Health Technology Research Synopsis

124th Issue Date 09MAR2012

Compiled By Ralph Turchiano

www.vit.bz

www.youtube.com/vhfilm

 

 

Editors Top Five:

1.    Gluten-free, casein-free diet may help some children with autism

2.    IMMUNOLOGY: Stairway to T cell development found in the human tonsil

3.    Exercise changes your DNA

4.    Cocoa may enhance skeletal muscle function

5.    Study pinpoints effects of different doses of an ADHD drug; Finds higher doses may harm learning

 

In This Issue:

1.    Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may cause memory problems

2.    Common sleeping pills linked to more than fourfold increased risk of death

3.      Upper class more likely to be scofflaws due to greed, study finds

5.      New discoveries on depression

6.      Another mechanism discovered by which sulforaphane prevents cancer

7.    US income distribution winners and losers

8.    Gluten-free, casein-free diet may help some children with autism

9.    New infant formula ingredients boost babies’ immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

4.    Worrying rise in number of medical students in prostitution over last 10 years

10. How marijuana impairs memory

11. IMMUNOLOGY: Stairway to T cell development found in the human tonsil

12. Study: Sleep gets better with age, not worse

13.  Older Adults Who Sleep Poorly React to Stress with Increased Inflammation

14. Nutrient found in dark meat of poultry, some seafood, may have cardiovascular benefits

15. Vitamin D shrinks fibroid tumors in rats

16. Cocoa may enhance skeletal muscle function

17. Younger children in the classroom likely overdiagnosed with ADHD

18. Exercise changes your DNA

19. Excessive cured meat consumption increases risk of hospital readmissions for COPD patients

20. Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) shown to improve menopause symptoms in new study

21. Wash your mouth out with silver

22. The effect of catch-up growth by various diets and resveratrol intervention on bone status

23. That caffeine in your drink — is it really ‘natural?’

24. Strong scientific evidence that eating berries benefits the brain

25. Does moderate wine consumption improve lung function?

26. Study pinpoints effects of different doses of an ADHD drug; Finds higher doses may harm learning

 

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may cause memory problems

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients commonly found in fish, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities, according to a study published in the February 28, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Omega-3 fatty acids include the nutrients called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

“People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging,” said study author Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, of the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics, University of California at Los Angeles.

For the study, 1,575 people with an average age of 67 and free of dementia underwent MRI brain scans. They were also given tests that measured mental function, body mass and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their red blood cells.

The researchers found that people whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 percent of the participants had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with levels of all omega-3 fatty acids in the bottom 25 percent also scored lower on tests of visual memory and executive function, such as problem solving and multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

 

Common sleeping pills linked to more than fourfold increased risk of death

Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: A matched cohort study

Certain commonly prescribed sleeping pills are associated with a more than fourfold increased risk of death, even among those taking fewer than 18 doses a year, indicates research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

And these drugs are also associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer among those taking high doses, the study shows.

In 2010 between one in 20 and one in 10 adults took a sleeping pill in the US alone, say the authors, who tracked the survival of over 10,500 people with a range of underlying conditions, who were prescribed a range of sleeping pills for an average of 2.5 years between 2002 and 2007.

The drugs included benzodiazepines, such as temazepam; non-benzodiazepines, such as zolpidem, eszopiclone, and zaleplon; barbiturates; and sedative antihistamines.

The survival of these patients, whose average age was 54, was then compared with that of over 23,500 people matched for age, sex, lifestyle factors, and underlying health problems, but who had not been prescribed sleeping pills over the same period.

After taking account of factors likely to influence the results, including age, sex, weight, lifestyle, ethnicity and previously diagnosed cancer, the results pointed to a link between these drugs and an increased risk of death, even at relatively low doses.

Those prescribed up to 18 doses a year were more than 3.5 times as likely to die as those prescribed none, while those prescribed between 18 and 132 doses were more than four times as likely to do so.

And those taking the most doses (132+ a year) were more than five times as likely to die as those prescribed none, indicating that the level of risk rose in tandem with increasing doses, say the authors.

These associations were found in every age group, but were greatest among those aged 18 to 55.

Supplementary material posted alongside the paper shows that, although the overall numbers of deaths in each group were quite small, there were clear differences among them.

For example, there were 265 deaths among 4,336 people taking zolpidem, compared with 295 deaths among the 23,671 people who had not taken sedatives or sleeping pills.

Those taking the highest number of doses were also at greater risk of developing several types of cancer, and 35% more likely to be diagnosed with any type of cancer, overall. This association was not explained by pre-existing poor health, the data showed.

The authors point out that studies showing association don’t necessarily prove cause and effect. But their findings back up previous research showing an increased risk of death among users of sleeping pills, they say.

Agreement is beginning to build that alternatives to sleeping pills for the treatment of insomnia may be warranted, they write.

And they ask if it isn’t time to reconsider “whether even the short term use of hypnotics, as given qualified approval in National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence [NICE] guidance, is sufficiently safe.”

BMJ Open editor in chief, Dr Trish Groves, comments: “Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death, their analyses have ruled out a wide range of other possible causative factors. So these findings raise important concerns and questions about the safety of sedatives and sleeping pills.”

Upper class more likely to be scofflaws due to greed, study finds

By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | February 27, 2012

BERKELEY —

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe – as did Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” – that “greed is good,” according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

Study finds unethical behavior motivated by casual attitudes to greed

In seven separate studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published today (Monday, Feb. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Piff’s study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socio-economic class and prosocial and antisocial emotions and behaviors, revealing new information about class differences during a time of rising economic tension.

“As these issues come to the fore, our research – and that by others – helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed,” Piff said.

