Secret Ingredients

Many herbal supplements contain hidden pharmaceutical ingredients that could be causing serious health risks, according to a team of experts from Queen’s University Belfast, Kingston University London and LGC.

Emeritus Professor Duncan Burns, a forensically experienced analytical chemist from the Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute for Global Food Security, has been working with a team of specialists on a peer-reviewed paper to examine the detection of illegal ingredients in the supplements.

The experts included Dr Michael Walker from the Government Chemist Programme at LGC and Professor Declan Naughton from Kingston University.

The research found that over-the-counter supplements, commonly advertised to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction problems, are labelled as fully herbal but often include potentially dangerous pharmaceutical ingredients, which are not listed on the label.

Professor Burns from Queen’s University, who is working to advance knowledge in this area explained: “Our review looked at research from right across the globe and questioned the purity of herbal food supplements. We have found that these supplements are often not what customers think they are; they are being deceived into thinking they are getting health benefits from a natural product when actually they are taking a hidden drug.

“These products are unlicensed medicines and many people are consuming large quantities without knowing the interactions with other supplements or medicines they may be taking. This is very dangerous and there can be severe side effects.”

The survey raises serious questions about the safety of slimming supplements containing Sibutramine. Sibutramine was licensed as the medicine Reductil until 2010, when it was withdrawn across Europe and the US due to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with the use of the drug.

Tadalfil and sulfoaildenafil were among the most frequently undeclared ingredients in products for erectile dysfunction. When taken with other medicines containing nitrates, they can lower blood pressure drastically and cause serious health problems.

Professor Burns noted: “This is a real issue as people suffering from conditions like diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension are frequently prescribed nitrate containing medicines. If they are also taking a herbal supplement to treat erectile dysfunction, they could become very ill.

“People who take these products will not be aware they have taken these substances and so when they visit their doctor they may not declare this and it can be difficult to determine what is causing the side effects. It is a very dangerous situation.”

Professor Declan Naughton explained: “This work highlights the vital role research, and in particular, techniques like datamining, can play in informing regulators about current trends in supplement contamination. This is very important to ensure effective testing strategies and, ultimately, to help keep the public safe.”

Dr Michael Walker commented: “The laboratory tests we describe in our paper will assist regulators to tackle this problem proactively to protect consumers and responsible businesses.”

Find the report online here.

 

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Fresh Or Frozen

That Is The Question.

There’s a common belief fresh is best and buying frozen vegies is a cop out.
But certainly on the nutrition front, frozen veg aren’t necessarily inferior, says Melanie McGrice, a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
“Whether fresh is better than frozen, depends on how fresh the vegies actually are,” Ms McGrice said.
“Picking vegies from your own vegie garden out the back has to be the optimal situation. But vegies often have to travel a very long distance to get to us. This can take several days.
“We know that the longer it takes to get fresh food to us from the farm, the more the nutrients in the food slowly decrease.”
On the other hand, the nutrients in frozen produce are sealed into the veg during the freezing process.
One recent British study found antioxidant levels in frozen produce can actually be higher than in fresh fruit and vegetables.
This was “quite surprising”, because people have always thought antioxidant levels would be higher in fresh vegies, Ms McGrice said.
But two independent studies, which together included more than 40 tests on the most commonly bought fruit and vegetables showed in two thirds of cases, frozen foods had higher levels of antioxidant-type compounds, including vitamin C, polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein and beta carotene on day three of storage.
It’s the water-soluble vitamins including vitamin C and some of the B vitamins that tend to be lost from our fresh produce the longer the vegies hang around, Ms McGrice said.
Vegetables are usually snap frozen very soon after they are picked. Special machinery is used to get the produce to -18 degrees Celsius in minutes.
The nutrients are ‘frozen in’ during this process, meaning you can quite easily have more vitamins in a frozen vegetable than in its ‘fresh’ counterpart.
But there is more to fruit and vegies than just vitamins.
One of the biggest reasons health experts want us to eat fruit and vegies is to get dietary fibre.
The good news is the fibre content doesn’t deteriorate easily, which means week-old fresh vegies still have value despite lowered vitamin levels.
So if it’s a choice of eating old vegetables or no vegies at all, old vegies are fine.
“And freezing doesn’t affect the fibre content of veg,” Ms McGrice adds.
Preparation is key.
How you cook your vegies is far more important than whether they are fresh or frozen.
“Boiling vegies in a large amount of water for a long time lets the vitamins leach out into the water,” Ms McGrice says.
Regardless of whether you are cooking fresh or frozen vegies, use as little water as you can and cook them for a short time. Steaming or microwaving vegies are much better options than boiling.
And if you are using frozen veg, Ms McGrice suggests checking the label of the packet.
“Usually they just contain the vegetable, but sometimes, particularly if there is a sauce, they may contain added salt and sugar,” she says.
(This can be a particular issue if you’re using canned vegetables, which are much more likely to include added salt.)
Here are some points to consider when you’re weighing up the pros and cons of fresh over frozen veg.

