Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Pregnancy v autism.

A trio of researchers has discovered that if there is a short interval between first and second babies, the second one has an increased risk of autism.

The researchers looked at 660,000 pairs of siblings born in California between 1992 and 2002, where the first-born did not have autism. Then they compared the rates of autism in the second sibling, using the interval between when the mother first gave birth and when she became pregnant again.

Compared to an interval of 3+ years, an interval of 2-3 years resulted in an increase in the risk of autism by 27%, while 1-2 years increased the risk by 87% and under 1 year increased the risk by 139%.

The researchers checked their work using pairs of siblings where the 1st born had autism, and again found the second was at even greater risk if the interval was less than 3 years.

Experts in autism are cautioning that although the study appears sound, it is normal to wait for results to be replicated in a different group of people.

However, other studies have shown an increased risk of schizophrenia in the second born where there is a short interval between pregnancies. While other problems such as being severely pre-term are also linked to increased risk of autism.

Collectively, these suggest that a short interval increases the chance that the second child’s neural development is impacted.

The researchers speculated that the reason might be a depleted level of nutrients such as folate or iron, or elevated stress levels.

Until a mechanism is established, this would suggest mothers falling pregnant within 3 years of last giving birth should make sure their nutrients follow medical recommendations closely, and put practices in place to cut stress.


January 10, 2011 Posted by | Autism, Brain, Child Health, Diet, Minerals, Pregnancy, Stress, Success, Vitamins | Leave a comment

Eating well?

Two stories published today illustrate the difference between how well people think they eat and how well they really eat.

In Ecuador, Dr Simin Nikbin Meydani examined the diet and health of 350 men and women aged 65+ living in 3 poor neighbourhoods around the capital, Quito. Despite being poor, these people seemed to be eating well, with 33% of the men overweight and 55% of the women overweight.

In reality, their diet was heavily based on white rice, potatoes, sugar and white bread. Foods to provide micronutrients, such as chicken, legumes, fruit and vegetables, were sparse.

Using standard definitions, the team found that 19% of the men and 81% of the women had metabolic syndrome. High levels of C-reactive protein, a marker associated with cardiovascular disease risk, were found in 50% of the population. By analysing diet components, the team was able to tie risk of metabolic syndrome to under-consumption of vitamin C and vitamin E in this population.

The research was published in Public Health Nutrition.

Meanwhile, in the US, a survey of over 1,200 people found that many thought they were eating better than they really were.

53% thought their diet was somewhat healthy, 32% thought very healthy and 6% thought extremely healthy.

However, only 30% ate their 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, only half watched how many sweets they ate and 43% drank at least one can of sugar-sweetened beverage each day.

Of those who said they were at a healthy weight, 30% were clinically in the overweight range, and 35% were obese.

While 81% claimed to be active, the average amount of time spent moderately active was one hour, with a large chunk clocking up 5 hours per day sitting down.

The study was conducted by Consumer Reports.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Activity, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diet, Fruit, Gender, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, United States, Vegetables, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, Weight management | Leave a comment

Antioxidants v stroke.

The Italian segment of EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) has reported on how consumption of antioxidants relates to stroke risk.

Dr Nicoletta Pellegrini of the University of Parma analysed data on roughly 42,000 men and women who were free from stroke and heart attacks at the start of the study, and who were followed for an average of 8 years.

Those with a diet high in antioxidants had a 60% lower chance of suffering an ischemic stroke (blocked blood vessel). Most of this effect may be due to high vitamin C intake.

The researchers speculated that the protective mechanism might be a combination of anti-inflammatory action, plus generation of nitric oxide to cause dilation of blood vessels and so lower blood pressure.

However, highest intake of vitamin E appeared to be linked to a large increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding), but due to the small number of such events, the team suggested further research would be required to investigate this.

More than half the antioxidants consumed came from coffee, red wine and fruit, with other sources including chocolate, vegetables, whole grain cereals and nuts.

While the team checked results after adjusting for a number of risk factors, one notable item they did not account for was sodium (salt) consumption.

January 3, 2011 Posted by | Alcohol, Chocolate, Coffee, Diet, Fruit, Health, High blood pressure, Stroke, Success, Vegetables, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Vitamin E | Leave a comment

Eat yourself healthy.

First published in January 2010, here’s a list of food that not only tastes great, but also improves your health profile.

Almonds. Research just published in Dec 2010 show that these improve insulin resistance in those beginning to develop diabetes.