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers. It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said of the cumulative findings.

Other coauthors of the study are UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton and Daniel Stancato, and Stéphane Côté of the University of Toronto. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation

Ralph’s Note – I don’t like the class warfare impression. I do feel however this is an issue which is getting worse.

 Worrying rise in number of medical students in prostitution over last 10 years

Feature: Medical schools’ attitudes towards student prostitution

One in ten students now claim to know someone who is using prostitution to pay for university fees, a medical student writing for the Student BMJ claims.

Although the numbers are still small, this figure as a percentage, is two and a half times larger than 10 years ago when just 4% of students claimed to know a peer placing themselves in the sex trade. This figure rose to 6% in 2006 and now stands at just under 10%.

The author, a final year medical student at the University of Birmingham, writes about the obvious correlation between rising tuition fees and the prevalence of prostitution among students. She argues that it is due to the rising costs of both tuition and living that students are finding themselves in huge amounts of debt.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has noticed an increase in the number of calls from students considering sex work. A spokesperson for the ECP says that many medical students think “prostitution is the only means of financial survival. […] Jobs in shops and pubs that students usually take up are increasingly scarce and low paid”.

Medical schools do not believe that prostitution among students is widespread. They have no specific rule on this matter but do suggest that medical students act within the General Medical Council’s guidance for medical practice, “Duties of a doctor”. However, this does not necessarily state that a doctor cannot be a prostitute. Furthermore, no case has been recorded in which a patient’s health has suffered because a doctor also worked in this trade.

The author concludes that because there is no official guidance on the issue, there is no clear answer for students. What is worrying, she writes, is when students think “they have no choice but to resort to prostitution” and questions whether the “hike in fees” will lead to an increase in students entering the sex trade.

An accompanying editorial looks at the case of a medical student who faced either prostitution or “dropping out of medical school”. The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, argues that “if studies are not grossly affected by how they are funded […] then it doesn’t matter how we make a living”. His opinions have, however, been met by some criticism from older students who had feelings of “condemnation” and “disgust” towards a medical student using prostitution to pay off his debts.

New discoveries on depression

[PRESS RELEASE 28 February 2012] During depression, the brain becomes less plastic and adaptable, and thus less able to perform certain tasks, like storing memories. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have now traced the brain’s lower plasticity to reduced functionality in its support cells, and believe that learning more about these cells can pave the way for radical new therapies for depression.

“We were able to cure memory dysfunction in ‘depressed’ rats by giving them doses of D-serine,” says Mia Lindskog, biologist and Assistant Professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neuroscience.

Dr Lindskog and her team used FSL rats, which are rats that have been specially bred with a disposition for ‘depression’. The rats were first put through two tests to confirm that they had the symptoms that are also characteristic of human depression. In the first, the rats’ memories were checked by repeatedly being exposed to different objects; in the second, the team assessed their level of apathy by releasing them in a container of water and observing whether they merely stayed floating in the container or immediately tried to climb out (non of the rats had to stay in the water for more than five minutes). In both cases the FSL rats’ results were compared with normal laboratory rats, and memory disorders and apathy could be confirmed.

The researchers then injected the rats with D-serine. This substance improved their memories but had no effect on the apathy.

“We have shown that there are two symptoms here that can be influenced independently of one another, which means they could be treated in tandem in patients with depression,” says Dr Lindskog.

The researchers also studied the synaptic activity in the hippocampus of the rats, a part of the brain which plays an important part in the memory. They found that there was a much higher degree of synaptic activity in the brains of the depressed rats than in the controls. However, when the researchers tried to increase the level of signal transmission, they found the brains of the depressed rats to be unresponsive, which indicated that they had a lower plasticity that rendered them unable to increase neuronal activity when needed – unlike the brains of the healthy rats. When the brain samples were soaked in D-serine, the plasticity of the depressed rats’ brains improved.

D-serine is a substance secreted by astrocytes, which are support cells for brain neurons.

“We don’t actually know very much about these glial cells, but it’s very likely that they perform a very important function in the brain,” says Dr Lindskog.

It is hoped that their discoveries will eventually lead to new therapies for depression.

“D-serine doesn’t pass the blood-brain barrier particularly well, so it’s not really a suitable candidate on which to base a drug, but the mechanism that we’ve identified, whereby it’s possible to increase plasticity and improve the memory, is a feasible route that we might be able to reach in a way that doesn’t involve D-serine,” says Dr Lindskog.

 

Another mechanism discovered by which sulforaphane prevents cancer

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University have discovered yet another reason why the “sulforaphane”compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables is so good for you – it provides not just one, but two ways to prevent cancer through the complex mechanism of epigenetics.

 Epigenetics, an increasing focus of research around the world, refers not just to our genetic code, but also to the way that diet, toxins and other forces can change which genes get activated, or “expressed.” This can play a powerful role in everything from cancer to heart disease and other health issues.

Sulforaphane was identified years ago as one of the most critical compounds that provide much of the health benefits in cruciferous vegetables, and scientists also knew that a mechanism involved was histone deacetylases, or HDACs. This family of enzymes can interfere with the normal function of genes that suppress tumors.

HDAC inhibitors, such as sulforaphane, can help restore proper balance and prevent the development of cancer. This is one of the most promising areas of much cancer research. But the new OSU studies have found a second epigenetic mechanism, DNA methylation, which plays a similar role.

 “It appears that DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, both of which can be influenced by sulforaphane, work in concert with each other to maintain proper cell function,” said Emily Ho, an associate professor in the Linus Pauling Institute and the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “They sort of work as partners and talk to each other.”

 This one-two punch, Ho said, is important to cell function and the control of cell division – which, when disrupted, is a hallmark of cancer.