Fresh veg.
Can taste better than frozen.
Usually have a better texture.
If you’ve picked them straight from the garden, they will be bursting with nutrients.
But produce can be more than a week old by the time we eat it.
Frozen veg.
Nutrients are ‘frozen in’ soon after picking.
Convenience (can store for months)
Allows us to have vegies and fruit that are out of season
Adds variety to our diet.
After defrosting, vegies can have a soggy texture, because ice crystals damage the vegetable cell walls.

 

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Green Tea

A compound found in green tea could have lifesaving potential for patients with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis, who face often-fatal medical complications associated with bone-marrow disorders, according to a team of engineers at Washington University in St. Louis and their German collaborators.

Jan Bieschke, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, studies how proteins fold and shape themselves and how these processes can contribute to a variety of diseases. He says the compound epigallocatechine-3-gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol found in green tea leaves, may be of particular benefit to patients struggling with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis. These patients are susceptible to a frequently fatal condition called light chain amyloidosis, in which parts of the body’s own antibodies become misshapen and can accumulate in various organs, including the heart and kidneys.

“The idea here is twofold: We wanted to better understand how light chain amyloidosis works, and how the green tea compound affects this specific protein,” Bieschke said.

Bieschke’s team first isolated individual light chains from nine patients with bone marrow disorders that caused multiple myeloma or amyloidosis, then ran lab experiments to determine how the green tea compound affected the light chain protein.

Bieschke previously examined EGCG’s effect in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and found it prevented dangerous buildups of protein present in both diseases. His team had a similar conclusion in this study: In bone marrow patients, the EGCG transformed light chain amyloid, preventing the misshapen form from replicating and accumulating dangerously.

“In the presence of green tea, the chains have a different internal structure,” Bieschke said. “The ECGC pulled the light chain into a different type of aggregate that wasn’t toxic and didn’t form fibril structures,” as happens to organs affected by amyloidosis.

While Bieschke is gaining a greater understanding at the intracellular processes involved, his partners at the University of Heidelberg are working in tandem with him, running clinical trials.

“My group is looking at the mechanism of the protein in a test tube; we are studying how it works on a foundational level. At the same time, clinical trials at the Amyloidosis Center in Heidelberg, with Alzheimer’s in Berlin and with Parkinson’s in China examine the process in people. We all want this compound to work in a patient.”

The research was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

 

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Mother’s Day 2017

In May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issues a presidential proclamation that officially establishes the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers.
The idea for a “Mother’s Day” is credited by some to Julia Ward Howe (1872) and by others to Anna Jarvis (1907), who both suggested a holiday dedicated to a day of peace. Many individual states celebrated Mother’s Day by 1911, but it was not until Wilson lobbied Congress in 1914 that Mother’s Day was officially set on the second Sunday of every May. In his first Mother’s Day proclamation, Wilson stated that the holiday offered a chance to “publicly express our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
In 2002, President George W. Bush echoed Wilson’s sentiments by acknowledging mothers in his official statement on Mother’s Day in 2002. He commended foster mothers as well as his own “fabulous mother” for their “love and sacrifice.” He also mentioned past presidents’ expressions of appreciation for their mothers. He quoted John Quincy Adams as having said “all that I am my mother made me” and Abraham Lincoln’s sentiment that “all that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother. My mother’s prayers have clung to me all my life.” Bush’s own mother, Barbara, was a popular first lady when the elder Bush served as president from 1989 to 1992.

Mother

 


 

 

Crowd Mentality

Crowd wisdom such as what might arise from online voting is popularly assumed to provide better answers than any one person by aggregating multiple perspectives. Democratic methods however, tend to favour the most popular information, not necessarily the most correct. The ignorance of the masses can cancel out a knowledgeable minority with specialised information of a topic, resulting in the wrong answer becoming the most accepted.

To give more weight to correct information that may not be widely known, researchers from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed what they call the “surprisingly popular” algorithm. Reported in the journal Nature, the technique hinges on asking people two things about a given question: What do they think the right answer is, and how popular do they think each answer will be?

The correct answer is that which is more popular than people predict, the researchers report. The technique could refine wisdom-of-crowds surveys, which are used in political and economic forecasting, as well as many other collective activities, from pricing artwork to grading scientific research proposals.

The researchers tested their algorithm through multiple surveys conducted on various populations. In one test, they asked people a yes-or-no question, ‘Is Philadelphia the capital of Pennsylvania?’ Respondents also were asked to predict the prevalence of “yes” votes. Because Philadelphia is a “large, historically significant city,” most people in the group thought that, yes, it is the capital of Pennsylvania; Harrisburg is in fact the state’s capital. In addition, the people who mistakenly thought Philadelphia is the state capital also predicted that a very high percentage of people would answer “yes.”

