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Jan 19
Vitamin D boosts immune system to fight colorectal cancer
A new study has revealed that people with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The research by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute investigators, which represents the first time that a link between vitamin D and the immune response to cancer has been shown in a large human population, that vitamin D, known as the "sunshine vitamin" because it is produced by the body in response to sunlight exposure, plays a key role in cancer prevention.

Senior author Shuji Ogino said that laboratory research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognize and attack cancer cells.

Researchers theorized that if the two phenomena were connected, then people with high levels of vitamin D would be less likely to develop colorectal tumors that are permeated with large numbers of immune system cells and colorectal tumors that do develop in these individuals would, by the same logic, be more resistant to the immune response.

Ogino added that this is the first study to show evidence of the effect of vitamin D on anti-cancer immune function in actual patients, and vindicates basic laboratory discoveries that vitamin D can interact with the immune system to raise the body's defenses against cancer.

Ogino concluded that in the future, they may be able to predict how increasing an individual's vitamin D intake and immune function can reduce his or her risk of colorectal cancer.

The study is published by the journal Gut.

Jan 17
Consume less salt to reduce stomach cancer risk
A new study has revealed that excessive salt consumption, which is well known for causing high blood pressure and heart disease, can also increase the risk of stomach cancer.

The most well-established stomach cancer risk factor is infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which causes inflammation within the stomach that can progress to stomach cancer, the Daily Express reported.

Researcher John Atherton of United European Gastroenterology Secretary said that although they don't know exactly why a high salt intake increases the risk of stomach cancer, studies suggest that it may encourage the growth of H. pylori and make it more toxic to the cells of the stomach.

Current guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that no more than 5g of salt (less than 1 teaspoon) should be eaten per day, which can be a challenging target given that most salt in our diets is not added by us, but comes from processed foods such as bread, cheese, breakfast cereals and ready meals.

Atherton added that in the UK, people's salt target is no more than 6 g per day, which should theoretically reduce the risk of stomach cancer as well as other salt-related health problems.

He continued that they need more studies to confirm that eating a low-salt diet reduces the incidence of stomach cancer, but there is preliminary evidence from Japan to suggest this would be the case.

Jan 16
Your cellphone can help you lose weight
Using smartphone apps with daily text messages or videos may encourage you to think about dieting and eating well, helping you lose more weight, a new study has found.

Researchers at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in the US found that cellphone support can help people lose significantly more weight.

The study conducted by Tanika Kelly, associate professor of epidemiology, found that using one of the many mobile apps with daily text messages or videos incites the user to think about dieting and eating well.

"In conjunction with reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity, mobile messaging services could help to maintain and sustain weight loss over time. It reminds us to continue our good behaviours," said Kelly.

One of the students in Kelly's meta-analysis class, Fangchao Liu, an advanced PhD student from China, worked with a group to analyse 14 previous randomised controlled trials of mobile phone interventions that included 1,337 participants.

Liu is the first author of an abstract published in the journal Circulation about the meta-analysis, which showed mobile phone interventions correlated with weight loss and reduction in body mass index.

Although the increased weight loss was modest - about 1.44 kg on average during the six- and 12-month studies - Kelly said that individual weight loss can have important public health implications for populations.

Obesity and being overweight is a major global health challenge because of the direct link to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, Kelly said.

"Even modest levels of sustained weight loss can yield substantial reductions in weight-related morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs," she said.

Jan 15
Daily avocado cuts heart disease risk
Adding an avocado to your daily diet helps lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, a study says.

"Including one avocado each day as part of a moderate-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet provides additional LDL (bad cholesterol) lowering affects which benefit CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk," said Penny Kris-Etherton, professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Known to have originated in Mexico and Central America, avocado is cultivated in a very limited scale in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka in the south-central India and in the eastern Himalayan state Sikkim.

Avocados are known to be a nutrient-dense food, high in monounsaturated fatty acids. Previous studies have suggested that avocados are a cholesterol-lowering food, but this is the first study to look at health implications of avocados beyond monounsaturated fatty acids, the researchers added.

For the study, the researchers tested three different diets, all designed to lower cholesterol: a lower-fat diet, consisting of 24 percent fat, and two moderate fat diets, with 34 percent fat.

The moderate fat diets were nearly identical, however, one diet incorporated one Hass avocado every day while the other used a comparable amount of high oleic acid oils - such as olive oil - to match the fatty acid content of one avocado.

