Meat increases cancer risk
Happiness helps health
Yoga helps, but is not enough exercise
L-carnitine helps the elderly
Strontium increases bone density
Cured meat and lung disease
Yet another large study shows a relationship of meat intake to cancer. In a collaboration of the National Institutes of Health with AARP, researchers evaluated 494,036 subjects aged 50 to 71 years over an 8-year period. (Cross AJ, et al., A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk. PLoS Med. 2007 Dec 11;4(12):e325 [Epub ahead of print])
They found that those with the highest level of meat consumption had increases in the risks of cancer of the colon, lung, esophagus, and liver of 29 to 60 percent compared to those with the lowest meat consumption. Among men, they also had a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
The high-intake group did not eat as much meat as you might think – they averaged only ¼ pound of hamburger, or one small steak or pork chop per day. Those with the lowest consumption of red meat averaged just over ½ ounce of meat per day. Surprisingly, women with higher meat consumption had an unexpected 25 percent reduction of endometrial cancer. Naturally, the meat industry representative latched onto this statistic as the most important and minimized the other findings, even though endometrial cancer is not as common as lung or colon cancers.
The endometrial cancer risk reduction in this study might be real, but it is unlikely to be the result of meat consumption. Other research has shown a 25 and 50 percent increase of endometrial cancer with an average consumption of 100 grams (3 ounces) per day of total meat and red meat, respectively. (Bandera EV, et al., Consumption of animal foods and endometrial cancer risk: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Cancer Causes Control. 2007 Nov;18(9):967-88.)
The conclusion is clearly that eliminating or drastically reducing meat consumption can significantly lower the risk of cancer at multiple sites. This is in accord with numerous other findings as I have reported earlier. High fiber intake has been associated with reduced cancer incidence, including endometrial cancer, and it is possible that high fiber intake could be a marker for low meat intake, as meat is devoid of fiber.
Happiness appears to reduce inflammation and lower the risk factors for heart disease and hypertension. While a positive mood has long been associated with better health, it is not clear why this is so. New research suggests some possible reasons.
In a study in England of 2873 healthy adult subjects, a positive mood appears to reduce the blood levels of cortisol, a hormone secreted in times of stress and associated with lowered immunity, increased obesity, and high blood pressure. (Steptoe A, et al., Neuroendocrine and inflammatory factors associated with positive affect in healthy men and women. The Whitehall II Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 January 1;167(1):96-102.)
In other findings, in women but not men, positive moods were associated with reduced levels of the inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL6). Researchers asked the subjects to keep a record of their feelings and moods during the study – whether they were happy, excited, or content.
High CRP is a known risk factor for heart disease. High levels of both IL6 and CRP are associated with increased cancer risks. The great benefits from positive feelings and an upbeat mood were reported decades ago by Norman Cousins in his book, Anatomy of an Illness. The great question, of course, is how to achieve it.
Yoga has been shown to be beneficial to health when practiced regularly, but it often does not meet the guidelines for exercise requirements for cardiovascular health. During most Hatha yoga sessions, moving from posture to posture and holding positions for a short time, calorie burn off is approximately equivalent to a casual walk at about 2 miles per hour (3.2 calories per minute). (Hagins M, et al., Does practicing hatha yoga satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness? BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007 Nov 30;7(1):40)
During portions of the yoga, when doing the “salutation to the sun” postures, for example, the work load was higher and participants were able to meet the recommended level of exercise, but this is not typically kept up long enough to achieve an adequate workout. Yoga still has many benefits when added to an exercise program for cardiovascular health.
In subjects who were 100 or more years old, the dietary supplement L-carnitine improved their functioning in a variety of ways. In this Italian study of 66 male and female centenarians, half were given a placebo and half were given supplements of 2000 mg of L-carnitine per day. (Malaguarnera M, et al., L-Carnitine treatment reduces severity of physical and mental fatigue and increases cognitive functions in centenarians: a randomized and controlled clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Dec;86(6):1738-44.)
L-carnitine is produced in the body, but levels decline with age, and drop significantly after age 70. It is necessary for energy production, muscle function (including heart muscle), fat metabolism, and maintenance of normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. The creation of the energy molecule, ATP, requires free fatty acids, coenzyme Q10 in the mitochondria, and L-carnitine to transport fatty acids across the mitochondrial membrane.
In this study, the subjects who received the L-carnitine gained significant muscle mass over the six months of the study (about 8 ½ pounds) while losing four pounds of fat. They had lower cholesterol levels and an increase in walking distance during a 6-minute walk test.
The supplements also led to higher mental and physical energy and a lessened severity of overall fatigue. In addition, cognitive function as measured by the mini mental state examination was much improved in the subjects on the L-carnitine compared to those taking the placebo.
You do not have to wait until you are 100 to benefit from L-carnitine. Other studies have shown reduced heart disease, better survival after heart attacks in patients given L-carnitine when a heart attack was suspected, and better blood lipid levels.
Strontium is a mineral that deposits in bones and helps to improve bone density. (Strontium in its radioactive form was infamous during the early days of nuclear testing, because strontium-90 would deposit in bones of exposed children and lead to bone cancer, but non-radioactive strontium is quite safe.)
A new study confirms the value of long-term treatment with strontium in elderly patients with decreased bone density. (Malaise O, et al., Strontium ranelate normalizes bone mineral density in osteopenic patients. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2007 Aug;19(4):330-3.) In this research, 1428 patients with low bone density were assigned to receive either strontium ranelate (equivalent to 680 mg of elemental strontium per day) or a placebo for three years.
During the study, bone density was measured at the baseline and after each year. For those taking the strontium, each year the percentage of patients with normal bone density in the spine increased, so that at the end of 3 years, 58 percent of them had normal lumbar spine bone density. For the placebo group, at the end of 3 years the number of patients with normal spines was only 12 percent.
The results were not as dramatic in the hip, but they were still positive. At the end of three years, 20 percent of the strontium group had normal hip bone density, compared to only 1.6 percent of the placebo group. Other studies have shown a 49 percent reduction in fracture risk after one year in patients taking strontium compared to those on placebo. Strontium citrate is a reasonably-priced form of the mineral.
Considering the risks of medications for osteoporosis (bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax), it is worth considering this alternative along with supplemental vitamin D, ipriflavone, and vitamin K, all of which help bone density. Weight-bearing exercise with some impact, such as jogging, is also extremely important for bones.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, usually the result of smoking) is a contributor to early mortality. New research shows that eating cured meats, such as processed meats (bologna, salami), bacon, and hot dogs, increase the incidence of COPD, independent of smoking. (Varraso R, et al., Prospective study of cured meats consumption and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in men. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Dec 15;166 (12):1438-45.)
In this research on 42,915 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up study, those who ate the most cured meats (4-6 servings per week) had more than 2.5 times the risk of COPD compared to those who ate the least (less than 1 serving per week). My negative opinion of eating meat is not based on bias or preconceived notions (I grew up eating lots of meat), but on my observations of the overwhelming weight of the scientific research over the past 36 years.