Holistic Healthcare News Briefs: Curbin' Carbs with Chromium

Chromium picolinate, a supplement ingredient increasingly recognized for its ability to improve insulin sensitivity, also appears to quell carbohydrate cravings among people with atypical depression.

A multicenter research team led by John P. Docherty, MD, of the Weill Medical College, Cornell University, randomized 113 patients with atypical depression to chromium picolinate (Nutrition 21's Chromax), 600 mcg per day, or placebo. After 8 weeks, those on chromium showed significant improvements on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale measures for carb cravings, appetite increase, increased eating, and diurnal mood variations (Docherty JP, et al. J Psychiatr Pract. 2005 Sep; 11(5): 302–314).

Chromium had no net effect on depression; the effect was associated solely with carb consumption, and the patients with the strongest pre-treatment carb cravings had the greatest response to chromium, said Dr. Docherty, who is also head of Comprehensive NeuroScience, a contract research firm.

Frequent carb cravings are characteristic of atypical depression, in many cases leading to weight gain and the health problems associated with obesity. Many common antidepressant drugs actually worsen the cravings, making chromium picolinate a potentially valuable adjunctive therapy. The mechanism by which this mineral squelches the blue munchies is not entirely clear. But what Upshots really wants to know is how long it will take for someone to figure out how to bake the stuff into a line of "reduced appetite" chocolate chip cookies. (Source: Health Strategy Consultants daily news brief)

Gone Bananas

The banana may soon replace the apple as the physician-avoidance fruit of choice. Those yellow tropical wonders are packed with health promoting, disease preventing compounds. For one, bananas contain lots of tryptophan, the serotonin precursor that induces relaxation, improves mood, and generally lifts spirits. They've got a lot of vitamin B6, as well, another mood lifter.

They're also high in iron, good for preventing anemia, as well as potassium and magnesium both of which have beneficial effects on neural function, blood pressure regulation, and heart rhythm.

High in fiber, but easy to digest, bananas can relieve chronic constipation and other GI problems. They are the only raw fruit that most people with ulcers can tolerate, and their high alkalinity helps to neutralize stomach acid.

For various cutaneous problems, banana skins come in handy. Throughout the tropics, people use the skins to soothe insect bites, bruises, and other minor irritations. Some use the skins to treat warts.

Bananas are an excellent energy source, providing sustained release of sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Two average sized bananas give enough energy to power a strenuous 90-minute workout, one of the many reasons they're the preferred fruit among high-performance athletes.

Not that we have anything against apples, but for nutritional punch, they just can't compete. Compared with the average apple, a banana has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. That's a whole lotta health benefit for 50 cents a pound. Plus, they're fun to peel.

Folic Acid: Your Breasts' Best Beer Buddy?

Though a recent Scandinavian trial is challenging the notion that folic acid can reduce CV risk, an Australian study suggests that it can reduce breast cancer risk in women who drink alcohol frequently.

Investigators followed more than 17,000 women aged 40–69 years, from 1990 to 2003. While there were no direct correlations between either folate intake or alcohol intake and breast cancer, there was a curious dip in breast cancer risk among the frequent drinkers who had high folate intake (greater than 400 mcg per day, on average) versus the women who drank equivalent amounts of alcohol but had low folate intake (Baglietto L, et al. BMJ. August 8, 2005). (Source: Natural Standard's Herbs & Supplements database, www.naturalstandard.com)

Keep 'Em Hoppin'

While we're on the subject of drinking, it seems that a flavonoid called xanthohumol, found only in hops, may have a role in preventing prostate and colon cancer.

The compound was first discovered in the beer-making herb in 1913; in the mid 1990s researchers at Oregon State University began to study its potential health benefits. Since then, xanthohumol has been the subject of intense investigation.

Xanthohumol and other related flavonoids in hops, inhibit a family of enzymes that activate neoplastic cell growth. Further, this compound activates quinone reductase, an enzyme involved in the detoxification of carcinogenic compounds. Cell culture experiments indicate it can inhibit growth of breast, colon, prostate and ovarian cancer cells, and moreover, it can stop tumor growth at early stages.

