Category Archives: Health

Breast Cancer as an Infectious Disease?

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Lawson JS, Glenn WK, Whitaker NJ. Breast cancer as an infectious disease. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2010 Jan;6(1):5-8. PubMed PMID: 20088725 [free full text]

Researchers at the University of New South Wales review evidence for a role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the etiology of at least some forms of breast cancer, complemented by their laboratory work to identify HPV sequences from breast tumors.

Identifying low viral load as a possible explanation for failure to detect HPV in previous studies of breast tumors, the authors employed repeated PCR analyses using SYBR Green for greater sensitivity, and were able to detect HPV in nearly half the tumors tested.

From the conclusion:

“When considered in the context of previously published evidence related to HPV and breast cancer, these recent findings strongly suggest a causal role for HPVs in some breast cancers. However, we must wait for the development of further evidence before this relationship can be stated definitively.

“The immediate importance of this work is that it brings with it the possibility, for the first time, that primary preventative measures for some breast cancers are likely to be immediately available. This is because the high-risk HPV types that we and many others have identified in breast tumors (principally HPV types 16 and 18) are the same types for which the new HPV vaccines are most effective. These vaccines are already available and are being used on a worldwide basis.”

Important note: The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

A Second Green Revolution – One Man, One Cow, One Planet

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Across India, farmers are rejecting chemical agriculture and turning to sustainable organic practices.

On one side, an American multinational, Monsanto, which sells genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. On the other, Indian farmers and an ally from New Zealand, who work together to grow crops independently.

By all means, question the science behind biodynamic farming. But look at the results. And apply the same skepticism to the science behind Monsanto’s selling of chemical agriculture and genetically modified crops.

Start here:

Film website

Ethnopharmacology of the Horse Warriors – Medicinal Plants of the Tamang

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Uprety Y, Asselin H, Boon EK, et al. Indigenous use and bio-efficacy of medicinal plants in the Rasuwa District, Central Nepal. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010 Jan 26;6:3. PubMed PMID: 20102631

Ecologists at Vrije Universiteit Brussel interviewed plant collectors, medicinal plant cultivators, traditional healers, and traders among the ethnic Tamang people to document 60 medicinal formulations from 56 plant species.

From the background:

“The Rasuwa district presents some of the best examples of graded climatic conditions in Central Himalaya. Pronounced altitudinal gradients, coupled with complex topography and geology, have resulted in a rich biodiversity and unique vegetation patchwork. Therefore, the district harbours a rich diversity of medicinal plants. The Chilime VDC [Village Development Committee] lies in the northern part of the district, bordering the Tibetan part of China, and comprises temperate to alpine climates within 2000-4700 m altitude. The local inhabitants are part of the Tamang indigenous people, which comprises 98% of the total Chilime VDC population. People from the Tamang ethnic group have a rich culture and possess sound traditional knowledge. However, they are economically and socially marginalized and far from having their basic needs fulfilled.”

The Tamang people use medicinal plants to treat cuts and wounds, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, cough and cold, musculoskeletal problems, fever and headache, weakness and dizziness, menstrual disorders, dermatologic infections, ophthalmologic problems, and toothache, among other ailments.

The authors recommend phytochemical and pharmacological studies of the Tamang’s traditionally used medicinal plants, perhaps starting with potentially high-value species including Astilbe rivularis, Berberis asiatica, Hippophae salicifolia, Juniperus recurva, and Swertia multicaulis. They note that while medicinal plants provide huge opportunities for community development and livelihood improvement, local people are often deprived of the benefits. Proper management of medicinal plants could serve as a sustainable income source for the Tamang, which in turn could help generate incentives for biodiversity conservation.

Breathless – A New View of Carcinogenesis

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López-Lázaro M. A new view of carcinogenesis and an alternative approach to cancer therapy. Mol Med. 2010 Mar;16(3-4):144-53. Epub 2009 Dec 28. Review. PubMed PMID: 20062820; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2802554.

