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Low Vitamin D Levels, Shorter Life?

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 20, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Young and middle-aged adults with low vitamin D levels may live shorter lives, a large study suggests.

The findings come from a 20-year follow-up of more than 78,000 Austrian adults. Researchers found that those with low vitamin D levels in their blood were nearly three times more likely to die during the study period than those with adequate levels.

When it came to the cause of death, vitamin D levels were most clearly linked to deaths from diabetes complications.

The findings were to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, in Barcelona — and are considered preliminary. Experts said they do not prove that low vitamin D levels, per se, cut people’s lives short.

But the results add to a large body of evidence tying inadequate vitamin D to various health effects — beyond the long-recognized consequence of thinner, weaker bones. Studies have also pointed to higher risks of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, certain cancers, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

“The role of vitamin D in the body appears to be more than simply assisting calcium absorption and bone health,” said Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian who was not involved in the study.

However, the research is “still evolving,” noted Diekman, who has served as president of the nonprofit Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means it’s still unclear whether boosting your vitamin D intake — through food or pills — will prevent various diseases or lengthen your life.

In fact, a recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, yielded disappointing results: Researchers found that vitamin D supplements did not help prevent type 2 diabetes in people at high risk of the disease.

But that may be in part because supplements later in life might not be enough to prevent a disease, according to Dr. Rodrig Marculescu, the lead researcher on the current study.

Many health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, get their start earlier in life, said Marculescu, of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

Continued

On the other hand, he said, vitamin D supplements might have more of an impact on the odds of dying from a disease.

His team found a clear relationship between blood vitamin D levels and the risk of early death — especially among people who were younger than 60: Those with levels of 10 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) or less had almost a three-times higher risk of dying during the study, versus those with adequate levels (50 nmol/L).

In contrast, middle-aged and younger people with vitamin D levels at or above 90 nmol/L had a lower death risk than those at the 50 mark.

In general, vitamin D concentrations of 50 nmol/L or higher are considered to be high enough for overall health, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

When the researchers zeroed in on causes of death, it turned out that vitamin D levels showed only weak connections to heart disease and cancer. Instead, people with low levels (below 50) had a more than fourfold higher risk of dying from diabetes complications, versus those with adequate levels.

It’s not clear why. But, Marculescu said, there are plausible reasons that vitamin D levels would be particularly linked to diabetes: The vitamin, which acts as a hormone in the body, helps regulate the immune system. That’s relevant to type 1 diabetes, Marculescu noted, because it is an autoimmune disease.

Vitamin D is also important to the cells that produce the hormone insulin — which regulates blood sugar — and to the body’s sensitivity to insulin. That’s relevant to type 2 diabetes, Marculescu pointed out.

For now, he said, the findings “further strengthen the already very strong rationale for intensifying vitamin D supplementation, especially during childhood and at younger ages.”

Specifically, he pointed to recommendations from the Endocrine Society. They suggest that adults get 1,500 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day, while children and teenagers get 600 to 1,000 IU.

The body naturally synthesizes vitamin D when sunlight hits the skin, but cold climates — and concerns about sun exposure — can limit that source.

Diekman suggested that people have their blood vitamin D level checked. If it’s low, she said, talk to your doctor about how to boost it — whether through supplements or foods such as vitamin D-fortified dairy products, juice or cereal.

WebMD News from HealthDay

Sources

SOURCES: Rodrig Marculescu, M.D., associate professor, Medical University of Vienna, Austria; Connie Diekman, M.Ed., R.D., food and nutrition consultant, St. Louis, Mo.; Sept. 20, 2019, presentation, European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting, Barcelona, Spain

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High Levels of Estrogen in Womb Might Raise Autism Risk

MONDAY, July 29, 2019 — New British research is bolstering the theory that elevated levels of sex hormones in the uterus could play a role in autism risk.

Prior studies had already implicated higher uterine concentrations of male sex hormones — androgens — in increasing the odds for an autism spectrum disorder, noted a team led by Simon Baron-Cohen. He directs the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge.

That prior finding might help explain why autism is so much more prevalent in boys than girls.

However, the latest research from the Cambridge team suggests that exposure to high levels of estrogen hormones in the womb might also raise the odds for autism.

In the new study, Baron-Cohen and his colleagues tested samples of amniotic fluid from 98 individuals sampled by the Danish Biobank, a repository of amniotic samples from more than 100,000 pregnancies.

The 98 individuals went on to develop an autism spectrum disorder.

