Andrew Witty: GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO                       Photo: Hazel Thompson for The New York Times


Last year, in a speech to Harvard medical students, Mr. Witty promised to keep the prices of all Glaxo drugs in poor countries to no more than 25 percent of what was charged in rich ones, and to donate one-fifth of all profits made in poor countries toward building their health systems.

The New York Times, February 9, 2010, by Donald G. McNeil Jr.  —  Andrew Witty is not quite as young or as buff as Anderson Cooper, but he does do interviews in shirtsleeves from the slums of Nairobi and rural hospitals in Uganda.

What makes that unusual is that Mr. Witty is not a roving CNN anchor, but the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second-largest drug company.

Besides being the youngest person in such a post — he was appointed in 2008 at age 43 — he is also making a name for himself by doing more for the world’s poor than any other leader of a colossus of Big Pharma.

“I want GSK to be a very successful company, but not by leaving the population of Africa behind,” Mr. Witty said in an interview. “In any village hospital, you can see the beds filled with women and babies severely febrile with malaria, staring into space, and you wonder: Who’s taking care of the other children? It’s so obvious, the damage that’s being done.”

That tone is still rare in an industry once pilloried for keeping its prices up while millions died. Until a decade ago, all major drug companies treated Africa, Latin America and most of Asia as not worth the trouble of marketing to.

But Mr. Witty, who started as a Glaxo trainee right out of the University of Nottingham, spent 10 years in Africa and Asia, and he was inspired to change that.

A memory “that still makes the hair go up on the back of my neck,” he said, was arriving in South Africa just before the 1994 elections, when many feared the country would explode. He was 29, head of the office but often mistaken for an intern, and co-workers advised him to buy a gun and stockpile food in case of civil war. On the eve of the election, he gathered the Johannesburg factory’s 300 frightened workers to reassure them that the plant and their jobs would remain, come what might.

Election Day dawned with a bomb blast at the airport — but then blossomed into a festival of racial unity, democracy and victory for Nelson Mandela.

“It was as if the whole country had looked into an abyss and decided: ‘You know what? We’re not going to jump,’ ” Mr. Witty said.

That “bonding experience” taught him how resilient Africa could be; and then he was invited to help the Mandela government write its drug and health care policies.

Later, working in China, India, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Pakistan and Vietnam, he found “just unbelievable energy to self-improve, to lift themselves up.”

“They deserve their chance,” he continued.

Now Glaxo is ranked No. 1 on the Access to Medicine Index created in 2008 by an organization based in the Netherlands that rates pharmaceutical companies on their stances toward the poor much as Transparency International ranks countries on corruption.

Glaxo has cut deals with drug makers like Dr. Reddy’s in India and Aspen Pharmaceuticals in South Africa to support their new drugs and jointly market Glaxo brands.

It is teaching Brazil’s state vaccine company, Fiocruz, how to brew its new pneumococcal vaccine.

Last year, in a speech to Harvard medical students, Mr. Witty promised to keep the prices of all Glaxo drugs in poor countries to no more than 25 percent of what was charged in rich ones, and to donate one-fifth of all profits made in poor countries toward building their health systems.

Glaxo has built a laboratory in Tres Cantos, Spain, specializing in malaria and neglected diseases. The company put its drugs for neglected diseases into a “patent pool” so researchers can refine them or combine them with those of rivals.

It lends young executives to the governments of poor countries and to the partnerships fighting various diseases.

Since 1998, it has donated one billion doses of albendazole, a worm-killing drug, to prevent the grotesquely swollen legs and scrotums of elephantiasis, or lymphatic filariasis. Mr. Witty promised to quadruple the annual donation and make other gifts.

And just last month, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, he made two new offers.

The company screened its library of two million chemicals for all that attacked malaria, a process that took five technicians a year in a high-biosecurity laboratory because the parasite is too dangerous to run through the routine screening machines.

The 13,500 “hits” they got will all be posted on Web sites, available free to anyone working on malaria. “However,” he joked, “if someone says, ‘My goodness, I’ve just found a new cardiac medication,’ well, that’s a different conversation.”

