Monday, April 27, 2009

Alcohol & bone health

Toast to your bones

For over a decade you have heard stories about alcohol, especially red wine, being good for your health, seemingly reducing the chance of getting heart disease or dementia. Could that wine with dinner or a beer after work be doing wonders for your bones too?

1-2 drinks a day
Yes, according to a study of 1200 men and 1500 women by the Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in the US. One or two drinks of wine or beer daily improved the bone mineral density of the hip and spine in men and post-menopausal women. Young women didn’t seem to get the same bone benefit from a tipple.

Often, health authorities frown upon any positive word on alcohol because it is so easy to abuse, with many people take their drinking too enthusiastically and reversing any positives. In addition, very few know what a standard drink looks like. A regular wine glass can easily hold two standard drinks, therefore you now have restaurants providing wine glasses with a standard drink marker on the side.

Fortunately, I have a government permit to mention alcohol in this blog as a recent survey showed that not a single subscriber abused alcohol and all had an exceptionally high IQ.

What is it in alcoholic drinks that could be helping bones?
Apparently beer contains silicon, in the form of orthosilicic acid, which helps promote bone formation. In post-menopausal women, the resveratrol in red wine helps maintain estrogen levels to reduce the rate of bone loss later in life. A regular consumption of small amounts of beer and wine could be having a life-time accumulating effect on bone mineral density. The effect was lost once two standard drinks daily was surpassed.

What does it all mean?
Wise consumption of alcohol (2 or less standard drinks a day) may confer many benefits to the heart, the brain and the skeleton. Of course, those folk that do drink sensibly may be more likely to walk the dog, not smoke, consume adequate calcium, go to the gym, and not ride a skateboard along the metal handrails of a flight of steps, all of which are smart decisions for bone health.

A drink could be providing an independent benefit for your bones, but don’t count on it. If you drink, use it as “adjunct therapy” to other healthy decisions you make in life. This study backs a review of the previous literature published in the American Journal of Medicine (May 2008), supporting 1-2 drinks a day for stronger bones.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 89: 1188-1196

Low Carb Beers

The low carbohydrate beer has been around for a long time and rises in popularity when the low carb diets take off, which they seem to do about once a decade. I’ve ear-marked the next “lets fret about carbs again” diet best seller for 2014. A can of regular beer has around 10-15g carbohdrate and 600 kJ (145 Cals). The low carb version has 3-5g carbohydrate per can and 470 kJ (110 kJ), which is about the same kilojoule content as a 3% alcohol light beer.

Let’s make this clear (and it has been a fact since 4000 BC, or even earlier), carbohydrate doesn’t make you fat; excess kilojoules make you fat. It doesn’t matter whether the excess kilojoules come from protein, carbohydrate, fat or alcohol, they will all end up as buttock baggage. In reality, it is most likely that any excess kJs will come from fat and/or alcohol (not carbohydrate, unless someone drinks 2L of soft drink a day).

So, if you are concerned about your waist circumference and health, then it makes better sense to choose lower alcohol beers. If you are having just one beer, let’s say, for healthy bones, then have whatever you like. Then again, if you choose your beer on image alone, base your choice on your favourite beer ad.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mushrooms & breast cancer

Good news if you don’t smoke

If you don’t smoke, then the most likely cancer you will get is either breast or prostate cancer, with 3000 Australians dying every year of each one. For comparison, about 7,500 people die of lung cancer annually.

Mushrooms good to breasts
Last month there was a report in the International Journal of Cancer from the University of Western Australia. Researchers, led by Dr Min Zhang, studied 1000 Chinese women with breast cancer and compared them to 1000 control women without cancer. Their findings reveal that those women who consumed the most fresh mushrooms were **around two-thirds less likely to develop breast cancer** in comparison to those that didn’t eat mushrooms. There was a further risk reduction if they also drank about a cup of green tea each day too.

You might be thinking that the women were eating exotic mushrooms you rarely see in the supermarket. Not so. The most common mushroom consumed was the button mushroom we all enjoy, and less than one small mushroom a day conferred the protection from breast cancer. The story was so popular that it was reported in 74 newspaper stories around the country in mid-March.

Mushrooms may be good to prostates too
Earlier research published in the journal Cancer Research in 2006 has revealed that compounds in mushrooms inhibit two enzymes that encourage the progression of both breast and prostate cancer in mice. If you are desperate to know, the two enzymes are called aromatase (breast cancer), and 5-alpha reductase (prostate cancer). Because the results have been very encouraging, funding has just been granted to conduct human studies in the US.

What does it all mean?
This was the first human research on common mushrooms and breast cancer. A previous Korean study also found a link between other types of mushrooms and a lower risk of breast cancer. As we have an inclination as to how mushrooms are affecting breast and prostate cancer cells, the mushroom seems like a simple way of putting the odds in our favour against the top two cancers that hit non-smokers.

We have to remember that this was in Chinese women who naturally have a lower rate of breast cancer, so we can’t guarantee a similar result with those eating a western-style diet.

Reference: International Journal of Cancer 2009; 124: 1404-1408

Potential conflict of interest: Glenn Cardwell consults to the mushroom industry. He was not involved in the study.
Queensland netball

In the last newsletter I mentioned that Queensland Netball had banned oranges for fear that the natural citric acid in oranges could harm teeth. I suggested that we should encourage the drinking of water as it both hydrated players and washed the acid away from teeth.

Sally Anderson, a Queenslander, said: “Please come back to Queensland, I would appreciate another voice supporting the “oranges are a-okay” campaign. Alternatively, you might like to join me in from afar in the “some-day-common-sense-will-prevail” campaign!

She said she had a friend who said: “"If you are hungry, eat an orange. If you are thirsty, eat an orange. If you are hungry & an orange". I just knew there was some common sense in Queensland.

Sweta from the US could also see the absurdity of it all and hoped it wouldn’t become an international trend, as many people see Australia at the forefront of sports nutrition.
The origin of the term "vitamin"

It was the Polish scientist Casimir Funk who postulated that the compound that prevented the disease beri-beri was an organic compound with an amine group. He believed that other diseases like scurvy and rickets would also be cured and prevented by other vital amines in food.

He came up with the name ‘vitamines’, but this term quickly lost the ‘e’ when it became clear his hypothesis was wrong. Vitamin C, which stopped scurvy is an acid and vitamin D, which put an end to rickets is actually a hormone. So, you can thank Casimir for the enduring term vitamin.