde was in the glue and how good the ventilation of the home is, which determines the concentration of formaldehyde in the air.

CBS bought 31 boxes of the Chinese-made laminate flooring that Lumber Liquidators was selling in Virginia, Florida, Texas, Illinois and New York. The examiners sent samples to two reference labs. Most noteworthy, only one package was compliant with formaldehyde emissions standards. Some were more than 13 times over the California limit. Both labs were surprised how high the readings were, as they had not encountered this when they tested regular laminate flooring before.

Effects of the hazards of formaldehyde

Dr. Philip Landrigan at N.Y.’s Mt. Sinai Hospital specializes in environmental pediatrics and exposure to toxic chemicals. He stated that what matters is the concentration of formaldehyde in the typical home where such a floor is installed. Nevertheless, it needs to be stated that these toxic levels were only found in the cheap flooring of the above named company and this product has since been removed from the market. Above all, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (cancer producing substance). As a matter of fact, it irritates the airways, particularly in individuals who are sensitive like asthmatics.

Toxic effects on immune system of formaldehyde exposed workers

A 2014 occupational medicine study from China compared factory workers exposed to formaldehyde with controls. Notably, they found higher formic acid levels in the urine of exposed workers. Formic acid is the end metabolic product of formaldehyde. In addition, they also had higher B cell lymphocyte counts (in the high dose exposure group) and higher natural killer lymphocyte counts (in the low dose exposure group). As a result, this would explain the toxic effects on the immune system and the higher incidence of cancer in formaldehyde exposed individuals.

DNA changes in mouth cavity cells and nasal cells of anatomy workers

A 2015 study from Portugal examined DNA abnormalities in cells from anatomy workers. Furthermore, anatomy workers who prepare corpses with formaldehyde for anatomy courses are under the exposure of formaldehyde fumes. Another exposure can happen when fixating histology slides with formaldehyde to get them ready for microscopic examination. The researchers measured the the formaldehyde concentration in the air of the anatomy lab as 0.38 parts per million. Likewise, genetic analysis of cells from the mouth cavity and nasal cells showed significant DNA abnormalities, while controls without formaldehyde exposure did not have such DNA changes.

Formaldehyde poisons p53 cancer suppressor gene

In this study there was insufficient data to link formaldehyde exposure to causation of leukemia.  It is peculiar that on a molecular level it is clear what formaldehyde does to the p53 suppressor gene. But it is more difficult to show the link of formaldehyde exposure to the causation of a multitude of cancers.

WHO recommendation about formaldehyde

The WHO recommends keeping formaldehyde below 0.08 ppm in the air of factories where formaldehyde is used. WHO says that this will prevent nasal cancer and leukemia. Levels of 1 ppm can cause nasal cancer and leukemia in humans. The level for hardwood plywood is 0.05 ppm in the US since 2012

The CDC involvement in safe formaldehyde levels in the air of a home

The CDC faced with the problem of the Chinese laminate imports of Lumber Liquidators and did its own investigation. The conclusion was that these high concentrations of formaldehyde were not only affecting sensitive people, but in fact everybody. The CDC stated: “The lifetime cancer risk increased from the previous estimate of 2 to 9 extra cases for every 100,000 people to between 6 and 30 extra cases per 100,000 people. To put these numbers into perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates that up to 50,000 of every 100,000 people may develop cancer from all causes over their lifetimes.”

New guidelines for the limit of formaldehyde in residences

New guidelines for the limit of formaldehyde in residences were defined as 135 µg/m³ by the National Center for Environmental Health. This is a different nomenclature for formaldehyde concentration in the air and I will show the conversion to parts per million particles in a moment. This reference explains that 1 ppm = 1.23 mg/m³. 135 µg/m³ is the same as 0.135 mg/m³. When you divide 0.135 mg/m³ by 1.23 mg/m³, you have converted this into 0.11 ppm, the upper acceptable formaldehyde limit. Had the company followed proper procedure, it is clear from the recommendation above that the formaldehyde level of 0.05 ppm was in the safe zone. It was much smaller than 0.11 ppm. The cheap batch of plywood discussed above with the high formaldehyde glue gave measurements much higher than any of these guidelines.

Company response to bad publicity regarding “the hazards of formaldehyde”

As the stock of Lumber Liquidators plunged, the company decided to do something about this. In May of 2015 they stopped the sale of the cheap laminate products. It turned out that they had been poor quality, cheaper laminate boards; the producer had used glue with too much formaldehyde in it. The company had knowingly bought these for a 10% discount and hoped to make a huge profit through its over 360 stores in 46 states. Before this fiasco revenue was more than a billion dollars a year. Now the company tries to rescue its brand name through an ongoing painstaking public relations effort.

What to do, if you own cheap laminate flooring with the hazards of formaldehyde?

The CDC says you should ventilate the home, use additional vents to remove bad air, keep the temperature at the lowest comfortable setting and make your home a smoke-free home.

Many homeowners have ripped out the cheap laminate flooring and replaced it with better quality products and joined a class action suit against the company that sold them the product. Others leave it in place, open the windows and doors more frequently to keep the air concentration of formaldehyde lower; and they follow the other suggestions from the CDC.

According to this update formaldehyde levels are decreased significantly 6 to 10 months after initial installation.

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

The Hazards Of Formaldehyde

Conclusion

Had Lumber Liquidators not been greedy for profit, we may never have known the story of formaldehyde overdosing of glue in one bad batch of laminate flooring. The unsuspecting consumer got a special deal, but nobody informed the consumer about the hazards of formaldehyde release! Keep in mind that not everything that is cheap is good quality.

Only a few years back urea formaldehyde was very popular as a means to insulate your home. Homeowners soon found out that this could lead to toxic formaldehyde fumes and they had to replace urea formaldehyde with glass fiber insulation.

Never sit back and think you are safe

You may not have to panic. Frequent ventilation, as described, can lower the formaldehyde concentration in the air. And eventually in the case of laminate flooring the concentration is low enough from the passage of time that there is no longer a danger from leaking formaldehyde gases.

What I have learnt from this is the following: never sit back and think you are safe. Watch what you are eating. Watch what you are drinking. Women, watch what cosmetics you put on your skin. Be aware of the potential hazards of fire retardant in textiles and noxious substances in building products. All of this can impact the quality of the air you are breathing!