Also, he promised that if the malaria vaccine the company had been working on for 23 years passed its clinical trials, it would be priced at only 5 percent over the cost of making it. The company will not try to recoup the huge research costs, which have been shared by the United States Army and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mr. Witty’s plans have been widely praised.

While other companies let some researchers search their libraries, Glaxo has set a new standard for openness, said Timothy Wells, chief scientific officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture, which seeks new drugs.

“At most companies, I can get in to talk to the head of R. & D.,” Dr. Wells said, “but without the C.E.O. being visibly behind it, people aren’t able to commit. This will probably speed up the process by several years.”

Bill Gates can get C.E.O.’s together,” he added, “but that’s not enough. People respected by their peers have to put their skins on the line.”

Dr. Bernard Pécoul, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, said that drug companies were finally helping the poor but that Glaxo was “more innovative.”

And Sophia Tickell, who in 2001 led Oxfam in accusing the whole industry, and Glaxo in particular, of “waging an undeclared war on the poor,” trusted Mr. Witty’s sincerity enough to become a paid Glaxo adviser.

When he introduced her to the board, she said, he opened by saying: “This is Sophia. She wrote the report, and we deserved it.”

Mr. Witty still has critics. Daniel Berman, who a decade ago co-founded Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign, said that Glaxo’s work on transferring vaccine technology to middle-income countries was “still a lot of smoke and mirrors” and could go faster, that the Tres Cantos lab “still doesn’t have a big enough budget to make a difference” and that putting drugs for neglected diseases into a patent pool was “a bit silly” since no one fought for the patent rights anyway.

“If they were seriously interested in patent pools,” Mr. Berman said, echoing a criticism voiced by Oxfam as well, “they’d try out the Unitaid one.”

(Unitaid, a European agency using an airline ticket tax to buy drugs for poor countries, has offered to oversee a pool of patents on AIDS drugs so new combination pills can be made cheaply.)

Mr. Witty counters that AIDS is not just a disease of the poor and that Glaxo needs to keep making profits in rich and middle-income countries. The company lets Indian and African counterparts make its drugs without paying royalties, and they produce four times as many pills as Glaxo does.

The company, Mr. Witty said, is “very much aligned with Unitaid’s goal and now in cordial negotiations with them.”

“But we want to hammer out the details,” he continued.

In contrast to his aloof and abrasive predecessor, J. P. Garnier, Mr. Witty, a father of two teenagers, moved his office atop the London headquarters down to the ground floor, and he sometimes eats in the cafeteria or runs five miles at lunch.

Many employees love his plans, he said, because it makes them feel they are helping the world.

How shareholders feel will presumably depend on how the stock does during his tenure.

Reactions from his rivals at other pharmaceutical companies, he said, “run the full spectrum from very complimentary to ‘What are you doing? You’re undermining a critical piece of the business model.’ ”

In the end, Mr. Witty said, “I’m in charge of an organization that can actually make a difference for people in the third world, and I am not going to be the person who, after X years, sits back and says, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done more.’ ”

Couples Who Say ‘We’ Do Better at Resolving Conflicts

People often complain about those seemingly smug married couples who constantly refer to themselves as “we.” But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that spouses who use “we-ness” language are better able to resolve conflicts than those who don’t. (Credit: iStockphoto/Pauline Vos)

UC Berkeley, February 11, 2010  —  People often complain about those seemingly smug married couples who constantly refer to themselves as “we.” But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that spouses who use “we-ness” language are better able to resolve conflicts than those who don’t.

UC Berkeley researchers analyzed conversations between 154 middle-aged and older couples about points of disagreement in their marriages and found that those who used pronouns such as “we,” “our” and “us” behaved more positively toward one another and showed less physiological stress.

In contrast, couples who emphasized their “separateness” by using pronouns such as “I,” “me” and “you” were found to be less satisfied in their marriages. This was especially true for older couples. Their use of separateness pronouns was most strongly linked to unhappy marriages, according to the study.