None of this is to propose beer as cancer chemoprevention (imagine trying to get insurance reimbursement for that!), though a German brewer is reportedly trying to develop a "health" beer made from hops that have high xanthohumol levels.

"We can't say that drinking beer will help prevent cancer," said Fred Stevens, a chemist at OSU studying xanthohumol. "Most beer has low levels of this compound, and its absorption in the body is also limited. But if ways can be developed to significantly increase the levels of xanthohumol or use it as a nutritional supplement—that might be different. It clearly has some interesting cancer chemopreventive properties, and the only way people are getting any of it right now is through beer consumption." (Source: Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University)

Where There's Smoke There's … Diabetes

Those "bad kids" cutting class and smoking cigarettes in the high school parking lot might find themselves with diabetes a lot sooner than their clean living peers.

Data from a study of 2,273 adolescents showed an alarming correlation between serum cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, and insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome. The teens, aged 12–19, were followed from 1988 to 1994. Active smokers showed six-fold increased odds of having metabolic syndrome 10 years later; those with high exposure to second-hand smoke had a five-fold increased risk versus smoke-free kids. The risk was independent of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, or parental history of diabetes/heart disease.

The tobacco effect was most striking among the kids who were overweight. Of the more than 600 overweight teens, the active smokers had a 24% prevalence of metabolic syndrome, versus only 5.6% among the smoke-free teens who had the same BMI (Weitzman M, et al. Circulation. 2005; 112: 862–869).

While the investigators stopped short of positing a causal relationship, they pointed out that there is a plausible biologic mechanism: smoking is associated with increased insulin resistance in adults, and insulin resistance is the underlying driver of metabolic syndrome. (Source: Internal Medicine News, October 1, 2005)

Got Ovarian Cancer?

High milk consumption correlates with increased risk of ovarian cancer, according to a new metanalysis from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In analyzing data from three smaller studies, Dr. Susanna Larsson and colleagues found that for every 10-gram increase in daily lactose consumption, there is a 13% increase in ovarian cancer risk. Ten grams is the approximate lactose content of a standard glass of milk.

The milk-cancer connection has been hotly debated for a long time, and this study, just published in the International Journal of Cancer, is not likely the final word. But it is the strongest evidence of a correlation to date.

Data from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, involving over 80,000 women, showed that each daily glass of low-fat or skim milk was associated with a 20% increase in serous ovarian cancers (Int J Cancer. 2004). The Iowa Women's Health Study of more than 29,000 postmenopausal women showed a 60% increase in ovarian cancer among the highest versus the lowest daily milk consumers (Am J Epidemiol. 1999). (Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

iMaging for iPodoctors

Forget about music. You may soon be using your iPod to view your patients' diagnostic images, if Drs. Osman Ratib and Antoine Rosset have it their way. The Swiss radiologists have developed software called Osirix that allows doctors to view state-of-the-art diagnostic images on Apple's handy multimedia players.

Based at the University Hospital of Geneva, Dr. Ratib explained that, "radiology has moved from traditional x-rays to scanners to multidimensional imaging, 4D and 5D images. The problem is, equipment that can view and manipulate these images is not widely available. Existing tools are too expensive, too complicated or simply not available. We wanted to create something for non-radiologists to use, for surgeons and general physicians to view images."

Instead of the usual jpeg format, medical images are stored in a format called Diacom (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine). The software also incorporates Apple's iChat instant messaging system, "which means you can show images to colleagues remotely." Osirix allows doctors to strip the images of any personal identification data, and it is designed to work in secure information transfer systems.

Drs. Ratib and Rosset have posted Osirix as open code on the Internet, so medical informatics geeks can tweak it to perfection. So far, there are 6,000 iPodoctors actively using the program worldwide, and there are an average of 2000 Osirix downloads per day. (Source: CNN Online)

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