Meanwhile, a certain number of respondents knew that the correct answer is “no.” But these people also anticipated that many other people would incorrectly think the capital is Philadelphia, so they also expected a very high percentage of “yes” answers. Thus, almost everyone expected other people to answer “yes,” but the actual percentage of people who did was significantly lower. “No” was the surprisingly popular answer because it exceeded expectations of what the answer would be.

Sebastian Seung, Princeton’s Evnin Professor in Neuroscience and professor of computer science and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that the surprisingly popular or SP method is still democratic because there is no expectation of who would have specialised information, only that the information exists. Seung added that the researchers’ work was published 110 years after Nature published the seminal paper in crowd wisdom, Sir Francis Galton’s 1907 study “The Wisdom of Crowds.”

“The SP method is elitist in the sense that it tries to identify those who have expert knowledge,” Seung said. “However, it is democratic in the sense that potentially anyone could be identified as an expert. The method does not look at anyone’s resume or academic degrees.”

The researchers developed their method mathematically then applied it through surveys on multiple groups of people, including U.S. state capitals, general knowledge, medical diagnoses and art auction estimates.

Across all topics, the researchers found that the “surprisingly popular” algorithm reduced errors by 21.3 percent compared to simple majority votes, and by 24.2 percent compared to basic confidence-weighted votes (where people express how confident they are in their answers). It also reduced errors by 22.2 percent compared to answers with the highest average confidence levels. On the 50 test questions related to state capitals, such as the Harrisburg-Philadelphia question, the SP method reduced incorrect decisions by 48 percent compared to the majority vote.

“The argument in this paper, in a very rough sense, is that people who expect to be in the minority deserve some extra attention,” said co-author Drazen Prelec, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management as well as of economics and brain and cognitive sciences. “In situations where there is enough information in the crowd to determine the correct answer to a question, that answer will be the one that most outperforms expectations.”

Aurelien Baillon, a professor of economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam who is familiar with the new paper but had no role in it, said that the researchers’ work “opens up completely new ways to think about an old problem.” The paper is persuasive because it contains both theoretical arguments “and empirical evidence that it works well,” Baillon said.

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Natural Sunscreens

The ideal sunscreen should block UVB and UVA radiation while being safe and stable. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Spanish scientists have introduced a new family of UVA and UVB filters based on natural sunscreen substances found in algae and cyanobacteria. They are highly stable and enhance the effectivity of commercial sunscreens.

Commercial available sunscreen lotions can very effectively protect from dangerous radiation in the ultraviolet, but they need to be applied regularly and in high amounts to develop their full potential. One of the most critical issues is the limited stability of the UV filter molecules. Inspired by nature, Diego Sampedro and his colleagues from La Rioja University in Logrono and collaborators from Malaga University and Alcala University, Madrid, Spain, have screened a natural class of UV-protecting molecules for their possible use in skin protection. They adjusted the nature-given motif to the requirements of chemical synthesis and found that the molecules could indeed boost the sun protection factor of common formulations.

The natural sunscreen molecules are called microsporine-like amino acids (MAAs) and are widespread in the microbial world, most prominently in marine algae and cyanobacteria. MAAs are small molecules derived from amino acids, thermally stable, and they absorb light in the ultraviolet region, protecting the microbial DNA from radiation damage. Thus they are natural sunscreens, which inspired Sampedro and his colleagues to create new class of organic sunscreen compounds.

Theoretical calculations revealed what is chemically needed for a successful design. “We performed a computer calculation of several basic scaffolds to identify the simplest compound that fulfills the requisites for efficient sunscreens,” the authors write. The result of their search was a set of molecules which were readily synthesized, “avoiding the decorating substituents that come from the biosynthetic route.” Thus the small basic molecules can be tuned to give them more favorable properties.

The authors found that the synthesized compounds are characterized by excellent filter capacities in the relevant UV range. In addition they are photostable, much more than for example, oxybenzene which is a widely used sunscreen in commercial formulations. They do not react chemically and dissipate radiation as heat (but not to such an extent that the skin temperature would rise as well). And most importantly, when tested in real formulations, the sun protection factor (SPF) rose by a factor of more than two. Thus they could be promising targets for more stable, more efficient sunscreen lotions.

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Back Beach

dooagh-beachA beach that was swept away more than 30 years ago from a remote island off the west coast of Ireland has reappeared after thousands of tonnes of sand were deposited on top of the rocky coastline.
The 300-metre beach near the tiny village of Dooagh on Achill Island vanished in 1984 when storms stripped it of its sand, leaving nothing more than a series of rock pools.
But after high spring tides last month, locals found that the Atlantic Ocean had returned the sand.
“It’s enormously significant,” Sean Molloy of Achill’s tourism office told the Irish Times newspaper, recalling how the popular beach once sustained four hotels and a number of guesthouses on the west coast of the island of 2,600 people.
“Achill already has five blue-flag beaches, so we are hoping that in time it will be awarded a sixth.”
The island, the largest off the coast of Ireland, forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a tourist trail stretching from the south of the country to the north-west that has benefited from a tourist boom in the European Union’s fastest-growing economy.

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