Apples (unpeeled) for quercetin. Located just under the skin of an apple, quercetin has been found to kill viruses directly. It also increases the level of sirtuin 1. Sirtuin 1 helps in the repair of damaged DNA, and is linked to improvements in type 2 diabetes, aging, and Alzheimer’s. It also appears to increase exercise capacity.

Baked beans for soluble fibre. This helps lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol. Research published in Jan 2010 found that higher blood sugar levels (irrespective of body mass index) are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Chillies. Linked to an increase in calories burned as you break down food, lasting up to 2 hours after you eat them. Easy weight control!

Dark chocolate (or cocoa). Various studies published in 2010 found that eating just a couple of cubes of dark chocolate a day, or a cocoa at night, was linked to lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

Frozen peas for vitamins B and C. The B vitamins help the nervous system, the vitamin C helps cut the length of colds.

Green tea. Too many benefits to list! Research published in Jan 2010 found it cut the risk of lung cancer, in both smokers and non-smokers.

Oily fish for omega-3. Another one with too many benefits to list. In an area of the US known as the ‘stroke belt and buckle’, which has much higher rates of stroke than normal, Dec 2010 research linked this to low consumption of oily fish, and with high consumption of fried non-oily fish, which greatly increases uptake of omega-6, to the detriment of omega-3.

Grapefruit. Research in 2005 showed that eating fresh grapefruit before meal led to weight loss. Research published in 2010 tied this down to the active ingredient naringen. Check out all medications before using grapefruit because this potent chemical interferes with quite a wide range.

New potatoes. When new, these have a better glycemic profile, breaking down more slowly and providing a long acting, less peaked energy response than baked potatoes. And in December the head of the US potato marketing board finished a month of eating absolutely nothing but potatoes, to show that they get more criticism than they deserve.

Oats for beta glucan. This soluble fibre lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Olives for monounsatured fat and phenolics. The list of research in 2010 on the benefits of olive oli on the cardivascular system goes on and on.

Parsley for chlorophyl. A good source of antioxidants, but chewing a little parsley after a meal mops up any unpleasant odours.

Poached or boiled eggs, but not fried, for lecithin. Research shows two eggs for breakfast will cut 400 calories from your overall intake during the day. If you are not interested in the weight loss angle, the lecithin gets converted into a neurotransmitter involved in good memory.

Pomegranate juice. A very small glass per day has been found to reverse artery damage caused by cholesterol.

Prunes for ferulic acid, which helps to keep your bowels regular.

Tomatoes. Another in the ‘too many benefits to list category’. As an example, eating tomato products is linked with a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer in men.

Wholewheat pasta. Another one that gives a long lasting energy source without pushing blood sugar levels through a dangerous peak. It has to be wholewheat!

Turmeric spice for curcumin. The active ingredient, curcumin, turned up ever so frequently in 2010, Protective against too many cancer types to list. Appears to protect the brain against the effects of stroke. Looks to have a neuro=protective effect in brain degeneration diseases, including MS, Alzheimer’s and more. Plus, it makes your rice look really nice!

December 25, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Alzheimer's, Cancer, Capsaicin - chillis, Chocolate, Cholesterol, Curcumin - turmeric, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Diet, Fibre, Fish, Fish oil, Glycemic index, Grapefruit, Green Tea, Health, Multiple sclerosis, Obesity, Olive oil, Omega-3, Omega-6, Parkinson's, Pomegranate, Stroke, Success, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Weight management, Whole grain | Leave a comment

Preventing falls in older adults.

The US Preventive Services Task Force is reviewing its recommendations on primary care and preventing falls in the elderly. A team of scientists has analysed extensive research studies to conclude that vitamin D supplements and exercise are the top treatments.

The report in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that the team evaluated nearly 3,500 published studies to identify good quality randomised control trials that related to primary care interventions for falls in elderly adults living in the community. Amongst other results, they ended up with 16 studies relating to exercise and 9 relating to vitamin D.

The exercise trials included gait, balance, or functional training, typically along with strength, resistance, or general exercise.

The exercise studies averaged a 13% reduction in the risk of falls, while the vitamin D trials averaged a 17% reduction.

Other approaches such as vision correction, medication assessment, home-hazard modification, and behavioral counseling weren’t found to be effective in reducing falls.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Exercise, Health, Success, Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Vitamin D and women seniors.

