Doe Echinacea Work Against the Common Cold? Maybe A Bit…

common cold sick URI Asian woman upper respiratory infection

This week, we’ll look at various natural remedies for the common cold. Today, we turn to Echinacea.

What You Need to Know: For people seeking a natural treatment for the common cold, some preparations containing the plant Echinacea work better than nothing, yet “evidence is weak,” finds a new report from The Cochrane Library. The evidence review revealed no significant reductions in preventing illness, but didn’t rule out “small preventive effects.”

The Study: The six authors conducted reviews on this subject in 1998, 2006 and 2008 and wanted to do an update to include several new trials conducted since then. “We’ve been doing this for so long and are very familiar with past research — which has been mixed from the very beginning,” said author Bruce Barrett, M.D., Ph.D. in the department of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The research team reviewed 24 randomized controlled trials to determine whether Echinacea was a safe and effective cold prevention and treatment. Trials included 4631 participants and 33 preparations, along with placebo. Echinacea products studied in these trials varied widely according to characteristics of three different plant species, the part of the plant used and method of manufacturing.

People who get colds spend $8 billion annually on pharmaceutical products, including supplements such as Echinacea, Barrett noted. The authors’ meta-analyses suggest that at least some Echinacea preparations may reduce the relative risk of catching a cold by 10 to 20 percent, a small effect of unclear clinical significance. The most important recommendation from the review for consumers and clinicians is a caution that Echinacea products differ greatly and that the overwhelming majority of these products have not been tested in clinical trials.

Barrett added that “it looks like taking Echinacea may reduce the incidence of colds. For those who take it as a treatment, some of the trials report real effects — but many do not. Bottom line: Echinacea may have small preventive or treatment effects, but the evidence is mixed.”

“The paper does support the safety and efficacy of Echinacea in treating colds and highlights the main issue of standardizing herbal medicines,” commented Ron Eccles, Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre & Healthcare Clinical Trials at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences in Wales.

My Take: Echinacea may help to fight the common cold, but only a bit. In addition, there are a myriad of preparations available, and most of them have not been evaluated in clinical trials. In the next blog, we’ll look at vitamin C (Spoiler alert: Vitamin C may have activity against the common cold, particularly for those under heavy physical stress). I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health. “Evidence mixed on the usefulness of echinacea for colds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140220131358.htm>.

 
 
 

Can a simple handshake predict cancer survival rates? Yes.

Doctor and patient meeting handshake greeting

New acquaintances are often judged by their handshake. Research has now recognized the simple squeeze as an important diagnostic tool in assessing strength and quality of life among critical care patients.

In a study published in the journal, Support Care Cancer, Concordia professor Robert Kilgour and his colleagues at the McGill (Montreal, Canada) Nutrition and Performance Laboratory confirmed a link between handgrip strength and survival rates.

The test was simple: 203 patients fighting advanced-stage cancers squeezed a device known as a dynamometer with their dominant hand. The instrument then measured peak grip strength.

Because it requires minimal equipment, this method of evaluation is both portable and practical, says Kilgour: “This measure is one of several to categorize patients according to the severity of their disease. It can help determine interventions they may need, whether clinical, nutritional or functional.”

While other diagnostic tests rely on a patient’s self-reporting or examine related factors such as decreased body weight,the handgrip test directly focuses on body strength. Its precision allows doctors to better assess a patient’s decline. Clinicians typically classify patients by percentiles; those in the bottom 10th percentile are in the most serious condition, while those in the 25th are somewhat stronger. In most cases, slowing a patient’s decline and maintaining a decent quality of life can be a significant accomplishment.

Kilgour and his colleagues believe the grip test may help all categories of patients, especially those in the 25th percentile. At this stage, even modest interventions, like starting exercise or a diet change, can yield results, boosting both the physical and mental health of patients.

