New from the National Academies Press: Caffeine in Food and Dietary Supplements: Examining Safety

From the NAP:

Caffeine in Food and Dietary Supplements is the summary of a workshop convened by the Institute of Medicine in August 2013 to review the available science on safe levels of caffeine consumption in foods, beverages, and dietary supplements and to identify data gaps.  Scientists with expertise in food safety, nutrition, pharmacology, psychology, toxicology, and related disciplines; medical professionals with pediatric and adult patient experience in cardiology, neurology, and psychiatry; public health professionals; food industry representatives; regulatory experts; and consumer advocates discussed the safety of caffeine in food and dietary supplements, including, but not limited to, caffeinated beverage products, and identified data gaps.

Caffeine, a central nervous stimulant, is arguably the most frequently ingested pharmacologically active substance in the world. Occurring naturally in more than 60 plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, cola nuts and cocoa pods, caffeine has been part of innumerable cultures for centuries. But the caffeine-in-food landscape is changing. There are an array of new caffeine-containing energy products, from waffles to sunflower seeds, jelly beans to syrup, even bottled water, entering the marketplace. Years of scientific research have shown that moderate consumption by healthy adults of products containing naturally-occurring caffeine is not associated with adverse health effects. The changing caffeine landscape raises concerns about safety and whether any of these new products might be targeting populations not normally associated with caffeine consumption, namely children and adolescents, and whether caffeine poses a greater health risk to those populations than it does for healthy adults. This report delineates vulnerable populations who may be at risk from caffeine exposure; describes caffeine exposure and risk of cardiovascular and other health effects on vulnerable populations, including additive effects with other ingredients and effects related to pre-existing conditions; explores safe caffeine exposure levels for general and vulnerable populations; and identifies data gaps on caffeine stimulant effects.

Read, download, or buy the workshop summary here.

Sugar-sweetened beverages playbook

One of the 4 legal tools discussed in the current issue of the CDC’s Public Health Law News, is a Sugar-sweetened beverages playbook from ChangeLab.  The playbook offers a sequence of ten strategies—from public education campaigns to restrictions on the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages—communities and states can use to reduce consumption of SSBs. Find more information and download a poster and the playbook.

The Grocery Gap: Unequal Access to Healthy Foods in Southeast Michigan

IRWIG_GroceryFood insecurity is very high in parts of Southeast Michigan. This has led some to describe parts of the region as “food deserts.” But is this term appropriate? The Institute for Research on Women & Gender is sponsoring a talk by Dorceta Taylor, professor of environmental sociology in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, that will examine access to food in our part of the state & explore new approaches to understanding & assessing food insecurity. 

  • Date:  11 November 2013
  • Time:  4-5:30
  • Location:  2239 Lane Hall


Mold toxins tied to AIDS epidemic

From the New York Times:

Aflatoxins — poisons produced by fungi that grow on moldy peanuts and corn — may be worsening Africa’s AIDS epidemic by helping suppress the immune systems of newly infected people, a new study has found.

The study, by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and published recently in the World Mycotoxin Journal, measured blood levels of aflatoxins and H.I.V. in 314 Ghanaians who had never taken antiviral drugs.

The more aflatoxins they had, the more likely they were to have high blood levels of H.I.V. — even those with higher levels of CD4 blood cells, meaning they had not been infected long and were not yet eligible for triple-therapy cocktails under the latest World Health Organization guidelines.

The toxins, produced by aspergillus fungi that grow on damp grains, nuts and beans, are so common as to be almost unavoidable in humid climates, but so dangerous that federal law limits concentrations in food to 20 parts per billion. American peanut-butter makers are always on the watch for them. Ground peanuts are a staple food of West Africa.

In high doses, aflatoxins can be deadly. A 2004 outbreak in Kenya killed 125 people; samples of moldy corn had up to 8,000 parts per billion. Regular exposure to low doses can cause liver cancer.

The authors suggested that aflatoxins either contribute proteins that help H.I.V. reproduce or somehow lessen the numbers of the white blood cells that the virus targets, making its attack on the immune system more potent.

New dietary supplement label database

From the National Institutes of Health:

Researchers, health care providers, and consumers can now investigate the ingredients listed on the labels of about 18,000 (and growing) dietary supplements. The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) is available free of charge. It is hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the result of collaboration between the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), with input from federal stakeholders.

Dietary supplements, taken regularly by about half of U.S. adults, can add significant amounts of nutrients and other ingredients to the diet. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and more. They come in many different forms, including tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as liquids and energy bars. Popular supplements include vitamins D and E; minerals like calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.

Hundreds of new dietary supplements are added to the marketplace each year; others are removed. Product formulations are frequently adjusted, as is information on labels. The DSLD provides product information that can be searched and organized as you need.

For more information, click this link:

Two years after the tsunami in Japan, fear and mistrust of food and government


From the New York Times, an Op-Doc, ‘In Japan, a Portrait of Mistrust’:

Two years after a huge earthquake, giant tsunami and nuclear meltdown ravaged parts of Japan, life has only seemingly returned to normal. Authorities say that outside the evacuation zone in Fukushima, there is at most a very low amount of radioactive contamination — that everything is safe. But after the tragedy, many citizens ask themselves if they can believe the government

On a recent trip to Japan, spending two months visiting my girlfriend’s family, I was struck by a pervasive sense of fear and suspicion over food safety. We decided to drive up to Fukushima and speak with residents and farmers. This Op-Doc video emerged from these conversations — becoming a portrait of people’s feelings of mistrust. I wonder, what will be the long-term effects of this disaster — not just on people’s health but also on the Japanese psyche?

A bumpy road to a soda ban

From the New York Times Well blog:

Some of the country’s leading public health experts called Monday’s judicial ruling against New York’s limits on the sale of large sugary drinks a predictable setback in what has become a national campaign against obesity, the country’s newest health epidemic.

Many public health experts support the effort by the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, saying it was an early attempt to limit the size of portions, which have expanded dramatically over the years and are at the root of the obesity epidemic.

They, like Mayor Bloomberg, invoked other long public health battles, like those over tobacco and motor vehicle fatalities, to argue that the ruling was a temporary roadblock in a larger war on obesity that would probably take decades, and a lot of litigation, before seeing success. Even other anti-obesity measures taken by New York, like the ban on trans fats and the requirement that menus display calorie counts, wound up in court before they went into effect.

“This is a bump in the road,” said Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We can take comfort from the time frames of other big public health campaigns. None were easy. None happened without legal challenges. The campaign against obesity has already begun on many levels.”

Read the complete blog post & comment here.

Read other related New York Times stories: Minority Groups and Bottlers Team Up in Battles Over Soda, Legal Battle Over Limits on Sugary Drinks May Outlast Mayor’s Tenure, and Legal Battle Over Limits on Sugary Drinks May Outlast Mayor’s Tenure.