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Drop that Pill

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Multi-vitamin medicines may take you closer to diabetes:-

For decades, health-conscious people have been popping multi-vitamin tablets to stay healthy and prevent their body from “rusting”. But it may not be such a good idea, scientists now say, as the pills may actually make you prone to diabetes. In a major blow to the multi-billion dollar vitamin industry, researchers in Australia have gathered enough scientific evidence to show that synthetic antioxidants contained in multi-vitamin pills stunt the body’s ability to release insulin, an important hormone required to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Antioxidants, which are primarily multi-vitamin supplements, help the body maintain good health and vitality by mopping up what scientists call “reactive oxygen species” or ROS, a natural by-product of metabolism. Extremely reactive, the latter are capable of damaging cell structures and DNA, if not continuously removed from the system. Normally, a healthy body is capable of scavenging these harmful compounds on its own. But when one is chronically ill, this ability is severely compromised, thus creating a need for an external supply of antioxidants.

“Whether antioxidants really help depends on the user’s state of health,” says Tony Tiganis, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Cellular Signalling and Human Disease Laboratory, Monash University, Australia, and leader of the study team.

The study, which appeared in the latest issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, suggests that mopping up the entire quantity of ROS from the body is not a good idea. That is because a low level of ROS can promote insulin response and attenuate insulin resistance in the early stages of type 2 diabetes. Insulin response can be best described as the body’s ability to release insulin — which removes sugar (or glucose) from blood, storing it away in muscles and fat cells.

“This is the first ever study to show that ROS can promote insulin sensitivity in vivo to prevent the development of insulin resistance,” Tiganis told KnowHow.

Experimenting with laboratory mice, Tiganis and his colleagues showed that the animals which lacked the ability to eliminate normal levels of ROS do not become insulin resistant even when put on a high-fat diet as they otherwise would have. These health benefits could be attributed to the increased release of insulin and uptake of ROS in their muscles, say the researchers.

“It is a pathbreaking study, the conclusions of which go against the prevailing scientific opinion that increase in oxidation (release of ROS) inhibits insulin action and predisposes one to diabetes,”
says Anoop Misra, internal medicine specialist at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

However, one must be careful in embracing the findings, cautions Misra. “The authors themselves say that only a subtle increase (and not gross) in oxidation can enhance sensitivity to insulin and that too in the early phase of the onset of diabetes.”

In practical terms, the general use of antioxidants (which are available in India in a wide variety, as vitamins and “strength giving” and “anti-ageing” pills) is best avoided, he observes.

It is not for the first time that the growing multi-vitamin industry is getting a bad press. Early last year, a study by Danish researchers — which appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association — showed that certain antioxidants could cut short the lifespan of an individual.

The study, which was an analysis of 67 random studies covering 2,00,000 people on antioxidant supplements, showed that some supplements — including vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin E — were capable of increasing mortality. Yet another suggested that an overdose of antioxidants could make men vulnerable to prostrate cancer.

In May this year, a team of researchers from Germany and the US showed that vitamin supplements could negate the health-promoting benefits of physical exercise. Published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, the study said supplements might lower the activity of several genes that are responsible for the body’s natural ROS scavenging mechanism.

Tiganis and other scientists, however, argue that they are not totally against intake of antioxidants. The body requires them and there are several natural sources of antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables. “There is a delicate balance; too much of a good thing… might be bad,” he says.

“I think healthy individuals should not take antioxidant supplements, but exercise and follow a healthy diet. It is possible that antioxidants may improve insulin sensitivity in obese diabetics,” he observes.

As a next step, the scientists are planning to work out at what stage ROS change from being beneficial to harmful.

So think again before you pop those pills in the morning.

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Testosterone Patch Can Boost Libido

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Australian scientists have found a simple way to boost sex drive in older women- a stomach patch loaded with the male hormone testosterone.