Moreover, the study found that older couples identified more as “we” than did their middle-aged counterparts, suggesting that facing obstacles and overcoming challenges together over the long haul, including raising families, may give couples a greater sense of shared identity.

“Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a ‘we’ is well worth giving up a bit of ‘me,'” said UC Berkeley psychology professor Robert Levenson, a co-author of the study published last semester in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Previous studies have established that the use of “we-ness” or “separateness” language is a strong indicator of marital satisfaction in younger couples. These latest findings, however, take this several steps further by showing how powerful this correlation is in more established couples, linking it to the emotions and physiological responses that occur when spouses either team up or become polarized in the face of disagreements, researchers said.

“The use of ‘we’ language is a natural outgrowth of a sense of partnership, of being on the same team, and confidence in being able to face problems together,” said study co-author Benjamin Seider, a graduate student in psychology at UC Berkeley.

In addition to Seider and Levenson, co-authors of the study are Gilad Hirschberger and Kristin Nelson, who conducted their research while at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research.

Read more about relationships……………….

University of Michigan  —  A good fight with your spouse may be good for your health, research suggests. Couples in which both the husband and wife suppress their anger when one attacks the other die earlier than members of couples where one or both partners express their anger and resolve the conflict, according to preliminary results of a University of Michigan study.

Researchers looked at 192 couples over 17 years and placed the couples into one of four categories: both partners communicate their anger; in the second and third groups one spouse expresses while the other suppresses; and both the husband and wife suppress their anger and brood, said Ernest Harburg, professor emeritus with the U-M School of Public Health and the Psychology Department, and lead author. The study is a longitudinal analysis of couples in Tecumseh, Mich.

“Comparison between couples in which both people suppress their anger, and the three other types of couples, are very intriguing,” Harburg said.

When both spouses suppress their anger at the other when unfairly attacked, earlier death was twice as likely than in all other types.

“When couples get together, one of their main jobs is reconciliation about conflict,” Harburg said. “Usually nobody is trained to do this. If they have good parents, they can imitate, that’s fine, but usually the couple is ignorant about the process of resolving conflict. The key matter is, when the conflict happens, how do you resolve it?”

“When you don’t, if you bury your anger, and you brood on it and you resent the other person or the attacker, and you don’t try to resolve the problem, then you’re in trouble.”

Of the 192 couples studied, 26 pairs both suppressed their anger and there were 13 deaths in that group. In the remaining 166 pairs, there were 41 deaths combined.

In 27 percent of those couples who both suppressed their anger, one member of the couple died during the study period, and in 23 percent of those couples both died during the study period.

That’s compared to only six percent of couples where both spouses died in the remaining three groups combined. Only 19 percent in the remaining three groups combined saw one partner die during the study period.

The study adjusted for age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, bronchial problems, breathing, and cardiovascular risk, Harburg said.

The paper only looks at attacks which are considered unfair or undeserved by the person being attacked, said Harburg. If the attack is viewed as fair, say an abused child or woman who believes they deserved the attack, then the victim does not get angry, Harburg said.

Harburg stresses that these preliminary numbers are small, but the researchers are now collecting 30-year follow-up data, which will have almost doubled the death rate, he said.

Co-authors are: Niko Kaciroti, Center for Human Growth and Development; Lillian Gleiberman, Department of Internal Medicine; M. Anthony Schork and Mara Julius, both SPH emeritus.

The paper, “Marital Pair Anger Coping Types May Act as an Entity to Affect Mortality”: will appear in  the Journal of Family Communication.  Source: Adapted from materials provided by University of Michigan,

We may finally have arrived at the era of the untreatable bacterial infection., February 2010, by Laura A. Stokowski RN, MS  —  The word “antibiotic” has always been to me a symbol of the miracles of modern medicine. Perhaps they’re a bit ordinary these days compared with robotic surgery or capsule endoscopy, but in a different time, antibiotics literally changed the world. It began in 1928 when bacteriologist Alexander Fleming serendipitously realized that the growth of Streptococcus aureus was inhibited in a petri dish contaminated by mold. Within a few years we had sulfa drugs; rapidly followed by more effective beta-lactams, chloramphenicol, tetracycline, and by 1950, the aminoglycosides.

