Rheumatoid arthritis triggers: they’re all around you

February 17, 2011 by  
Filed under ARTHRITIS

What triggers that arthritis attack that leaves you pain and immobile? It may be the air you breathe, the food you ate or the lipstick you just applied.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and these conditions and their causes are poorly understood. The genetic factors involved are pretty strong but other triggers are difficult to pinpoint. Researchers have been trying to identify the environmental factors that trigger these diseases. Scientists at Tel Aviv University report that

  • People living close to airports have a higher likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Certain food additives can also trigger autoimmune diseases.
  • Even chemicals in our body care products such as hairspray and lipstick or ingredients in our medications may serve as triggers.

According to rheumatologist Prof. Michael Ehrenfeld of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine:

“The onset of autoimmune diseases is a mixture of genetics, which you can’t change, and environmental factors, which in some cases you can, there are some environmental factors harder to avoid. For example, reactive arthritis is caused by a severe gastro-intestinal, urinary or sexual infection in some people.”

Other factors that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis are

  • Extreme stress
  • Environmental and industrial pollutants
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Food additives
  • UV radiation exposure

The high level of jet fuel fumes in airports predisposes nearby residents to autoimmune diseases.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease afflicting more than 2 million Americans. Women are 3 times more susceptible than men. The disease occurs when the body’s own immune system to attack the joints, leading to pain, deformities and disability. Unlike osteoarthritis which is age-related, rheumatoid arthritis affects people of all ages.

Prof. Ehrenfeld explains:

“Most people think arthritis has to do with old age. This is false. There is only one major type of arthritis in older people: osteoarthritis, which is brought on by degenerative changes in the body. What you see in older adults is usually a non-inflammatory and non-autoimmune type of arthritis.

Most of the other kinds of arthritis we see in the clinic, the debilitating and inflammatory types, usually occur in young women between the ages of 20 and 40. We hope that our research will lessen the occurrence and onset of these painful disorders.”

June updates: linking diabetes to cancer, weight loss and environmental cues

June 8, 2010 by  
Filed under DIABETES

Today I am bringing you the latest research updates on diabetes: how cancer, loss weight and environmental factors are linked to diabetes

Increased cancer risk of people with type 2 diabetes
What do cancer and diabetes have in common? Researchers report that people with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) have an increased risk for certain types of cancer. The study looked at 125,126 Swedish patients with T2DM and the incidence of cancer in this group of patients. The results indicate that patients with T2DM have increased risk for developing 24 types of cancer. These patients have double the risk for cancers of kidneys, thyroid, esophagus, small intestine and nervous system, and 4.5 times the risk for cancers of the liver cell and the pancreas compared to the general population. However, the risk for prostate cancer is much lower. The increased rates cannot be attributed to early detection of cancer as a result of close and routine monitoring of T2DM patients compared to the general population. The mechanisms linking the two diseases are not so clear. Two possibilities are: 1) they have the same risk factors 2) T2DM causes “processes in the body which promote the onset or growth of cancer.”

New study finds attending Weight Watchers meetings helps reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes
Weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers are beneficial for those with pre-diabetes and help reduce the risk of developing full-blown T2DM. Researchers report that those who participated in such program have, after 6 months, lost some weight but also improved glycemic parameters such as fasting blood glucose and insulin levels. There are many such programs out there but Weight Watchers are the best-known and most popular. The program includes education on a lower calorie diet (a food plan), exercise (an activity plan) and weekly group support sessions. Success is especially evident among those who attend the most sessions. According to study author Dr. Kathleen Melanson:

We know that previous research programs have successfully reduced diabetes risk using intensive lifestyle treatment. But what we didn’t know is that a program that costs appreciably much less than specially-designed diabetes prevention programs would have a profound impact on the same risk factors for type 2 diabetes. These findings could have important public health potential.”

New associations between diabetes, environmental factors found by novel Stanford analytic technique
Finally, Stanford researchers report new evidence that indicates a link between environmental factors and diabetes. Diabetes has been linked to genetic and lifestyle risk factors but this latest report says that environmental factors should also be taken into consideration. Whereas environmental factors have been closely linked to diseases such as cancer and asthma, very few studies have demonstrated this in the case of diabetes. Some of the environmental cues for diabetes are exposure to pesticides and other organic compounds as well as consumption of a certain type of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol.

Cancer cause: environmental pollutants or unhealthy lifestyle?

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

Experts agree that cancer is killing us. What they cannot agree on is the root cause of this evil. Let us take a look at the ongoing debate.

Blame the environment

A presidential panel issued a report that claims that environmental cancer risks are “grossly underestimated.” The panel consists of two cancer experts LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., MD, of Howard University and Margaret L. Kripke, PhD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and was set up by the Bush administration to conduct a 3-year study.

In the report entitled Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, the panelists point to the fact that nearly 80,000 chemicals currently on the market in the United States are largely unregulated, many of them understudied in terms of health and environmental effects. Among these chemicals are most likely carcinogens.

The report says:

“The grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The Panel urges you most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”

The report sparked a debate over an issue that has been controversial for years: What is the actual burden of environmentally-induced cancer?

Many advocacy groups welcome the report especially the Environmental Working Group, a strong advocate for more environmental legislations.

According to environmental health professor Richard Clapp of Boston University at a news conference sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund:

“This is an attempt to update the science. This report … calls for action on things where we don’t yet know all the details. We shouldn’t wait until the bodies are counted to say, ‘Well, maybe people shouldn’t be exposed so much to that chemical.”

Blame your lifestyle

Dr. Graham Colditz of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a cancer epidemiology expert, thinks we are using environmental issues as the scapegoat when in fact, the cause of cancer is a bit closer to home – our unhealthy lifestyle.

“The lack of physical activity, weight gain, obesity clearly account for 20 percent or more of cancer in the United States today.”

Dr. Colditz believes that instead of blaming BPA, phthalates, dioxins, and other substances in the air, water, and food, we should take responsibility for our life. The report that blamed cancer on pollutants will only give people an excuse to ignore the risk factors they can control and modify.

“The damage is that it distracts us, as a society, from actually acting on the things that are already in our grasp.”

Colditz uses the examples of well-known cancer causes in our lives, e.g. tobacco, alcohol, and meat. Smoking causes the majority of lung and other cancers. Alcohol causes 4% of cancers. Red meat is also a known cause for colon cancer. Yet despite all the cancer warnings on tobacco packaging, despites all the educational and media campaigns, people are still smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating meat. In addition, no legislation was able to completely ban these carcinogens from our lives.

The American Cancer Society seems to agree with Colditz and fears the report will undermine cancer prevention programs currently in place.

“…the panel’s report goes too far in trashing established efforts to prevent cancer and that its conclusions go well beyond established facts.”

Environment and lifestyle

Cancer is a very complex disease and experts are still trying to decipher the relationships between genetic, environmental and lifestyle risk factors. To say that one set of risk factors is more important than the other would be a gross mistake. The report on environmental causes of cancer brings to light new insights on this deadly disease that scientists and policy makers shouldn’t ignore. Yet, it also shouldn’t trivialize the role of lifestyle factors that we can modify. In the fight against cancer, these are all our enemies and solidarity against multiple enemies is the key to success.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.