Diet and phthalates. A study conducted in South Korea has demonstrated that dietary changes can significantly modify exposure to both antibiotics and phthalates. Participants followed a vegetarian diet (based on that of Buddhist monks) for five days. Urinary samples were measured before and after this short-term change. Frequency and levels of detection for both antibiotics and phthalates decreased noticeably during the study. (Influence of five-day vegetarian diet on urinary levels of antibiotics and phthalate metabolites: A pilot study with Temple Stay participants. dfoi.10.20.16/j.envres.2010.02.08)

BFRs and phthalates. Researchers at McGill University have been awarded $5 million to study the possible toxic effects of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and phthalates. Both BFRs and phthalates have been under serious scrutiny with some BFRs banned from household furnishings by the European Union. Phthalates, used to make plastics more flexible, were targeted by Danish environmental organizations who warn that children who regularly suck or chew on erasers are at some health risk. The studies will be coordinated by Bernard Robaire of the MUHC Research Institute. (Montreal Gazette, Feb. 15, 2010)

Phthalates affect behaviour. According to a recent US study, higher levels of exposure to phthalates while pregnant could be linked to disruptive behaviour patterns in children. For this study, urine samples were taken from 177 women enrolled for prenatal care and the samples analysed for phthalate metabolites. The women were then invited back for follow-up when their children were between ages 4 and 9. The children with higher levels of exposure to phthalate metabolites scored higher on aggression, attention problems and depression. The researchers conclude that more research is urgently needed. (Environmental Health Perspectives doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901470)

Timing of Herceptin treatment. About 20% of breast cancer patients have HER2+ cancers and will benefit from Herceptin (trastuzumab), a treatment that interferes with the HER2 receptor. A recent study demonstrates that this form of treatment should be administered concurrently with chemotherapy for optimum results. The study involved 3,133 women who were given one of three treatments: chemo drugs alone; chemo drugs with Herceptin given at the same time; or chemo drugs followed by Herceptin. Survival rates were 71.9% for the first group, 80.1% for the second, and 84.2% for the third. This confirmed the growing practice of administering chemo and Herceptin together. (32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, San Antonio, Dec. 9-13, 2009)

New test for early stage breast cancer. A recent multi-gene test that predicts whether early stage breast cancer patients will benefit from chemotherapy may influence a doctor’s treatment recommendation. The 21-gene test (Oncotype DX) examines tumour samples and verifies how active they are. Patients with low test scores may be able to avoid chemo. A study found that results from the test caused doctors to change their recommendations in almost one-third of cases. The test has been evaluated in 13 clinical studies involving more than 4,000 breast cancer patients, and has been reported in studies published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2003; vol 21: p298 and 2006; vol 24: pp 3726-3734.).
Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer. Although AstraZeneca, the manufacturers of tamoxifen, have long promoted this drug for women at high risk of breast cancer, most women choose not to take it. To calculate how many American women aged 40 to 79 were taking tamoxifen as a preventative, researchers at the National Cancer Institute used data from nationwide surveys covering the years 2000 to 2005. Tamoxifen use was very low – only 0.2% in 2000 and 0.08% in 2005. This may be because tamoxifen causes a range of side effects: hot flashes, sexual problems, uterine cancer, blood clots and cataracts. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100208091907.htm)

Developments with bisphenol-A (BPA). Six of the major baby bottle companies in the U.S. have agreed to voluntarily ban BPA. This follows from over 130 studies during the past decade linking even low levels of BPA to serious health problems – breast cancer, obesity and the early onset of puberty. Moreover, a new study (the second of its kind) has linked elevated exposure to BPA to a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration concedes that it has some concern about the effects of BPA on children’s health and is launching research that may lead to its regulation. (www.
canada/com/sports/2010wintergames/baby%20bottle%20firms%20agree%20stop%20using/1362111/story.html?id1362111) (www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/low-amount-of-bpa-can-increase-cardiac-risk-by-45-per-cent-study-finds/article1428929/) (www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/fda-shifts-stance-on-bpa)

Paxil weakens effect of tamoxifen. Up to 25% of breast cancer patients develop depression and many of them are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which include Paxil and its generic forms. A study looked at 2,430 women aged 66+ who were treated with tamoxifen as well as an SSRI. During the course of the study (12 years), 374 women (15% ) died of breast cancer. The use of paroxetine (Paxil) in combination with tamoxifen was associated with an increased risk of dying. It was concluded that Paxil reduces or abolishes the positive effects of tamoxifen. For patients being treated with tamoxifen, it is recommended that doctors choose other options for treatment of depression. (Montreal Gazette, Feb. 9, 2010)

