Monday, July 28, 2008

Drugs may offer some hope in autism cases

By Blythe Bernhard

ST. LOUIS — New treatments for a rare genetic disorder may hold clues for treating autism, researchers said Thursday at the International Fragile X Conference held at Union Station.

Fragile X syndrome is a common inherited cause of cognitive impairments, including about 5 percent of autism cases. Symptoms can include hyperactivity, seizures, learning disabilities and speech delays.

About one in 4,000 boys and one in 6,000 to 8,000 girls are born with the Fragile X, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
bullet Learn more

Because the disorder can be linked to a defect in a singular gene, it's a promising field of study for researchers. At the weeklong conference sponsored by the National Fragile X Foundation, St. Louis hosts several hundred parents, physicians and researchers looking for the latest developments in treatments and patient support.

Typically, treatment for Fragile X includes medications that treat behavioral symptoms. Researchers are now working on the underlying disorder that over-stimulates the nerve pathways in the brains of people with the syndrome and those with autism.

Drug therapies that block those pathways are still experimental. To date, there have been no large clinical trials in Fragile X patients. The small studies have shown some promise, however.

"It's been the first conference where the promise of powerful new treatments is literally around the corner," said Robert Miller, the foundation's executive director. "There's just a lot of hope and excitement because everybody's picked up on the buzz."

One drug, the mood stabilizer lithium, corrected hyperactivity and reduced seizures in mice. In a two-month trial in 15 children, behavioral symptoms improved in 13 patients after two months, but IQ levels did not change.

Other drugs mentioned at the conference included oxytocin, a mood-enhancing hormone, and minocycline, an antibiotic that shows promise in reducing symptoms of mice treated in infancy.

Another drug, fenobam, has also shown reductions in seizures in mice affected with Fragile X. In a human trial of 12 adult patients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and the University of California, Davis, half of the patients showed improved eye contact and one-third experienced calmer behavior, researchers said.

With that anecdotal data, researchers feel future trials are worthwhile in adults and kids, and are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a larger study to start as soon as January. Researchers theorize that the drugs could work even better in children because their brains are still developing and more adaptable.

There's a "strong possibility that non-Fragile X autism patients may also improve" on Fenobam, said Dr. Randi Hagerman of the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis.

The future for treatment of Fragile X and autism will probably include combinations of these drugs, Hagerman said.

Still, the researchers cautioned parents and researchers that the drugs are not overnight cures. Patients with Fragile X and autism will still need behavioral therapy and help from a team of family members, teachers, psychologists and doctors.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tilapia May Be Risky

Winston-Salem, NC - Researchers from Wake Forest University Medical Center say you’re better of with a big juicy burger than with this mild, low-fat fish, which turns out to be high in an unhealthful form of fat called long-chain omega-6 fatty acids, especially when it’s produced by fish farms.
Long chain omega-6 fats promote inflammation associated with heart disease, asthma, some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions, said Floyd Chilton, professor of physiology at Wake Forest and head of the study.
Is there anything left that the experts say we should eat? Not much, said Chilton, thanks to a large-scale corruption of the American food chain with cheap corn feed. That has altered the composition of fats found in beef, chicken, eggs and farmed fish, such as catfish and tilapia.
In tests, the researchers found that grain-fed tilapia concentrated even more of the worst fats than did grain-fed beef.
One animal-based food that Chilton recommends is wild-caught fish, such as salmon and sardines, since they contain inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
Unfortunately, he said, public health officials have been wrongly telling people to get more of this important nutrient by eating more fish without specifying what kind.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Fattest States

Calorie Lab’s Fattest States rankings for 2008 are out, and Mississippi is number one for the third year in a row. Colorado has the smallest percentage of obese people.

West Virginia passed Alabama to become the second fattest state in 2008. The four states of Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, and Louisiana have obese populations that exceed 30 percent over a three-year average and two-thirds of the citizens of Mississippi and West Virginia were either overweight or obese by CDC standards in 2007.