The researchers looked specifically at amniotic levels of four different estrogen-like hormones.

The investigators compared levels for the 98 people with autism against those from amniotic samples of 177 people who did not have the disorder. This time, Baron-Cohen’s group found an even stronger relationship to autism than was seen with high levels of male sex hormones.

“This new finding supports the idea that increased prenatal sex steroid hormones are one of the potential causes for the condition,” Baron-Cohen said in a university news release. “Genetics is well established as another [cause], and these hormones likely interact with genetic factors to affect the developing fetal brain.”

Dr. Ruth Milanaik is an autism expert who directs the neonatal neurodevelopmental follow-up program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, in New Hyde Park, N.Y. Reviewing the new findings, she agreed that there is probably no single cause for autism.

“This is a strong study that brings us a step closer to understanding the roots of this issue, but by all means [it is] not a definitive cause,” Milanaik said. “Further research is needed in all areas in order to fully understand the implications of these findings.”

For his part, Baron-Cohen stressed that testing uterine hormone levels in pregnancy to gauge future autism risk is not the goal here.

“We are interested in understanding autism, not preventing it,” he said, adding that the findings shouldn’t be used to develop such a screening test.

In fact, it’s not yet even clear what might cause sex hormone levels to rise in the womb, the researchers said.

According to study co-author Alex Tsompanidis, a graduate student at Cambridge, “These elevated hormones could be coming from the mother, the baby or the placenta. Our next step should be to study all these possible sources and how they interact during pregnancy.”

The findings were published online July 29 in Molecular Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on autism.

© 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: July 2019

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High Arsenic Levels Found in 2 Bottled Water Brands

High levels of arsenic were found in two brands of bottled water sold at Whole Foods, Target and Walmart, the Center for Environmental Health in California says.

The nonprofit group found that the brands Penafiel, owned by Keurig Dr. Pepper, and Starkey, owned by Whole Foods, contain levels of arsenic that are higher than tap water and violate California guidelines, USA Today reported.

High levels of arsenic can cause reproductive damage and cancer, and products that violate recommended state levels of arsenic must carry a warning, according to California law.

Research also shows that arsenic can cause hormone disruption and organ damage, especially in children.

Earlier this year, Consumer Reports released findings that the same brands of bottle water contained nearly double the federal limit of arsenic in water, USA Today reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recalled either brand of bottled water.

Whole Foods and Keurig Dr. Pepper did not respond to requests for comment from USA Today.

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Good Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar Levels Can Prevent ‘Heart Block’

FRIDAY, May 24, 2019 — Keeping blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control might prevent a common heart rhythm disorder called “heart block.”

That’s the finding from a new study analyzing data on more than 6,000 people, aged 30 and older, in Finland.

In the study, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers found that 58 of those people developed heart block over an average follow-up of 25 years.

Heart block, or atrioventricular block, occurs when electrical signals between the heart’s four chambers are disrupted. Often felt as a skipped beat, it can lead to the need for a pacemaker.

Every 10 millimeter increase in systolic blood pressure resulted in a 22% greater risk of heart block, and every millimeter increase in fasting blood sugar (glucose) resulted in a 19% greater risk, the findings showed.

The researchers estimated that 47% of the 58 heart block cases could have been prevented with ideal blood pressure and 11% with normal fasting glucose.

Other factors in the Finnish data associated with increased risk of heart block were older age, being male and having a history of heart attack or heart failure.

The study was published online May 24 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

The researchers noted that there has been little research on whether lifestyle changes can prevent heart block, probably because the condition is widely treated with pacemakers.

“It is perhaps precisely because pacemakers so successfully and immediately address cases of heart block that we have previously failed to devote more attention to prevention of this important disease,” study senior author Dr. Gregory Marcus, a UCSF Health cardiologist, said in a university news release.

“In addition to the prevention and treatment of [heart attack] and heart failure, effective treatment of hypertension and maintenance of normal blood sugars may be useful prevention strategies,” he added.

“Given the prevalence of heart block in the adult male population, as well as the multiple risks associated with pacemakers, it would be worthwhile to pursue further research on this connection,” Marcus added.

“This new information also may help persuade hypertensive individuals to receive and continue their prescribed treatments,” he concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart block.

© 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: May 2019

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Sunscreen Chemicals Enter Bloodstream at Potentially Unsafe Levels: Study

MONDAY, May 6, 2019 — For years, you’ve been urged to slather on sunscreen before venturing outdoors. But new U.S. Food and Drug Administration data reveals chemicals in sunscreens are absorbed into the human body at levels high enough to raise concerns about potentially toxic effects.