 “Cancer is very complex and it’s usually not just one thing that has gone wrong,” Ho said. “It’s increasingly clear that sulforaphane is a real multi-tasker. The more we find out about it, the more benefits it appears to have.”

 DNA methylation, Ho said, is a normal process of turning off genes, and it helps control what DNA material gets read as part of genetic communication within cells. In cancer that process gets mixed up. And of considerable interest to researchers is that these same disrupted processes appear to play a role in other neurodegenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, immune function, neurodegenerative disease and even aging.

 The influence of sulforaphane on DNA methylation was explored by examining methylation of the gene cyclinD2.

This research, which was published in the journal Clinical Epigenetics, primarily studied the effect on prostate cancer cells. But the same processes are probably relevant to many other cancers as well, researchers said, including colon and breast cancer.

 

“With these processes, the key is balance,” Ho said. “DNA methylation is a natural process, and when properly controlled is helpful. But when the balance gets mixed up it can cause havoc, and that’s where some of these critical nutrients are involved. They help restore the balance.”

 Sulforaphane is particularly abundant in broccoli, but also found in other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and kale. Both laboratory and clinical studies have shown that higher intake of cruciferous vegetables can aid in cancer prevention.

 The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the OSU Environmental Health Sciences Center

 

US income distribution winners and losers

Rich households found to be the real beneficiaries of economic prosperity

Los Angeles, CA — People all over the world have spent almost six months in front of universities, public parks, banks, and even Wall Street to publicly protest their dissatisfaction with economic inequality. But how much disparity really exists between the rich and poor in the United States? According to a new study, it might be more than you would think.

A recent study published in the Review of Radical Political Economics (published by SAGE), analyzed surveys of US households from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The author looked at differences among quintiles (or fifths of the U.S. population according to gross income) and found that when the U.S. economy prospers, there is an uphill flow of income to households in the upper quintiles while the majority of households in middle and lower income quintiles do not see an increase in income at all. This of course affects US households when the economy slows down.

According to the author, the data suggests that “those in the bottom…appear to be stuck there, and in some cases even sliding further into the depths of poverty, further negating the optimistic outcomes postulated by conventional economic thinking.”

The author analyzed data from surveys of over 60,000 U.S. households that were taken periodically from 1996 to 2003. He notes that throughout these years, U.S. households had to adjust to some substantial changes in the economy from times of surplus and low unemployment rates to times when the economy slowed down substantially. Interestingly, when the economy of the U.S. prospered in the 1990s, only the incomes of richer households appeared to reflect this growth.

“It can be argued that households in the upper portion of the income distribution are better positioned, or even favored, to reap the benefits from growth, further widening the income gap between rich and poor,” wrote the author.

Conversely, the author wrote that even in times of economic prosperity, poorer classes have limited access to resources that would improve their position. For example, while technological advances spur economic growth, they do not benefit all households equally.

“The data imply that the U.S. economy is not one of mobility and opportunity,” wrote the author. “Richer households are getting richer, the poorer households are staying poor, and those middle-income households continue to move about chasing the elusive American dream.”

Ralph’s Note – Has to change, or it will lead to civil instability. How many warnings does a person need?

 

Gluten-free, casein-free diet may help some children with autism

A gluten-free, casein-free diet may lead to improvements in behavior and physiological symptoms in some children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to researchers at Penn State. The research is the first to use survey data from parents to document the effectiveness of a gluten-free, casein-free diet on children with ASD.

“Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms,” said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. “Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population. Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems.”

The team — which included Laura Cousino Klein, associate professor of biobehavioral health and human development and family studies — asked 387 parents or primary caregivers of children with ASD to complete a 90-item online survey about their children’s GI symptoms, food allergy diagnoses, and suspected food sensitivities, as well as their children’s degree of adherence to a gluten-free, casein-free diet. The team’s results appeared online this month in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

Pennesi and Klein and their team found that a gluten-free, casein-free diet was more effective in improving ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms and social behaviors for those children with GI symptoms and with allergy symptoms compared to those without these symptoms. Specifically, parents noted improved GI symptoms in their children as well as increases in their children’s social behaviors, such as language production, eye contact, engagement, attention span, requesting behavior and social responsiveness, when they strictly followed a gluten-free, casein-free diet.

According to Klein, autism may be more than a neurological disease — it may involve the GI tract and the immune system.

“There are strong connections between the immune system and the brain, which are mediated through multiple physiological symptoms,” Klein said. “A majority of the pain receptors in the body are located in the gut, so by adhering to a gluten-free, casein-free diet, you’re reducing inflammation and discomfort that may alter brain processing, making the body more receptive to ASD therapies.”

The team found that parents who eliminated all gluten and casein from their children’s diets reported that a greater number of their children’s ASD behaviors, physiological symptoms and social behaviors improved after starting the diet compared to children whose parents did not eliminate all gluten and casein. The team also found that parents who implemented the diet for six months or less reported that the diet was less effective in reducing their child’s ASD behaviors.

According to the researchers, some of the parents who filled out the surveys had eliminated only gluten or only casein from their children’s diets, but survey results suggested that parents who completely eliminated both gluten and casein from their child’s diet reported the most benefit.

“While more rigorous research is needed, our findings suggest that a gluten-free, casein-free diet might be beneficial for some children on the autism spectrum,” Pennesi said. “It is also possible that there are other proteins, such as soy, that are problematic for these children.”

The reason Klein and Pennesi examined gluten and casein is because they are two of the most common “diet offenders.”

“Gluten and casein seem to be the most immunoreactive,” Klein said. “A child’s skin and blood tests for gluten and casein allergies can be negative, but the child still can have a localized immune response in the gut that can lead to behavioral and psychological symptoms. When you add that in with autism you can get an exacerbation of effects.”

