Soft Drinks Linked to Pancreatic Cancer

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 Drinking an average of five sodas a week doesn’t sound like much… but what would you say upon learning that they nearly double your risk of getting pancreatic cancer — one of the deadliest of all malignancies?

 This shocking statistic about soda comes from a study at the University of Minnesota. Researchers analyzed medical records and diet histories of 60,524 Asian adults over a 14-year period (the records came from the Singapore Chinese Health Study, the Singapore Cancer Registry and the Singapore Registry of Births and Deaths), comparing consumption of soft drinks (in one group) and fruit juice (in another group) with the incidence of pancreatic cancer… and found that the incidence was 87% higher among those who drank soda.

 The researchers established that this link was independent of other risk factors
— such as smoking, body weight, type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, caloric intake and the consumption of red meat. Having established that lifestyles in Singapore are very similar to those in the US, lead study author Noel Mueller, MPH, research associate at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, assured me there’s nothing uniquely dangerous about soda in Singapore — it’s the same stuff people drink here. Acknowledging that there are some genetic differences between the populations, he told me that he doesn’t think that those are as significant as the fact that soda drinkers likely don’t have the same healthy habits as fruit juice drinkers.

 Not So Sweet

 Researchers hypothesize that sugar is the culprit, with 12.5 teaspoons of sugar (usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) in a 16-ounce, 200-calorie sugar-sweetened soda, on average — that’s enough to trigger the pancreas to produce a surge of insulin. Dr. Mueller theorizes that this habitual “blasting” of the pancreas with so much sugar may stimulate cancerous tumor growth over time. Though fruit juice is also high in sugar, researchers think that the nutrients and fiber in juices may buffer any unhealthy impact.

 The resulting advice to limit sugar intake is predictable, of course — but I’m guessing that even those of us who already do that have vastly underestimated the potential damage that even a few sodas a week can do. This is no time for sweet talk: Stay away from sugary soda. 


Noel T. Mueller, MPH, research associate, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC.

Power Eating: Food Combos Magnify Health Benefits

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 Last weekend as I watched my daughter’s soccer team battle their archrivals, I was also planning the week’s meals in my head (we working parents rarely do one thing at a time!). Seeing the girls execute an impressive string of passes — great teamwork! — my brain jumped to synergistic foods, the idea of making nutritious ones even better by combining them with others. So later, I called contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, to ask what his favorite power food combos are — and he had plenty to share. He assured me that there are indeed many tasty ways to mix foods so that they interact synergistically with one another, delivering more health-giving nutrition than you could get by eating them separately.

 Here are some of Dr. Rubman’s favorite one-two food punches…

 Tea with Lemon

 Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, tea contains powerful catechins that improve digestion and reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Many tea drinkers already squeeze lemon into their cups because it tastes so great, but it also significantly increases your absorption of the disease-fighting antioxidants in the tea. To extract the most catechins, steep tea in hot water for at least five minutes and don’t reuse tea bags.

 Your best bet: All tea is good for you, but white and green teas are richer sources of catechins than black tea.

 Beets with Vitamin C-Rich Vegetables

 Eating produce with a variety of colors — yellow peppers, orange sweet potatoes, purple eggplant, etc. — gives you the greatest variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. You can add more power yet by serving iron-rich greens such as kale, mustard greens, spinach or Swiss chard with vitamin C-packed beets (or tomatoes or lemon). The reason? Vitamin C makes plant-based iron more absorbable by your intestines.

 Fruits with… Fruits

 Along the same lines, eating several fruits at one time generates greater antioxidant action than eating single fruits separately. Blueberries top many “Best Fruit” lists, since they are a rich source of polyphenols that reduce inflammation. Combine them with whatever else is fresh, in season and at peak ripeness — raspberries, strawberries, purple grapes, mango, apples, oranges, etc. Aim for three to five servings (each serving one-half to one cup) of different fruits daily. Dr. Rubman said doing this will boost the synergistic effect of these phytochemicals, which work better in combination than alone.

 For maximum health: Don’t eat fruit within 20 minutes of meals, before or after, as their sugars will then rest longer in the digestive tract, where they ferment and cause gas.

