Chicken Soup For the Airways?

As we approach Fall, our thoughts turn to pumpkins, cold mornings, dark nights and welcoming bowls of soup.  Soup is also on the minds of a group of researchers in Scotland. A new study will be conducted by Baxter Food Group, together with researchers from the University of Aberdeen plan to study whether soups enhanced with vitamin E may help reduce the chance of childhood asthma.

Together, they have developed 3 soups containing ingredients with high levels of vitamin E. By judicious tweaking of ingredients, for example, substituting normal tomatoes found in cream of tomato soup with their sun-dried counterparts, they were able to develop three new varieties of “super-soups”.  The soups also contain other ingredients rich vitamin E, including beans, lentils, wheat-germ, sunflower oil and sun-dried tomatoes.  They’ve also created “placebo soups” which have been made to look and taste similar to the real ones, but do not contain intensified levels of vitamin E.

Their intent is to increase the daily intake of vitamin E among pregnant women from current levels which are on average of 8mg per day to approximately 15mg per day.  The 50 women involved in the study will begin consuming 3 servings of soup per week when they are 12 weeks pregnant, and do the same until they deliver their babies.

They will examine whether the new dietary intervention is well tolerated by the women and if it has the desired effect on vitamin intake. And, during the first week of the babies’ lives their lung function will be examined.

The researchers hope that fortifying soup with vitamin E could help prevent childhood asthma.  Prior studies have shown that low vitamin E diets for pregnant women tend to result in babies being born with a higher chance of asthma by the time they reach 5 years old.   But this will be the first asthma study to use dietary supplementation of vitamin E rather than tablet supplements.

Graham Devereux, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Consultant Physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, commented: “Although far more difficult, it seems more natural to give vitamin E in a natural food form rather than a vitamin E pill because the vitamin E containing foods comprise a complex mix of nutrients that might be critically important. When one considers the foods containing vitamin E, soup seems an obvious intervention”.

The overall approach has support from both nutritionists and asthma experts.

If we’re really lucky we might show that the children [born to women] receiving vitamin E enhancement may actually have better lung function,” Prof Deveraux says. “The ultimate aim of this research is to reduce the prevalence of asthma by an effective, inexpensive, acceptable and safe public health dietary intervention. If successful, the proposed intervention could form the basis of public health dietary advice to pregnant women that could reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma by 15-20% within five years.”

Depending on the outcome of the current study, Deveraux and his team plan to launch a much bigger study.

So will these super soups work?  Stay tuned and we’ll ladle out the news as it breaks!

Stop Brain Shrinkage

Did you resolve to eat healthier this year? If so, SRxA’s Word on Health brings you a couple of very good reasons to stick with it.

According to a study published in the December 28, issue of Neurology, people with diets high in vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to have the brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

People who ate diets high in omega 3 fatty acids and in vitamins B, C, D, E also had higher scores on mental thinking tests than people with diets low in those nutrients.  Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are primarily found in oily fish. The B vitamins and antioxidants C and E are primarily found in fruits and vegetables.

Conversely, the study showed that people with diets high in trans fats were more likely to have brain shrinkage and lower scores on the thinking and memory tests than people with diets low in trans fats. Trans fats are primarily found in packaged, fast, fried and frozen food, baked goods and margarine spreads.

The study included over 104 people, with very few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Blood tests were used to determine the levels of various nutrients in the blood of each participant. Participants also took tests of their memory and thinking skills and underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volume.

The nutrient biomarkers in the blood accounted for a significant amount of the variation in both brain volume and thinking and memory scores. For the thinking and memory scores, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 17% of the variation in the scores. Other factors such as age, number of years of education and high blood pressure accounted for 46% of the variation and, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 37% of the variation seen in brain volume.

These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, ND, MPH, of Oregon Health & Science University.

Although the average age of study participants was 87, we’re going to start heeding this advice now. Salmon salad anyone?

A vitamin-a-day may do more harm than good

One of the few businesses that has benefitted from the current U.S. recession has been the dietary supplements industry. While some predicted that falling disposable income would hamper sales of vitamins and supplements, the opposite actually occurred: As more people lost their jobs and ability to pay for healthcare, many turned to supplements to remain healthy and ward off expensive doctor visits and pharmaceutical drugs. 