Klein’s advice to parents of children with ASD?

“If parents are going to try a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children, they really need to stick to it in order to receive the possible benefits,” she said.

“It might give parents an opportunity to talk with their physicians about starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children with ASD.”

New infant formula ingredients boost babies’ immunity by feeding their gut bacteria

URBANA – Adding prebiotic ingredients to infant formula helps colonize the newborn’s gut with a stable population of beneficial bacteria, and probiotics enhance immunity in formula-fed infants, two University of Illinois studies report.

“The beneficial bacteria that live in a baby’s intestine are all-important to an infant’s health, growth, and ability to fight off infections,” said Kelly Tappenden, a U of I professor of nutrition and gastrointestinal physiology. “Breast-fed babies acquire this protection naturally. Formula-fed infants get sick more easily because the bacteria in their gut are always changing.”

The idea is to make formula more like breast milk by promoting the sorts of intestinal bacteria that live in breast-fed babies’ intestines, she added.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates that resist digestion by human enzymes and stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

Probiotics are actual live bacteria that are beneficial to intestinal health, she said.

Infants have a special need for stimulation of their gut microbiota because they are born with a sterile intestine, Tappenden said.

“A strong, robust population of microbes in the gut provides colonization resistance, and pathogens can’t invade and infect an infant who has that resistance as easily,” she added.

The researchers compared the effects of feeding pre- and probiotics with infants fed breast milk and control formulas. They also compared the enhanced formulas’ effects in both vaginally and Caesarean-delivered babies.

“The probiotic formula significantly enhanced immunity in formula-fed infants,” Tappenden said.

Also, babies delivered by C-section had an especially improved immune response, an important finding because C-section babies are a more vulnerable group, she said.

Why? “Babies delivered naturally are exposed to the mother’s bacteria as they travel through the birth canal, and they develop a healthier population of gut bacteria as a result. Babies delivered by C-section enter a sterile environment, and their gut microbiota is quite different,” Tappenden noted.

In the probiotics study, scientists at five sites divided 172 healthy six-week-old infants into two formula-fed groups and a breast-fed group. Beginning at six weeks of age, the formula-fed groups received either a control formula or a formula that contained the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis (Bb12) for a six-week period. The infants receiving the probiotic formula had increased concentrations of secretory, anti-rotavirus, and anti-poliovirus-specific immunoglobulin A (IgA).

Fecal samples from babies receiving the probiotic formula revealed significantly heightened immunity, especially among Caesarian-delivered infants, Tappenden said

Infants who consumed the formula containing the prebiotic ingredients also benefited. In that study, 139 healthy babies were divided into three groups. Breast-fed infants were compared with babies fed either a control formula or a formula supplemented with galacto- and fructo-oligosaccharides for six weeks.

Oligosaccharides, found in breast milk, contribute to the healthy population of bacteria found in the guts of breast-fed infants.

When fecal samples were tested, babies fed the prebiotic formula showed modest improvement in the number of beneficial bacteria and decreases in the types of bacteria that are often associated with illness.

How marijuana impairs memory

A major downside of the medical use of marijuana is the drug’s ill effects on working memory, the ability to transiently hold and process information for reasoning, comprehension and learning. Researchers reporting in the March 2 print issue of the Cell Press journal Cell provide new insight into the source of those memory lapses. The answer comes as quite a surprise: Marijuana’s major psychoactive ingredient (THC) impairs memory independently of its direct effects on neurons. The side effects stem instead from the drug’s action on astroglia, passive support cells long believed to play second fiddle to active neurons.

The findings offer important new insight into the brain and raise the possibility that marijuana’s benefits for the treatment of pain, seizures and other ailments might some day be attained without hurting memory, the researchers say.

With these experiments in mice, “we have found that the starting point for this phenomenon – the effect of marijuana on working memory – is the astroglial cells,” said Giovanni Marsicano of INSERM in France.

“This is the first direct evidence that astrocytes modulate working memory,” added Xia Zhang of the University of Ottawa in Canada.

The new findings aren’t the first to suggest astroglia had been given short shrift. Astroglial cells (also known as astrocytes) have been viewed as cells that support, protect and feed neurons for the last 100 to 150 years, Marsicano explained. Over the last decade, evidence has accumulated that these cells play a more active role in forging the connections from one neuron to another.

The researchers didn’t set out to discover how marijuana causes its cognitive side effects. Rather, they wanted to learn why receptors that respond to both THC and signals naturally produced in the brain are found on astroglial cells. These cannabinoid type-1 (CB1R) receptors are very abundant in the brain, primarily on neurons of various types.

Zhang and Marsicano now show that mice lacking CB1Rs only on astroglial cells of the brain are protected from the impairments to spatial working memory that usually follow a dose of THC. In contrast, animals lacking CB1Rs in neurons still suffer the usual lapses. Given that different cell types express different variants of CB1Rs, there might be a way to therapeutically activate the receptors on neurons while leaving the astroglial cells out, Marsicano said.

“The study shows that one of the most common effects of cannabinoid intoxication is due to activation of astroglial CB1Rs,” the researchers wrote.

The findings further suggest that astrocytes might be playing unexpected roles in other forms of memory in addition to spatial working memory, Zhang said.

The researchers hope to explore the activities of endogenous endocannabinoids, which naturally trigger CB1Rs, on astroglial and other cells. The endocannabinoid system is involved in appetite, pain, mood, memory and many other functions. “Just about any physiological function you can think of in the body, it’s likely at some point endocannabinoids are involved,” Marsicano said.