7 Tips for quality sleep

Sleeping can be made efficient too? That’s right — getting 10 hours of sleep is useless if it isn’t good sleep! I’m sure you’ve spent entire nights tossing and turning without actually falling asleep and waking up feeling just as exhausted as the night before. This happens to everyone but there are several methods to try to prevent this and to make sure you really are getting the best sleep you can get.

1. Sleep - Quality over QuantityGet a Comfortable Bed
The definition of comfort is different for everyone, but I would suggest trying different beds. It’s been proven that really soft mattresses aren’t good for the spine but neither are hard ones so it’s up to the individual to find something that suits them.
2. Avoid sugar and caffeine right before bed
Both of these things are stimulants and won’t let your body relax properly. If you’re thirsty right before bed, water is the best bet (in fact water is the best bet for almost all situations).
3. Don’t exercise right before bed
If you’re going to do 50 sit-ups before you sleep, make sure you do it a few hours in advance. Exercise, like sugar, stimulates the body and hinders it from properly relaxing.
4. Don’t drink too much water
On that last note, drinking too much water isn’t good. Depending on your bladder size you may have to get up to urinate in the middle of the night!
5. Keep a good constant temperature
If it’s cold outside, stay warm; if it’s hot, stay cool. Try to keep a constant temperature so you aren’t constantly kicking your blanket off and pulling it back on. Also, you may want to avoid sleeping naked since it is harder to maintain a constant temperature without the benefit of a layer of clothing.
6. Ambient noises
This is another personal preference. Some people prefer music, some prefer the quiet hum of their computer fan, others prefer dead silence. Figure out what works for you and stick with it.
7. Maintain a regular sleep pattern
By keeping a stable biological clock, your body will know when it is time for sleep so it can prepare itself adequately. Unless you really need to pull that all-nighter, try your best to sleep at the same time every night. Waking up at the same time every day regardless of when your day actually starts is great too — my best tip is to keep your window blinds open to let in the morning sun.

With most of these points, consistency is the key. Once you’ve figured out a combination that works for you then try to replicate the exact situations every day. That way your body gets conditioned to sleep under those environmental conditions.

How do you know if you’ve gotten quality sleep?

* If you wake up on your own before your alarm goes off.
* If your joints aren’t aching when you get up.
* If you feel relaxed and ready to start your day.
* If you wake up smiling :)

And guess what, getting a good night’s rest can increase metabolism and help you stay in shape and lower heart disease.

20 Well Known Cooking Ingredients that Act Like Medicines

The use of herbal treatments for everything from sore throats to cancer has become more and more common with every passing year. We all know about the herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort that can help you with chronic health problems, but did you know that many common edible herbs can provide impressive health benefits?

While you probably already use these herbs in your home, you may not realize that they can do much more than just making your meals tasty and interesting. Here are five common herbs that do double duty as effective herbal treatments.


1. Turmeric
As anyone who has ever treated a head cold with a nice hot Indian meal already knows, turmeric is one of the best healing herbs available to us today. It contains the anti-inflammatory curcumin, which may function in the same way as some pharmaceutical arthritis drugs.

The next time your joints are aching, just have a healthy serving of curry and see if your symptoms respond to the exotic spice. Researchers recommend a daily serving of 400 mg each day.

2. Ginger
Ginger has been well-known as a calmer of upset tummies for many generations. This “old wives’ tale” has actually been proven to be true following several research studies on the effects of ginger ingestion of cruise ship passengers.

Many people around the world also use ginger as a mild pain reliever. For everyday aches or for arthritis pain, fresh or powdered ginger added to food can actually help to reduce your symptoms.

Ginger may also be an effective means of controlling ovarian cancer cells, according to a 2006 study by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. More research is needed, but the preliminary findings are very promising.

3. Cinnamon
Cinnamon was recently studied by German scientists for its effects on people with type 2 diabetes. Amazingly, they found that diabetics could decrease their blood sugar by up to 10% just by taking a cinnamon extract daily. Another study found that cinnamon may help to lower cholesterol as well.

