Natural Health Studies

Articles in this edition of Natural Health Studies
Sunbed's "Raise" Skin Cancer Risk
Harvard Questions Nutrition Pyramid
Defeating Depression: As easy as Omega-3

Sunbed's "Raise" Skin Cancer Risk

Lying on a sunbed could increase your chances of a number of more common skin cancers, suggests a scientific study. The popularity of "tanning salons" is scarcely diminished despite advice from doctors over the past decade that using them may add to your overall risk of developing cancer.

There is some evidence that the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, is increased by sunbed use.

However, research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute claims to have found a link between tanning lamps and two other types of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are far more common than melanoma, but have very low mortality rates.

Many will still require surgery and other treatments to cure.

Researchers from the Dartmouth Medical School in the US interviewed almost 1,500 people between 25 and 74 years old - most of whom had developed skin cancer - asking them about their history of sun exposure, sunbed usage and smoking history.

Overall, people who reported having any use of tanning lamps were 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than those who did not use tanning lamps.

Women younger than 50 were more likely to report using a tanning device, though the younger the person using the tanning device, the higher the risk of cancer.


Margaret Karagas, who led the research, said: "Sun exposure early in life also appears to play a role in risk of skin cancer."

One British expert, Professor Brian Diffey from the University of Newcastle, said that it was difficult to separate the extra risk from sunbed use over and above a lifetime of exposure to sunlight.

In the case of basal cell carcinoma, he said, smoking may also have a contribution to make.

"The evidence suggests there may be a weak association - certainly it's my view that use should be discouraged."


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Defeating Depression: as Easy as

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, may hold the key to naturally easing depression.

In the past, studies have shown that in countries where large amounts of fish are consumed, rates of depression are low as compared with countries where little fish is consumed. This has led researchers to examine whether omega-3 fats found in the fish are responsible for the decreased evidence of depression.

One study followed patients with bipolar disorder. Half of the participants were given fish oil tablets and the other half received a placebo. After four months, half of those on the placebo had fallen into depression, but only two out the 15 people given fish oil were depressed.

Other studies have shown similar results indicating that omega-3 fatty acids may in fact relieve depression, and some psychiatrists are now recommending that their depressed patients increase their consumption of these fatty acids.

In addition to its positive effects on depression, studies have linked omega-3s with improved cardiovascular health, as well as shown them to be a potential prevention and treatment tool for certain cancers and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also proved beneficial to the development of babies’ brains; therefore, pregnant and breast-feeding women are encouraged to consume these fatty acids. However, eating fish as a source of omega-3s can be dangerous to pregnant mothers because of potentially high levels of mercury in the fish.

One side effect that may occur from consuming increased amounts of fatty acids through fish or fish-oil tablets is an increase in dyspepsia, or indigestion that may result in gas, though researchers point out that this has been the only side effect discovered.

Researchers noted that further studies need to be done to determine whether patients would benefit from an increase in omega-3s in combination with antidepressant drugs.

ABC News September 17, 2002


Harvard Questions Nutrition Pyramid

A long-term study of more than 100,000 men and women has found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines and food pyramid may not be the best prescription for warding off chronic diseases.

The Harvard School of Public Health study, released Thursday and published in the December issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who ate a modified version of the USDA diet and took a multivitamin reduced their risk of chronic disease significantly more than those who followed the USDA's recommendations.

The food pyramid emphasizes carbohydrates as the basis of a healthy diet and restricts all types of oils and fats, advising that they be used sparingly. The Harvard study identified an ideal diet as one rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with moderate amounts of fat and alcohol and a preference for poultry and fish rather than red meat.

"These results suggest that simple improvements in our diet may have a strong impact on reducing the risk of chronic disease in U.S. adults," said Marji McCullough, the study's lead author.

USDA nutrition officials could not be reached for comment.

Men who followed the alternative diet lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by 39 percent, compared with a 28 percent reduction for those following USDA guidelines. For women, the alternative diet reduced the risk of heart disease by 28 percent, compared with 14 percent for the USDA diet. The Harvard diet didn't appear to affect cancer risk.

The study followed participants in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses' Health Study over 10 to 15 years.

"The current federal guidelines as displayed in the government food-guide pyramid emphasize large amounts of carbohydrates, don't make a distinction between types of fat or protein and lump red meat, chicken, nuts and legumes together," said Walter Willett, one of the study's authors and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Willett, a critic of the USDA pyramid, proposed an alternative pyramid last year in his book "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy." The study's ideal diet incorporates many of the features of Willett's pyramid.

The USDA pyramid has attracted criticism since its unveiling. Recent dietary research that examines some of its most basic underpinnings --- addressing issues such as whether a high-carbohydrate diet is suitable for everyone and whether all types of dietary fats should be viewed equally --- has given more ammunition to detractors.

Federal nutritional policy is changing to incorporate some of the recent research. The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" were updated in 2000 to place more emphasis on whole grains and to distinguish between unsaturated fats and saturated ones that can lead to cardiovascular disease. The Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress, in September issued nutritional guidelines that said a healthy diet could include up to 35 percent of daily calories from fat, with consumption of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids kept as low as possible. The pyramid itself may be altered.

The Harvard study established an alternative diet based on consuming four times as much fish and poultry as red meats; five servings of vegetables daily; four servings of fruit daily; one daily serving of nuts or vegetable protein such as soy; at least as much polyunsaturated fat as saturated fat; one-half to 1.5 alcoholic drinks daily for women and 1.5 to 2.5 alcoholic drinks daily for men. It also called for 15 grams of fiber a day from grain sources such as cereals and whole-wheat bread.

The study did not establish daily amounts for all food groups, as federal nutritional guidelines do. Dairy products, for example, were not evaluated as part of the study. Weight control and physical exercise, although considered important by researchers, were also not evaluated for their impact on chronic disease.

"There's a lot of debate about what the best diet is, but this study showed that following several healthy behaviors really does reduce the risk of developing several major diseases," said McCullough, now a nutritional epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

The Harvard study is valuable because it tracked eating patterns and disease outcomes over a long period, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition professor who specializes in cardiovascular disease. But more study is needed, she said.

"This is one part of the puzzle," Lichtenstein said. "It's a good, big piece, but it's not the whole thing."

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