And that means an understanding of how those natural signaling molecules act on astroglial and other cells could have a real impact. For instance, Zhang said, “we may find a way to deal with working memory problems in Alzheimer’s

IMMUNOLOGY: Stairway to T cell development found in the human tonsil

Central to the effective functioning of the immune system is the presence of a broad repertoire of immune cells known as T cells, which develop in an organ known as the thymus. There is some evidence to suggest that T cells can also develop in tissues other than the thymus, but no complete program of human T cell development has been described in an extrathymic tissue. Now, a team of researchers led by Michael Caligiuri, at The Ohio State University, Columbus, has uncovered clear evidence that a stepwise program of T cell development occurs outside the thymus within the human tonsil. Although it is not clear how significant a contribution T cell development in the tonsil makes to generating the T cell repertoire in healthy individuals, Caligiuri and colleagues suggest that it might be important in the setting of poor thymic function or congenital deficit and in the context of autoimmunity, cancer, or regenerative medicine.

TITLE: Evidence for a stepwise program of extrathymic T cell development within the human tonsil

Study: Sleep gets better with age, not worse

Defying expectations: Survey of 150,000 adults shows the fewest complaints come from people in their 80s

DARIEN, IL – Aging does not appear to be a factor in poor sleep, a new survey of more than 150,000 Americans shows. In fact, subjective sleep quality seems to improve over a lifetime, with the fewest complaints coming from people in their 80s.

“This flies in the face of popular belief,” said Michael Grandner, PhD, lead author of the study. “These results force us to re-think what we know about sleep in older people – men and women.”

The study, appearing in the March edition of the journal Sleep, examined rates of sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue reported by 155,877 adults participating in a randomized telephone survey. Respondents were asked about sleep disturbances and daytime tiredness. The survey also asked about race, income, education, depressed mood, general health and time of last medical checkup. All responses were weighted so that they matched U.S. Census data.

Health problems and depression were associated with poor sleep, and women reported more sleep disturbances and tiredness than men. But except for an uptick in sleep problems during middle age – more pronounced in women than men – sleep quality improved consistently over a lifetime. Or at least that’s how people reported their sleep.

“Even if sleep among older Americans is actually worse than in younger adults, feelings about it still improve with age,” said Grandner, Research Associate at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Once you factor out things like illness and depression, older people should be reporting better sleep. If they’re not, they need to talk to their doctor. They shouldn’t just ignore it.”

Grandner said the study’s original intent was to confirm that increased sleep problems are associated with aging, using the largest and most representative sample ever to address this issue. Instead, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that difficulty sleeping is perceived more by older adults, and challenge the general clinical practice of ignoring sleep complaints from older adults as a normal part of aging.

Older Adults Who Sleep Poorly React to Stress with Increased Inflammation

March 01, 2012

Older adults who sleep poorly have an altered immune system response to stress that may increase risk for mental and physical health problems, according to a study led by a University of Rochester Medical Center researcher.

In the study, stress led to significantly larger increases in a marker of inflammation in poor sleepers compared to good sleepers—a marker associated with poor health outcomes and death.

“This study offers more evidence that better sleep not only can improve overall well-being but also may help prevent poor physiological and psychological outcomes associated with inflammation,” said Kathi L. Heffner, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry at the Medical Center.

The association between poor sleep and a heightened inflammatory response to acute stress could not be explained by other factors linked to immune impairment, including depression, loneliness and perceived stress, the researchers said in the study published by the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Our study suggests that, for healthy people, it all comes down to sleep and what poor sleep may be doing to our physiological stress response, our fight or flight response,” Heffner said.

The study, advertised as an investigation of stress and memory, involved 45 women and 38 men with an average age of 61 years. The participants were evaluated for cognitive status using a standard assessment. Each participant completed a self-report of sleep quality, perceived stress, loneliness and medication use. The participants had to be in good physical health to be in the study, but even so, about 27 percent of the participants were categorized as poor sleepers.

On the day of the study, the participants were given a series of tests of verbal and working memory, a battery of questions that served as the stressor. Blood was drawn before any testing began and then immediately following the testing and at three intervals spaced out over 60 minutes. The blood was studied for levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a protein primarily produced at sites of inflammation.

Poor sleepers reported more depressive symptoms, more loneliness and more global perceived stress relative to good sleepers. Poor sleepers did not differ from good sleepers when IL-6 was measured before the tests began. Across the group, the participants showed increases in IL-6. However, poor sleepers had a significantly larger increase in IL-6 in response to the stressful tests compared to good sleepers, as much as four times larger and at a level found to increase risk for illness and death in older adults.

A further analysis of the results for the impact of loneliness, depression or perceived stress on IL-6 levels found no association. Poor sleep stood as the predictor of elevated inflammation levels.

“We found no evidence that poor sleep made them deal poorly with a stressful situation. They did just as well on the tests as the good sleepers. We did not expect that,” Heffner said. “We did find that they were in a worse mood after the stressor than a good sleeper, but that change in mood did not predict the heightened inflammatory response.”

As people age, a gradual decline in the immune system occurs along with an increase in inflammation. Heightened inflammation increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as psychiatric problems.

While relatively little is known about the pathways through which poor sleep impacts circulating levels of inflammatory proteins, the study led by Heffner provides a clinical target for preventing poor outcomes for older adults.

“There are a lot of sleep problems among older adults,” Heffner said. “Older adults do not have to sleep poorly. We can intervene on sleep problems in older adulthood. Helping an elderly person become a better sleeper may reduce the risk of poor outcomes associated with inflammation.”

The research was supported in part by National Institute of Aging grants.