Since cinnamon can be toxic when taken in very large quantities (much more than you would probably be able to eat at once), experts recommend that you use a cinnamon extract rather than actual cinnamon.

4. Garlic
Garlic is truly a super food. Not only does it taste wonderful, but it may even reduce your cancer risk. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who consumed high doses of garlic had low instances of several types of cancers.

Garlic is known to be extremely useful against bacteria, even those that are resistant to antibiotics. It has antifungal and antiviral properties and may even help to lower cholesterol and prevent strokes.

5. Rosemary
If you have to choose just one herb to help you avoid several different types of cancer, rosemary may be it. Rosemary can actually help to prevent carcinogens that you ingest from binding with your DNA. This can help to prevent the formation of tumors and the eventual development of cancer.

Although human studies have not yet been conducted, preliminary animal studies have shown amazing potential for this common herb. You don’t need to buy any special form of rosemary to get these benefits; simply use rosemary liberally in your cooking along with other beneficial herbs like parsley, oregano, onion, garlic, or thyme.

6. Honey
Honey is commonly used as a digestion aid and to soothe sore tummies and throats. The hydrating qualities of honey are well-known all around the world, and desert travelers have been known to carry honey and water to quench their thirst on long treks.

Honey is used externally as well as internally. Its ability to hydrate skin works even when it is applied topically. Because of this, honey is a common ingredient in many skin treatments, lotions, soaps, and anti-aging skin creams.

Perhaps the most impressive of honey’s abilities is its effectiveness as a burn treatment. Honey helps to soothe the pain of a burn while limiting inflammation and retarding infection.

7. Chili Peppers
Hot peppers are an amazing food that can help you treat any number of common conditions. At home, you can eat them to to clear up a congested head and as a natural pain reliever.

An exciting and often-publicized use for chili peppers is as a metabolism boost. Adding chili peppers to your meals can help you burn more calories, and it is believed that chili peppers can even help you feel fuller after a meal.

8. Olive Oil
This delicious and exotic-tasting oil may help to save your life some day. With regular modest consumption, olive oil can help stop plaque from forming in arteries, thus reducing your risk of heart attacks.

9. Rice
Rice is one of the best-tolerated foods available. It can help to soothe a stomach that is suffering from constipation or diarrhea, and even people suffering from the flu are likely to be able to take some rice. Eating rice regularly can prevent the formation of kidney stones and block some types of intestinal cancers.

10. Parsley
Because it is rich in antioxidants, parsley can help to block certain types of cancers and keep your body’s cells young and healthy. Antioxidants are particularly useful for detoxifying carcinogens, such as the types found in cigarette smoke.

11. Onions (and related plants such as chives, shallots, and leeks)
Plants in the onion family have been used as medicines since ancient times. Their properties have been known and enjoyed by cultures all around the world. Their exceptionally high concentration of antioxidants makes onions and related plants ideal for preventing cancer.

Onions and related plants are also a hugely effective treatment for lung disorders such as pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. They have outstanding anti-inflammatory properties and can be used as antibiotics and antivirals.

12. Lemon
Lemon has a multitude of medicinal uses and has been a prized part of the medicinal kitchen for many generations. It is a general clarifier and purifier, and can be taken to cleanse the body of impurities. It has also been used to treat headaches, arthritis, and pneumonia.

Although it seems counterintuitive (or just plain painful), applying lemon juice to cuts and scrapes is great for preventing infections. The natural antiseptic properties of lemon juice will keep infections at bay and can even reduce the appearance of bruises.

13. Mustard
This humble little plant is commonly used as an expectorant and decongestant. It is antibacterial and can also help to clear nasal passages when one is suffering from a cold or other sinus malady.

Surprisingly, mustard is also used to increase the metabolism. Using plain yellow mustard liberally on foods adds a negligible amount of calories and helps to increase the amount of calories that the body burns.

14. Cloves
Clove oil is used by many cultures as a natural painkiller and anti-inflammatory. It is used in many modern toothache remedies to dull the pain and swelling.

15. Apples
An apple a day keeps the cancer away. Regular consumption of apples can block many types of cancer and act as a general health-booster. Apples can reduce appetite and even lower your cholesterol.

