Posted by on August 9, 2012 - 10:10am

Coffee has been widely linked to an array of health benefits including: decreased occurrences of type-2 diabetes; lower risks of Parkinson’s disease; lower risk of colorectal cancer; lower mortality rates; decreased skin cancer risk; and decreased rates of heart failure.  Some studies have deemed coffee unhealthy, but according to others, this claim proves inconsistent and improvable.  There are disadvantages to drinking coffee such as irritability and insomnia, but in general, coffee proves beneficial. In honor of National Coffee Month, pour yourself a cup or two and reap the following benefits.

A study in the journal Food Science and Nutrition cited coffee as being associated with a reduced the incidence of both metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus.  Researchers believe this is due to coffee’s antioxidants and its ability to enhance insulin sensitivity, which results in decreased glucose storage.  Specifically, caffeine affects glucose metabolism through increased uncoupling protein expression and lipid oxidation.  This causes decreased glucose storage as well, thus reducing the extent of diabetes mellitus. The same study also attributed coffee to lowering the risk of Parkinson’s disease.  Researchers theorize that this lower risk may be due to antioxidants acting on neural pathways that affect one's risk for Parkinson's. However, the study also said that water intake must be included to reap these benefits.

Additional research reveals that coffee may lower the risk for many other conditions. Certain acids and fiber in coffee may protect against colorectal cancer and skin cancer (specifically basil cell carcinoma), and coffee consumption may also decrease the risk for developing heart failure by 11% (compared to the risk for non-coffee drinkers), but that this decreased risk comes with a two eight-ounce cup limit, with protective benefits undermined after 4 cups.

Drinking coffee does not mean that you will not suffer from the aforementioned conditions; researchers show that it only lowers one’s chances.  There are many other factors to consider such as lifestyle, environment, and genetics. Coffee should not be used solely as a preventive measure, nor should it be considered a reliable treatment for any condition. Additionally, results of the myriad coffee studies are conflicting as far as how much is too much or how little is too little to reap the most benefits. Continued study is required to determine the ideal amount and to understand the mechanisms behind any benefits.

In the meantime, enjoy the 'jo. Cheers to good health.


Coffee and Mortality

Coffee and Skin Cancer

Coffee and Heart Failure


Posted by on July 25, 2012 - 2:30pm

The FDA recently approved the first weight-loss drug, Belviq (lorcaserin hydrochloride), in 13 years.  Arena Pharmaceuticals of San Diego developed the pill to help people lose 3-4% of their body weight when coupled with exercise and a healthy diet.  The FDA approved the pill for obese people (BMI over 30) and some overweight people (BMI over 27) who suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Potential weight-loss drugs face increased scrutiny tod
ay by the FDA for efficacy and safety as many recent ones (fenfluramine, for example) have been recalled due to heart-valve complications.  In March, the FDA’s advisory committee introduced mandatory tests for cardiovascular risks for all obesity drugs, which makes the current clinical trials even longer.

In 2010, Arena applied for approval of the drug. The FDA denied approval because it was deemed responsible for causing tumors in rats and because it could not definitively rule out an increase in heart-valve defects.  The pharmaceutical company conducted echocardiograms for 8,000 patients to determine heart-valve function.  This trial could not verify an increase in heart-valve defects in the users of the drug, convincing the FDA to approve it.  The company committed to perform six post-marketing studies with a long-term cardiovascular trial that will search for heart attack and stroke risks.

The drug works to suppress food cravings by mimicking the effects of serotonin in the brain.  Along with many other vital functions, the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a role in controlling appetite.  Within the brain, neurons pass messages back and forth using chemical messengers (neurotransmitters).  The messages may involve information concerning emotions, body temperature, behavior and appetite.  The specific kind of information delivered varies with which neurons become activated and where the brain becomes stimulated.  The neurotransmitter leaves the neuron and enters the synapse (the space between the two “communicating” neurons).  The neurotransmitter links with the receptor on the other neuron, which sends the message.  This can then be repeated through a process called reuptake.  Serotonin qualifies as a neurotransmitter.  The drug Belviq mimics serotonin by activating the 2C receptor, which increases the amount of serotonin to carry messages and increases the probability that the message is received.  Thus, the drug causes people to eat less and feel full.