Nutrient found in dark meat of poultry, some seafood, may have cardiovascular benefits

Serum taurine found to protect some from coronary heart disease

NEW YORK, March 1, 2012 – A nutrient found in the dark meat of poultry may provide protection against coronary heart disease (CHD) in women with high cholesterol, according to a study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The study, published online in the European Journal of Nutrition, evaluated the effects of taurine, a naturally-occurring nutrient found in the dark meat of turkey and chicken, as well as in some fish and shellfish, on CHD. It revealed that higher taurine intake was associated with significantly lower CHD risk among women with high total cholesterol levels. The same association was not seen in women with low cholesterol levels, however.

There is very little information available about taurine, said principal investigator Yu Chen, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at NYU School of Medicine, part of NYU Langone Medical Center. While there have been some animal studies that indicate taurine may be beneficial to cardiovascular disease, this is the first published prospective study to look at serum taurine and CHD in humans, she explained. “Our findings were very interesting. Taurine, at least in its natural form, does seem to have a significant protective effect in women with high cholesterol.”

Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of American men and women, causing one in five deaths. Also known as coronary artery disease, it is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries to the heart. Large prospective epidemiologic studies have provided evidence that nutritional factors are important modifiable risk factors for CHD.

Dr. Chen and colleagues conducted their study using data and samples from the NYU Women’s Health Study. The original study enrolled more than 14,000 women, 34 to 65 years of age, between 1985 and 1991 at a breast cancer screening center in New York City. Upon enrollment, a wide range of medical, personal and lifestyle information was recorded and the data and samples continue to be utilized for a variety of medical studies.

For the serum taurine study, funded by the American Heart Association, the researchers measured taurine levels in serum samples collected in 1985 – before disease occurrence – for 223 NYUWHS participants who developed or died from CHD during the study follow up period between 1986 and 2006. The researchers then compared those samples to the taurine levels in serum samples collected at the same time for 223 participants who had no history of cardiovascular disease.

The comparison revealed serum taurine was not protective of CHD overall. However, among women with high cholesterol, those with high levels of serum taurine were 60 percent less likely to develop or die from CHD in the study, compared to women with lower serum taurine levels. If future studies are able to replicate the findings, taurine supplementation or dietary recommendations may one day be considered for women with high cholesterol at risk for CHD.

“It is an interesting possibility,” she said. “If these findings are confirmed, one day we might be able to suggest that someone with high cholesterol eat more poultry, specifically dark meat.”

Dr. Chen explained that Caucasian women comprised more than 80 percent of the study population and, therefore, the results may not at this time be generalized to men or other races, but suggested that future studies should be conducted in these populations. In addition, she explained, it is unclear whether synthetic taurine as an additive in food and drink products will have the same benefit observed in this study, and health effects of these products should be investigated separately. “We studied taurine found in the blood that originated from natural sources,” Dr. Chen said. “The nutrient being added to energy drinks or supplements is man-made and is added in unstudied amounts. These products also often contain not only very high amounts of taurine, but a multitude of other ingredients as well – such as caffeine and ginseng – that may influence CHD risk.”

The researchers are currently using NYUWHS data to evaluate the effect of taurine on the occurrence of stroke in another study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Vitamin D shrinks fibroid tumors in rats

NIH-funded study suggests possible treatment for common condition

Treatment with vitamin D reduced the size of uterine fibroids in laboratory rats predisposed to developing the benign tumors, reported researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Uterine fibroids are the most common noncancerous tumors in women of childbearing age. Fibroids grow within and around the wall of the uterus. Thirty percent of women 25 to 44 years of age report fibroid-related symptoms, such as lower back pain, heavy vaginal bleeding or painful menstrual periods. Uterine fibroids also are associated with infertility and such pregnancy complications as miscarriage or preterm labor. Other than surgical removal of the uterus, there are few treatment options for women experiencing severe fibroid-related symptoms and about 200,000 U.S. women undergo the procedure each year. A recent analysis by NIH scientists estimated that the economic cost of fibroids to the United States, in terms of health care expenses and lost productivity, may exceed $34 billion a year.

Fibroids are three to four times more common in African-American women than in white women. Moreover, African-American women are roughly 10 times more likely to be deficient in vitamin D than are white women. In previous research, the study authors found that vitamin D inhibited the growth of human fibroid cells in laboratory cultures.

“The study results provide a promising new lead in the search for a non-surgical treatment for fibroids that doesn’t affect fertility,” said Louis De Paolo, Ph.D., chief of the Reproductive Sciences Branch of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the study.

First author Sunil K. Halder, Ph.D., of Meharry Medical College in Nashville conducted the research with Meharry colleagues Chakradhari Sharan, Ph.D., and Ayman Al-Hendy, M.D., Ph.D., and with Kevin G. Osteen, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, also in Nashville. The findings appeared online in the journal Biology of Reproduction.

For the current study, the researchers tested the vitamin D treatment on a strain of rats genetically predisposed to developing fibroid tumors. After examining the animals and confirming the presence of fibroids in 12 of them, the researchers divided the rats into two groups of six each: those that would receive vitamin D and those that would not.

In the first group, small pumps implanted under the skin delivered a continuous dose of vitamin D for three weeks. The researchers then examined the animals in both groups. Fibroids increased in size in the untreated rats, but, in the rats receiving vitamin D, the tumors had shrunk dramatically. On average, uterine fibroids in the group receiving vitamin D were 75 percent smaller than those in the untreated group.

The amount of vitamin D the rats received each day was equivalent to a human dose of roughly 1,400 international units. The recommended amount of vitamin D for teens and adults age 70 and under is 600 units daily, although up to 4,000 units is considered safe for children over age 9, adults, and for pregnant and breastfeeding females.