16. Kale. Kale has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity lately, and with good reason. It has more lutein than any other vegetable and more beta carotene than spinach. It can help prevent cancer and regulate estrogen in the body.

17. Licorice
Not the licorice candy sold in the United States - this often contains no licorice at all! Real licorice contains a substance that is strongly anti-cancer. Licorice is also antibacterial and can reduce stomach ulcers and diarrhea.

18. Peppermint
Most mints, in fact. The leaves of mint plants are commonly used in teas and medicines to calm upset stomachs, promote sleep, and reduce stress and tension.

19. Horseradish
Like its relative mustard, horseradish is a fantastic tool for fighting digestive disorders. It can be used to treat constipation. It is also a great immune system booster, giving the liver increased power to filter out harmful substances from foods.

20. Avocado
The main ingredient in guacamole isn’t just tasty; it’s the source of lots of “good” fat and can prevent the buildup of “bad” cholesterol. It keeps your heart and circulatory system healthy by preventing the clogging of arteries.

Now that you know the incredible health benefits that some common herbs, spices, and plants can provide, try to incorporate some of them into your everyday eating. You may just find yourself in better health today and in the future.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Scientists: Watermelon yields Viagra-like effects

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) - A slice of cool, fresh watermelon is a juicy way to top off a Fourth of July cookout and one that researchers say has effects similar to Viagra—but don't necessarily expect it to keep the fireworks all night long.

Watermelons contain an ingredient called citrulline that can trigger production of a compound that helps relax the body's blood vessels, similar to what happens when a man takes Viagra, said scientists in Texas, one of the nation's top producers of the seedless variety.

Found in the flesh and rind of watermelons, citrulline reacts with the body's enzymes when consumed in large quantities and is changed into arginine, an amino acid that benefits the heart and the circulatory and immune systems.

"Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has, to treat erectile dysfunction and maybe even prevent it," said Bhimu Patil, a researcher and director of Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center. "Watermelon may not be as organ-specific as Viagra, but it's a great way to relax blood vessels without any drug side effects."

Todd Wehner, who studies watermelon breeding at North Carolina State University, said anyone taking Viagra shouldn't expect the same result from watermelon.

"It sounds like it would be an effect that would be interesting but not a substitute for any medical treatment," Wehner said.

The nitric oxide can also help with angina, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, according to the study, which was paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More citrulline—about 60 percent—is found in watermelon rind than in the flesh, Patil said, but that can vary. But scientists may be able to find ways to boost the concentrations in the flesh, he said.

Citrulline is found in all colors of watermelon and is highest in the yellow-fleshed types, said Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a USDA researcher in Lane, Okla.

She said Patil's research is valid, but with a caveat: One would need to eat about six cups of watermelon to get enough citrulline to boost the body's arginine level.

"The problem you have when you eat a lot of watermelon is you tend to run to the bathroom more," Perkins-Veazie said.

Watermelon is a diuretic and was a homeopathic treatment for kidney patients before dialysis became widespread.

Another issue is the amount of sugar that much watermelon would spill into the bloodstream—a jolt that could cause cramping, Perkins-Veazie said.

Patil said he would like to do future studies on how to reduce the sugar content in watermelon.

The relationship between citrulline and arginine might also prove helpful to those who are obese or suffer from type-2 diabetes. The beneficial effects—among them the ability to relax blood vessels, much like Viagra does—are beginning to be revealed in research.

Citrulline is present in other curcubits, like cucumbers and cantaloupe, at very low levels, and in the milk protein casein. The highest concentrations of citrulline are found in walnut seedlings, Perkins-Veazie said.

"But they're bitter and most people don't want to eat them," she said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cancer Cured? Granulocytes Treatment Worked 100 Percent In Mice Work But Will It Work In Humans?

Scientists at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are about to embark on a human trial to test whether a new cancer treatment will be as effective at eradicating cancer in humans as it has proven to be in mice.