Unfortunately, while scientists were discovering new antimicrobial agents, we never developed the ability to swiftly identify an infectious agent, which might have permitted more targeted antibiotic therapy. Instead, broad-spectrum antibiotics became the vehicles of long-term innocent misuse of these live-saving drugs. But we underestimated the selective pressure that antibiotics were capable of exerting on bacteria. Within a few decades, it became clear that the overuse of antibiotics was fueling the natural evolution of the microbes we were trying to kill, encouraging them to develop resistance as rapidly as they were able.

Now, a vast and widening chasm divides the number of deadly antibiotic-resistant infections that we are seeing in healthcare and effective drugs to treat them. This situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future because too few of the right type of new antibiotics are making it through the drug development pipeline to match the pace of resistance.

How Did a Miracle Become a Crisis?

Paul Auwaerter, MD, MBA, Clinical Director, Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, faces this problem on a daily basis. He recently described to me the convergence of events that has brought us to this point. “The patients are sicker than ever before, so we are using antibiotics more intensively, and the bacteria are changing in response. At the same time we have really lost ground in incentive mechanisms for creation and production of new antimicrobial compounds.”

Few among the general public are losing sleep over antibiotic resistance or the absence of effective new antibiotics. People generally have faith or have been lulled into believing that medical scientists can develop effective new antibiotics whenever needed because they have always done so in the past.

By the time most people wake up to the realities of the situation, it will be too late. Antibiotic-resistant infections are becoming the next great equalizer, and this is not just a problem for the elderly or the immune-suppressed. Friends and family, rich and poor alike, will succumb to infections that should be curable but aren’t, and everyone will be looking around for someone to blame.

And who should be blamed?

  • Pushy patients who refuse to leave the office without their antibiotics, even when told they don’t need them?
  • Physicians who write antibiotic prescriptions for self-limiting viral illnesses out of fear of angering their patients or risking accusations of negligence?
  • Farmers who treat their animals with antibiotics to keep them healthy?
  • Pharmaceutical companies who won’t invest in new antibiotic development?
  • Or regulatory agencies that make it difficult or impossible to get a new antimicrobial through the approval process?

The many factors that have contributed to the current crisis have already been debated, but these sobering facts remain:

  • More US patients die of MRSA infections than HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined.
  • Only 2 new antibiotics — doripenem and telavancin — have been approved in the past 3 years.
  • We have no drugs to treat infections with some strains of multi-drug-resistant gram-negative bacilli, like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Actinobacter baumannii.

We may finally have arrived at the era of the untreatable bacterial infection.

Read more about antibiotics issues………………….

Theravance Inc.announced this past December 2009, that US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators are not satisfied with new data on its infection drug candidate telavancin (Vibativ), and indicated that further clinical studies may be required to win marketing approval.

Approval of Vibativ has been held up for three years, as the Food and Drug Administration asked the company for more data about the drug, and about studies Theravance has conducted in support of its application to the FDA. Theravance said Thursday the FDA told it the data so far is not enough to prove Vibativ works.

The agency will not begin a formal review of the drug until it says it is satisfied with the data.

Vibativ, or telavancin, is an injection intended to treat complicated or drug-resistant infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Theravance submitted an NDA to FDA for review in December 2006.

According to Theravance, the FDA did not say Theravance would have to run a new clinical trial to gain approval, but it suggested a design for such a study. Company representative said that they do not know what the FDA wants and said the agency did not provide any suggestions about the goals of the proposed study, how many patients should be included, or even how many studies might be required ( I guess it may be time for a meeting to discuss these issues?).

In response to the FDA’s previous requests for more data on telavancin, Theravance said it combined data from two late stage trials of Vibativ, with the goal of making the data more comparable. It said the FDA told it that the data is equal to only one study. Two late-stage trials are often required to win approval.

