Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lower-fat diet cuts breast cancer recurrence: study

Breast cancer is less likely to return in patients who stick to a low-fat diet, according to a study released on Saturday.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, involved 2,437 breast cancer survivors, some of whom reduced their daily fat intake by roughly 40 percent while the others stayed about the same as when they started.

The women with the lower-fat diets had a 24 percent lower risk of a recurrence than the other women, according to researchers led by Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in Torrance, California.

"To me, it seems like if women are asking what can they do themselves to prevent a recurrence, then this represents something that they can try," Chlebowski said in a telephone interview.

What role dietary fat plays in a woman's risk of developing breast cancer has been debated by cancer experts.

The American Cancer Society has noted that studies focusing on fat in the diet have not clearly shown this to be a breast cancer risk factor, although being overweight has been found to raise breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause.

Chlebowski acknowledged that this study will not settle the issue. Women who took part in the study were recruited between 1994 and 2001 and were tracked through 2003. They entered the study with diets averaging about 57 grams (2 ounces) of fat per day, amounting to 30 percent of total calories.

Women in one group decreased their fat intake to 33 grams per day, or 20 percent of total calories, while the other women consumed 51 grams per day, or 29 percent of total calories.

About 9.8 percent of the women on lower-fat diets suffered breast cancer relapses, compared to 12.4 percent of women who did not have lower fat intake.

"A lifestyle intervention reducing dietary fat intake, with modest influence on body weight, may improve relapse-free survival of breast cancer patients receiving conventional cancer management," the researchers wrote.
Chlebowski said the study indicated that women with the faster-growing type of the disease, hormone receptor-negative breast cancer, may experience the largest reduction in relapse risk due to a lower-fat diet. This type of breast cancer is not fed by the hormone estrogen.

The researchers noted that women who ate less fat lost weight, and that the weight loss may have been at least partially responsible for lowering the relapse risk rather than the reduced fat intake alone.

Smithsonian TV deal irks investigators

Two filmmakers were refused access to the Smithsonian Institution's collections for their projects but researchers generally have not been restricted so far by the Smithsonian's semi-exclusive deal with a cable network, congressional investigators say.

The public has justifiable concerns nonetheless about the 30-year contract between the Smithsonian and Showtime Networks Inc., a cable network owned by CBS Corp., according to the
Government Accountability Office.

"It is too early to determine the long-term impact of the contract," Congress' investigative arm said in a report Friday. "Access to the Smithsonian's collections and staff for research purposes remains unchanged, but the direct impact on filmmakers will depend largely on how many request permission to use a substantial amount of Smithsonian content."

The GAO also criticized the Smithsonian for not providing enough information to the public about the contract and for assuring filmmakers their access would not suffer based on analyses that rely on "incomplete data and oversimplified criteria."

Investigators said the Smithsonian must give filmmakers better information about how the contract will affect them. The Smithsonian's secretary, Lawrence Small, agreed to comply by better explaining decisions made about filming requests.

The deal does not affect the use of Smithsonian collections for news or public affairs programs.

In the first nine months since the contract took effect on Jan. 1, Smithsonian denied two of 117 filmmaking requests because of its new obligations to Showtime to restrict the commercial use of the Smithsonian name, the GAO found. Four other requests were approved, but only as exceptions to the new contractual rules that allow for up to six independent projects each year.

The Smithsonian's Board of Regents approved the contract with Showtime in November 2005, after approaching 18 major media companies to gauge their interest in gaining semi-exclusive rights to produce and commercially distribute audiovisual programs using Smithsonian trademarks and content.

The Smithsonian anticipates the new commercial programming will bring anywhere from $99 million to more than $150 million over the life of the contract.

That projection depends partly on the success of the programming, mainly a new cable channel, Smithsonian on Demand, jointly owned by Smithsonian and Showtime. Smithsonian projects the channel will reach 31 million households by 2010.

Filmmakers, historians, archivists, librarians and other researchers have criticized the venture for its confidentiality and its potential to limit public access to the Smithsonian's vast public resources.

Commonly referred to as "the nation's attic," the Smithsonian includes 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoo and nine research facilities.

Small told GAO investigators their findings were accurate. In a letter this month accompanying the GAO report, he said Smithsonian's expansion into television was long overdue and already generating "an exponential growth in filming projects" that could only have occurred by joining with a large, established multimedia corporation.

High IQ link to being vegetarian

Intelligent children are more likely to become vegetarians later in life, a study says.

A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10.

Researchers said it could explain why people with higher IQ were healthier as a vegetarian diet was linked to lower heart disease and obesity rates.

The study of 8,179 was reported in the British Medical Journal.

Twenty years after the IQ tests were carried out in 1970, 366 of the participants said they were vegetarian -- although more than 100 reported eating either fish or chicken.

Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians.

There was no difference in IQ score between strict vegetarians and those who said they were vegetarian but who reported eating fish or chicken.

Researchers said the findings were partly related to better education and higher occupational social class, but it remained statistically significant after adjusting for these factors.

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher occupational social class and to have higher academic or vocational qualifications than non-vegetarians.

However, these differences were not reflected in their annual income, which was similar to that of non-vegetarians. Lead researcher Catharine Gale said: "The finding that children with greater intelligence are more likely to report being vegetarian as adults, together with the evidence on the potential benefits of a vegetarian diet on heart health, may help to explain why higher IQ in childhood or adolescence is linked with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease in adult life."


However, she added the link may be merely an example of many other lifestyle preferences that might be expected to vary with intelligence, such as choice of newspaper, but which may or may not have implications for health.

Liz O'Neill, of the Vegetarian Society, said: "We've always known that vegetarianism is an intelligent, compassionate choice benefiting animals, people and the environment.

"Now we've got the scientific evidence to prove it. Maybe that explains why many meat-reducers are keen to call themselves vegetarians when even they must know that vegetarians don't eat chicken, turkey or fish."

But Dr. Frankie Phillips, of the British Dietetic Association, said: "It is like the chicken and the egg. Do people become vegetarian because they have a very high IQ or is it just that they tend to be more aware of health issues?"

Cannabis chocolate makers guilty

The campaign to legalise cannabis for therapeutic use suffered a setback yesterday when a couple who supplied chocolate bars laced with the drug to multiple sclerosis sufferers were found guilty of a criminal offence.

Lezley Gibson, 42, an MS sufferer, her husband Mark, also 42, and associate Marcus Davies, 36, from St Ives, Cambridgeshire, were found guilty of conspiring to supply cannabis at Carlisle Crown Court.

The couple, who run a gift shop in Alston, a village in the North Pennines, had argued that they were operating a not-for-profit service to ease the pain of MS sufferers. They said that they had done more to relieve sufferers’ pain than the NHS.

Mr Gibson argued that he had a defence in law because the drug, recently downgraded by the Government, was used for medicinal purposes.

The couple, who ran the campaign group THC4MS (Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis), say that they posted about 36,000 bars of “Canna-Biz” to more than 1,800 MS sufferers.

In each case they asked their clients for a note from a consultant, doctor or nurse confirming their diagnosis. They were then asked to make a donation, from £1.50 to £5, to cover the costs. But the 150g (5oz) bars containing 3.5g of cannabis were sent whether the money arrived or not. Mrs Gibson told the court that her dream of running her own hairdressing salon ended at the age of 21 when she was confirmed as having MS. She was told that within five years she would be incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. Mrs Gibson said that the steroids she was prescribed — the only conventional medicine she was ever given — made her balloon in weight and grow a beard. She turned to cannabis and found it therapeutic.

She and her husband took over the manufacture of the cannabis chocolate bars from Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer living in the Orkneys. Ms Ivol died in late 2004.

The operation developed through word of mouth. Mrs Gibson said: “Every time there was anything in the papers, on TV or radio, we would get messages from MS sufferers. They were knocking on the door or sending letters addressed to ‘The MS Lady’ in Alston. It was overwhelming.”

A succession of MS sufferers in wheelchairs testified to the efficacy of the drug. Michael Wood, who was forced to retire early from his job as a lawyer, said he found it of great benefit.

Mr Gibson said that each bar cost about £35 to make, but much of the cannabis was donated. He preferred to use organic chocolate such as Green & Black, which was then moulded in a £500 melting pot specially bought from Belgium.

He said they had not made any money from the project, although he agreed that he and his wife had used the proceeds to travel extensively to campaign for the drug’s legalisation.The couple returned home yesterday knowing that they will have to return to court late next month to receive their punishment. They have been assured by the judge that they will not be going to jail.

Lawrence Wood, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre (MSRC) charity, said: “When pop stars receive minor fines for repeated possession, yet those affected by MS are forced to get their cannabis from street dealers in order to make their lives bearable, it is time for society to take a long hard look at itself.”

Potted history
# Biz Ivol, an MS sufferer who died aged 56 in 2004, lived in Orkney, where she hit upon combining chocolate with cannabis to provide pain relief for non-smokers. In 2003 she was prosecuted for possessing, distributing and cultivating cannabis, but the Crown abandoned the case because of her failing health
# In 2004 Chris Baldwin, who suffered from leg spasms, was jailed for six months for running a Dutch-style coffee shop, the Quantum Leaf café in Worthing, Sussex
# Colin Davies, 48, a prominent campaigner who once handed the Queen a cannabis plant, was jailed for three years in 2002 for drugs offences committed at his Dutch Experience coffee shop in Stockport. He smoked a joint during a police raid on the café’s opening day