Good news for smokers: Lung cancer risk could be halved by taking vitamin B6

Smokers with plenty of a B-vitamin in their blood have a lower risk of getting lung cancer, a European study suggests.

High levels of Vitamin B6 and the amino acid methionine cut the risk by half, according to the study of 400,000 people.

Scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that the results may be a clue to why some smokers never get lung cancer and some non-smokers or former smokers do.

Lung cancer is the most common form of the disease in the world and 90 per cent of all cases are caused by cigarette smoking. It kills 1.2 million people a year.

Around one in 10 smokers develop lung cancer – although they often die of other smoking-related causes like heart disease, stroke or emphysema. Lung cancer is also known to kill people who never smoked or who gave up years ago.

The IARC study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It  looked at around 900 people with lung cancer and found a link to low levels of vitamin B6 and an amino acid called methionine, which occur naturally in nuts, fish and meat.

‘What we have found is that these two things are strong markers of lung cancer risk, but we have not shown they are causing that rise in risk,’ said study author Paul Brennan.

‘This indicates that diet may have an important role in lung cancer development, but it’s still a little premature to say simply that if you change your diet and eat more foods with these vitamins then you’ll change your future lung cancer risk.’

Most of the patients were smokers but there were also 100 who never smoked and 260 who had quit.

Dr Brennan said the change in risk of lung cancer linked to B6 and methionine levels was the same for all three groups, although the overall risk of getting the disease was much higher in the smokers to start with.

He said: ‘For the two nutrients together, the risk reduction was about 60 percent.

‘Obviously if you had a very high risk because you smoke, then a 60 percent reduction of that is quite important, although not as important as quitting smoking.’

The latest findings reinforce previous research which suggested deficiencies in B vitamins may increase the probability of DNA damage and subsequent gene mutations.

A Swedish study in 2005 found that women with high levels of vitamin B6 had a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.

‘Basically, these B vitamins and nutrients are all involved in the pathway which is responsible for the creation and maintenance of DNA,’ Dr Brennan said.

‘”So obviously you would want that pathway to work as well as possible.’

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 10:31 AM on 16th June 2010

Scientists find gene links to vitamin D deficiency

Scientists have found three genetic differences that affect a person’s risk of being deficient in the “sunshine” vitamin D and say their work helps explain why sunlight and a good diet aren’t always enough.

British and American researchers studied the genes of almost 34,000 white Europeans and found that variants of three genes involved in cholesterol synthesis, vitamin D metabolism and vitamin D transport may increase the risk of deficiency.

“Our findings establish a role for common genetic variants in regulation of circulating vitamin D concentrations,” said Elina Hypponen of the University College London Institute of Child Health, who worked on the study.

She said the presence of the variants at the three specific genes more than doubled the risk of vitamin D insufficiency.

Most vitamin D is made by the body as a natural by-product of the skin’s exposure to sunlight. It is vital for health, as it helps cells absorb calcium and is key for bone strength.

Some recent studies have also suggested vitamin D may protect against cancer, artery disease and tuberculosis.

A normal level of vitamin D is defined as a concentration greater than 30 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml), while vitamin D insufficiency is 20 to 30 ng/ml and vitamin D deficiency is less than 20 ng/ml.

Almost half of the world’s population has lower than optimal levels of vitamin D and scientists say the problem is getting worse as people spend more time indoors or cover up too quickly and completely when they are exposed to sunshine.

Non-white populations in less sunny climates are at higher risk since dark skin can make it harder for the body to absorb ultraviolet light.

Hypponen said there was no doubt that sunshine and a good diet were still the most important factors for vitamin D levels, but the study helped explain why some people who should get enough from these sources still appear to be deficient.

“Sometimes when we look at geographical variations in vitamin D deficiency, they do not always go logically in the way we would expect, for example, on the basis of sunlight,” she said in a telephone interview. “So this study raises the possibility that that is down to genetic influences.”

Besides the sunlight source, vitamin D can also be found in fish liver oil, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel, or taken as a supplement.

There are no definitive studies on the optimal daily vitamin D dose but some experts recommend 25 to 50 micrograms.

A study published in March found that vitamin D is important in activating the immune system’s killer cells, known as T cells, which remain dormant and unaware of threats from infections if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

(Reuters) June 9,2010

Polyphenols in Red Wine and Green Tea Halt Prostate Cancer Growth, Study Suggests

In what could lead to a major advance in the treatment of prostate cancer, scientists now know exactly why polyphenols in red wine and green tea inhibit cancer growth. This new discovery, published online in The FASEB Journal, explains how antioxidants in red wine and green tea produce a combined effect to disrupt an important cell signaling pathway necessary for prostate cancer growth. This finding is important because it may lead to the development of drugs that could stop or slow cancer progression, or improve current treatments.

“Not only does SphK1/S1P signaling pathway play a role in prostate cancer, but it also plays a role in other cancers, such as colon cancer, breast cancer, and gastric cancers,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “Even if future studies show that drinking red wine and green tea isn’t as effective in humans as we hope, knowing that the compounds in those drinks disrupts this pathway is an important step toward developing drugs that hit the same target.”

Scientists conducted in vitro experiments which showed that the inhibition of the sphingosine kinase-1/sphingosine 1-phosphate (SphK1/S1P) pathway was essential for green tea and wine polyphenols to kill prostate cancer cells. Next, mice genetically altered to develop a human prostate cancer tumor were either treated or not treated with green tea and wine polyphenols. The treated mice showed reduced tumor growth as a result of the inhibited SphK1/S1P pathway. To mimic the preventive effects of polyphenols, another experiment used three groups of mice given drinking water, drinking water with a green tea compound known as EGCg, or drinking water with a different green tea compound, polyphenon E. Human prostate cancer cells were implanted in the mice and results showed a dramatic decrease in tumor size in the mice drinking the EGCg or polyphenon E mixtures.

“The profound impact that the antioxidants in red wine and green tea have on our bodies is more than anyone would have dreamt just 25 years ago,” Weissmann added. “As long as they are taken in moderation, all signs show that red wine and green tea may be ranked among the most potent ‘health foods’ we know.”

ScienceDaily (June 9, 2010)

Court victory against FDA for free speech

US Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech on Health Claims

Will this precedent influence European policy on health claims for foods and food supplements?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lost its bid to overturn a health claim for selenium-containing dietary supplements last Thursday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled unconstitutional the FDA’s censorship of selenium dietary supplement claims relating to the reduction of cancer risk. Jonathan Emord of Emord & Associates on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case (including lead plaintiff Alliance for Natural Health USA (ANH-USA); Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw; and the Coalition to End FDA and FTC Censorship).  The verdict, unless reversed on appeal, protects the First Amendment right of dietary supplement manufacturers to provide ‘qualified health claims’, which accurately communicate the state of science concerning dietary supplements. This is a remarkable seventh victory over the FDA by the Emord firm (six of which invalidated FDA health claim censorship).

The lawsuit was initiated last summer in response to the FDA’s 19th June 2009 decision to suppress selenium/cancer-risk reduction claims.  Ten of the claims (all appealed by the plaintiffs) were held unconstitutionally censored.  The plaintiffs expressed their belief that this violated their right to communicate truthful health information to the public.  The judge found that the FDA had denied claims despite credible evidence supporting them and had thereby infringed on free speech.

Prior to this ruling the FDA required near conclusive scientific evidence for any nutrient claim.  The judge ruled that so long as the claim is an accurate reflection of the state of science, the First Amendment protects it.

European policy on health claims for foods and food constituents has yet to be tested in court.  Yet, the European food and natural product industries, as well as many consumers, are currently up in arms as the European Commission attempts to implement a law, the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation (No 1924/2006) that aims to ban all health claims on food, food constituents or supplement’s unless they are specifically approved by Europe’s highest authority on food, the controversial European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  Contrary to the US court verdict, EFSA is only approving claims based on conclusive evidence from studies on healthy human populations.

Commenting on the court decision and its possible impact on the European health claims environment, Robert Verkerk PhD, executive and scientific director of ANH International, said, “The verdict in our case against the FDA should be sending shock waves across the Atlantic to EFSA.  If European authorities implement the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation as planned in 2011, it is the European consumer that will be the main loser.  Disease prevention using good diets and nutrients will effectively be thrown out of the window.  EFSA needs to either shift to using credible evidence as in the US, or it should expect to argue its case in the courts.”

Verkerk added: “EFSA’s rejections of hundreds of health claims is causing mayhem with the European food and supplement industry and a meeting of stakeholders on 1 June at its headquarters in Parma in Italy has been convened to discuss ways forward.

There are several reasons why EFSA is rejecting so many claims.  Sometimes it’s because the health relationship has only been studied in diseased populations.  In other cases it’s because the health benefits are so obvious that extensive clinical trials have not been justified.  Other claims are being rejected simply through lack of adequate funds to support the very costly human research required to generate definitive conclusions.  Scientific inference and common sense simply don’t come into EFSA’s equation.”

It remains to be seen whether EFSA and the European Commission will successfully quash freedom of speech in relation to the health benefits of foods and food constituents.  While human rights for Europeans have in theory been given greater legal protection under the newly passed Lisbon Treaty, these rights can be vetoed by unelected European institutions on public health or national security grounds.

ANH-Intl is calling on European citizens to raise their concerns with their duly elected Member of the European Parliament over how the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation is likely to drastically reduce their ability to select healthy foods and nutrients.