 Pasta with Tomato Sauce

 No doctor has to work hard to convince me to eat this delicious, classic combination! Tomatoes contain the potent antioxidant lycopene, which fights heart disease and certain cancers — since lycopene is fat soluble, the tomato sauce should be made with olive oil, which facilitates absorption. Dr. Rubman said that olive oil is also helpful in offsetting the challenge of digesting gluten in pasta — though he notes that this doesn’t give a pass to people with celiac disease, since the soothing mechanism isn’t sufficient to solve the problem completely.

 Beef with Marinade

 Marinate beef before grilling or barbecuing (even if just for 10 minutes or so) to reduce your exposure to cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are created when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Make your own marinade, since sugar-infused store-bought brands end up increasing HCA production. Look for recipes that use members of the antioxidant, anti-HCA mint family — rosemary, thyme, basil, sage and oregano.

 For maximum health: We actually need a little saturated fat for digestive health and other body functions, Dr. Rubman observes — just not at the levels in the typical American diet. Limit your beef consumption to one three-ounce serving per week.

 Fish with Citrus

 You may have seen or eaten a delicious dish called ceviche, which is made by marinating raw seafood, such as fish, shrimp or scallops in highly acidic citrus juice (usually lemon or lime). What you probably didn’t know is that serving fish with citrus fruits enhances the healthful anti-inflammatory properties of both. Latin American chefs often also toss in other fresh ingredients, such as cilantro, tomato, onion and avocado — excellent sources of antioxidant phytonutrients and flavonoids that likewise discourage inflammation, boost heart health and help flush toxins from the body.

 Caution: People with a compromised immune system shouldn’t take chances with raw seafood — you can achieve the same health effect by poaching, grilling or sautéing fish with citrus juice and sprinkling it with cilantro.

 Beans and Grains — Not Necessarily Together

 If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you probably eat beans and grains together often since it’s widely known that they contain different amino acids that are all necessary to build the complete proteins you require for good health. But did you know that you don’t have to eat beans and grains in the same meal to reap this benefit? Eating them within a single 24-hour period — for example, brown rice with dinner tonight, black bean chili for lunch tomorrow — will do the trick.

 For maximum health: Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, declare “Meatless Mondays” — choosing beans and grains instead of meat even one day a week can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

 Making a habit of eating some of these foods together regularly is a great recipe for better health!


Andrew L. Rubman, ND, founder and director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.

Is Your Sunscreen Dangerous?


by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

As we’re all diligently slathering on sunscreen to prevent cancer, out comes a new report suggesting that ingredients in many brands — including the most popular ones — may actually raise cancer risk, and that’s not the only health problem associated with them. It isn’t just a single common ingredient that new research has raised some concerns about — it’s far worse than that. Many widely available sunscreens contain potentially dangerous ingredients… provide inadequate protection… and are portrayed by their marketers as far more helpful than they actually are. The list of offenders includes leading brands that you know and trust and even some products designed just for babies.

When the Environmental Working Group ( issued its 2010 guide to the best and worst sunscreens, the nonprofit watchdog gave its OK to just 39 products — which amounts to a mere 8% of the 500 sunscreens evaluated! When I saw this newest report, I immediately placed a call to EWG research analyst Nneka Leiba, MPH, to find out what’s going on and to see what she thinks we all should know about our sunscreens.

According to Leiba, the FDA bears some serious responsibility for this problem — she said that the agency has had no mandatory regulations for sunscreens or their ingredients. (Regulations may be in place by October 2010, according to the most recent official estimate.) Companies have not been required to verify that sunscreens work… to test that their sun protection factor (SPF) levels are accurate… or to show that other claims, such as whether they are waterproof or protect against UVA rays, hold up.

We went one by one through the various health hazards we need to know about…

Danger: Cancer-Causing Ingredients

Leiba told me that nearly half the sunscreens examined by EWG contained one or two cancer-causing ingredients. One is a hormone-disrupting chemical that penetrates the skin, disrupting the normal functioning of the body in ways that can lead to cancer and other serious medical problems… and the other is a vitamin A derivative that when exposed to sunlight — sunlight! — may encourage skin cancer.

