Despite ongoing health concerns about the endocrine-disrupting chemical known as BPA — that it may promote breast cancer growth, for instance, harm sperm quality, or cause erectile dysfunction — the Food and Drug Administration has yet to come down hard on the use of the substance in consumer products. It’s still regularly found in our water bottles, soda cans, and even receipts.
But while we might look past threats to our own health, a new study published yesterday in the journal Evolutionary Applications linking BPA to inter-species mating in fish may be troubling enough to make the issue worth revisiting.
After all, nothing fires up the masses like some good, old-fashioned moral outrage.
The study, which looked at the mating behavior between blacktail shiners and red shiners that spent two weeks in BPA-contaminated tanks, found that the substance messed with the fishes’ hormones enough to cause changes in both appearance and behavior, culminating in an all-out cross-species lovefest.
While one could be open-minded about the possibilities deriving from such behavior — hybrid superfish? A new dinner item? — one concern is that the spread of BPA into rivers could promote the proliferation of invasive species. The red shiner has already been identified as a threat to other species in its natural habitat; continued procreation through interspecies mating would only intensify the problem. Might other species take their cue from the shiners and get funny ideas? Could the shiners tire of their aquatic options and start trolling the river banks for land species? Continue reading
MILWAUKEE — One of life’s simple pleasures just got a little sweeter. After years of waffling research on coffee and health, even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease, a big study finds the opposite: Coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. Regular or decaf doesn’t matter.
The study of 400,000 people is the largest ever done on the issue, and the results should reassure any coffee lovers who think it’s a guilty pleasure that may do harm.
“Our study suggests that’s really not the case,” said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute. “There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking.”
No one knows why. Coffee contains a thousand things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer. The most widely studied ingredient — caffeine — didn’t play a role in the new study’s results.
It’s not that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short-term, and those in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.
Even in the new study, it first seemed that coffee drinkers were more likely to die at any given time. But they also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those things into account, a clear pattern emerged: Each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.
The study was done by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The results are published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.
Careful, though — this doesn’t prove that coffee makes people live longer, only that the two seem related. Continue reading
If you’re enjoying your Monday morning cup of coffee, take a moment to appreciate it for its deliciousness and the good it may be doing your body.
As I wrote in the “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy” column a couple of weeks ago, recent research has found that coffee’s potential health benefits may outweigh any health risks it might pose. Coffee consumption may help ward off Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and a score of other conditions.
That growing list may now include endometrial cancer: A study published last week in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research) found that coffee consumption may reduce women’s risk of developing endometrial cancer.
The endometrium is the lining of the uterus. An estimated 46,470 women will be diagnosed in the United States in 2011, and an estimated 8,120 deaths will result from the disease.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed data for 67,470 women taking part in the Nurses’ Health Study in 1980. Over 26 years, 627 cases of endometrial cancer occurred among study participants.
The data showed that drinking four or more cups of coffee daily reduced risk of endometrial cancer by 25 percent compared to drinking less than a cup a day. The association held true for decaffeinated coffee, though the link was less robust — perhaps because only a tiny fraction of the women in the study reported drinking decaf. No association was found between drinking caffeinated tea and endometrial cancer risk.
Coffee is believed to alter the way estrogen and insulin, both of which influence our risk of chronic disease, work in our bodies.
The study notes that regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight are the best defenses against endometrial cancer. Still, adding coffee to the mix could potentially help keep women healthy. Unless, that is, they add cream and sugar to their coffee, in which case the added calories and fat might undo any good the coffee might offer, the authors suggest.
Indonesia’s self-proclaimed “King of Luwak”, Gunawan Supriadi, is having a hard time keeping up with demand for the beans excreted by his stable of pampered civet “cats”.
And he’s not alone. Demand for coffee brewed with beans plucked from the dung of the furry, weasel-like creatures — known locally as luwaks — is surging among well-healed connoisseurs around the world, exporters say.
About 40 civets at Supriadi’s plantation in West Lampung district, Sumatra, provide the intestinal machinery for his Raja Luwak (King of Luwak) brand of bean. Lampung is the undisputed capital of luwak coffee.
“My target is to have 150 civets soon because I have to meet the surge in demand,” Supriadi said.
“In 2008, I gathered about 50 kilograms of luwak beans and sold them to local distributors. In 2009, I sold 300 kilograms. In 2010, I sold 1.2 tonnes.”
The “golden droppings” of the luwak, or Asian palm civet, fetch up to $800 for two pounds in countries like the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
It’s another story altogether at retail level. Single cups of the world’s most expensive coffee have been known to sell for almost $100 in specialty outlets in London.
The civets play two roles. Firstly, they tend to choose the best berries to digest. Experts say wild civets are the most discerning, but their droppings are also the most difficult to harvest.
