Friday, February 17, 2012

Facts about trans fats

The History of Hydrogenation
Solid shortening, the thick white paste that made your grandmother's pie crust so flaky, was created nearly a century ago by adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them turn solid at room temperature (the process known as hydrogenation). 
Originally intended as a cheap substitute for butter and lard, partially hydrogenated oils―what we now call trans fats―became known for their ability to increase the shelf life and improve the texture of baked goods and other food products. Soon food manufacturers were adding them to everything from cookies to nondairy creamers to frozen foods, and restaurants were using them for deep-frying and more.
Reasons for a Trans Fat Backlash
In 1994, a study at Harvard University reported that people who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats had twice the heart-attack risk of those who consumed little. 
"The more we look at trans fat," says Walter Willett, who worked on the study, "the more we see it is a metabolic poison." Trans fats are particularly harmful because they lower levels of good cholesterol and raise levels of bad cholesterol.
New Rules for Food Companies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires food manufacturers to list trans fats (often called partially hydrogenated oils) on nutrition labels, which prompted many food companies, including Kraft, Campbell's, and Wendy's, to reduce or remove trans fats from their products.
Trans Fats vs. Saturated Fats
Unfortunately, many companies replace trans fats with saturated fats. That's dangerous because saturated fats already make up a larger percentage of most Americans' diets―around 11 percent, as opposed to just 1.5 to 2.5 percent for trans fats, notes Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer Center on Aging at Tufts University, in Boston. It's important not to consume more saturated fat because you're looking only at the trans fat amounts. 
"We should try to cut down on trans fats as well as saturated fats," says Lichtenstein.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Skin cancer drug reverses Alzheimer's in mice

Scientists say they "serendipitously" discovered that a drug used to treat a type of cancer quickly reversed Alzheimer's disease inmice.

"It's really exciting," said Maria Carrillo, senior director for medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association. "They saw very positive and robust behavior effects in the mice."

In the study, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine gave mice mega-doses of bexarotene, a drug used to treat a type of skin cancer called cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Within 72 hours, the mice showed dramatic improvements in memory and more than 50% of amyloid plaque -- a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease -- had been removed from the brain. The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

Gary Landreth, the lead researcher at Case Western, cautioned that even though his results were impressive in mice, it may turn out not to work in people.

"I want to say as loudly and clearly as possible that this was a study in mice, not in humans," he said. "We've fixed Alzheimer's in mice lots of times, so we need to move forward expeditiously but cautiously."
Mice -- and humans -- with Alzheimer's have high levels of a substance called amyloid beta in their brain. Pathology tests on the mice showed bexarotene lowered the levels of amyloid beta and raised the levels of apolipoprotein E, which helps keep amyloid beta levels low.

Landreth said he hopes to try the drug out in healthy humans within two months, to see if it has the same effect.

Those participating in the trial would be given the standard dose that cancer patients are usually given.
Researchers tested the memories of mice with Alzheimer's both before and after giving them bexarotene. For example, the Alzheimer's mice walked right into a cage where they'd previously been given a painful electrical shock, but after treatment with bexarotene, the mice remembered the shock and refused to enter the cage.

In another test, the scientists put tissue paper in a cage. Normal mice instinctively use tissues in their cage to make a nest, but mice with Alzheimer's can't figure out what to do with the tissues. After treatment with the drug, the Alzheimer's mice made a nest with the paper.

Carrillo said one of the major advantages of bexarotene is that it's already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in humans, which means the researchers can move into human trials sooner than if it were a completely new drug.

The Alzheimer's Association is funding Case Western's next phase of research, which will involve using bexarotene at the levels used on cancer patients, Landreth said. Since the drug does have some side effects -- it can increase cholesterol, for example -- he hopes to use it in even lower levels as the study goes on.
Landreth said his lab had been working on other drugs for Alzheimer's for 10 years when a graduate student, Paige Cramer, decided to try bexarotene, which works on a receptor involved in amyloid beta clearance. Some other drugs that worked in mice were too toxic to use in humans.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dry hands? Try these winter skin care tips

Winter can be rough on the skin – especially the hands, which are often exposed to the colder, more severe weather.  An NYC-based dermatologist shared her tips for keeping your hands healthy and smooth through the season.
“During the winter, the decrease in humidity, as well as the harsher winds, causes us to lose a lot of water in our skin, so that makes everything dry,” explained Dr. Anne Chapas, the medical director at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. “Once our skin is dry, it’s more prone to letting irritants and other harmful substances in, which causes redness and other problems.” Naturally, one of the best ways to combat skin dryness and irritation is to use moisturizers.  But first, Chapas said, it is important to distinguish between the two different classes of moisturizers.  The first class, called humectants, brings water into the skin, while the second class, called emollients, seals the water in.  For colder, drier months, Chapas said people should turn to emollients.
“Emollients are heavier, thicker, greasier lotions that contain ingredients like dimenthicone and lanolin,” Chapas said.  “You should use them especially at night before bed and after taking a shower.”
In addition to moisturizers, Chapas recommended products like Vaseline and Skinfood by Weleda to treat dry skin.
“I find Skinfood is really nice for hands,” Chapas said.  “It essentially repairs the skin barrier to prevent water from evaporating.” Sleeping in cotton gloves after applying lotion or these other products can also help seal moisture into skin.
“Cotton is very breathable, and it helps moisturizers penetrate into the skin better,” Chapas said.
To prevent dryness from occurring in the first place, Chapas said people should try to limit excess hand washing in favor of using alcohol-based sanitizers, because soaps and other detergents can be drying.  When it is necessary to wash your hands, use lukewarm water instead of hot.
For hands that have been severely affected by winter weather – think red, ashy and cracked – applying lotions and other skin products can be irritating, even painful.  Chapas said covering the cracks with liquid bandages can help with the stinging.
“For really bad, cracked, fissured hands, skin glues can be helpful,” she said. “Band-Aid makes a liquid bandage that can heal the skin.”
However, if the problem is not going away, or spreading, it may be a sign of a more serious condition, like psoriasis or eczema.

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