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It's nutrients vs. disease; UA aims to pick a winner

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It's nutrients vs. disease; UA aims to pick a winner

You have been smoking heavily for many years. All you can do now is pray you don't develop one of the most deadly of all cancers - lung cancer.

But just maybe you also can drink plenty of green tea to delay or even prevent this hideous disease.

What if your problem is a high risk for colon cancer, because you have a precancerous polyp? You can try to ward off full-fledged cancer by eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat.

But perhaps you can do more to protect yourself - by taking a daily capsule of the trace mineral selenium, maybe along with some vitamin E, to significantly drop your chances of ending up a cancer patient.

Or try this for a frightening scenario: You are pregnant with or just gave birth to your first baby. But instead of joy, you feel depressed, frustrated, maybe unable to even care for yourself or the infant. You don't want to take an antidepressant drug, fearing its effect on the baby.

However, there may be help in a safe and natural nutrient - fish oil capsules with omega-3 fatty acids that may lift your mood and nourish the baby's brain at the same time.

No one knows for certain if any or all of these simple, inexpensive, easy-to-get, easy-to-tolerate dietary agents actually work to fight off or prevent devastating diseases and disorders.

But a slew of scientific studies under way at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center aims to find out within the next few years.

Considered one of the nation's top research centers in preventive medicine - especially the prevention of cancer - the UA is leading or involved in many of the first or largest studies ever done in this field.

"We are living in a health-conscious environment today. As our population ages, the threat of these chronic diseases grows. People want to take control over their lives, to try to prevent them as long as possible," said Dr. Suzanne Stratton, co-director of cancer prevention and control at the Arizona Cancer Center.

"In the last two decades, we have a lot more information empowering people about how to do that, and they are making real lifestyle changes.

"Bottom line is, people don't want to go to the doctor or end up in the hospital, and they're doing everything they can to stay healthy."

At the same time, Americans are increasingly spooked by popular medical drugs once thought safe now being yanked off the market because they cause heart attacks, strokes, even death.

"I will never take prescription drugs, or even over-the-counter drugs, unless it's a real emergency," said Sheal Cooper, 25, who battled severe postpartum depression after the birth of her first baby.

"I was raised by my parents to avoid being dependent on medicines, so I never have been, and I didn't want to start that cycle because of this problem. I am very concerned about the side effects of these drugs, about what we don't know about them - especially how that may affect a very young child.

"So when I heard there was something natural that might help, that's what I did."

After several weeks on high doses of omega-3 fatty acids - as fish oil capsules - Cooper felt the first relief from the depression and deep frustration she felt during her colicky baby's prolonged crying spells.

"I still had ups and downs, but now I felt I could handle those feelings," she said. "Before, I just wanted to escape. But finally, I wanted to care for my son. It seemed to really help."

Although UA studies and clinical trials are investigating such diverse nutrients as fish oil, vitamins E, D and calcium, lycopene in tomatoes, the Indian spice turmeric, a tree bark extract, and an Indian plant known as winter cherry, by far the main focus is on two dietary agents - green tea and the trace mineral selenium - for the prevention of cancers.

Used medicinally for thousands of years in China and Japan, green tea - derived from steaming green tea leaves - is being hurled against such threats as lung and cervical cancer, also cardiovascular disease, and even obesity in current and future UA studies.

"In many Asian countries, green tea is treated as a kind of holy beverage - they use it for everything, and drink it all the time," said Dr. Iman Hakim, a physician at the UA College of Public Health who heads several of the anti-cancer tea studies.

In epidemiologic and other studies out of these countries, green tea has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, antibiotic effects, cardiovascular benefit, and the ability to prevent cell proliferation and oxidation - processes that lead to cancer.

It is even linked to an increase in the body's metabolic rate, and preventing the absorption of fat - which means it may help with weight loss, Hakim said.

"Green tea appears to work in different ways, with different mechanisms, simultaneously in the body," she said.

Hakim wants to find out if it can thwart lung cancer and possibly heart disease in those at high risk for both - smokers:


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I spent a lot of my life in Japan, the PI, etc. I drink a lot Green Tea and have done so for many, many years. Japan has a very high incidence rate of Lung Cancer. One of the interesting things to me is that in Japan they have very high rates of Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma of the Lungs (AKA BAC). BAC is usually slow growing, usually stays confined to the lungs, usually results in a longer survival period than other forms of Lung Cancer. I wonder if Green Tea has an effect on Adenocarcinoma that results in a less aggressive form.

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