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Altering estrogen levels and recent research on food colors

A clinical study published April 11, 2011 suggests estrogen levels and breast health can be altered. The published journal article involving pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women shows how a specific combination of nutritional ingredients may help maintain healthy breast tissue

Altering estrogen levels and recent research on food colors.
Altering estrogen levels and recent research on food colors.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Several years ago, researchers from Canada and the United States told attendees of the Experimental Biology 2011 Scientific Meeting that they have uncovered a possible means of enabling women to favorably influence whether the estrogens in their bodies take a "beneficial path" or a "disease-potential" path, according to the April 11, 2011 news release, "Clinical study suggests estrogen levels and breast health can be altered."

The researchers tested a nutritional combination of indole-3 carbinol, milk thistle extract, calcium-D-glucarate, Schizandra chinensis fruit extract, stinging nettle, lignans extracted from the Norway spruce, and vitamin D (a combination available as femMED Breast Health) on 47 pre-menopausal women and 49 post-menopausal women for 28 days. On day one and 28, they analyzed blood and urine samples.

Researchers were pleasantly surprised to discover consumption of the femMED supplement significantly increased the mean urinary concentration of 2-OHE in pre- and post-menopausal women (by 110% and 88%, respectively), suggesting a risk-reducing effect. The Breast Health supplement was well-tolerated, and displayed no adverse side effects

Dr. Cathleen London, MD said, according to the April 11, 2011 news release, Clinical study suggests estrogen levels and breast health can be altered, "Although the trial was small it was well designed and well conducted. Importantly, we know that cruciferous vegetables, fish oil, and lignans from flax and nuts are all thought to support healthy metabolism of estrogens, but people do not eat enough fresh cruciferous vegetables in their diet, making nutritional supplementation a viable option. Although this is a preliminary study, it adds to our scientific knowledge about the role of estrogens and their metabolism in the breast health of pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women." Dr. London was not involved with this project.

Cathleen London, M.D., is a board certified family medicine physician. She is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Department of Medicine of Weill Cornell Medical College, as well as an Assistant Attending Physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is working full-time providing clinical care to patients at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center. For more information, check out the Weill Cornell.org website.

Maggie Laidlaw, PhD, the lead investigator, said, according to the news release, Clinical study suggests estrogen levels and breast health can be altered, "While additional studies are necessary, the results of this clinical trial in a relevant population of women show promise that there may be a proactive way to support healthy metabolism of estrogens through nutritional supplementation and, by extension, support breast health."

The double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was published in 2011 in the journal Breast Cancer: Basic and Clinical Research. The study was conducted at Nutrasource Diagnostics, Inc. in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, with urine samples analyzed for of estrogens and OH metabolites at the Jurist Institute for Research, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. The study followed the strict protocols established by Health Canada and it was registered at ClinicalTrials.gov. femMED supplied financial support for the study, sample products and placebo pills. It had no control over the research, its results, or the final manuscript.

For most women, breast cancer concerns rise as they get older and their natural supply of estrogens begins to diminish. Should they replenish estrogens through hormonal therapy? Estrogens are not something to always be feared.

Background: What do Women Need to Know About Estrogen?

Throughout our lives they play important roles in the health of our bones, heart, brain, hair, skin and other organs including the prostate gland in men. What determines if estrogens will help or hurt your health?

Some medical researchers are following a promising "fork in the road" hypothesis: examining the path estrogens take as they are metabolized by different organs in our bodies (liver, kidneys, and even the breast). They believe that whether or not estrogens are healthful or harmful depends on the number of oxygen/hydrogen (OH) molecules that are attached to the estrogens in your body, through a 'routine' metabolic process called hydroxylation.

The "tagging" of estrogens with OH molecules at a certain position (C-16) may ultimately make them stick to your DNA with damaging, potentially carcinogenic results. Estrogens "tagged" with OH molecules at a different location (C-2) are believed to follow a path not associated with risk, or with health-protecting benefits.

femMED's line of 13 doctor-formulated remedies are designed specifically for women, providing natural solutions to their most common health concerns, at every age and stage of life. Each product contains only the highest quality vitamins, minerals and herbs. All femMED products are free of dairy, egg, artificial colors or flavors, and almost all are gluten free, yeast free, suitable for vegetarians and delivered in a vegetable capsule. Best of all, femMED formulas are designed to work on their own, or in combination with other femMED formulas to achieve multiple health goals. For more information, please visit the Femmed.com website.

From artificial to natural, the food industry makes a major shift, says another recent study about extracts from herbs, algae, and various plants

Extracts from algae, rosemary and monk fruit could soon replace synthetic ingredients and food additives such as Blue No. 1, BHT and aspartame that label-conscious grocery shoppers are increasingly shunning. Research is enabling this shift from artificial colors, sweeteners and preservatives to naturally derived ones, and could soon yield many more natural options, reports Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society .

