Healing Points Issue 25 HealingPoints Newsletter

Provided by Richard Grossman, L.Ac., O.M.D., Ph.D.

Volume 3, Issue 25
Tuesday, February 09, 2010

In This Issue:



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Could An Aspirin A Day Help Keep Prostate Cancer Away?

ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A Mayo Clinic study suggests that regular use of aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help protect against prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States.

The study found that men age 60 and older who used NSAIDs daily reduced their risk of prostate cancer by as much as 60 percent. The study also suggested that the beneficial effect may increase with age.

The findings of this study are published in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The 1,362 Caucasian men in this study were followed for an average of five and one-half years. Of the 569 men who reported using NSAIDs daily, 23 developed prostate cancer, compared with 68 of 793 men in the same study who did not use NSAIDs daily and developed the disease.

"These numbers mean the proportion of men who used NSAIDs daily and developed prostate cancer was about one-half that of men who did not use NSAIDs daily -- four percent compared to nine percent," says Rosebud Roberts, M.D., a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and lead researcher on the study.

"Further, the association between NSAIDs and prostate cancer appears to be stronger in older men," says Dr. Roberts. "The risk of prostate cancer among NSAID users was 12 percent lower in men age 50 to 59 years, 60 percent lower in men 60 to 69 years, and 83 percent lower in men age 70 to 79 years compared to men in those same age groups who did not use NSAIDs daily."

The results may mean good news for men, but Dr. Roberts cautions that more research needs to be done.

"Although our findings provide important information that NSAIDs may protect against prostate cancer, they are not conclusive," says Dr. Roberts.

"More research needs to be done to show that the results we saw in our study were not unique to our study but can be confirmed in other similar studies," she said. "We also need to determine the duration and dosage use that provides protection against prostate cancer and to better understand the biologic mechanisms underlying the association between NSAIDs and prostate cancer."

Dr. Roberts added that since the study included only Caucasian men in southeastern Minnesota, it’s not known whether the findings apply to men of all races.

"African American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer," said Dr. Roberts. We need to complete additional research to determine if these findings are applicable to them."

Should a man age 50 or older take an aspirin, ibuprofen or another NSAID every day based on the study’s findings?

"Men should discuss the study with their doctors and follow their doctor’s advice, but they should not start taking NSAIDs solely on the basis of our findings," says Dr. Roberts.

"While our findings complement previous studies that NSAIDs help protect against breast and colon cancers, and possibly against prostate cancer, there are also negative side effects of NSAIDs that need to be considered and monitored in people who take NSAIDs on a daily basis," she says.

About 189,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. About 30,200 men will die of the disease.

This study was part of a larger Mayo Clinic study that monitored lower urinary tract symptoms in 2,115 men from Olmsted County of southeastern Minnesota. The men ranged in age from 40 to79 years at the onset of the study in 1990.

The findings about the association between prostate cancer and NSAIDs are based on information obtained from a subset of 1,362 men in the study who were age 50 years and older in 1990. These men reported using 40 different prescription and over-the-counter NSAIDs at the beginning of the study and during follow-up.


Second Thoughts on Mercury in Fish


New York Times

WAS the Food and Drug Administration overly sensitive to the commercial interests of the tuna industry when it established guidelines on fish consumption and mercury contamination? Documents released this month by a watchdog group are raising that question as well as others about the decision-making that went into the agency's warning to pregnant women about which fish to avoid to reduce the risk of harming their fetuses.

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Environmental Working Group, include 1,000 pages of transcripts and other reports related to meetings and discussions that led to the January 2001 advisory that pregnant women not eat fish like mackerel and swordfish. Among them were three meetings the F.D.A. had with the U.S. Tuna Foundation, Chicken of the Sea, Starkist, Bumble Bee and the National Food Processors Association.

The industry meetings in themselves were not unusual. However, the Environmental Working Group and at least one member of Congress are questioning whether undue weight was given to the industry's position, while the opinions of others, including consumer focus groups, were discounted.

Earlier this month the F.D.A. itself acknowledged a need to revisit its own recommendations. In a rare move, just a year after its list was released, the agency announced a meeting of its Foods Advisory Committee to review mercury in seafood.