The researchers tested the diets with 45 healthy, overweight adults between the ages of 21 and 70. All participants followed each of the three diets for five weeks.

The avocado diet decreased bad cholesterol by 13.5 mg/dL ( milligram per per decilitre), while LDL was decreased by 8.3 mg/dL on the moderate-fat diet and by 7.4 mg/dL on the low-fat diet.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Jan 14
Substance that protects against premature birth found
Scientists have identified the substance that protects against premature births caused by infection.

Pre-term birth from infection is the leading cause of infant mortality in many countries according to the World Health Organization. The findings by the researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center are the first to identify the specific role that the substance hyaluronon (HA), plays in the reproductive tract.

Senior author Dr. Mala Mahendroo said that they found that HA, a critical substance made by the body, is required to allow the epithelial lining of the reproductive tract to serve as the first line of defense against bacterial infections. Because of this action, HA offers cervical protection against the bacterial infections that cause 25 to 40 percent of pre-term births in women.

Hyaluronon is a natural substance found in many tissues, and is both a lubricant and a beneficial component of eyes, joints, and skin. It has long been thought to play an essential role in increasing the cervix's flexibility during the birth process; however, the study, which was conducted using mouse models, showed that HA is not essential for increased cervical pliability during late pregnancy. Rather, the substance plays an important barrier role in epithelial cells of the lower reproductive tract and in so doing protects against infection-related pre-term birth. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.09 million children under age 5 die from direct complications of being born prematurely, meaning before the 37th week of pregnancy.

Dr. Yucel Akgul, first author of the study said that the study demonstrates that HA plays a crucial role in the epithelial barrier as well as the cervix's mucus. Next steps include determining the mechanism by which HA affects cervical protection against infection.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Jan 13
Allergic to nuts? Know how much is too much
Researchers have identified the level of five of the most common food allergens which would cause a reaction in the most sensitive 10 percent of people.

The five foods they considered were -- peanut, hazelnut, celery, fish and shrimp.

Between 1.6 and 10.1 milligrams of hazelnut, peanut and celery protein produced a reaction in the most sensitive 10 percent of those studied.

For fish, it was higher - at 27.3 milligrams - and for shrimp, a significantly higher 2.5 grams of cooked protein produced a reaction - though the researchers did not study raw shrimp which may have a different effect.

"What we wanted was to find a level of allergen which would only produce a reaction in the most sensitive ten percent of people," said lead researcher professor Clare Mills University of Manchester in Britain.

"This sort of data can then be used to apply a consistent level of warning to food products. What we would like to see are warnings which tell people with allergies to avoid certain products completely or just apply to those who are most sensitive," Mills explained.

The researchers analysed data from 436 people across Europe who had allergies to peanut, hazelnut, celery, fish or shrimp.

They were then given small doses of the food they were allergic to and their reactions were monitored.

The study appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Jan 12
Nobel laureate sounds alarm over excessive antibiotic use
Alarmed over the increasing use of antibiotics to treat even common ailments, Nobel laureate Dr John Robin Warren has warned of a "disaster" if excessive use of antibiotics is not stopped.

"I think one of the current issues globally is the increasing use of antibiotics and the increasing resistance to antibiotics. If that keeps growing, we are going to be in real trouble," Warren, who was in Mumbai for the 102nd Indian Science Congress, told PTI.

Speaking on the global perspective on challenges in medical research, Warren who hails from Adelaide in Australia, said, "Doctors should stop prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed.

"Patients also insist to the doctors to prescribe antibiotics for things like cold, even when the doctor knows that the antibiotics is not going to be of any assistance at all. So he (doctor) shouldn't give them to the patient. But people tend to prescribe when the patient demands it," he said.

Asked if he saw a decline in prescription of antibiotics after a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) said resistance to antibiotics poses a "major global threat" to public health, Warren said, "It is a very difficult situation. It is not a disaster yet, but could easily become one."

"I haven't seen things improving (after the WHO report)," Warren said.

Warren awarded the Nobel for his work in Physiology in 2005 for his discovery on the 'bacterium Helicobacter pylori' and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer diseases.

"When we started on our journey, scientific and technological tools were not advanced. Science believed that bacteria couldn't grow in stomach, good biopsies were rare, and there were no clinical specimens.