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The new study has detailed significant benefits of testosterone in the bedroom. Testosterone is the only agent known to improve desire and arousal in women, reports News.com.au.

“Women who used the patch experienced twice the number of satisfactory events than women using a placebo patch. That’s an exciting development given no other agent has been found to help women,” said the lead investigator professor Susan Davis, from Monash University in Melbourne.

For the study, the researchers studied 814 post-menopausal women worldwide who were given either the male hormone or a dummy patch, which is stuck to the stomach and was changed twice weekly.
Developed by US drug company Procter and Gamble, the patch is not yet available in Australia.

Before the study, the women enjoyed half their sexual encounters. However, after six months, those on the testosterone patch had an extra two satisfying experiences a month, in contrast with 0.7 among the placebo group.

“We already knew it could work among women taking oestrogen as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but HRT isn’t for everyone so it’s important to know it works alone too,” said Davis.
She also said that there was a “nervousness” among women in using a male hormone, “but women actually have more testosterone in their blood at any given time than oestrogen”.

Sources: The Times Of India

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Advancing Towards Baby Making

DNA fingerprinting will revolutionise the practice of IVF and eliminate multiple pregnancies.

Given a choice, Gita Kapoor, a 37-year-old banker in Bangalore, would have preferred just one child. She and her software engineer husband knew that with their busy work schedules raising even one child wouldn’t be an easy job. Two years ago, they opted for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) at a fertility clinic in their city. Today the Kapoors are proud parents of a pair of chubby twins — a boy and a girl.

It isn’t that the Kapoors are not happy to have more than one child. But they have two children not by choice but because of an inherent shortcoming in the assisted reproduction technique they opted for.

“So far there is no technique available to choose a single, viable embryo for implantation,” says Dr Trichnopoly Chelvaraj Anand Kumar, a veteran andrologist in Bangalore.

As a result, fertility doctors normally implant more than one embryo to increase the chances of pregnancy. “With a single embryo, the success rate of IVF is about 30 to 35 per cent. It goes up to 45 per cent with two embryos,” says Dr Indira Hinduja, who is the first Indian doctor to have produced a test tube baby in India in the 1980s.

There are a number of problems associated with multiple pregnancies. Often, babies born in a multiple birth are premature, have low birth weight and are prone to infections. Also, their mortality rate is slightly on the higher side, notes Dr Hinduja.

But thanks to a team of medical researchers in Australia and Greece, doctors may soon be able to find a way of successfully employing genetic screening to identify embryos that can lead to healthy babies.

In a paper reported in the latest issue of the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers say that DNA fingerprinting, a technique more commonly used in forensic applications and in resolving parenthood controversies, can be a useful tool in fertility clinics. The technique can help pinpoint a handful of genes that can help spot a better embryo that would lead to a successful pregnancy, says Gayle Jones, a researcher at Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, Monash University, Australia.

When a couple attends a fertility clinic for IVF, eggs from the woman are fertilised with sperm from the man and the fertilised eggs are allowed to develop in the laboratory until they reach what doctors call the blastocyst phase, or the early stages of embryo formation. This normally takes about five days.

One of the difficult decisions, even for a better-trained fertility expert, is to decide which fertilised egg is to be chosen. With little help from technology to distinguish a viable blastocyst from a non-viable one, they often resort to implanting more than one to increase the chances. This often leads to multiple pregnancy.

But this need not be the case anymore, say researchers at Monash University and the Centre for Human Reproduction at Genesis Athens Hospital in Greece.

For their study, the scientists removed a few cells each from the outermost layer of the resulting blastocysts of 48 women who attended the clinic for IVF treatment.

Of the 48 women, 25 became pregnant, leading to the delivery of 37 babies. Once the babies were born, blood from the umbilical cords or swabs of cheek cells was collected. Subsequently, the scientists used DNA fingerprinting to see which genes were common to the material collected after delivery as well as the blastocyst biopsy.

