Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2001 / 16 Elul, 5761

English milk cows prefer Beethoven and Simon & Garfunkel over Bananarama

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. -- The journal Science recently reported that psychologists at the University of Leicester have studied the effects of different music styles on milk cows. The Holstein cows were divided into three groups during the daily 5 AM to 5 PM study periods: Fast music (120 beats per minute) every day, slow music (100 beats per minute) every day, and no music at all. Cows listening to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony or Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" produced 3% more milk than cows not listening to any music. However, cows subjected to Bananarama's version of "Venus" produced slightly less milk than the cows not listening to music!

Reportedly, the authors of this study plan to measure stress hormone levels in cows as they listen to various styles of music, in an attempt to correlate reduced milk output with chronic stress induced by edgy tunes. They also have plans to study the effects of music on chickens, with the hypothesis that egg-laying will be enhanced by having the chickens listen to soothing music.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is looking for a few good men for its Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). This new study is expected to enroll more than 32,000 volunteers at more than 400 sites in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The impetus for this study follows the mixed results from two previous cancer prevention trials. The first trial looked at the effects of mineral selenium in the diet on the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer.

While selenium appeared to have no effect on the incidence of skin cancer, a 60% reduction in the expected incidence of prostate cancer was identified. Similarly, a Finnish study on the effects of beta carotene (a form of Vitamin A) and Vitamin E on lung cancer development showed absolutely no benefit in terms of preventing lung cancer (in fact, beta carotene supplements actually appeared to increase the incidence of lung cancer in smokers!).

However, a 32% reduction in the incidence of prostate cancer was identified. Prostate cancer will be diagnosed in nearly 200,000 American men this year, killing an estimated 32,000 of them. Known risk factors for prostate cancer include age greater than 55, having a father or brother with prostate cancer, or being an African American. To participate in this study, volunteers must be 55 or older (or 50 or older for African American men), must not have had any previous cancer except for non-melanoma skin cancer, and must be in generally good health. Men interested in participating can call 1-800-4-CANCER, or log on to the NIH Web site at

Type 2 diabetes, or adult onset diabetes, is strongly associated with obesity (more than 80% of diabetics are overweight), as well as a sedentary lifestyle, family history of diabetes, and ethnoracial background (compared with Caucasians, Hispanic people have a 90% greater risk of diabetes and African Americans have a 60% higher risk). There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity in the United States over the past 2-3 decades. Not surprisingly, the incidence of diabetes has tripled during the same period.

Diabetes can cause a variety of serious complications, including kidney failure, loss of vision, accelerated blood vessel disease (which can, in turn, lead to the loss of the toes, feet and legs), and an increased susceptibility to infection.

There are a number of medical treatments for diabetes, including diet modification, oral medications, and injectable insulin. One of the most commonly used oral mediations to treat diabetes is the drug metformin (also known as Glucophage). The results of a study of 3,234 people at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes were recently reported by the National Institutes of Health. Patients were randomized into three different groups.

One group received the drug metformin. A second group undertook major lifestyle changes, including a low-fat diet and exercise for 150 minutes a week.

A third "control group" received sugar pills ("placebo") and no other intervention. A total of 29% of the control group patients developed diabetes during the study, while 22% of the group receiving metformin developed diabetes. Most dramatic were the results of the "diet and exercise" group: only 14% of patients in this group developed overt diabetes! What is most impressive about this study is that the overweight patients in the diet and exercise group lost only, on average, 7% of their body weight (15 pounds, on the average) on a low-fat diet, and they indulged in only a moderate program of exercise: about 30 minutes a day, five days a week!

The results of this study, once again, confirm the relationship between obesity and inactivity on the incidence of type 2 diabetes. This study also confirms that even modest-to-moderate changes in diet, activity level, and weight can dramatically reduce the incidence of diabetes, even in patients already at high risk for developing diabetes.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


08/28/01: Arthritis drugs may be linked with increased risk of heart disease; errors in blood clotting tests can be fatal; infant soy formula not associated with reproductive side effects

© 2001, Dr. Robert A. Wascher