"We are going back because the Environmental Working Group report had some things in there that went to the process, and we wanted to be sure there isn't any question about that," said Joseph A. Levitt, director of the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The F.D.A.'s advisory warned pregnant women not to eat swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish because of high levels of mercury contamination that could cause neurological defects or delays in mental development in their children. Mysteriously absent from the list was one of the most significant sources of mercury in the American diet, tuna.

The F.D.A. said at the time it had identified those species of most concern to pregnant women, based on scientific evidence, the fact that Americans don't eat dangerous levels of tuna and a desire not to confuse women.

"We feel we have evaluated the science in an appropriate way, and our advisory is right on target," Michael Bolger, director of the division of risk assessment of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said last May. Besides, Mr. Bolger added, if given too much information — like guidelines distinguishing between safe and unsafe fish and those to be eaten infrequently — women would stop eating all fish.

He based this opinion, he said, on the responses of three focus groups to statements that included the following: "Tuna steaks can be eaten three times a month. You can eat one and a half six-ounce cans of tuna every week with no problems."

In a document released at the time, the F.D.A. reiterated its reasoning: "The major points gleaned from the focus groups were to keep the message simple and direct," the report said, adding that if pregnant women were told to limit consumption, they would interpret it to mean "do not consume."

The documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group show, however, that women were far more savvy than that. After being presented with examples of detailed health advisories that included specific advice about tuna, 30 out of 37 comments indicated that the respondents would still eat fish but avoid those with high mercury levels, many specifically mentioning that they would continue to eat tuna but in limited amounts. Only seven individual remarks in the transcripts support the F.D.A. assertion that limiting consumption was equated with not eating any fish. More typical was this response from one participant: "My advice would be not to eat the mackerel, the shark and the swordfish. But I would also put in a note; you should limit your intake of the tuna and then, you know, eat the rest of the fish in moderation."

Mr. Levitt asserted: "We have different conclusions on what the focus groups said. When we said limit, they heard avoid."

Meanwhile, the F.D.A. held three meetings with industry representatives, the documents show. The industry arguments included a claim that tuna consumption "is not as great as anecdotal observations would indicate" — a position that is at odds with the industry's eagerness to keep canned tuna off the advisory list, as well as with tuna's place as the best-selling fish, accounting for a third of all seafood sales in the United States. Nevertheless, the F.D.A. agreed. The two-page rationale, as they called it, released in February 2001, said that those who do eat canned tuna consume, at most, only about seven ounces a week, or not enough to pose a risk of mercury contamination.

Following that reasoning, why advise pregnant women not to eat tilefish or shark, which are consumed seldom, if at all?

"We'll never know exactly how much influence industry had in the process," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. "What we do know is that tuna was in the draft advisories and wasn't in the final advisory. The F.D.A. ignored the advice from every other group they called in. And we know the F.D.A.'s public excuse for why they dropped tuna from the advisory is untrue. Their excuse is that people don't eat enough canned tuna, so there is no need for an advisory."

Randi Thomas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Tuna Foundation, the trade association representing the domestic canned tuna industry, acknowledged her association's influence. "I certainly hope we had an impact," she said, "because we showed them the nutritional benefits of tuna."

Critics of the advisory say the F.D.A. based its recommendations on outdated research about safe mercury levels in the blood, with the limit eight times higher than was deemed safe by both the National Academy of Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. If the F.D.A. followed the National Academy's standard, it would tell pregnant women not to eat any tuna steaks at all, and canned tuna only once a month.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data showing that 10 to 15 percent of American women of child-bearing age — 600,000 — have mercury in their blood at levels higher than the E.P.A.'s safe level, putting their children at risk of harm.

Scientists are still assessing the impact of mercury on fetuses. Some studies done in other countries have found that mothers who ate fish with high levels of mercury bore children with scores on intelligence tests 7 to 8 points lower on a 100-point scale. Two studies linked neurotoxic effects like delays in mental development to chronic fetal exposure to high levels of mercury from fish.

While the F.D.A. reviews its advisory, Congress also may take action. Representative Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, questioned the agency's motives last week and asked the inspector general of Health and Human Services to investigate. Mr. Pallone has introduced legislation that would require the F.D.A. to test mercury levels in fish, a program abandoned in 1998, and to set a safer threshold level for it in seafood.


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