“By analysing these genes, we have been able to identify those that are key to the processes involved in embryo implantation,” Jones told KnowHow.

Though it is too early, she thinks that they would be in a position to refine the gene set further to a smaller number of genes that are more highly predictive of a viable blastocyst. “The ability to select a single, most viable embryo from a cohort available for transfer will revolutionise the practice of IVF, not only improving pregnancy rates but also eliminating multiple pregnancies and the attendant complications,” Jones said.

The Monash University researchers hope that the technique would be available for clinical use within a couple of years if they achieve further success.

IVF being the most common and cheapest of all assisted reproductive methods in use, such improvements in its success rate will be a boon to a large number of infertile couples, says Dr Kumar.

Sources:The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Like Wine, Ham Too Complex On Nose

Like fine wine, ham is also far more chemically complicated than previously thought as far as its aromas are concerned, say researchers.

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The study, led by Huanlu Song, a researcher in the College of Chemical & Environmental Engineering at China’s Beijing Technology & Business University, examined several kinds of ham to review the chemistry of their distinctive aromas.

The study was conducted on American country ham, which is produced in southern states and require curing and up to a year of aging to develop their flavours, and the compounds it releases.

“The aroma of country ham consists of a variety of compounds having different odour properties. A single compound cannot characterize the aroma,” Discovery News quoted Song, as saying.

In the study, hams from North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky manufacturers were included.

One test involved freezing pieces of ham in liquid nitrogen, grinding the mixture into a powder and then using special pumps to separate the ham odour’s individual chemicals. However, another test drew out the meat’s more acidic compounds.

The scientists compiled a list of all of the identified chemicals and their associated odour and flavour properties, similar to how wine tasters link wine characteristics to other well-known substance descriptions, like earthy or fruity.

For ham, the descriptions included: dark chocolate, fruity, fatty, vinegar-like, green orange, raw peanut, buttery, cheesy, cut grass, mushroom, popcorn, metallic, milky, cooked potato, cucumber, rosy, smoky, coconut-like, floury, peachy, burnt sugar, sour, tortilla-like and even faecal.

Song explained that most of these aromas and tastes arise from three chemical processes: the Maillard reaction, Strecker degradation and lipid oxidation.

The Maillard reaction happens when amino acids and sugar are heated to certain temperatures. Carbon atoms within the sugar react with organic amino acid compounds to produce what many cooks have described as the “golden brown deliciousness” of a range of odours and flavours most associate with caramelization.

Strecker degradation takes that reaction up a notch, to produce roasted, or even burnt, flavours and odours.

Lipid oxidation is the process of combining oxygen with fats on an atomic level. It’s one reason why ham smells so savoury and flavourful, but it can also indicate the presence of potentially dangerous free radicals, which are unstable molecules.

Song said different raw materials, pig species, processing technologies and even what the pigs eat all affect the final outcome of the ham.

Sources:The study is published in the Journal of Food Science.

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Disciplined Life Cuts Alzheimer’s Risk

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CHICAGO: People who lead a good clean life – those who are conscientious, self-disciplined and scrupulous – appear to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, US researchers said .

The finding is the latest from a long-running study of nearly 1,000 Catholic nuns, priests and brothers by Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The study appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry .

Wilson and colleagues defined conscientiousness in the study as people who control their impulses and are goal-directed. These people are often considered dependable. People in Wilson’s study did not have dementia when the study started in 1994.

The researchers asked the volunteers to rank themselves on a five-point scale according to a 12-item inventory, with questions such as “I am a productive person who always gets the job done.” From this, they derived a conscientiousness score, based on a scale of 0 to 48. The average score was 34.

They were also given various medical and neurological exams, including cognitive testing. Follow-up tests were done each year through 2006. A total of 176 people developed Alzheimer’s disease during the study.

People who were highly conscientious – those in the 90th percentile with scores of 40 or higher, had an 89% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who ranked in the 10th percentile.

Source:The Times Of India