“Additional research is needed to confirm vitamin D as a potential treatment for women with uterine fibroids,” said Dr. Al-Hendy. “But it is also an essential nutrient for the health of muscle, bone and the immune system, and it is important for everyone to receive an adequate amount of the vitamin.”

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are the best natural sources of the vitamin. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fortified milk and other fortified foods provide an additional source of the vitamin. Vitamin D is also produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin.

Cocoa may enhance skeletal muscle function

Improvements seen in patients with heart failure and Type 2 diabetes in initial study

A small clinical trial led by researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine and VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) found that patients with advanced heart failure and type 2 diabetes showed improved mitochondrial structure after three months of treatment with epicatechin-enriched cocoa. Epicatechin is a flavonoid found in dark chocolate.

The results of this initial study has led to the implementation of larger, placebo-controlled clinical trial at UC San Diego School of Medicine and VASDHS to assess if patients with heart failure and diabetes show improvement in their exercise capacity when treated with epicatechin-rich cocoa.

The study published this week by the journal Clinical and Translational Science looked at five profoundly ill patients with major damage to skeletal muscle mitochondria. Mitochondria are structures responsible for most of the energy produced in cells. These “fuel cells” are dysfunctional as a result of both type 2 diabetes and heart failure, leading to abnormalities in skeletal muscle. In patients with heart failure and diabetes abnormalities in both the heart and skeletal muscle result in impaired functional capacity. These patients often complain of shortness of breath, lack of energy and have difficulty walking even short distances.

The trial participants consumed dark chocolate bars and a beverage with a total epicatechin content of approximately 100 mg per day for three months. Biopsies of skeletal muscle were conducted before and after treatment. After the three-month treatment, the researchers looked at changes in mitochondria volume and the abundance of cristae, which are internal compartments of mitochondria that are necessary for efficient function of the mitochondria, and measurable by electron microscopy.

“The cristae had been severely damaged and decreased in quantity in these patients,” said one of the senior investigators, Francisco J. Villarreal, MD, PhD of UC San Diego’s Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology. “After three months, we saw recovery – cristae numbers back toward normal levels, and increases in several molecular indicators involved in new mitochondria production.”

The results, which mimicked earlier studies showing improvement in skeletal and heart muscle function in animal models after treatment with epicatechin, were promising enough to prompt the larger study.

The principal investigator of this trial was Pam R. Taub, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UC San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System. Taub will be leading the new clinical trial at UC San Diego that will enroll normal sedentary subjects as well as patients with heart failure/diabetes who will be treated with placebo, or epicatechin-rich chocolate.

Younger children in the classroom likely overdiagnosed with ADHD

Immaturity may lead to diagnosis of disorder

The youngest children in the classroom are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — and prescribed medication — than their peers in the same grade, according to a study just published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

ADHD, which is often treated with prescription medication, is the most commonly diagnosed behavioural disorder in children. Two recent studies have shown a link between the relative age of children and diagnosis of ADHD and prescription of medication. Younger children in the same grade as children who may be almost a year older may appear to be immature compared with their older peers. This apparent lag in maturity has been called the “relative-age effect” and influences both academic and athletic performance.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia were interested to see whether this relative age effect was present in Canada and looked at a large cohort of 937 943 children in British Columbia, a province where the cut-off for entry into kindergarten or grade one is Dec. 31. The research included children who were between 6 and 12 years at any point during the 11-year study conducted from Dec. 1, 1997 to Nov. 30, 2008.

Researchers found that children were 39% more likely to be diagnosed and 48% more likely to be treated with medication for ADHD if born in December compared to January. Due to the Dec. 31 cut-off birth date for entry into school in British Columbia, children born in December would typically be almost a year younger than their classmates born in January.

“The relative age of children is influencing whether they are diagnosed and treated for ADHD,” said lead author Richard Morrow, University of British Columbia. “Our study suggests younger, less mature children are inappropriately being labelled and treated. It is important not to expose children to potential harms from unnecessary diagnosis and use of medications.”

There are significant health and social ramifications of inappropriate diagnosis of ADHD. Medication to treat ADHD can have negative health effects in children such as sleep disruption, increased risk of cardiovascular events and slower growth rates. As well, younger children who have been labelled ADHD may be treated differently by teachers and parents, which could lead to negative self-perception and social issues.

“This study raises interesting questions for clinicians, teachers and parents,” noted coauthor and psychiatrist Jane Garland, University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital. “We need to ask ourselves what needs to change. For example, attention to relative age of children for their grade and more emphasis on behaviour outside the school setting might be needed in the process of assessment.”

Although the prevalence of ADHD diagnosis and treatment is about three times higher in boys than girls, the effect of relative age applied to both. In fact, girls born in December and typically younger within their grade were 70% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls born in January.

“The potential harms of overdiagnosis and overprescribing and the lack of an objective test for ADHD strongly suggest caution be taken in assessing children for this disorder and providing treatment,” conclude the authors.

The ADHD medications included in the study were methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, mixed amphetamine salts and atomoxetine

Exercise changes your DNA

You might think that the DNA you inherited is one thing that you absolutely can’t do anything about, but in one sense you’d be wrong. Researchers reporting in the March issue of Cell Metabolism, a Cell Press publication, have found that when healthy but inactive men and women exercise for a matter of minutes, it produces a rather immediate change to their DNA. Perhaps even more tantalizing, the study suggests that the caffeine in your morning coffee might also influence muscle in essentially the same way.

The underlying genetic code in human muscle isn’t changed with exercise, but the DNA molecules within those muscles are chemically and structurally altered in very important ways. Those modifications to the DNA at precise locations appear to be early events in the genetic reprogramming of muscle for strength and, ultimately, in the structural and metabolic benefits of exercise.