Theravance said it has tested Vibativ on about 1,500 patients and said its studies are the largest that have been submitted in support of a new drug of its type.

Regulatory concerns about Vibativ include a risk of birth defects when it is used in pregnant women, manufacturing issues, and questions about data comparing the drug to vancomycin, which is the most powerful antibiotic currently on the market.

While getting new antibiotics are the market are important, clinical studies must be carefully designed with appropriate endpoint to address potential safety and efficacy issues. Although Theravance believes that it has done that, the agency, as always, will be the final arbiter of a decision on telavancin.

Read more about antibiotic issues…………………………

Johnson & Johnson announced at the end of December 2009 that it received a Complete Response letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ceftobiprole. The agency requested additional information and recommended additional clinical studies be conducted in order to consider a future approval of ceftobiprole in this indication. J&J’s New Drug Application (NDA) for ceftobiprole was originally submitted to the FDA in May 2007 for the treatment of complicated skin and skin structure infections (cSSSI), including diabetic foot infections.  The company received an approvable letter in March 2008 and submitted what it thought to be the necessary information necessary to garner approval of the new antibiotic

Ceftobiprole is a novel, broad-spectrum, anti-MRSA cephalosporin with activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), penicillin-resistant Streptococcus pneumonia and many clinically important Gram-negative bacteria, including Pseudomonas. The antibiotic was licensed from Swiss-based Basilea Pharmaceutica Ltd. in February 2005. 

The regulatory review process is ongoing in Europe and other countries for the use of ceftobiprole in adults for the treatment of complicated skin and skin structure infections. Ceftobiprole is approved in Canada, Switzerland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Hong Kong.

J&J intends to discuss the best path forward with the FDA as soon as possible. New antibiotics are necessary to combat the growing trend of multiple drug resistant strains of bacteria that are responsible for an increasing amount of bacterial infections.

More about serious antibiotic issues……………..

That methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is in the news again is not surprising. However, Nicholas Kristof‘s article in the New York Times may be the first Op-Ed piece written by a non-scientist about the growing threat and seriousness of MRSA infections. Mr. Kristof apparently became aware of MRSA when he was contacted by Tom Anderson, MD, a Camden, Indiana physician who was experiencing “phenomenal levels of MRSA infections” in his community.

Beginning in the early 1990s, Dr Anderson noticed a rapidly rising incidence in the number of community acquired skin infections caused by MRSA among his patients. Most of Dr Anderson’s patients were swine farmers—the predominant industry in Camden. At first puzzled by the growing incidences of MRSA outbreaks, Dr. Anderson began to suspect that his patient’s pigs may be the source of growing number of cases of MRSA skin infections. He was reluctant to alert public health officials about his suspicions because any hint livestock-related health issues might jeopardize the livelihood of many of his neighbors and friends. By last fall, however, Camden’s MRSA epidemic had grown so large that Dr. Anderson could no longer remain silent. Rather than alert the authorities himself, he decided to invite Mr. Kristof, an investigative reporter, to visit him in Camden and break the story. Unfortunately, before Mr. Kristof could visit, Dr. Anderson died abruptly at age 54. There was no autopsy, but a blood test suggested he may have died from a heart attack or aneurysm. And—this is where the story gets interesting—a recent Dutch study has linked porcine MRSA isolates to a case of human endocarditis. Dr. Anderson had himself suffered at least three bouts of MRSA infections.

In another Dutch study conducted in 2004, MRSA strain ST398 (which caused the endocarditis in the more recent study) was isolated from three family members, three farm workers and 8 of 10 pigs from a single farm. Since then, strain ST398 has spread rapidly through the Netherlands — especially in swine-producing areas— and pig farmers there are 760 times more likely than the general population to carry MRSA. More recently, a study conducted by public health officials in Ontario, Canada showed that 20% of pig farmers were colonized by strains of MRSA genetically identical to those isolated from European pigs. Finally, a 2008 study conducted in Iowa, reported that strain ST398 was isolated from 45 percent of pig farmers and 49 percent of hogs that were tested. Together, these studies suggest that colonization of swine by MRSA and pig farmers is very common and that swine (and possibly other agricultural animals) could become an important reservoir for strains of MRSA.