Non-diabetic patients reported headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth and constipation as side effects.  Other side effects include serotonin syndrome especially in combination with depression or headache medication that increase serotonin levels or that activate serotonin receptors.  The drug may also affect attention or memory.  In diabetics, side effects include low blood sugar, pain, cough and fatigue.

On average, a 198-pound patient taking Belviq will lose six to seven pounds in a year.  20% of patients lose at least 10% of their body weight.  Comparatively, 47% of patients without type 2 diabetes taking the drug and 23% of those taking a placebo each lost at least 5% of their total body weight.  38% of patients with type 2 diabetes taking the drug and 16% of those taking a placebo each lost at least 5% of their total body weight.  Type 2 diabetics who toke Belviq proved to be twice as likely to regulate their blood sugars compared to those who toke the placebo.

While it may help those suffering from diabetes, it may cause heart complications.  The company advises patients with congestive heart failure or pregnant patients to not take the drug.  CNN’s Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and diet and fitness expert, calls the results modest and says, “But most experts agree that even a 5% weight loss has significant implications in terms of reducing the risk of obesity associated diseases including heart disease and diabetes.”

The drug may be risky, but risks also come with the rising obesity rate such as diabetes and heart disease.  With more than 1/3 of the adult population being obese, the drug may prove worthwhile.






Posted by on November 24, 2010 - 12:45pm

In a new meta-analysis published in the November 2010 issue of Diabetes Care, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health report that consumption of just one or two sugar-sweetened beverages per day is associated with a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a 20% increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.   Senior author Dr. Frank Hu put this into perspective,  "So for those who drink two to three sodas per day, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes would be increased by 30-40% which is not very different from the increased risk associated with cigarette smoking."

It is not clear from the study if the main reason for the increased risk is due to the increase in calories or due to the combination of  excess calories and some unique metabolic effects of fructose and other components of soft drinks.

The authors note that the jury is still out on the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners in soft drinks, so they caution against substituting diet sodas or drinks for sugar sweetened ones.    Water, nonsweetened tea or coffee may be better choices.

Posted by on November 12, 2010 - 10:51am

In celebration of National Diabetes Awareness Month, the Institute for Women's Health Research focused its November 2010 e-newsletter on this topic.  It is available free at  IWHRenewsNov10-1.

Posted by on February 26, 2010 - 5:13pm

According to a study that was coordinated by investigators at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, two to three times more pregnant women may soon be diagnosed and treated for gestational diabetes, based on new measurements for determining risky blood sugar levels for the mother and her unborn baby.

“As result of this study, more than 16 percent of the entire population of pregnant women qualified as having gestational diabetes,” said lead author Boyd Metzger, MD.  “Before, between 5 to 8 percent of pregnant women were diagnosed with this.”

Blood sugar levels that were once considered in the normal range are now seen as causing a sharp increase in the occurrence of overweight babies with high insulin levels, early deliveries, cesarean section deliveries and potentially life-threatening preeclampsia, a condition in which the mother has high blood pressure that affects her and the baby. Large babies, the result of fat accumulation, are defined as weighing in the upper 10 percent of babies in a particular ethnic group. Because large babies increase the risk of injury during vaginal delivery, many of the women in the study were more likely to have a cesarean section.  To view entire news report written by science writer, Marla Paul click here.

Posted by on January 27, 2010 - 2:51pm

Earlier this week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they had approved a new drug for type 2 diabetes (see the FDA's press release here).  Type 2 is the most common kind of diabetes and can develop at any age despite the old misnomer that it was an "adult-onset" disease.  Essentially, your body does not properly release insulin in response to increases in blood sugar (for example, after a meal).  Therefore, sugar is not properly metabolized and builds up in your blood.

