Past News Items - October 2008
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In The News
More Controversy Erupts as FDA Proposes Regulations for Genetically Engineered Animals
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new guidelines for genetically engineered (GE) animals on September 18, moving the United States closer to opening markets in food and other products from these animals. The guidelines lay out the agency's plan to regulate the growing industry of GE animals and to hammer out industry requirements.
While arguing that genetic engineering is no longer a new technology because it has been widely used in agriculture to make crops resistant to certain pests, FDA also noted that many kinds of GE animals are in development but none have yet been approved for marketing.
Proponents of genetic engineering aver the practice creates animals that grow faster, produce healthier foods such as heart-healthy eggs or pork that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, or develop resistance to ailments like mad cow disease. Genetically altered animals may also be used in to manufacture drugs and to grow organs for human transplantations.
Opponents to the use of GE animals vary from animal rights activists, who say the practice could unleash unintended consequences by altering the traditional genetic structures of animals, and consumer organizations, who are troubled that the FDA said it would only review GE animals for their safety as food and would not require any labeling of GE products. In the proposed regulation, the only labeling the FDA would require is related to health claims producers make about their products.
On the same day that FDA released its proposal, the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine released Draft Guidance for Industry #187 to clarify the agency’s regulation of GE animals. The draft guidance and several FAQ articles can be found at www.fda.gov/cvm/GEAnimals.htm. Public comments on this draft guidance will be accepted until November 18, 2008, at http://www.regulations.gov/ (reference Docket FDA-2008-D-0394).
Resveratrol May Alleviate MS Symptoms
Resveratrol, a phytoalexin produced by several plants when under attack by pathogens and most notably found in the skin of red grapes, has been previously linked to longevity and heart health. Now, new research has shown promise in an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS). Mice with the MS-like condition called Wallerian degeneration slow—resulting from the mutant Wallerian degeneration slow gene—showed an initial weight gain when given resveratrol, researchers from the University of Utah reported at the World Congress on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis in Montreal. The conference was the first joint meeting of the Americas Committee on Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS) and its counterparts in Europe and Latin America.
The study’s report noted that weight gain occurred in the mice within the first 2 weeks of treatment. A microscopic study of nerve cell tissue at 5 weeks did not show any positive effect, but weight gain of any kind is an encouraging sign in MS treatment, according to the study’s doctors, who say that weight loss is one of the most obvious clinical signs of the disease. In patients with MS, as in the inflammatory animal models of MS, weight loss accompanies loss of neurological function.
Despite the promise shown by resveratrol in this study, its authors urged caution. While weight gain in MS patients would be a positive outcome, more evidence is needed before any definite conclusions may be made about human populations with neurological insufficiencies.
Resveratrol has also been produced by chemical synthesis, and is sold as a nutritional supplement derived primarily from Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica, Reynoutria japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum).
Chamomile Tea May Prevent Hyperglycemia and Diabetic Complications
A new study from Japan and the United Kingdom suggests that drinking tea made from chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) may prevent blood sugar increases and other complications associated with diabetes. In the study, published in the September 10 issue the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, diabetic rats fed chamomile tea had lower blood sugar readings and lower production of sorbitol, a blood sugar alcohol made from glucose. A build-up of sorbitol is linked to damage in the eyes or of nerve cells in diabetics.
These results, say the researchers, clearly indicate that daily consumption of chamomile tea with meals can prevent the progress of hyperglycemia and diabetic complications. If the results can be repeated in other animal studies and in future human studies, chamomile tea may added to the burgeoning list of dietary approaches for the prevention and/or management of diabetes.
While the study’s authors and diabetes experts remained chary of undue optimism associated with the findings of this rat-based research, adding chamomile tea to their health regimens of healthy diet and exercise may be an easy, affordable option for the estimated 19 million people affected by diabetes in the European Union and the nearly 24 million people with diabetes in the United States.
Vitamin B12 May Stave Off Brain Shrinkage
A study published in the September issue of the journal Neurology proposed that higher vitamin B12 levels might protect the elderly against brain shrinkage. Researchers from Oxford University found that people in the upper third of vitamin B12 levels were 6 times less likely to experience brain shrinkage than those in the lowest third. These results suggest that older adults with B12 levels in the high normal range may be protected from the cognitive degeneration associated with senior dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The study involved 107 healthy people ages 61 to 87 who underwent scans to measure brain volume and gave blood samples to assess vitamin B12 levels once a year for up to 5 years.
While the study’s authors insist that it is too early to advise people to take extra B12 to prevent brain shrinkage, they do recommend that patients keep their levels within the normal range. Maintaining normal B12 levels can be achieved by eating foods rich in the vitamin, like dairy products, fish, meat, and fortified grains. Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to anemia and neurological damage, is uncommon in developed countries except among the elderly, who have problems with vitamin absorption, and among vegetarians, whose dietary intake may be low.
Online CME Course
The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has introduced an online course on weight bias for physicians and healthcare providers. This tutorial, Weight Bias in Clinical Settings: Improving Health Care Delivery for Obese Patients, is accredited by the Yale School of Medicine for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ and is available at http://contactbeacon.com/r.php?id=240229-4227086. By taking this course, healthcare professionals can recognize the sources of weight bias in healthcare settings, describe the physical and emotional consequences of weight bias for overweight and obese patients, and develop effective communication strategies to improve interactions with overweight and obese patients. For more information, please contact Rebecca Puhl, PhD Director of Research and Anti-Stigma Initiatives, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org.