From the time we were children we were told that eating too many sweets would produce tooth cavities, resulting in painful drilling followed by the relief of filling. In recent years, we’ve learned that the problem isn’t the sweets but the streptococcus bacteria in our mouths that like to feed on them. While the microbes chow down on the sugar lodged in our teeth, they excrete acid that corrodes our tooth enamel. The acids are added to by the breakdown of sugar in our mouths that helps strip minerals from tooth enamel causing it to weaken.
Using a sugar substitute seems fraught with peril. In a 10 year study of 60,000 middle-aged women presented in March 2014 at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, women who drank two or more diet drinks a day sweetened with Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 50 percent more likely to die, than women who rarely consumed such drinks. In a 2013 study published in the journal Diabetes Care, a solution of water and sucralose (Splenda) produced higher blood sugar peaks and 20 percent higher insulin levels compared to consuming the water alone. Studies in the 1970s linked saccharin (Sweet'N Low) to bladder cancer in rats. Natural health guru Joseph Mercola, DO, blames artificial sweeteners for a range of adverse health effects from seizures to intestinal damage, but even he concedes that when it comes to sugar substitutes, “xylitol is one of the best.”
There are good reasons to cut back on sugar consumption. A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association presented evidence that excessive sugar consumption can increase the risk for heart failure. Sugar promotes belly fat which according to the American Heart Association increases the likelihood of high blood pressure and stroke. Excess sugar can have a toxic effect on the liver comparable to that of alcohol. Too much blood sugar leads to diabetes which can contribute to kidney and cardiovascular disease as well as blindness and limb amputation. Finally, since sugar is calorie dense with no nutritional value, it often produces weight gain, especially in sedentary people.
Enter xylitol, an all natural compound found in mushrooms, fruits, vegetables and our own bodies. Although it tastes sweet, with no bad aftertaste, it has just 40 percent of the calorie content of table sugar. During WW II, it was refined in Europe as a sugar substitute. On the glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly our bodies turn food to glucose, it rates a mere 7 compared to 100 for table sugar. Because its GI is comparable to peanuts, it has a negligible influence on blood sugar spikes and insulin levels making it a good food for diabetics or those at risk for developing the disease. Since glycation, the binding of glucose to protein, is a major cause of cellular aging, xylitol can be considered an anti-aging nutrient. Although xylitol is sweet, it actually combats tooth decay through a couple of different mechanisms. First it raises pH, helping to neutralize the acid in our mouths, producing a hostile environment for oral bacteria. Secondly, it interferes with the development of plaque.
A study conducted at Harvard School of Dental Medicine reached the conclusion that “Xylitol can significantly decrease the incidence of dental caries” (tooth decay). The Journal of the American Dental Association said “Xylitol is an effective preventive agent against dental caries… Consumption of xylitol-containing chewing gum has been demonstrated to reduce caries in Finnish teenagers by 30-60%. Studies conducted in Canada, Thailand, Polynesia and Belize have shown similar results…” That is why an increasing number of dentists are urging their patients to chew xylitol sweetened gum and candy.
Finally, there is increasing evidence the bad oral hygiene leads to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the industrialized world. Scientists speculate that it could be due to bacteria traveling via the blood stream from the mouth to the heart to wreak havoc there. What is known is that according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease, ranging from gum inflammation to tooth loss are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease as those who don’t. Another study found that the incidence of dental problems was as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels. Is it too much of a stretch to conclude that xylitol-sweetened gum will prevent hear disease? Probably, but turning to xylitol instead of sucrose when possible certainly won’t hurt.
FDA Approves DNA Test for Primary Cervical Cancer Screening
The FDA has approved a DNA test for human papillomavirus (HPV) that can be used as a primary method of screening women over 25 for cervical cancer instead of the usual Pap test. Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, early detection by Pap smears are responsible for the precipitous decline of cervical cancer deaths in the US.
HPV causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer. The cobas HPV Test samples cervical cells to detect DNA from 14 high-risk HPV genotypes. The test was first approved in 2011 to be used along with the Pap test or as a follow up. Now it can be used as a primary test alone.
To reach its conclusion, the FDA examined a study of more than 40,000 women 25 or older that backed the test’s use for primary screening. Seventeen organizations opposed the change, including the American Medical Women’s Association, the American Public Health Association and the National Organization for Women. They claimed there were flaws in the research and that the harm from stand-alone HPV DNA testing would outweigh any potential benefits.
Despite the objections, the decision of the FDA advisory committee was unanimous.
Ritalin Boosts Self-Control
Self-control is a quality many of us need to get through the day, whether it’s teaching hormone-fueled adolescents quadratic equations to getting a balanced dinner ready in time for the family. Previous research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health suggested that self-control is a personality attribute that can be depleted. Recent research shows that by using the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug Ritalin people can better stick to demanding or boring tasks. Ritalin (methylphenidate) increases brain levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Chandra Sripada, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Philosophy at the University of Michigan, was lead researcher on the study that involved 108 adults who took either Ritalin or a placebo an hour before they attempted two computerized tests that taxed their self-control. Those dosed with Ritalin retained more self-control in the second test than those who took the placebo.
The study was published April 22 in the journal Psychological Science.
Ritalin may also help Alzheimer’s patients avoid apathy, a lack of interest in living, according to a 2012 study at the Medical University of South Carolina. Over six weeks of treatment with Ritalin, the patients who took it had showed significant improvement in clinical testing for apathy.
These results don’t mean that you should start to sneak doses of your kid’s Ritalin to proof read your next quarterly sales analysis. A central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin is a prescription-only psychiatric drug that can cause a range of side effects like those of amphetamines: loss of appetite, insomnia, high blood pressure and a rapid heart rate.
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