"If you aren't seeing a chiropractor, you must be on drugs."

November 15, 2005 [Volume 6, Issue 24]

In this issue of To Your Health:

  • Cranberries for Cancer
  • Breastfeeding Shown to Reduce Skin Rashes in Infants
  • Inactive? Overweight? Your Environment May Play a Part

Cranberries for Cancer

For centuries, cranberries have been used as a type of folk medicine to fight off urinary tract infections and other ailments. Previous research has shown that extracts taken from cranberries may fight certain types of cancer, but without noting which ingredients in the extracts may responsible for the effect. A new laboratory-based study has identified those ingredients, which appear to be effective in stopping both the growth and spread of a wide range of cancers, without affecting any healthy cells.

In the study, researchers isolated a group of chemicals called proanthocyanidins from a cranberry extract and tested them on eight types of cancer tumor cell lines. When the cells were analyzed, "significant inhibition" was seen in the production of human lung, colon and leukemia tumor cells. The chemicals also prevented the tumor cells from growing.

Because the study was conducted in vitro (i.e., in an artificial environment), the scientists were unable to determine how many cranberries (or cranberry supplements) a person should consume to have the same effect as the extract. However, the study's lead author suggested that increased cranberry consumption could be helpful, adding that the berries contain several types of antioxidants, all of which could help protect against cancer.

Neto CC, Krueger CG, Lamoureaux TL, et al. MALDI-TOF MS characterization of proanthocyanidins from cranberry fruit (vaccinium macrocarpon) that inhibit tumor cell growth and matrix metalloproteinase expression in vitro. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Early view, published Oct. 17, 2005.

Breastfeeding Shown to Reduce Skin Rashes in Infants

Eczema is a common childhood condition, characterized by dry skin and an itchy, red rash. Although it can occur anywhere on the body, eczema usually develops on the face, hands, knees and feet. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of asthma in infants significantly. However, the evidence suggesting that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of eczema is less clear.

In this study, researchers surveyed parents of more than 4,000 newborns about breastfeeding habits and their children's allergy symptoms. Surveys were taken when the children were 2 months, 1 year, 2 years, and 4 years old; blood samples were also taken at age 4 to determine whether the children had developed any specific allergies.

Overall, infants whose diet consisted exclusively of breast milk for 4 months or longer after birth had a 22 percent reduced risk of eczema at 4 years old. This finding was especially true among children whose eczema symptoms appeared during the first 2 years of life and persisted until age 4. The researchers concluded that breastfeeding has a protective effect against eczema, and also reduces the incidence of a phenomenon called "allergy march," in which a child's allergy symptoms may persist into their later years, but the allergic condition takes another form.

Kull I, Bohme M, Wahlgren CF, et al. Breast-feeding reduces the risk for childhood eczema. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, October 2005;116(3):657-661.

Inactive? Overweight? Your Environment May Play a Part

While we all know that obesity is caused by consuming more calories than we expend, studies suggest that our surroundings may also play a factor. Specifically, it has been suggested that people are more likely to be physically active - and therefore, less likely to be overweight or obese - if they live in an environment that we find pleasing. However, few studies have measured the direct effect a pleasing environment can have on activity and obesity levels.

In this survey, researchers analyzed housing and health data collected on approximately 6,900 adults living in eight European cities. Residents in these cities filled out questionnaires on height, weight, and physical activity levels, while trained surveyors assessed the residents' environment, documenting amounts of graffiti and litter, and levels of greenery and vegetation in the immediate area.

People who lived in environments with high amounts of greenery were more than three times as likely to be physically active compared to people living in low-greenery areas; they were also 37 percent less likely to meet the criteria for being overweight or obese. Similarly, people who lived in areas with low graffiti and litter were 42 percent less likely to be overweight or obese, and 47 percent more likely to be physically active, compared to residents of high-graffiti, high-litter neighborhoods.

The results of this study add to the theory that environment can influence a person's willingness or ability to exercise, and thus influence their risk of obesity. As a result, the quality of one's environment also should be taken into account, along with diet and lifestyle, when making an attempt to increase exercise levels and reduce weight.

Ellaway A, Macintyre S, Bonnefoy X. Graffiti, greenery, and obesity in adults: secondary analysis of European cross-sectional survey. British Medical Journal, Sept. 17, 2005;331:611-612.