The treatment will involve transfusing specific white blood cells, called granulocytes, from select donors, into patients with advanced forms of cancer. A similar treatment using white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice has previously been highly successful, curing 100 percent of lab mice afflicted with advanced malignancies.

Zheng Cui, Ph.D., lead researcher and associate professor of pathology, will be announcing the study June 28 at the Understanding Aging conference in Los Angeles.

The study, given the go-ahead by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will involve treating human cancer patients with white blood cells from healthy young people whose immune systems produce cells with high levels of cancer-fighting activity.

The basis of the study is the scientists' discovery, published five years ago, of a cancer-resistant mouse and their subsequent finding that white blood cells from that mouse and its offspring cured advanced cancers in ordinary laboratory mice. They have since identified similar cancer-killing activity in the white blood cells of some healthy humans.

"In mice, we've been able to eradicate even highly aggressive forms of malignancy with extremely large tumors," Cui said. "Hopefully, we will see the same results in humans. Our laboratory studies indicate that this cancer-fighting ability is even stronger in healthy humans."

The team has tested human cancer-fighting cells from healthy donors against human cervical, prostate and breast cancer cells in the laboratory – with surprisingly good results. The scientists say the anti-tumor response primarily involves granulocytes of the innate immune system, a system known for fighting off infections.

Granulocytes are the most abundant type of white blood cells and can account for as much as 60 percent of total circulating white blood cells in healthy humans. Donors can give granulocytes specifically without losing other components of blood through a process called apheresis that separates granulocytes and returns other blood components back to donors.

In a small study of human volunteers, the scientists found that cancer-killing activity in the granulocytes was highest in people under age 50. They also found that this activity can be lowered by factors such as winter or emotional stress. They said the key to the success for the new therapy is to transfuse sufficient granulocytes from healthy donors while their cancer-killing activities are at their peak level.

For the upcoming study, the researchers are currently recruiting 500 local potential donors who are 50 years old or younger and in good health to have their blood tested. Of those, 100 volunteers with high cancer-killing activity will be asked to donate white blood cells for the study. Cell recipients will include 22 cancer patients who have solid tumors that either didn't respond originally, or no longer respond, to conventional therapies. The study will cost $100,000 per patient receiving therapy, and for many patients (those living in 22 states, including North Carolina) the costs may be covered by their insurance company. There is no cost to donate blood. For general information about insurance coverage of clinical trials, go to the American Cancer Society's web site at

For more information about qualifications for donors and participants, go to (Web site will be available the evening of 6/27.) Cancer-killing ability in these cells is highest during the summer, so researchers are hoping to find volunteers who can afford the therapy quickly.

"If the study is effective, it would be another arrow in the quiver of treatments aimed at cancer," said Mark Willingham, M.D., a co-researcher and professor of pathology. "It is based on 10 years of work since the cancer-resistant mouse was first discovered."

Volunteers who are selected as donors – based on the observed potential cancer-fighting activity of their white cells – will complete the apheresis, a two- to three-hour process similar to platelet donation, to collect their granulocytes. The cancer patients will then receive the granulocytes through a transfusion – a safe process that has been used for more than 30 years. Normally, the treatment is used for patients who have antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases. The treatment will be given for three to four consecutive days on an outpatient basis. Up to three donors may be necessary to collect enough blood product for one study participant.

"The difference between our study and the traditional white cell therapy is that we're selecting the healthy donors based on the cancer-killing ability of their white blood cells," said Cui. The scientists are calling the therapy Leukocyte InFusion Therapy (LIFT).

The goal of the phase II study is to determine whether patients can tolerate a sufficient amount of transfused granulocytes for the treatment. Participants will be monitored on a regular basis, and after three months scientists will evaluate whether the treatment results in clear clinical benefits for the patients. If this phase of the study is successful, scientists will expand the study to determine if the treatment is best suited to certain types of cancer.

Yikong Keung, M.D., a medical oncologist, is the chief clinical investigator of the study. Gregory Pomper, M.D., assistant professor of pathology and the director of the Wake Forest Baptist blood bank, will oversee the blood banking portion of the study.