My Take: Seems logical, at least for those with advanced cancer. I hope to never see you as a patient with cancer, but if I do, please don’t crush my hand too much! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: R. D. Kilgour, A. Vigano, B. Trutschnigg, E. Lucar, M. Borod, J. A. Morais. Handgrip strength predicts survival and is associated with markers of clinical and functional outcomes in advanced cancer patients. Supportive Care in Cancer, 2013; 21 (12): 3261 DOI: 10.1007/s00520-013-1894-4


Exercise Protects Against Aggressive Breast Cancer in Black Women

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A nearly 20-year observational study involving more than 44,700 black women nationwide found that regular vigorous exercise offers significant protection against development of an aggressive subtype of breast cancer. The findings from the Black Women’s Health Study were presented at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, December 10-14, 2013.

The research team, co-led by scientists at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, and Boston University in Massachusetts, found that black women who engaged in brisk exercise for a lifetime average of 3 or more hours a week had a 47% reduced risk of developing estrogen receptor (ER)-negative breast cancer compared with those exercising an average of 1 hour per week, according to a preliminary analysis. The study included 44,704 women age 30 years or older.

This form of breast cancer, which includes human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive and triple-negative tumors, is linked to both higher incidence and mortality in black women, relative to white women. ER-negative tumors do not respond to hormone therapies used to treat tumors that have the estrogen receptor.

“These findings are very encouraging. Knowing that exercise may protect against breast cancers that disproportionately strike black women is of great public health importance,” said Lucile Adams-Campbell, PhD, professor of oncology and associate director of Minority Health & Health Disparities Research at Georgetown Lombardi. We all want to do what we can to reduce our risk of disease and improve our health, and along with other well-known benefits, we now show that exercise can possibly stave off development of potentially lethal breast cancer in black women,” she said.

Exercise, at any level, appeared to have no effect on development of ER-positive breast cancer in these women, the researchers said. They cannot offer a reason why because their study was not designed to answer this question. They also cannot speculate on whether vigorous exercise in white or Asian women would have any effect.

My Take: This study adds to a growing body of literature pointing to a role for exercise in reducing cancer risk. While more appears to be better, many find success startnig with 15o minutes of brisk walking daily (30 minutes, 5 times per week, for example), and build up from there. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Music Therapy Helps Those with Multiple Sclerosis

Today, I’d like to turn away from cancer and take a quick look at the role of music therapy for people with multiple sclerosis. Beyond the long list of medications and physical rehabilitation techniques used to help people with multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s another kind of treatment that may offer relief: music therapy. Music has been shown to make a difference in the lives and well-being of people with MS in many ways. The best part is that you don’t have to have any musical skills or ability—just an openness to discover how music can benefit you.

Improving Coordination and Movement

Music therapy teaches you to match your body’s actions with a rhythmic beat. This can help you boost your coordination, endurance, and concentration. It can also lead to a more even gait.

“Music therapy often involves using instruments in a group setting,” says Al Bumanis, a board-certified music therapist in Silver Springs, Maryland. “But it’s not about creating great music. It’s the physical motions and coordination involved in making music that can have significant benefits for individuals.”

Even if you’ve lost some physical ability and can’t play an instrument, adaptive devices—such as a synthesizer on an iPad that works by fingertip touch—can still allow you to participate in music-making.

Boosting Memory

Music can also help people with MS who experience changes with memory. It is a powerful tool. Unlike with speech, your brain almost never loses the ability to process music.

“In this way, music therapy can make a big difference in your quality of life,” Bumanis says. “Despite the memory changes you may be experiencing, when you’re able to sing a song that’s rooted in your memory, it makes you feel like yourself again.”

The relationship between music and memory is a complex one. For instance, the part of your brain that fires when you hear music is linked to the part of your brain where your long-term memories are stored. As a result, listening to music can elicit certain feelings associated with those memories. It can help you recall moments you may have thought were lost. In addition, learning a new physical skill, such as playing an instrument, improves your memory by building new brain connections.

Easing the Emotional Effects of MS

Many people with MS experience depressionanxiety, fear, and stress from time to time.

“Music therapy opens the door for emotional expression,” Bumanis continues. “Music is often a way of accessing those emotions that may be difficult to verbalize.” Certain types of music can also help improve your mood and relax your mind.

If you’re interested in learning more about music therapy or locating a credentialed music therapist near you, visit the American Music Therapy Association.

