Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Do not put strawberries on whale meat, whatever you do--UPDATED WITH THE VOTE

Today we are going to talk about eating. Maybe it is because I’m coming off a birthday in which virtually every present was edible. We’re talking brownies and cherry tarts and cookies.… Nevermind. Oh, yes. And there will be whales.

Hand me that six-pack of Guiness. I’m under doctor’s orders. Maybe you have to be a guy to appreciate the delicious irony (pun intended) but new research shows that a main ingredient in that brew you have in your hand, could deter prostate cancer. It’s a guy thing. Researchers at Oregon State University, a party school of course, believe that xanthohumol, found in hops, inhibits a specific protein in the cells lining the prostate gland. They have been researching this for about 10 years, and I doubt they've had problems signing up sophomores for test subjects. The protein acts as a signal switch in turning on attacks on cancer cells. Xanthohumol is a flavanoid that can trigger cell death in cancer cells. The Germans, who know beer, now have a brew with 10 times the xanthohumol and it’s advertised as a health drink. The good news is you have to drink a lot of beer to get the benefit, about three six packs. While three six packs of Miller Lite may be offensive, there is always Guinness.

UPDATE: It gets better: seems the same stuff is in pizza sauce. Remember I wrote recently how all those guys who dropped dead jogging would have lived longer had they been lounging on a couch eating pizza and drinking beer? You read it here first!

Liars, liars, flukes on fire--An environmental group in Japan says that despite what the Japanese government and the whaling industry says, the Japanese are eating much less whale meat and the stuff is piling up in freezers. The Japanese have long opposed limits on whaling because, they claim, it is part of their normative diet. According to the Tokyo-based Dolphin & Whale Action Network, that ain’t so. "The Fisheries Agency continues to carry out whaling based on a fictitious public opinion," the writer of the report, freelance writer Junko Sakuma told a news conference, showing data released by the agency pointing to an increase in stockpiles of whale meat. Many people think the Japanese like whale meat and therefore continue whaling. That's not true." The Japanese oppose the 20-year ban on whaling. Meanwhile, the International Whaling Commission, which will meet later this month in the Caribbean, is likely to chip away at the restrictions. For the first time, pro-whaling countries are in a majority.

UPDATE--The vote reached a plurality for dropping restrictions but failed to get the 75 percent necessary to actually lift the ban. It is the first time that has ever happened. If you are a whale, be frightened. Be very frightened.

Strawberry fields for ever and ever--I’m one of the few people in the world who moved to California to be near strawberries. I am delighted to report they are good for you. They help the heart and some diseases. Well, maybe. Sometimes you just run into science that you really want to be true. According to a story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel [click headline], a couple miles north of all those luscious strawberry fields, research at UCLA shows that the antioxidant attributes of strawberries are good for the heart and help fight some neurological disease. There have been lots of stories about which foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, fight what diseases--and I’ve written some myself--and the science is really murky. But they are delicious, they are cheap at the moment, and as my sainted grandmother once said, they can’t hurt. Mangia! Mangia!

And finally, the grapefruit mystery--I earlier pointed out that some of my medicines come with a warning not to eat grapefruit while taking the medicine. I wondered what the hell could be in grapefruits that interfered with drugs. The answer appears to be furanocoumarin. Furanocoumarin in grapefruit juice,interferes with the enzyme CYP3A, that breaks down the drugs so the body ends up absorbing more of the drug. That comes from the University of North Carolina. It may, the researchers say, be possible to produce grapefruit juice without the stuff. More important, furanocoumarin could also be added to drugs to improve their absorption into the body. [Corrected, I think.]


Bill Thomasson said...

Unless I have been seriously misled for many years, CYP3A (cytochrome P3A) is a liver enzyme. You may have been misled by the phenomenon of "first-pass metabolism:" Blood from the intestines passes through the liver -- giving liver enzymes a crack at what it has picked up -- before it reaches the rest of the body.

Anonymous said...

"Grapefruit juice is a potent inhibitor of the intestinal cytochrome P-450 3A4 system (specifically: CYP3A4 - mediated drug metabolism) which is responsible for the first-pass metabolism of many medications."
from: http://www.globalrph.com/gfruit.htm

Intestinal, they say.

Anonymous said...

A suspicious spelling -- probably should be an "f" to begin that word (furanocoumarin rather than turano~ ). Good explanation here: http://www.life.uiuc.edu/berenbaum/newpage1.htm

Furanocoumarin is the ingredient, or chemical, in the grapefruit. It is not an enzyme; the CYP is the enzyme.

Joel Shurkin said...

I think I have it straight now. Let me know if I'm still off. I also have exercised Shurkin's First Rule of Journalism: when in doubt, obfuscate.


Bill Thomasson said...

Hi, Joel,

You're still saying furanocoumarin partially breaks down the drugs instead of saying that it blocks activity of the enzyme that does so.

And while cytochrome P3A is best known as a liver enzyme, it appears that it is present in the intestinal wall as well. The last paragraph of http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/AlternativeMedicine/tb/3003 specifically refers to "hepatic and intestinal sites."