What not to buy: Avoid sunscreens with these dangerous ingredients…

  • Oxybenzone. A hormone-disrupting chemical linked with endocrine disruption and cell damage (and low birth weight when used by pregnant women). Oxybenzone can penetrate the skin and enter your bloodstream and is an ingredient in about half of sunscreens.
  • Retinyl palmitate. A vitamin A compound associated with the accelerated growth of skin lesions and tumors. Manufacturers put vitamin A derivatives in sunscreens because they are popular antioxidants that slow signs of aging, such as wrinkles and rough skin. But FDA data suggest that vitamin A has photo-carcinogenic properties, which means that when exposed to the sun, it may speed up cancer formation. EWG found retinyl palmitate in 41% of sunscreens.

Danger: No UVA Protection

Many sunscreens offer protection only from UVB rays — the type of ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn — while it is known that UVA rays are also destructive and can cause skin cancer… in addition to all those other unattractive things the sun can do to our skin over time.

What to buy: EWG recommends purchasing broad-spectrum sunscreens that derive their protective properties not from chemicals that penetrate the skin, but from the metals titanium or zinc, which stay on the surface of the skin, do their job to protect you and then can be washed off entirely.

Danger: Accidental Inhalation

Sunscreens are meant for external use only, but when you use them in the increasingly popular spray or powder forms, you are in danger of inhaling them. While inhaled particles of any size can pose a health risk, tiny nanoparticles — ultra-tiny particles used in many of these formulations — can more easily penetrate linings and tissues in your body and cause inflammation.

Advice: EWG suggests using sunscreens only in cream or lotion form and says not to apply any type of sunscreen to broken skin.

Danger: You’ll Get Burned

The high SPF levels touted on many sunscreen labels are a growing concern at EWG. The organization says that these claims are misleading because the products may not provide more protection than sunscreens labeled with lower SPFs — and people may therefore be misled into thinking that the higher number means that they can spend more time in the sun. It’s not widely understood that SPF applies to only one type of cancer-causing ultraviolet ray — UVB. It tells you nothing about a product’s ability to filter UVA rays. That’s a false sense of security, warns Leiba. People end up staying out in the sun longer than they can safely tolerate.

What to do: Apply safe sunscreen in lavish amounts. Studies show that most consumers use only one-quarter to two-thirds of the amount needed to reach a product’s SPF rating. Sunscreen should be applied generously (about an ounce or palmful to cover all exposed skin)… early (30 minutes before sun exposure) to allow its protective capabilities to work… and often, typically every two hours (more often when swimming or exercising enough to make you sweat). There’s no consensus on an optimal SPF: The American Cancer Society recommends that you use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15… while the American Academy of Dermatology says 30… and the FDA says that any SPF rating above 50 is “inherently misleading.”


Beware of sunscreens with SPF ratings higher than 50, especially when combined with “baby” on the label. The implication is that they are safe as can be, but the reality is that many offer little or no UVA protection and some also contain dangerous ingredients. The EWG’s “Hall of Shame” indicts…

  • Banana Boat Baby Max Protect, SPF 100: No UVA protection — and it contains oxybenzone and vitamin A.
  • Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection, SPF 55: Label says “mild as water,” but warns “keep out of reach of children and seek medical help from poison control center if ingested.” Also contains oxybenzone.
  • Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen Stick, SPF 50: Misleading advertising says “it doesn’t break down,” which might lead consumers to think it will last all day.
  • Hawaiian Tropic Baby Crème Lotion, SPF 50: Does not have the advanced UVA protection advertised on the label, and also contains oxybenzone and vitamin A.

See a full list of EWG’s lowest-rated sunscreens at


 All 39 of EWG’s top-rated sunscreens contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Top recommendations include…

  • All Terrain Aquasport Performance Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body, SPF 30
  • Loving Naturals Sunscreen, SPF 30+
  • Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stick, SPF 30
  • Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+

See a full list at

 I wouldn’t be doing my job, however, if I failed to point out that even these EWG-approved products aren’t perfect, as they contain nanoparticles.

 Leiba says her organization has deemed them not dangerous… but not everyone agrees: see Daily Health News, June 16, 2009, “Bad Nanoparticles in Good-for-You Supplements,” for our review of safety concerns with products manufactured with nanoparticles.


Nneka Leiba, MPH, research analyst, Environmental Working Group (, Washington, DC.

Ticks and Meat — Scary News

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 You already know that tiny little ticks can bring on gigantic health problems — but I’ll bet you didn’t know that they have the potential to cause vulnerable people to develop a severe, even life-threatening, allergy to meat.

 Yes, meat. A surprising research report shows that meat allergies seem to be growing more common. This may be the result of an immune reaction that is kicked off by bites from ticks. It gets a bit complicated, however, so let’s start by taking these two topics — meat allergies and tick bites — one at a time. I promise there’s a link… and it’s a little scary if you’re among the susceptible group.

 Meat Allergies on the Rise

 The new research was triggered by the observation that meat allergy seemed to be on the rise, I was told by Scott Commins, MD, PhD, an allergist and immunologist at the University of Virginia who led the study. Meat allergies have been considered rare but not unheard of — however they differ from conventional food allergies in many ways that can make diagnosis difficult.

 Slow to React

 For one thing, symptoms of an allergic response to meat typically don’t appear until three to six hours after eating, while other food allergies produce symptoms in minutes. The reason? The substance that causes the body to develop antibodies — at the root of the allergic response — is found in greater abundance in fats, which are absorbed slowly.

 The most practical way to identify a meat allergy is to take note of whether symptoms arise predictably (within a few hours) after eating it. Beef is the most common allergy-causing meat, Dr. Commins said, but pork, lamb and indeed any mammalian meat (think animals with hooves) can be problematic. Pay attention if you experience itching after eating these meats — and, if you notice that meats cause a reaction, keep track of whether removing all meat from your diet makes symptoms vanish altogether.

 Tick, Tock — Why Now?

 To verify whether this meat allergy was indeed more widespread than had been previously thought, researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee and the John James Medical Center in Australia examined 60 patients, all of whom had had at least one incidence of unexplained anaphylaxis. Examining their medical records for clues revealed that the vast majority (more than 90%) had reported tick bites. In susceptible people, tick bites can trigger production of an antibody that binds to a carbohydrate and causes the release of histamines — hence the allergic response. The test results showed that more than 40% (25 patients) had a positive reaction that indicated they were allergic to meat — far higher than the less than 5% that had previously been estimated.

 The researchers believe that the allergy can be set off by a bite from any and all ticks, including dog ticks, deer ticks, etc. Interestingly, people with certain blood types — specifically, the rarer ones, B and AB — appear to be less likely to develop a meat allergy than people with more common blood types. The allergic reaction seems to be more prevalent in the South as well — Dr. Commins said that this might be because Southerners are more likely to live in rural areas, close to woods, where they are in contact with ticks.

 What you can do

 First of all, this is yet another reason why it is important to take precautions to avoid exposure to all ticks and to remove them quickly if you find one on your body. Also, if you’ve eaten meat…

  • Be alert to unexplained symptoms that could be allergic reactions, including itching, swelling, rash, hives or intestinal irritation. More severe symptoms, such as chaotic heartbeat, airway constriction, rapid drop in blood pressure or loss of consciousness, indicate anaphylactic shock, which is a medical emergency.
  • If you notice recurrent mild allergy symptoms, keep a food diary to track whether your reactions correlate to eating meat. In addition, visit a board-certified allergist for an evaluation. Dr. Commins says that he encourages allergists to do a series of blood tests for beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey. “If all the tests for the red meats are positive, but negative for the other two, the patient probably is allergic to meat,” he says.
  • Benadryl can be helpful in quelling allergic reactions limited to the skin or gastrointestinal system, but be aware that your reaction can progress to a more serious one — in which case you should seek medical help.

Overall, this allergy is still quite unusual, says Dr. Cummins, so don’t be overly concerned, but if you start itching after a weekend barbecue, don’t be too quick to blame it on mosquitoes!


Scott P. Commins, MD, PhD, allergist and immunologist, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.