Miguel López-Lázaro of the University of Seville posits that the altered metabolism of oxygen by tumor cells presents a target for cancer therapy that may be more productive than genetic signatures. According to the argument, alteration in the metabolism of oxygen is a common feature of cancer cells and plays an important role in carcinogenesis. The development of any cancer requires that the future tumor cell both acquires a complex set of DNA alterations and develops an alteration in the metabolism of oxygen. Because tumor cells and normal cells metabolize oxygen differently, this difference could be exploited to target tumor cells selectively.

From the conclusions:

“In addition to building up a complex set of DNA changes, evidence suggests that the development of any cancer requires that tumor cells acquire an alteration in the metabolism of oxygen. Interestingly, this alteration in the metabolism of oxygen can make cancer cells vulnerable to therapeutic intervention. Their increased basal levels of H2O2 and their higher dependence on glycolysis for their survival make cancer cells more susceptible than normal cells to treatment with prooxidant agents and glycolysis inhibitors. Because this alteration in the metabolism of oxygen seems to be a common feature of tumor cells, this therapeutic approach could be used for the treatment of a wide range of patients with cancer.”

Metaphors Matter – Ovarian Cancer as the Silent Killer

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Jasen P. From the “silent killer” to the “whispering disease”: ovarian cancer and the uses of metaphor. Med Hist. 2009 Oct;53(4):489-512. [full text]

Patricia Jasen, a history professor at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, has written a comprehensive and thoughtful history of metaphorical language about ovarian cancer from the first characterizations of the disease to the present day.

From the conclusion:

“The association of the ‘silent killer’ metaphor with ovarian cancer was exceptionally tenacious, and it arguably played a role in diverting attention away from systematic attention to symptoms which were later deemed relevant by a growing number of researchers. This history provides support for the conclusion that medical metaphors do have a role in defining “notions of reality” and therefore deserve close scrutiny.”

The article is most readable. Understated. How many women died before their time because they were not properly diagnosed in the early stages of disease? The symptoms have been clear for decades.

Hot chilis to cool cancer

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Oyagbemi AA, Saba AB, Azeez OI. Capsaicin: a novel chemopreventive molecule and its underlying molecular mechanisms of action. Indian J Cancer. 2010 Jan-Mar;47(1):53-8 [open access]

Researchers at the University of Ibadan undertook a review of the literature on the plant genus Capsicum (Solanaceae), a principal ingredient of hot red and chili peppers, as a cancer-suppressing agent.

From the conclusion:

“The use of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetable has gained worldwide acceptance as a novel source of chemopreventive agents against cancer cells. These non-nutrient phytochemicals either block or reverse multistage carcinogenesis. Capsaicin, a pungent ingredient present in chili pepper has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative and anti-cancer potentials. Capsaicin has chemopreventive effect against a wide of chronic inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Other potential benefits of capsaicin should be explored with the aim of brightening our understanding of the molecular mechanism associated with its anti-cancer activities.”

Chilis!

The information on my blog is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

Comparative Oncology: Bone Cancer in Dogs and Humans

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Paoloni M, Davis S, Lana S, et al. Canine tumor cross-species genomics uncovers targets linked to osteosarcoma progression. BMC Genomics. 2009 Dec 23;10:625 [open access]

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Veterinary Teaching Hospital Colorado State University, Laboratory of Oncologic Research Bologna, and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles compared osteosarcoma expression profiles in dogs and children in an effort to identify novel metastasis-associated tumor targets that have been missed through the study of the human bone cancer alone.