Having nibbled off the thin outer layer of fruit, the civets put their digestive juices to work. The enzymes penetrate the beans — usually arabica in Sumatra — and change their chemical balance in subtle ways.
The end product, after a good wash and light roasting, lacks the bitterness of ordinary coffee and has a unique, soft flavour.
“If luwak coffee is a car, then it must be a Rolls-Royce,” Supriadi said. Continue reading
MORE evidence that coffee, particularly among female drinkers, has a positive effect against the most common form of skin cancer worldwide has been released.
Women who drank more than three cups per day of caffeinated coffee saw a 20 percent lower risk of getting basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a slow-growing form of cancer, than those who drank less than a cup per month.
Men who drank the same amount saw a nine percent lower risk, said the research presented at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research in Boston.
“Given the nearly one million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact,” said researcher Fengju Song, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC.”
The data was derived from the Nurses’ Health Study (Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (Harvard School of Public Health).
The nurses study followed 72,921 participants from June 1984 to June 2008. The health professionals study tracked 39,976 participants from June 1986 to June 2008.
Basal cell carcinoma was the most frequently diagnosed skin cancer in the groups, totalling 22,786 cases.
The benefits of coffee drinking were not seen against the next two most prevalent types – squamous cell carcinoma (1953 cases) or melanoma (741 cases).
Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma form of skin cancer, and is the most common cancer in the United States. Seventy-five percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas Continue reading
In case you needed one, here’s another possible reason to have that cup of coffee in the morning: Men who regularly drink coffee appear to be less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, especially the most lethal kind, according to new research.
Lorelei Mucci of the Harvard School of Public Health and colleagues analyzed data collected from 47,911 U.S. men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a large, ongoing examination of a variety of health issues for men. As part of the study, the men reported their coffee consumption every four years between 1986 and 2008. During that period, 5,035 cases of prostate cancer were reported, including 642 fatal cases.
The men who consumed the most coffee, which was defined as six or more cups every day, were nearly 20 percent less likely to develop any form of prostate cancer, the researchers reported in the May 17 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
But, most strikingly, the heavy coffee drinkers were also 60 percent less likely to be diagnosed with a lethal prostate tumor. Those who drank between one and three cups a day were 30 percent less likely to develop a lethal case.
The risk was cut regardless of whether the men drank decaffeinated or regular coffee, the researchers reported. Continue reading
On May 26, 2009, Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted on YouTube the following July. Since then, it has been viewed well over 800,000 times, gaining new viewers at a rate of about 50,000 per month, fairly remarkable numbers for a 90-minute discussion of the nuances of fructose biochemistry and human physiology.
Lustig is a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, which is one of the best medical schools in the country. He published his first paper on childhood obesity a dozen years ago, and he has been treating patients and doing research on the disorder ever since.
The viral success of his lecture, though, has little to do with Lustig’s impressive credentials and far more with the persuasive case he makes that sugar is a “toxin” or a “poison,” terms he uses together 13 times through the course of the lecture, in addition to the five references to sugar as merely “evil.” And by “sugar,” Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal — technically known as sucrose — but also high-fructose corn syrup, which has already become without Lustig’s help what he calls “the most demonized additive known to man.”
It doesn’t hurt Lustig’s cause that he is a compelling public speaker. Continue reading
Summary: Cocoa was originally cultivated by ancient societies in Central and South America, where it was consumed as a fermented beverage for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Cocoa and chocolate, its fermented byproduct, are rich in flavanols—potent antioxidants associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Two types of flavanols, called catechins and procyanidins, have been shown in experimental studies to reduce markers of inflammation and angiogenesis, two processes closely linked to cancer development. While more study is required, cocoa and chocolate have significant potential for chemoprevention as a dietary supplement.
Cocoa, the seed of the cocoa tree, is believed to have been cultivated over 3,000 years ago by native inhabitants of Central and Northern South America. These inhabitants prepared cocoa as a fermented beverage, similar to tea, which was used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, and the beans themselves were used as a form of currency. Spanish explorers brought cocoa back to Spain in the early 1500s, and from there it spread to France, Italy, and eventually to Great Britain. In the middle of the 18th Century, chocolate manufacturing was introduced to Massachusetts using cocoa imported from the West Indies and Central America. Commercial chocolate become available in the mid-19th Century when a London company added sugar to chocolate liquor and cocoa butter.
Chocolate, the fermented byproduct from processed cocoa, contains high levels of bioactive flavanoids (polyphenols) that are formed during the fermentation process. Two flavanoids in particular, catechins and procyanidins, are highly concentrated in dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Observational studies indicate that catechins and procyanidins derived from green tea, red wine and soy may protect against a number of chronic diseases, notably cardiovascular disease and cancer. Continue reading