Melody M. Bomgardner, senior editor at C&EN, notes that the trend has built momentum as concern over negative health effects of artificial ingredients and additives grows. Recent studies have suggested a link between some artificial colorings and hyperactivity in children.

Others have suggested that certain synthetic preservatives may cause cancer in rodents

These results are sinking into the consumer psyche. By 2013, almost a quarter of U.S. consumers reported that they read food labels to check for artificial colors and flavors. That's 15 percent more than the year before. In Europe, regulations spurred a faster changeover and have largely driven the dramatic shift in global sales toward natural colors. In the $1.5 billion market, growth of the latter has overtaken synthetics, which have plateaued.

Now many food manufacturers are turning to colors derived from foods, such as turmeric; to new fermentation routes for natural yellows, reds and purple dyes; and to rosemary and monk fruit as a preservative and sweetener, respectively, the article states.

Natural green and blue food colorings are harder to come by, but researchers are finding sources for these as well. Last summer, M&Ms candy maker Mars got the OK from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to color their blue treats with an extract from blue-green algae. Scientists are also investigating new natural ways to preserve meat, produce vanilla and sweeten foods without the calories, according to the February 12, 2013 news release, "From artificial to natural, the food industry makes a major shift."

Did you know artificial flavorings are industrial chemicals that are derived from oil or gas?

Fresh banana, a waft of flowers, blueberry: the scents in Shota Atsumi's laboratory in the University of California, Davis Department of Chemistry are a little sweeter than in most university chemistry laboratories. The idea kind of makes you think of having a piece of green tea cake instead of a cake colored green with artificial food colorings.

If so, check out the recipe, "Green Tea Layer Cake Recipe." Or see the website for the green tea (matcha) pound cake recipe with red azuki beans. But aside from recipes, a chemistry lab sometimes smells like fruit instead of reeking of paint or fuel being prepared there. Here's why.

That's because Atsumi and his team are engineering bacteria to make esters — molecules widely used as scents and flavorings, and also as basic feedstock for chemical processes from paints to fuels, according to the March 10, 2014 UC Davis news release, "Sweet smell of sustainability." Their latest work, "Expanding ester biosynthesis in Escherichia coli," is published March 9, 2014 online in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. Nearly all industrial chemicals, from artificial flavorings to paint, are derived from oil or gas, Atsumi said, according to the news release.

The source material for the bacteria is based on sugars, which can come from renewable biomass

"Our motivation is to make chemicals from renewable sources instead," Atsumi said, according to the news release. Scents and flavorings make up a $20 billion industry worldwide, he explained. Esters are molecules in which two chains of carbon atoms are linked through an oxygen atom. They are made chemically by reacting an alcohol with an organic acid. But the thermodynamics of this reaction mean that it tends to run the other way — it's easier to break up an ester than to make it.

Living cells can also make esters. For example, yeasts produce small amounts of esters that give flavors to wine and beer, without requiring high temperatures or special conditions

"The reaction is chemically difficult but biologically easy," Atsumi said in the news release. "Nature gives you a great system to work with." Nature uses a class of enzymes called alcohol O-acetyltransferases to make esters from acyl-Coenzyme A (acyl-CoA) molecules. Changing the acyl- part of acyl-CoA that goes into the reaction changes the type of ester that is produced. Atsumi, graduate student Gabriel Rodriquez and postdoctoral researcher Yohei Tashiro took genes for biochemical pathways from yeast and introduced them into E. coli bacteria, a reliable test system for genetic engineering.

By tweaking the acyl-CoA pathway, they could manipulate one half of the ester: by adjusting the pathway that produces alcohols in the cell, and by shutting down other potential pathways, they could adjust the other half. Therefore, they were able to pick the final ester made by the bacteria. The technique, which has been patented, opens up possibilities for producing many different esters in biological systems, Atsumi said, according to the news release.

Ultimately, Atsumi hopes to engineer these chemical pathways into cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), single-celled organisms that can draw energy directly from sunlight and carbon from the atmosphere. The work was partly supported by a Hellman Fellowship awarded to Atsumi.

Sodabriety: Cutting teenage sugar intake

Another recent study, "Sodabriety” Challenge Successful at Cutting Teen Sugar Intake," published in the Journal of School Health shows that teenagers can be persuaded to cut back on sugary soft drinks -- especially with a little help from their friends. The study finds a secret to cutting sugary drink use by teens, says a new study. A student-run ‘Sodabriety’ effort also boosted water consumption. You also may wish to see, "A “Sodabriety” Challenge: Strategies to Reduce Sweetened Beverage Consumption By Teens in Rural Ohio."