From the paper background:

“An increasingly considered modeling approach in cancer biology and therapeutic development is the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs (referred to as comparative oncology). The features of cancers in pet dogs that may uniquely contribute to our understanding of cancer pathogenesis, progression and therapy have been recently reviewed… Companion (pet) dogs develop osteosarcoma at similar sites as human patients, with identical histology, response to traditional treatment regimens such as surgery and chemotherapy, and proclivity for metastasis… Similarly, many of the candidate genes implicated in the pathogenesis or progression of osteosarcoma in children have also been characterized in the canine disease… The incidence of osteosarcoma in dogs is higher than children, with >10,000 dogs diagnosed yearly… Differences in disease prevalence and the more aggressive disease biology in the dog further argues the opportunity for this approach to inform our understanding of this highly aggressive pediatric cancer. Although limited in scope, pet dogs with osteosarcoma have been effectively integrated into the development of novel treatment approaches for human patients, most notably pioneering limb-sparing techniques… In 2005 the first public draft of the canine genome sequence was released… This milestone provided the opportunity for dogs with cancer to lend additional insight into the biology of human cancers, and to more rigorously evaluate and translate novel therapies to human trials.”

The authors found strong similarities in gene expression patterns between canine and human osteosarcoma, which they suggest supports the inclusion of pet dogs as a translational model in studies of osteosarcoma therapy. A boy’s best friend, indeed.

Medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia

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Mesfin F, Demissew S, Teklehaymanot T. An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants in Wonago Woreda, SNNPR, Ethiopia. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Oct 12;5:28 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented medicinal plants in the natural vegetation and home gardens in Wonago Woreda, Ethiopia. They collected 155 plant species from the natural vegetation and 65 species from home gardens, and documented 72 as having medicinal value for human or livestock ailments.

Healers have turned to home gardens in the face of threat to natural vegetation:

“Traditional medicinal plants were harvested mostly from natural vegetation area followed by home gardens. They were also obtained from roadsides, farmlands and live fences. The medicinal plants in the natural vegetation were under threat and to tackle these problems traditional healers had turned their face towards home gardens. However, traditional healers still depend largely on naturally growing species because of their belief that those species in the natural vegetation are more effective in the prevention and treatment of diseases and health problems.”

This article is particularly valuable because of the detailed attention to preparation and application of the medicinal plants for specific ailments.

Ethnobotany of the upper Varaita

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Pieroni A, Giusti ME. Alpine ethnobotany in Italy: traditional knowledge of gastronomic and medicinal plants among the Occitans of the upper Varaita valley, Piedmont. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 6;5:32. [open access]

Researchers at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Università degli Studi di Firenze undertook a gastronomic and medical ethnobotanical study among the Occitan communities living in Blins/Bellino and Chianale, in the upper Val Varaita, in the Piedmontese Alps of Northwestern Italy. Traditional uses of 88 plants were recorded.

Sustainability is a serious concern:

It is … evident that traditional knowledge in the Varaita valley has been heavily eroded. This study also examined the local legal framework for the gathering of botanical taxa, and the potential utilization of the most quoted medicinal and food wild herbs in the local market, and suggests that the continuing widespread local collection from the wild of the aerial parts of Alpine wormwood for preparing liqueurs (Artemisia genipi, A. glacialis, and A. umbelliformis) should be seriously reconsidered in terms of sustainability, given the limited availability of these species, even though their collection is culturally salient in the entire study area.

This paper must be downloaded, not least for the incredible photography.

Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench

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Giday M, Asfaw Z, Woldu Z, Teklehaymanot T. Medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group of Ethiopia: an ethnobotanical investigation. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009 Nov 13;5:34 [open access]

Researchers at Addis Ababa University documented and analyzed medicinal plant knowledge of the Bench ethnic group in Ethiopia. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, intestinal parasites, skin-related diseases and typhoid fever are the major human health problems among the people. The study revealed 35 medicinal plant species used by the Bench.

From the conclusion:

“The immediate and serious threat to the local medical practice in the study area seems to have come from the increasing influence of modernization. As there is no adequate modern healthcare service provision in the study area, loss of local medical knowledge and practice could negatively affect the healthcare system of the people. To arrest or slow down the trend, awareness on the contribution of traditional medical practice towards fulfilling the primary healthcare needs of the local people should be created among the youth.”

An old story. Past time to start listening.