Bloodstream levels of four sunscreen chemicals increased dramatically after test subjects applied spray, lotion and cream for four days as directed on the label, according to the report.

The levels far exceed the FDA-set threshold which require topical medications to undergo safety studies, said Dr. Kanade Shinkai, a dermatologist with the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

“It’s not like they went a little bit over,” she said. “It’s really quite high, orders of magnitude higher than that.”

However, experts are quick to say you shouldn’t stop using sunscreen because of this study. At this point, the known risk of harm from the sun’s rays exceeds the potential risk posed by these chemicals.

“I am concerned that people are going to stop wearing sunscreen,” Shinkai said. “We know ultraviolet light from the sun has very deleterious effects on the skin. It causes photoaging. It causes sunburn. And, as such, it causes melanoma and [other] skin cancer.”

Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed.

“I think it’s confusing,” Green said. “While it’s more than the FDA recommends for their toxicology, we really don’t know what that means in terms of human health. I would not want people to stop using sunscreen based on this one study.”

Possible effects on hormones

The sunscreen study was led by the FDA’s Dr. David Strauss, and appears May 6 in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the nation’s leading medical journals.

Most sunscreens on the shelf use chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone and octocrylene to block harmful rays. These organic chemicals absorb ultraviolet radiation and convert it into a small amount of heat.

However, animal studies have raised concerns that the chemicals, oxybenzone in particular, might disrupt normal hormone patterns in people, the FDA researchers noted in their study.

“These molecules are chemical rings, essentially, and they absorb light,” said Shinkai, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “Chemical rings are also the fundamental basis for a lot of hormones, and chemical rings tend to enter cells.”

Oxybenzone has been found in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood, the FDA researchers said.

For its study, the FDA randomly had 24 adults apply either a sunscreen spray, lotion or cream four times a day for four days. The participants applied the sunscreen to three-quarters of their body surface.

The study took place in a lab, and the agency drew 30 blood samples from each participant over a week to see whether the chemicals in the sunscreen got absorbed through the skin.

Levels of oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule increased in the bloodstream after sunscreen use, researchers found.

“There is definitely reason for concern, because if you think about it, any medication you buy over the counter, you would expect that everything in there has been tested, it’s safe, it’s effective,” Shinkai said. ‘This has never been proven for sunscreen.”

More real-life data needed

But it was a very small-scale laboratory study that simply shows the need for more research, said Dr. Raman Madan, a dermatologist with Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y.

“While this is a starting point, the relevance of this result is unknown,” Madan said. “There needs to be further studies done to show what this really means. While it could have real-world consequences, it could very well mean nothing.”

The study also differs from real life in that people applied the sunscreen while hanging about a lab, Shinkai said.

“They weren’t doing the things people typically do when they use sunscreen,” such as swimming or working in the yard, Shinkai said. Because of this, their exposure might differ from that of everyday people.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), a group representing sunscreen makers, also said it’s far too soon for consumers to have doubts about these products.

“Sunscreen manufacturers, FDA, and dermatologists are aligned on the goal of protecting the public from the harmful effects of the sun,” the group said in a statement. “Sunscreens save lives.”

CHPA said the FDA is committed to learning more about the safety of chemicals within sunscreens, however, and the new data “is consistent with these efforts.”

Options are out there

The FDA has been tussling with sunscreen manufacturers over studies to test the safety of their products, said Shinkai.

The agency has set a November 2019 deadline for manufacturers to provide safety data on their sunscreens, including evaluations of systemic absorption, the risk of cancer from the chemicals, and their effect on reproductive health, Shinkai said in her editorial.

The publication of this study might be intended to put pressure on the sunscreen industry to meet the deadline, she said.

“The FDA is a regulatory agency. It’s not a testing agency. For them to perform a research study is highly unusual,” Shinkai said. “I think that’s an important thing that suggests how concerned they were about this issue, and maybe perhaps the frustration on their part.”

People who are concerned about the safety of chemical sunscreens can opt to use mineral sunscreens, Shinkai said.

Those sunscreens rely on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect sunlight from the skin, rather than absorbing it like chemical sunscreens.

“These we know are safe,” Shinkai said of mineral sunscreens. “This is something that is evidence-based.”

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about sun protection.

© 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Posted: May 2019

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Staph Infections Drop, but Levels Still Worry U.S. Health Officials