While not conclusive, most infectious diseases experts believe that the emergence of MRSA and antibiotic resistant bacteria can be directly linked to the widespread and rampant use of antibiotics as growth enhancers in livestock feed. Despite the alarming emergence of multiple antibiotic resistance bacteria, livestock producers in the US and elsewhere continue to add antibiotics to livestock feeds. This led Mr. Kristof to lament that “we as a nation have moved to a model of agriculture that produces cheap bacon but risks the health of all of us.” Not surprisingly, as is frequently the case, big business has chosen to place profits before the health and safety of society.

More about serious antibiotic issues………………..

News Day reported recently, that Wegmans Food Markets, a grocer with 72 locations in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland was giving away “free generic antibiotics” for customers (with a prescription). Wegmans joins a growing list of supermarkets pharmacies including Giant Food and Publix that are giving free generic antibiotics to its customers.

I first learned about the “free generic antibiotic give away offers” months ago after reading a post on the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Health Blog. I took the WSJ health blog to task for posting the story without editorial comment on the potentially dangerous practice of “hawking free antibiotics” to drive business at regional and nationwide grocery store pharmacies. Luckily, in today’s WSJ Health Blog post about the Wegmans program, the author (Sarah Rubenstein) did suggest that the practice may lead to unnecessary promotional use of antibiotics.

As you all should know by now, we are in the midst of bacterial antibiotic-resistance epidemic. People are beginning to regularly die from bacterial infections that were easily treatable a decade ago. Ironically, we are slowly approaching the morbidity and mortality rates for bacterial infections that previously existed in the pre-penicillin era. Moreover, there are no new, orally bioavailable, broad spectrum antibiotics on the horizon. A lack of new antibiotics coupled with rapidly emerging resistance to extant ones is wreaking havoc on the healthcare system in both community and hospital settings.

The “free generic antibiotics” advertising and marketing programs concocted by Giant, Publix and Wegman’s are egregious examples of how a lack of or unwillingness to understand science poses a serious public health threat to all Americans. I have no doubt that the marketers who devised the give away programs have nary a clue about the relationship between antibiotic use and the emergence of antibiotic resistance strains of bacteria. Further, while physicians may be aware of increasing rates of antibiotic resistance, many are reluctant to not prescribe antibiotics to patients who request them. After all, these physicians are running a business and if they don’t write the script, the patient will take his/her business elsewhere. The potential public health implication of these free antibiotic programs begs the question: Why not give away generic ace inhibitors, generic statins or other generic medications whose profits margins are also negligible but don’t carry any public health risks?

Put simply, the promise of free generic antibiotics is a marketing strategy that is in my opinion, reckless, dangerous and may have serious public health implications in the future. Make no mistake about it, I am a capitalist but not when profits are placed before human lives.

Hat tip to the WSJ Health Blog

More about antibiotic issues………………………….

As an undergraduate at Cornell, I took a course called “Bee Keeping” mostly because it had the reputation of being a  “gut” course (i.e., easy to ace) and I had a passing interest in entomological microbiology. To this day, I will tell you that it is one of the best courses that I have taken in my academic career. It was taught by a practicing bee keeper who maintained hives in Florida during the winter and in Ithaca during the summer (not surprisingly the course was taught in the Spring semester so that his bees could pollinate the local crops).

Not only did we learn a lot about honey bee biology and social insect behavior, we also learned a great deal about honey and its virtues (we even got to sample different types of honey from time to time). One of honey’s lesser known properties is that it is sterile. This is because honey is extremely hygroscopic and has high concentrations of fructose, thereby preventing the growth of bacteria. These properties led me to wonder in those days whether honey would be an effective antibiotic in certain situations. 