This study shows that teenagers can be persuaded to cut back on sugary soft drinks – especially with a little help from their friends. “With the right guidance and support, [teenagers] are powerful influencers. We might as well use peer pressure to our advantage.” Another publication of interest to those who want to learn more about dried fruits as healthy foods and/or their effects is the journal Dried Fruits: Phytochemicals and Health Effects.

A 30-day challenge encouraging teens to reduce sugar-sweetened drink use lowered their overall consumption substantially and increased by two-thirds the percentage of high-school students who shunned sugary drinks altogether

The “Sodabriety” challenge, piloted by Ohio State University researchers, was an effort to confront the largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet: sugar-sweetened soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and flavored milk and coffee. Also see, "What proportion of preschool-aged children consume sweetened beverages?"

Students were tapped to establish teen advisory councils, whose members led the interventions at two rural Appalachian high schools. They designed marketing campaigns, planned school assemblies and shared a fact per day about sugar-sweetened drinks over the morning announcements.

The primary message to their peers: Try to cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages for 30 days. Students opted not to promote eliminating these drinks entirely during the challenge

Overall, participating teens did lower their intake of sugary drinks, and the percentage of youths who abstained from drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increased from 7.2 percent to 11.8 percent of the participants. That percentage was sustained for 30 days after the intervention ended. In an unexpected result, water consumption among participants increased significantly by 60 days after the start of the program, even without any promotion of water as a substitute for sugar-sweetened drinks.

“The students’ water consumption before the intervention was lousy. I don’t know how else to say it. But we saw a big improvement in that,” said Laureen Smith, according to the March 26, 2014 news release, "Study finds secret to cutting sugary drink use by teens." Smith is an associate professor of nursing at Ohio State and lead author of the study. “And there was a huge reduction in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. The kids were consuming them fewer days per week and when they were consuming these drinks, they had fewer servings.”

Smith co-authored the study with Christopher Holloman, associate professor of statistics at Ohio State. The research is published in a recent issue of the Journal of School Health.

Smith originally set out to conduct a community-based study concerning the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in Appalachian Ohio

Through a series of meetings, surveys and focus groups, parents in these communities tended to express concern about kids’ diets. “Sugar-sweetened beverages kept coming up,” Smith said in the news release. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of youths – especially those age 12 to 19 years – consume sugar-sweetened beverages daily, and these drinks contribute between 13 and 28 percent of their daily calorie intake. Children and adolescents in Appalachia have higher rates of sugary beverage consumption compared with others of the same age.

In all, 186 students at two high schools participated in the challenge – almost half of each school’s headcount, and almost 70 percent of eligible students when teens attending vocational training were excluded. Smith surveyed the students about vending machine access and beverage options, sugar-sweetened beverage drinking habits and water consumption. Once the intervention began, students were instructed to keep a log, recording how many servings of sugary drinks and other beverages they consumed each day.

For this study, sugar-sweetened beverages included regular soft drinks, sweet tea, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored or sweetened milk, coffee with sugar, other coffee drinks and an “other” category

Regular soft drinks were the preferred beverage for 92 percent of sugary drink users before and after the study. At baseline, nearly half – 41 percent – of the students reported buying sugary drinks from school-based sources: vending machines, the cafeteria or school stores. In addition, 63 percent of students reported consuming sugary drinks at least three days a week, with more than a third reporting daily intake of these beverages – a figure that dropped to 7.2 percent of students immediately after the challenge ended.

One month after the intervention ended, almost 60 percent of students reported consuming sugary drinks fewer than three days each week. Over the course of the study, from the start of the challenge until a month after it ended, respondents achieved a nearly 30 percent reduction in days per week that they consumed sugary drinks.

A similar pattern was seen in servings: The intervention reduced average daily servings of sugar-sweetened beverages from 2.3 to 1.3 – about one serving, or 8 ounces, per day

Water consumption increased from baseline to immediately after the challenge ended, and continued to increase over the next 30 days to an average of 5 ½ servings of water per day, reaching a 30 percent increase from baseline measures. Smith heard from students that they had lost weight, felt better and had recruited parents to join them in the challenge. Based on this anecdotal data, she plans to follow up with a similar school-based challenge that includes measures of health outcomes and involvement of students’ families.

In the long run, Smith hopes a drop in the use of sugary drinks could help curb Type 2 diabetes in rural communities. Through this study and previous work, she also has found that teens can be effective at changing peer behavior.

“We’re teaching kids to help themselves, and it’s a really cost-effective way of promoting health and delivering a message,” she said in the news release. “We tend to think first of risky behaviors when we study adolescents, but they do positive things, too. With the right guidance and support, they are powerful influencers. We might as well use peer pressure to our advantage.”

This work was supported by a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences to Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Additional project personnel included Carol Smathers and Cynthia Oliveri of Ohio State University Extension.