A large study of elderly women in the US has found that there appears to be a u-shaped link between vitamin D and frailty and death. The optimal range was found to be 20 to 30 ng/ml, with poorer outcomes below and above this range.

Over 9,700 women aged 65+ had blood levels of vitamin D checked and their level of frailty tested.

To be considered frail, women has to have at least 3 of the following factors – recent bodyweight loss of at least 5% – grip strength in the lowest fifth of those tested – walking speed in the lowest fifth – self-reported lethargy – weekly walking duration in the lowest fifth.

Taking those in the 20 to 30 ng/ml group as the reference, those with 15 to 19.9 ng/ml appeared to be more likely to be frail, though this just failed to reach statistical significance. In those with under 15 ng/ml, the risk of being frail was 47% higher, while in those above 30 ng/ml, the risk was 32% higher. The researchers noted that this U-shaped relationship existed even if those taking supplements were removed from the calculation, so the result is not skewed by those taking supplements because they are frail.

Follow up checks were offered at 6 years (when 6,300 took part) and at 10 years, and the women were tracked for an average of 4.5 years.

Considering the 4,500 women who were not frail at the start, those in the under 20 ng/ml category appeared to be more likely to die or to become frail.  Again this failed by a small margin to be statistically significant, except for the under 15 ng/ml group, which was 40% more likely to die.

The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. In an editorial, independent researchers concluded that getting blood levels into the 20 to 30 ng/ml range appeared to be safe and efficaceous.

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Health, Success, Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Vitamin D in high-risk seniors.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) has responded to the recent publication by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that recommended vitamin D levels. The IOF recommends levels 50% higher for high-risk seniors.

The IOF actually published its own finding for seniors in April 2010. In this, the IOF focussed on research into vitamin D in those aged 60 plus, relating to the impact on falls and fractures.

High-risk seniors are considered to be those in this age range who are also one or more of – obese, suffering from osteoporosis, limited in sun exposure (such as those in institutions or homebound), absorb vitamin D poorly, or are from populations suffering from low vitamin D levels, such as the Middle East and South East Asia.

The IOF recommends that blood levels of vitamin D are first established, then a formula used to calculate the supplements required, then blood levels are tested after 3 months for adequacy.

The IOF position paper showed that supplementation of vitamin D increased lower body strength in seniors and cut falls by 20%. There was also a cut of 20% in fractures. In both of these, supplementation below the amounts recommended by the IOF did not produce these benefits. The IOF did not recommend higher levels because no research has been carried out at higher levels.

The IOM recommends a blood level of 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L). The IOF recommends a blood level of 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/L) for high-risk seniors as this is where the research found the benefits.

Supplementation at 10 micrograms/day (400 IU/day) produced no improvement. For this reason, the IOF recommended that high-risk seniors should take 800-1,000 IU/day, noting that this is well below the 4,000 IU/day toxic limit published by the IOM.

December 3, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Aging, Health, Obesity, Osteoporosis, Success, United States, Vitamin D | 1 Comment

Vitamin D v metabolic syndrome.

Researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center found that patients with metabolic syndrome (but otherwise healthy) were much more likely to have insufficient vitamin D in their blood than controls without metabolic syndrome.  The patients came from around Sacramento, a part of northern California with plenty of sun, making the results more surprising.

Dr Ishwarlal Jialal and team compared 44 patients who had metabolic syndrome, but without diabetes or cardiovascular disease (CVD), against 37 healthy controls matched for age and gender.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has very recently published recommended levels of calcium and vitamin D, and based on best evidence, worked on a level of 20ng/ml of vitamin D in the blood as sufficient.

Dr Jialal found that 8% of controls had insufficient vitamin D at the IOM level, but in the metabolic syndrome group it was 30%.

The average value of vitamin D in blood in the metabolic syndrome group was found to be 23.1ng/ml, which suggests the IOM recommended level of 20 ng/ml may be too low. In the control group, it averaged 27.8ng/ml.

Dr Jialal also found there was no difference in levels in winter and summer, which reinforces the finding that in northern California, normal activity in sunlight is not enough to generate adequate vitamin D levels. This contrasts with southern California, where research has shown there in no difference in vitamin D between those with and without metabolic syndrome, while in Florida (even farther south) diabetics do not tend to have low vitamin D.

Sacramento is about 39 degrees north. As most of Europe is at or north of this, it would put most Europeans at risk, unless they are out in the sun more than this US sample, or getting it from food sources.

Metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for diabetes, CVD and stroke.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | Activity, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Health, IOM - Institute of Medcine, Metabolic syndrome, Stroke, Success, United States, Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Calcium and vitamin D by IOM.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) was asked by US and Canadian health authorities to conduct an independent, evidence based review of the dietary requirements for calcium and vitamin D.

Overall, the committee concludes that the majority of Americans and Canadians are receiving adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D. Further, there is emerging evidence that too much of these nutrients may be harmful.”

Prof A Catherine Ross chaired the committee conducting this update, the first since 1997. The team reviewed over 1,000 studies on vitamin D and calcium and took further evidence from experts.

The review covered all health outcomes,  including cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, falls, immune response, neuropsychological functioning, physical performance, preeclampsia, and reproductive outcomes. It found that only in relation to bone health are the results unequivocal, and based its recommendations on this.

The committee noted that studies appearing in the media re population levels of deficiency are using arbitrary levels that have not been established by a central authority, and so have little validity.

Based on available data, the committee found almost all individuals get sufficient vitamin D when their blood levels are at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter as it is measured in the US, or 50 nanomoles per liter as measured in Canada.

Also, the committee considered that few people are getting their vitamin D from sunlight, and based their recommendations on this.

A full breakdown of the recommendations by age range and gender is at the IOM short report on calcium and vitamin D. Please note a number of special situations are omitted from this but are covered by the full 678 page report, so check with your physician.

Some subgroups—particularly those who are older and living in institutions or who have dark skin pigmentation—may be at increased risk for getting too little vitamin D.

National surveys in both the United States and Canada indicate that most people receive enough calcium, with the exception of girls ages 9-18, who often do not take in enough calcium. In contrast, postmenopausal women taking supplements may be getting too much calcium.

Too much calcium is linked with kidney stones, while too much vitamin D is linked to kidney and other tissue damage. The short report therefore gives 3 values for each group – the estimated average amount (enough for the average person), the recommended dietary allowance (the level at which nearly everyone gets enough) and the upper level intake (the level at which more will cause harm rather than good).

In conclusion, “the committee emphasizes that, with a few exceptions, all North Americans are receiving enough calcium and vitamin D. Higher levels have not been shown to confer greater benefits, and in fact, they have been linked to other health problems, challenging the concept that “more is better.””

November 30, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Calcium, Canada, Cancer, Child Health, Cognitive decline, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Gender, High blood pressure, IOM - Institute of Medcine, Metabolic syndrome, Success, United States, Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Vitamin D v genes?

A study in white males living in the US has concluded that vitamin D levels are 70% determined by genetics in winter but in summer this is replaced by environmental factors, such as sun exposure.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was based on twins from the Vietnam Era Twins (VET) registry, one of the largest in the US, so the men had an average age of 55 when studied.

The men were followed over 12 months to find out the level of vitamin D in their blood in each month, to allow comparison to be drawn between the 6 months aggregated into ‘summer’ and the other 6 called ‘winter’.

Then a standard routine for determining the genetic component was used. Identical twins are assumed to be 100% identical genetically, while for non-identical twins this is 50%. Twins living together are assumed to have a 100% shared common environment, while  those living apart have a unique environment. Blend these into the results, and genetic and environmental components can be teased out.

The researchers from Brazil and the US found that, in general, people with lower blood levels of vitamin D had a larger body mass index, a larger waist-hip ratio (a marker for cardiovascular disease), a higher Framingham risk score (a marker for coronary artery disease) and a higher percentage were diabetic.

And when doing the twins analysis, they found that genetics dominate in winter (70%), but in summer this impact disappeared, and the determinants were environmental, with 53% due to shared environments and 47% due to unique environments.

The team noted other research has found that genetic factors appear to have much less influence in women.

They also raised an interesting point that they did not resolve. Other studies have found that in white people (but not in non-whites), vitamin D levels decrease the further north you live, due to less UVB in sunlight. However, the current team could not find this effect in their subjects, despite the fact that they ranged from 21 degrees N to 49 degrees N.

While the town of Uppsala in Sweden is 60 degrees N. The current study noted previous research in white twins, both male and female,  from Uppsala, which found things worked the opposite way around. That team reported that genetic factors were important in summer, at 48%, but in winter were replaced by a mix of shared and unique environments. Quite why Sweden appears to work in the opposite direction to the US was not explained.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | BMI - body mass index, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Genetics, Health, Vitamin D, Waist circumference | 1 Comment