Key Takeaways

  • Music has been shown to make a difference in the well-being of people with MS.
  • Music therapy teaches you to match your body’s actions with a rhythmic beat. This can help boost your coordination, endurance, and concentration.
  • Listening to music can elicit certain feelings associated with memories, helping you recall moments you may have thought were lost.
  • Playing and listening to music also has been shown to help people cope with fear, stress, and depression.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: http://inhealth.cnn.com/managing-multiple-sclerosis/music-therapy-for-multiple-sclerosis?did=t1_rss1

Breast DCIS: Do Doctors Explain It Well?

mammogram breast cancer

Background: Although women diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) have a positive prognosis, the treatment is similar to that for invasive breast cancer, which can create conflicting perceptions regarding their condition.

“On the one hand [women] are being reassured that the condition is not life-threatening, yet on the other hand clinicians are recommending extensive, invasive treatment,” explained Fiona Kennedy, PhD, of Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom, in a statement describing a study she and her colleagues conducted regarding women’s perceptions and experiences of DCIS from the period near diagnosis to 1 year later (J Adv Nurs. 2012;68[4]:856-867).

The Study: Kennedy and coauthors defined DCIS as a noninvasive condition in which cancer cells are contained in the ducts of the breast. The team noted that uncertainty surrounds the natural history of DCIS, particularly whether it would progress to invasive breast cancer.

The researchers interviewed 45 women who had just been diagnosed with DCIS. Of this group, 27 women took part in a follow-up interview 9 to 13 months later. The interviews revealed that women’s early perceptions of DCIS merged and sometimes conflicted with their lay beliefs of breast cancer, and that perceptions and experiences of the condition shifted over time as they interpreted various cues encountered in during their diagnosis, treatment, and posttreatment.

Many women felt confused and conflicted by their diagnosis, with some being told they had cancer and some being told they did not. Various medical personnel used the terms DCIS, precancer, and early breast cancer.

Women spoke about the contradictions of being told their condition was precancerous or noncancerous, but then being advised to have extensive, invasive treatment. When one woman’s surgeon told her she shouldn’t be so worried since she didn’t have cancer, the woman wondered why, then, she had to have part of her breast removed and had to undergo radiotherapy.

Women who had more extensive surgery were more likely than others to be affected by their condition. Many experienced mixed and fluctuating emotions, sometimes feeling angry and other times feeling relieved that they didn’t have a worse problem.

One of the most enduring emotions centered on ongoing risk. Some women had fleeting concerns whereas others had significant, intrusive thoughts that DCIS would recur or that they would develop invasive breast cancer. Some women were concerned about the impact of the surgery on their appearance and body image, saying it left them feeling disappointed, vulnerable, and self-conscious. Women who were confused about their own diagnosis found telling others about their condition to be a very challenging task.

The study authors recommended that clinicians carefully consider the language they use to describe DCIS; that clear, coherent, and flexible communication guidelines be developed for clinicians; and that further research be done to determine the most appropriate care, support, and information for this group of patients.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter, and I agree wholeheartedly.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: J Adv Nursing 2012;68(4):856-967.

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Breast Cancer Spreads to brain By Disguising Itself as Brain Cells

Often, several years can pass between the time a breast cancer patient successfully goes into remission and a related brain tumor develops. During that time, the breast cancer cells somehow hide, escaping detection as they grow and develop.

Breast cancer cells disguise themselves as neurons, becoming “cellular chameleons,” found the scientists from City of Hope in Duarte, California. This allows them to slip undetected into the brain and then develop into tumors. The discovery is being heralded as “a tremendous advance in breast cancer research.”

Although breast cancer is a very curable disease—with more than 95% of women with early-stage disease surviving after 5 years—breast cancer that metastasizes to the brain is difficult to fight. Only about 20% of patients survive 1 year after diagnosis.

“There remains a paucity of public awareness about cancer’s relentless endgame,” said Rahul Jandial, MD, PhD, a City of Hope neurosurgeon who headed the breast-cancer-and-brain-tumor study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2014; doi:10.1073/pnas.1322098111). “Cancer kills by spreading. In fact, 90% of all cancer mortality is from metastasis,” Jandial said. “The most dreaded location for cancer to spread is the brain. As we have become better at keeping cancer at bay with drugs such as herceptin, women are fortunately living longer. In this hard-fought life extension, brain metastases are being unmasked as the next battleground for extending the lives of women with breast cancer.”

He added, “I have personally seen my neurosurgery clinic undergo a sharp rise in women with brain metastases years—and even decades—after their initial diagnosis.”

Jandial and other scientists wanted to explore how breast cancer cells cross the blood-brain barrier—a separation of the blood circulating in the body from fluid in the brain—without being destroyed by the immune system.

The researchers’ hypothesis was that,  given that the brain is rich in many brain-specific types of chemicals and proteins, perhaps breast cancer cells that could exploit these resources by assuming similar properties would be the most likely to flourish. These cancer cells could deceive the immune system by blending in with the neurons, neurotransmitters, other types of proteins, cells, and chemicals.

Taking samples from brain tumors resulting from breast cancer, the scientists found that the breast cancer cells were exploiting the brain’s most abundant chemical as a fuel source. This chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is a neurotransmitter used for communication between neurons.

When compared with cells from nonmetastatic breast cancer, the metastasized cells expressed a receptor for GABA, as well as for a protein that draws the transmitter into cells. This allowed the cancer cells to essentially masquerade as neurons.

“Breast cancer cells can be cellular chameleons (or masquerade as neurons) and spread to the brain,” Jandial said.

He added that further study is required to better understand the mechanisms that allow the cancer cells to achieve this disguise, and he hopes that, ultimately, unmasking these disguised invaders will result in new therapies.

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Why Does Exercise Improve Prostate Cancer Out

blood vessel artery vein

In this blog, we have discussed the fact that exercise improves prostate cancer outcomes. But why?

Men who walked at a fast pace prior to a prostate cancer diagnosis had more regularly shaped blood vessels in their prostate tumors compared with men who walked slowly, providing a potential explanation for why exercise is linked to improved outcomes for men with prostate cancer. These results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Prostate Cancer Research, January 18-21, 2014, in San Diego, California.

Men who engage in higher levels of physical activity have been reported to have a lower risk of prostate cancer recurrence and mortality compared with men who participate in little or no physical activity. The biological mechanisms underlying this association are not known.

“Prior research has shown that men with prostate tumors containing more regularly shaped blood vessels have a more favorable prognosis compared with men with prostate tumors containing mostly irregularly shaped blood vessels,” said Erin Van Blarigan, ScD, of the University of California, San Francisco. “In this study, we found that men who reported walking at a brisk pace had more regularly shaped blood vessels in their prostate tumors compared with men who reported walking at a less brisk pace.

“Our findings suggest a possible mechanism by which exercise may improve outcomes in men with prostate cancer;” continued Van Blarigan. Although more data from randomized trials are needed, the study supports the growing evidence of the benefits of exercise, such as brisk walking, for men with prostate cancer.

The Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which was initiated in 1986, enables researchers to examine how nutritional and lifestyle factors affect the incidence of serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Every 2 years, participants receive questionnaires that ask about diseases and health-related topics like smoking, physical activity, and medications taken. Questionnaires that ask detailed dietary information are administered every 4 years.

Van Blarigan and colleagues investigated whether prediagnostic physical activity was associated with prostate tumor blood vessel regularity among 572 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Prediagnostic physical activity was determined through analysis of questionnaire answers. Blood vessel regularity was established by semiautomated image analysis of the tumor samples. Blood vessels that are perfect circles are considered the ideal shape.

The researchers found that men with the fastest walking pace (3.3 to 4.5 miles per hour) prior to diagnosis had 8% more regularly shaped blood vessels compared with men with the slowest walking pace (1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour).

“Our study, which provides a potential explanation by which exercise may improve outcomes in men with prostate cancer, highlights the value of multidisciplinary collaborations between laboratory, clinical, and population scientists to explore new pathways by which lifestyle factors or other exposures may affect disease,” said Van Blarigan. “It is reasonable to hypothesize that the same explanation could exist for the beneficial effects of exercise in other cancers, and it would be interesting to examine this in future studies.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.