However, the results of two studies, published last week may signal a  reverse of the fortunes of this $30 billion per year industry.

Last week researchers from the Cleveland Clinic announced that vitamin E can enhance chances of prostate cancer. A study involving more than 35,000 men found that those who took a daily dose of 400 IU of vitamin E had a 17% increased incidence of prostate cancer than men who took a placebo.

For the typical man, there appears to be no benefit in taking vitamin E and, in fact, there may be some harm,” said Dr. Eric Klein, an internationally renowned prostate cancer expert who served as the national study coordinator.

This surprising news was followed in short order by a report that dietary supplements can also increase mortality rate in older women.

The Iowa Women’s Health Study, which started in 1986, set out to determine to what degree diet and other lifestyle factors influence risk of chronic disease.

By the end of the study period in 2008, a total of 41,836 postmenopausal women were investigated – of which 15,594 had died. Multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were all associated with increased total mortality risk.  Supplemental iron was most strongly associated with increased mortality whereas, calcium supplements, were associated with a decreased risk.

Study leader Dr Lisa Harnack, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, said: “Among the elderly, use of supplements is widespread, often with the intention of attaining health benefits by preventing chronic diseases. Our study raises concerns regarding their long-term safety.”

SRxA’s Word on Health won’t be taking any chances. No more once-a-day for us!

Falling for Pumpkins

Here in the nation’s capital, the cooler temperatures and brilliant colors of Fall are upon us. Pumpkin patches are opening everywhere and among the neighborhood kids, the countdown to Halloween has begun. This year, rather than throwing out the pumpkin seeds after carving lanterns or making pie, nutritionists are suggesting that we eat them. Pumpkin and its seeds provide many nutritional benefits including:

  • Protein: pumpkin seeds are high in protein
  • Essential fatty acid oils: to help maintain healthy blood vessels, nerves, tissues and hair

 Snack on a quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds and you will receive 46% of the daily value for magnesium, 29% for iron, 52% for manganese, 24% for copper, 16.9% for protein, and 17% for zinc.

It’s claimed that pumpkins can also support kidney, bladder and prostate health; minimize osteoporosis, help get rid of parasites & tapeworms, and lower cholesterol due to the high levels of phytosterol.  Pumpkin seeds may also alleviate symptoms of depression as they contain L-tryptophan.

Dr. Helen Lee of ChicagoHealers.com recommends four ways to incorporate pumpkin into your everyday diet.

  1.  A handful of raw pumpkin seeds as a snack or mixed with trail mix, on top of cereal
  2. Pumpkin seed butter spread on toast
  3. Pumpkin pie/desserts/pancakes/waffles
  4. Pumpkin baked or browned with spices in risotto, chili, rice, spaghetti

SRxA‘s Word on Health’s personal favorite is pumpkin seed oil, a wonderful thick, green- oil that is produced from roasted pumpkin seeds. Try it drizzled on pumpkin soup or mixed with balsamic on salads. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even do as the Viennese, and add a few drops on vanilla ice cream.

Go on, share your favorite pumpkin recipe with us!

COPD – E

Word on Health was interested to note that regular use of vitamin E in women over 45 may help decrease the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to researchers at Cornell University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Long-term, the risk falls by approximately 10% in both smokers and non-smokers.

As lung disease develops, damage occurs to sensitive tissues through several proposed processes, including inflammation and damage from free radicals,” commented Anne Hermetet Agler, of  Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. “Vitamin E may protect the lung against such damage.”

Previous research had found that higher intake of vitamin E was associated with a lower risk of COPD, but this is the first time it has been shown that increasing vitamin E intake can prevent COPD.

In this study, nearly 40,000 women aged 45 years and older were randomized to receive either 600 mg of vitamin E or a placebo every other day.  Although fewer women taking vitamin E developed COPD, the supplement appeared to have no effect on asthma.

If results of this study are borne out by further research, clinicians may recommend that women take vitamin E supplements to prevent COPD.

While this may be good news for some, Word on Health reminds its readers that vitamin E supplements are known to have detrimental effects in some people. For example it can cause increased risk of congestive heart failure in cardiovascular disease patients. As such, any future recommendations would need to balance both benefits and risks.

Do you have COPD, or tips for those who are living with the disease?  If so, SRxA’s Word on Health is waiting to hear from you.