"Gastritis was not understood well by the medical fraternity. But we refused to be discouraged, kept experimenting with determination and after years of dedicated hard work, discovered the bacterial strain," he said.

"It was a quite a miracle and opened new vistas in discovering treatments for Gastritis and peptic ulcers for making the life of human beings more productive and healthy," Warren said.

Jan 10
Birth control shot may increase HIV infection risk: Study
A new study has revealed that women who use a certain type of injectable birth control are at a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV than those who take the pill.

A large meta-analysis of 12 studies in sub-Saharan Africa showed that the use of the contraceptive, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), increases the risk of acquiring HIV by moderately 40% compared with women using non-hormonal methods and those not practicing birth control.

The increased risk was slightly lower, 31 percent, among women in the general population than those already at higher HIV risk.

The contraceptive, depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, is sold under the brand name Depo-Provera, and it is administered as a shot every three months.

The researchers selected the studies based upon methodological rigor, such as whether they accounted for the use of condoms.

In addition to Depo-Provera, the studies also examined other commonly prescribed forms of hormonal contraception, such as the injectable norethisterone oenanthate (sold as NET-EN), combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only pills. The other birth control methods did not appear to increase HIV infection risk for women in the general population.

Study's lead author Lauren Ralph of UC Berkeley, said that the results had potentially broad implications because hormonal contraceptives remain popular for women worldwide.

Approximately 144 million women worldwide use hormonal contraception, and of those about 41 million women use injectable forms of birth control instead of the pill.

It remains unclear why the increased risk was seen among those using Depo-Provera but not the other forms of hormonal contraception, the authors said.

One possibility may be that birth control with higher levels of progestin, the synthetic form of the natural hormone progesterone, changed the vaginal lining or altered local immunity, increasing the risk for HIV infection, though the researchers emphasized that this study did not examine the physiological effects of the different contraceptive methods and more research on potential underlying biologic mechanisms is needed.

The researchers cautioned that the increased HIV infection risk needs to be considered in the context of the risks associated with not using birth control.

The researchers noted that the results highlight the need for more studies among high-risk populations. Among the 12 studies analyzed, only two included sex workers or women with HIV-positive partners.

The study, published in The Lancet, included data from 39,500 women.

Jan 09
Snacking on almonds can reduce belly fat!
Want to lose weight? Then go for almonds instead of muffin and other high-carb snacks.

According to Pennsylvania State researchers, including almonds in your daily diet can help reduce belly fat, which is a well-established heart disease risk factor.

Researchers found that eating 1.5 ounces (42 gram) of almonds daily as part of an overall healthy diet reduced belly fat and improved a number of heart disease risk factors.

"Our research found that substituting almonds for a high-carbohydrate snack improved numerous heart health risk factors, including the new finding that eating almonds reduced belly fat," said lead researcher of the study Claire Berryman from Pennsylvania State University.

"Choosing almonds as a snack may be a simple way to help fight the onset of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases," Berryman added.

The twelve-week, randomised, controlled clinical study, was conducted in 52 overweight, middle-aged adults who had high total and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol but were otherwise healthy.

Participants ate cholesterol-lowering diets that were identical except that one group was given a daily snack of 42 gram of whole natural almonds, while the other group was given a banana muffin that provided the same number of calories.

The results showed the diet containing the almond snack, compared to the muffin snack, decreased abdominal fat, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol non-HDL-cholesterol and other blood fats. In addition, the diet with the muffin snack reduced HDL (good) cholesterol more than the almond diet.

The study appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Jan 08
How rotavirus causes infection in kids
Considered to be the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in children, the tummy bug rotavirus attacks cells through carbohydrate receptors present on a child's intestinal cells, a new study has found.

The study could greatly assist in understanding how this virus starts to infect cells and provides new direction in potential drug discovery, said co-senior author Mark von Itzstein, a professor at the Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

"Our findings greatly advance our understanding of the sugar receptors used by human rotaviruses and provide clues as to how we might target this virus to stop it infecting cells," he said.

"What we have found is that not all human rotaviruses recognise the same sugar receptor and this important information will be invaluable in the discovery of anti-rotaviral drugs," Barbara Coulson, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said.

The findings could also offer potential for new vaccine development strategies.

"We are very excited by our findings, as we now have a much better understanding of the carbohydrates important for the virus to latch on to for successful infection," Thomas Haselhorst from the Institute for Glycomics, Australia, noted.

The study appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

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