Diabetes is a huge concern not only as the seventh leading cause of deaths in America, but also in the high medical costs for  those afflicted.  Statistics show that more than half of diabetes cases are women.  Pregnant women can be affected by gestational diabetes, which typically goes away after the baby is born but can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes.  This may contribute to the slight sex bias in Type 2 diabetes, where women comprise 58% of all cases (according to a 1995 study by the National Diabetes Data Group).  There is a nice discussion on sex-specific differences in diabetes on Medscape Today, if you are interested in reading more.  The article is accompanied by a long list of references for more detailed information.

I don't study diabetes and I'm not a doctor, but based on my limited knowledge and reading, it looks like the new drug (which will be sold as Victoza) has a different target in the pancreas than the other drugs already on the market.  (There was a nice overview in this 2001 review article in the journal Nature.)  It's nice to have more possible treatments since not all drugs work to the same effect in every patient.  There's evidence out there that some drugs act differently even between men and women!  Of course, with any new drug, time will tell if Victoza causes any long-term effects.  However, it is promising to have a new option for those dealing with diabetes and their loved ones as well.  Has diabetes affected you or someone you know in any way and if so, what has been your (or their) experience with the current drugs out there already?

Useful info on diabetes from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse:

Posted by on November 2, 2009 - 10:42am

Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disease affecting approximately 7% of the US population.  Diabetes is categorized into two classes: Type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes, and Type 2, or adult onset diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone necessary for the metabolism of glucose.  Type 1 Diabetes is generally diagnosed in childhood or early adolescence and is considered to be primarily genetic in origin.  Symptoms include extreme hunger, fatigue, rapid weight loss and blurry vision.  There is no cure for Diabetes, but successful treatment includes insulin injections, blood sugar monitoring, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.

Type 2 Diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all Diabetes cases in the United States.  In Type 2 Diabetes, the body is either insulin resistant or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin.  This type is often preventable and is strongly linked to obesity.  Symptoms are similar to Type 1 Diabetes but, depending on the severity, treatment may only include blood sugar monitoring, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.  Severe or advanced cases may require medication and/or insulin injections.

Resources at Northwestern for Diabetes:

The Division of Endocrinology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital provides comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for a variety of endocrine related disorders.  Physicians in the department specialize in endocrine tumors, endocrine disease genetics, gestational diabetes, and offer specialized services in diagnosis and treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.  The department participates in a variety of NIH-sponsored research trials.  Results from NMH’s participation in the National Institute’s of Health 10-year study on prevention of type 2 diabetes can be found at

Click to see physician finder:

Northwestern Physicians/ Researchers specializing in Diabetes treatment:

The Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Molecular Medicine at Northwestern University features a diverse faculty, many of whom are leaders in their field.  The department, headed by Dr. Andrea Dunaif, is committed to clinical and basic science research development and training.  The research interests of the department are diverse and extend to multiple subfields of endocrinology.  Researchers studying diabetes include Dr. Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, who studies the role of estrogen receptors in pancreatic cells, Dr. M. Geoffrey Hayes, PhD, who studies the genetic components of diabetes, and Dr. Boyd E. Metzger, MD, whose research on gestational diabetes has been widely published.

IWHR Highlighted Researcher

Dr. Robert F Kushner, MD, MS is the Clinical Director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity and a Professor of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine.  Dr. Kushner has published various books, book chapters, and articles and serves on the editorial board of various prestigious journals including Obesity, Obesity Management, and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  Popular publications include Dr. Kushner’s Personality Type Diet, Treatment of the Obese Patient and Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner’s Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together.  Although Dr. Kushner’s research interests are in obesity and nutrition, his research and publications have implications for a diabetic population.  Recently he published a study in Obesity examining various lifestyle interventions for prevention of weight gain in type II diabetic patients taking the common diabetes medication pioglitazone (Actos®).  The study showed that the weight gain side effects commonly associated with this medication can be diminished or alleviated by lifestyle interventions such as medical nutrition therapy (MNT).  The greatest success was seen in patients who received intensive follow up MNT, which included lessons in meal planning, food preparation, goal-setting and exercise recommendations.

For information on Dr. Kushner or to purchase his books:

Other Useful Links and Resources: