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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

New research on combating cancer, fighting migraines and how walnuts can improve health

Medical Minutes


Calcium carbonate nanoparticles may help combat cancer

Researchers have now found a way to keep a cancerous tumor from growing by using nanoparticles of the main ingredient in common antacid tablets (calcium carbonate). Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, have created nanoparticles from calcium carbonate and injected them intravenously into an animal model to treat solid tumors. The compound changed the pH of the tumor environment from acidic to more alkaline. It also kept the cancer from growing.

“Cancer kills because of metastasis,” said study investigator Avik Som, who is working on a doctorate in biomedical engineering and completing a medical degree at Washington University. “The pH of a tumor has been heavily correlated with metastasis. For a cancer cell to get out of the extracellular matrix, or the cells around it, one of the methods it uses is a decreased pH.”

The researchers developed a method using polyethyleneglycol-based diffusion to synthesize 20- and 300-nanometer-sized calcium carbonate. Som said calcium and carbonate are both found heavily in the body and they are generally non-toxic. He said when calcium carbonate dissolves, the carbonate becomes carbon dioxide and is released through the lungs. He said that calcium is often incorporated into the bones.

Som and his team injected the calcium carbonate nanoparticles into a mouse fibrosarcoma model daily, which kept the tumor from growing. However, when they stopped injecting the nanoparticles, it started growing again. The researchers now plan further studies and hope this may lead to a safe and non-toxic approach to treating cancer.

Combating migraines in a new way

Researchers have discovered a new avenue to combat migraine headaches. They have identified a marker in the blood for episodic migraine, which is defined as having less than 15 headaches per month.

Researchers in Baltimore, Maryland, conducted a study with 52 women with episodic migraine and 36 women who did not have any headaches. All the women underwent a neurologic exam and had their body mass index (BMI) measured. They also gave blood samples. Women with migraine had an average of 5.6 headache days per month. The blood samples were tested for a group of lipids that participate in energy homeostasis and regulate inflammation in the brain.

The investigators found that the total levels of the lipids called ceramides were decreased in women with episodic migraine as compared to those women without any headache disorders. Women with migraine had approximately 6,000 nanograms per milliliter of total ceramides in their blood, compared to women without headaches who had about 10,500 nanograms per milliliter. Every standard deviation increase in total ceramide levels was associated with over a 92 percent lower risk of having migraine.

“While more research is needed to confirm these initial findings, the possibility of discovering a new biomarker for migraine is exciting,” said study investigator B. Lee Peterlin, who is with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Walnuts may have hidden health benefits

Investigators at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine are now reporting weight loss programs that provide healthy fats, such as olive oil in the Mediterranean diet, or a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet have similar impacts on pound-shedding. However, adding walnuts, which are high in polyunsaturated fats, may have a significant impact on cholesterol levels.

Overweight and obese adult women were enrolled in a one-year behavioral weight loss program and randomly assigned to one of three diets consisting of either: low-fat and high-carbohydrate; low-carbohydrate and high-fat; or a walnut-rich, high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet.

The findings showed that all three dietary plans promoted similar weight loss. Women lost the most weight with a low-fat diet, but that strategy did not result in the most benefit for lipid levels.

The walnut-rich diet had the most impact on cholesterol levels by decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or so-called bad cholesterol, and increasing beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

The high-fat, low-carb group, which consumed monounsaturated fats, did not experience the same beneficial effects as the walnut-rich diet, which featured polyunsaturated fatty acids. At six months, the average weight loss was almost 8 percent among all groups.

“This weight loss may not put these women at their ideal weight, but it made a significant reduction in their risk of cardiovascular and other diseases,” said principal investigator Cheryl Rock, PhD, who is the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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