Chemicals being reviewed. The US Environmental Protection Agency is formulating a new list of “problem chemicals” which may influence companies to avoid listed substances and push lawmakers to new regulations. Once the EPA adds a chemical to its list, it can require manufacturers to provide data on a chemical that would otherwise be exempt, and would also prohibit import or export. Bisphenol-A is already on the list along with a number of phthalates and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. (http://environmentalnewsstand.com/epanewsstand_nletters.asp?NLN=risk&action=recent)

PBDE levels affect women’s fertility. According to a study by UC Berkeley researchers in 2000, women who were actively trying to get pregnant, and who had high levels of PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) flame retardants in their blood, were 30-50% less likely to get pregnant each month as compared to women with very low levels. The U.S. EPA banned two of the three mixtures of PBDE developed for commercial use in 2005 and the third version is set to be phased out of production in 2013. However, the new chemicals replacing the banned PBDEs have not been tested. (http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.0901450)
Hyperprolactinaemia, a side effect of some medications. Hyperprolactinaemia is the name given to abnormally high levels of the breast-stimulating pituitary hormone, prolactin, and is an increasing concern with a number of short- and long-term effects including the possibility of increased breast cancer risk. Although tumours of the prolactin-producing cells (prolactinomas) are the most common cause, hyperprolactinaemia is also a common side effect of many antipsychotic medications, in particular the phenothiazines of which risperidone (Risperdal) is a common culprit. This drug may be prescribed ‘off label’ to adults for depression. anxiety, obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD), dementia or sleep disorders. Routine periodic screening for prolactin levels is recommended as well as the use of therapeutic alternatives. (Tworoger SS, Eliassen AH, Rosner B, Sluss P, Hankinson SE. Plasma Prolactin Concentrations and Risk of Post­menopausal Breast Cancer. Cancer Research 64, 6814-6819, September 15, 2004)

Cell Phone Exposure Beneficial to Humans? University of South Florida researchers reported recently that mice with Alzheimer’s were better able to negotiate mazes after long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves equivalent to those generated by cell phones. After exposing the mice to high frequency waves twice a day for an hour over a period of 7-9 months, the researchers observed that mature mice showed a reversal of symptoms, young mice with Alzheimer-prone genetic profiles failed to develop symptoms, and healthy mice improved in cognitive performance. Although cautious about extrapolating the evidence to humans, the researchers posed the possibility that high frequency EMF exposure might not only prove to be a defence against Alzheimer’s but an effective memory-enhancer. (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 19 (1) January, 2010, 191-210)

Fosamax under scrutiny. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently announced that it will look into a possible link between use of some osteoporosis drugs and a particular type of leg fracture. In a few cases of women who had taken Fosamax for long periods of time, their femur bones just snapped while doing little more than walking. This paradoxical effect was reported by ABC News and follows reports of Fosamax causing severe musculoskeletal pain and, rarely, a bone-related jaw disease known as osteonecrosis. (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=10057108)

REACH list of dangerous chemicals doubled. The European Chemicals Agency has added 14 substances to the list of “very high concern” chemicals to undergo special health and safety scrutiny under the European Union’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations. This bring to 29 the substances of very high concern, a list that is expected to grow to 150 or more by the end of this year. (www.chemie.de/news/e/111781/)

DDT making a comeback? There have been many articles linking the ban on DDT with the incidence of deaths due to malaria, despite the fact that DDT is not banned in most countries confronting malaria and is, in fact, used in 10 out of the 17 African nations that conduct indoor spraying. The promoters of DDT to control malaria ignore the fact that malaria-carrying mosquitoes rapidly develop resistance to this and other insecticides and that prenatal exposure may lead to significant decreases in mental and physical functioning among young children. For an enlightening review of the situation, refer to www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/04/AR2005060400130.html.

Occupations may increase risk of birth defects. An analysis was made of data collected from over 9,000 U.S. mothers who had given birth to children with one or more defects between October 1997 and December 2003. Women who worked as janitors, pharmacists, and women working as biological and chemical scientists exhibited an increased risk of giving birth to children with gastrointestinal, spinal or heart malformations as compared to women in other occupations. A follow-up study is planned. (Occupational & Environmental Medicine, doi:10.1136/oem.2009.048256)

Denmark bans bisphenol-A in food for young children. On the basis of a new assessment, the Danish government has invoked the precautionary principle to introduce a temporary national ban on bisphenol-A in materials in contact with food for children aged 0 - 3 years (infant feeding bottles, feeding cups and packaging for baby food). New studies do not give clear evidence of bisphenol-A affecting the nervous system or behaviour but there appears to be an impact on learning capacity. Until findings are confirmed, the Danish ban is in force – including a three-month transitional period in which products now in stock may be marketed. From July 1, 2010, bisphenol-A is not allowed in products covered by the ban. (www.flex-news-food.com/pages/29244/Denmark/Food-Safety/Inf)