Over the next 30 years or so, I had all but forgotten about the possible use of honey as an antibacterial. Then, much to my surprise, I came across a Canadian study which suggests that honey may be useful to treat a variety of infections. Apparently, honey is surprisingly effective in treating bacterial biofilms which are increasingly implicated in the etiology of many chronic skin, mucosal and wound infections. Previous studies showed that honey is effective in wound healing. The researchers who conducted the study also suggested that a “honey rinse” might be effective for treating  “stubborn ear, nose and throat infections.”

Interestingly, not all of the honey that was tested exhibited potent antibacterial properties. Canadian clover and buckwheat honey didn’t exhibit any antibacterial properties at all. This suggests that the plant nectars that the bees use to make honey might influence the antibiotic properties of various honeys. It is important to note that the results of these experiments are very preliminary and additional studies will definitely be required to support or refute the use of honey as an antibiotic. Nevertheless, I thought the results were exciting and worth mentioning., February 9, 2010  —  It is already known that blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. New research from the Lund University Faculty of Engineering in Sweden shows that blueberry fibre are important and can alleviate and protect against intestinal inflammations, such as ulcerative colitis. The protective effect is even better if the blueberries are eaten together with probiotics.

The project originated as an attempt to see whether various types of dietary fibre and health-promoting bacteria, so-called probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, can help alleviate and prevent the risk of ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer.

“But new knowledge of this field is also of interest to those who don’t believe they run the risk of developing any intestinal diseases. In recent years the research world has been realizing that our health is governed to a great extent by what happens in our large intestine,” explain Camilla Bränning, a PhD in Applied Nutrition and Åsa Håkansson, a doctoral candidate in Food Hygiene at the Division of Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry.

The researchers tested various types of diets of blueberry husks, rye bran and oat bran with or without a mixture of probiotic bacteria. The results showed that the protective effect of blueberries was reinforced if they were eaten together with probiotics.

“The probiotics proved to have a protective effect on the liver, an organ that is often negatively impacted by intestinal inflammations,” explains Åsa Håkansson.

Blueberries are rich in polyphenols, which have an antimicrobial and antioxidative effect. The combination of blueberries and probiotics reduced inflammation-inducing bacteria in the intestine at the same time as the number of health-promoting lactobacilla increased.

Åsa Håkansson and Camilla Bränning also noted that if blueberries are eaten together with probiotics, the content of butyric acid and propionic acid increased in the blood, two substances that are formed when fibre are broken down and that have previously been known to be important energy sources for intestinal cells. In recent years they have also been shown to favourably impact the immune defence. It seems as if the absorption of these components is facilitated by the presence of probiotics.

“What surprised us was that such a large share of the butyric acid not only was taken up by the intestinal cells but was also transported onward to the blood. Previously it was thought that the intestinal cells used all of the butyric acid, but this is not at all the case,” says Camilla Bränning, who recently defended her dissertation on the subject.

“A further explanation for the extremely positive effect of blueberries may be that the blueberry fibre are not degraded to such a high degree in the large intestine. This means that inflammation-inducing substances do not come into contact with the mucous lining of the intestine but are embedded in the fibre instead. Then these substances are transported out of body together with the faeces,” explains Camilla Bränning.

The researchers also found that rye bran was broken down in the large intestine, in the same place that ulcerative colitis and large-intestine cancer often occur, and that the rye bran provided a rich supply of butyric acid and propionic acid. On the other hand, the fibre in oat bran were degraded earlier in the large intestine. The most striking result, however, was that blueberries themselves had such a favourable effect compared with both rye bran and oat bran.

Some 15-20 percent of all Swedes suffer from stomach pains, diarrhoea, or constipation, complaints resulting from intestinal disorders and more undefined intestinal problems. The disease ulcerative colitis is one of the inflammatory intestinal diseases included under the general name IBD, inflammatory bowel diseases. It can lead to colorectal cancer and afflicts about 1,000 Swedes per year.

Read more about the effect of blueberries on human physiology………………….

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