News Stories

Eat Right, Don't Breathe

John Paterson, a biochemist at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, says that eating organic food may help reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Until now there has been little scientific evidence to suggest that organic food is any healthier than conventional produce. John Krebs, head of the British Food Standards Agency, has gone on record saying organic food is not better than other types of food. But Paterson says Krebs made his statement ?on the basis of very little information.?

Now Paterson and a team from the University of Strathclyde have found that organic vegetable soups contain almost six times as much salicylic acid as non-organic vegetable soups. This acid is responsible for the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin, and helps combat hardening of the arteries and bowel cancer. The average level of salicylic acid in 11 brands of organic vegetable soup on sale in Britain was 117 nanograms per gram, compared with 20 ng/g in 24 types of non-organic soup. The highest concentration of the acid, 1040 ng/g, was found in carrot and coriander soup made by Simply Organic based in Scotland, while it was not detectable in four traditional soups made by the Scottish company Baxters.

Salicylic acid is produced naturally in plants as a defense against stress and disease. This could explain why levels are higher in organic vegetables, which are generally grown without protection from pesticides.

Earlier research by Paterson?s team discovered significantly higher concentrations of the acid in the blood of vegetarian Buddhist monks compared with that of meat-eaters. ?We are aware of the suggested benefits of high levels of salicylic acid and will look at what the report has to say,? says a spokeswoman from the Food Standards Agency.

?Eating organic may be good for you,? says Paterson. ?I?m not an evangelist for the organic food movement, but there was a fairly substantial difference.?

To learn more,click here.

On March 6, we ran a story telling about how simply living in a polluted city can cause lung cancer,click here. Now Dr. Robert Brook, of the University of Michigan, says air pollution causes the blood vessels of healthy people to close up, which helps explain why high levels of pollution are linked to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

?These findings suggest a possible reason why the rate of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events increases with exposure to air pollution for people with known heart and blood vessel disease,? say the researchers. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that air pollution contributed to 60,000 heart-related deaths in 1996.

Brook says the experiment involved fairly high levels of pollution, such as those found in Mexico City or on bad days in Los Angeles. The harmful pollution could not be seen or smelled, and people didn?t feel the effects. ?You don?t even know. You can?t tell that you are inhaling it. You can breathe in these rather high levels of air pollution and be mostly unaware,? says Brook.

Brook and his brother, Dr. Jeffrey Brook of the University of Toronto, tested 25 healthy volunteers with an average age of 35. They sat in a chamber where air was pumped in ? sometimes filtered and sometimes containing ozone and fine particulate matter. ?These come from the combustion of normal fossil fuel,? Brook says.

Cars, power plants, iron smelters, and other industry all create ozone and fine particulate pollution. The tiny particles of carbon and other material have even smaller bits of iron, manganese, and zinc clinging to them. They are inhaled deep into the lungs, and some studies suggest they may be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Brook says the body?s immune system may mistake these particles for bacterial or viral invaders and attack them. As white blood cells move in, they release inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that cause the blood vessels to constrict.

These bits of metal may also damage healthy cells. After two hours of breathing the polluted air, the blood vessels of the volunteers constricted between 2 percent and 4 percent on average. Their vessels did not constrict when they breathed clean, filtered air. The researchers used ultrasound to measure the diameter of the brachial artery, which runs from the shoulder to the elbow.

?Although the degree of constriction in and of itself is unlikely to produce significant problems in healthy individuals, such a constriction could conceivably trigger cardiac events in those individuals who have or are at risk for heart disease,? Brook says. ?Now we can say, ?Gee, there is a clear linkage here between bad air and cardiopulmonary events.??

To learn more, read "Now It's Dangerous to Breathe,"click here.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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