“Our muscles are really plastic,” says Juleen Zierath of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “We often say “You are what you eat.” Well, muscle adapts to what you do. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and this is one of the mechanisms that allows that to happen.”

The DNA changes in question are known as epigenetic modifications and involve the gain or loss of chemical marks on DNA over and above the familiar sequence of As, Gs, Ts, and Cs. The new study shows that the DNA within skeletal muscle taken from people after a burst of exercise bears fewer chemical marks (specifically methyl groups) than it did before exercise. Those changes take place in stretches of DNA that are involved in turning “on” genes important for muscles’ adaptation to exercise.

When the researchers made muscles contract in lab dishes, they saw a similar loss of DNA methyl groups. Exposure of isolated muscle to caffeine had the same effect.

Zierath explained that caffeine does mimic the muscle contraction that comes with exercise in other ways, too. She doesn’t necessarily recommend anyone drink a cup of joe in place of exercise. It’s nevertheless tempting to think that athletes who enjoy a coffee with their workout might just be on to something.

Broadly speaking, the findings offer more evidence that our genomes are much more dynamic than they are often given credit for. Epigenetic modifications that turn genes on and back off again can be incredibly flexible events. They allow the DNA in our cells to adjust as the environment shifts.

“Exercise is medicine,” Zierath says, and it seems the means to alter our genomes for better health may be only a jog away. And for those who can’t exercise, the new findings might point the way to medicines (caffeinated ones, perhaps?) with similar benefits.

Excessive cured meat consumption increases risk of hospital readmissions for COPD patients

An excessive intake of cured meats, such as salami, chorizo and bacon, can increase readmission to hospital for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a study by Spanish researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona.

The research was published online ahead of print today (08 March 2012) in the European Respiratory Journal.

Previous research has shown a link between the intake of cured meats and the risk of developing COPD; however, this study is the first to show the effects of cured meat consumption on the progression of the disease.

COPD is a term used for a number of conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis that are caused by inflammation in the lungs. They make breathing more difficult and are a major cause of disability and death.

People with COPD are often hospitalised when they suffer an exacerbation of their symptoms. This can be triggered by a number of things, such as infections in the lungs, air pollution or tobacco smoke.

The researchers worked with 274 patients from their first admission to hospital due to their respiratory condition. Participants provided information on their usual cured meat consumption and were monitored for an average of 2 years for hospital admissions.

The results showed that people eating large quantities of cured meats (i.e. more than one slice of ham per day or equivalent) were more likely to suffer an exacerbation that caused them to have readmission to hospital. These findings were obtained after controlling for age, lung function and calorie intake.

The researchers believe the negative effects of cured meats are thought to be a result of the nitrites used as preservatives and anti-bacterial agents in the meat. The nitrites produce reactive nitrogen species that damage tissue in the lungs.

There were some limitations to the study, including a lack of information on dietary changes after the first measurements were taken; however, the authors state that it is unlikely that a COPD admission to hospital would promote a reduction in cured meat consumption.

Dr Judith Garcia-Aymerich, lead author from CREAL, in Spain, said: “Our findings provide the first evidence that an excessive intake of cured meat can worsen progression of COPD. We believe that adherence to current dietary guidelines, which recommend a moderate or occasional intake of cured meats, will be sufficient in order to avoid this excess of risk. Above it, other individual actions such as quitting smoking or practising physical activity on a regular basis may be more relevant to reduce the risk of COPD exacerbations.”

Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) shown to improve menopause symptoms in new study

Natural supplement found to reduce hot flashes and bloating and improve irregular heart beat and digestive problems

(March 7, 2012) – HOBOKEN, NJ – Half the population experiences menopause, and for those women, it is a condition they will experience for approximately one third of their lifetime. Alternative or natural remedies are an easy, effective way to improve signs and symptoms linked to the menopausal transition, without side effects. Natural supplement Pycnogenol® (pic-noj-en-all), an antioxidant plant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, was found to significantly improve signs and symptoms of menopause in a recent clinical trial published in Panminerva Medica.

The study was conducted at Pescara University and examined 70 perimenopausal women, aged 40-50 years. Perimenopause is the term used to describe the menopause transition years, typically the years before and after the final menstrual period. Participants were assigned to a placebo or test group. The test group was given 100 mg of Pycnogenol® per day (50 mg taken twice daily), over a period of eight weeks. Participants’ menopausal symptoms were evaluated by a scoring system, based on a total of 33 common signs and symptoms, using values ranging from zero (absent) to a maximum of four (very serious). Oxidative stress levels were evaluated by measuring capillary blood plasma free radicals from a drop of capillary blood from the finger tips.

The study found that:

  • Pycnogenol® substantially improved perimenopausal signs and symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness after eight weeks of treatment, as judged by patients’ scores, showing a decrease from an average of 2.67/4 to 1.45/4
  • Pycnogenol® effectively decreased the severity of hot flashes, decreased bloating and improved irregular heart beat and improved digestive problems
  • Menopausal symptoms categorized under “pain” improved significantly with the group taking Pycnogenol®
  • Oxidative stress levels decreased significantly after Pycnogenol® supplementation, improving quality of life and helping to control signs and symptoms of menopause

“As evidenced by this study, Pycnogenol® may arguably represent a very effective basic, daily dietary supplement for menopausal women due to its extended range of health benefits, including cardiovascular benefits and Pycnogenol®’s proven ability to lower blood pressure,” says Dr. Gianni Belcaro, the lead researcher from Pescara University, Italy.

Results showed that not only did Pycnogenol® improve menopausal signs and symptoms, but also decreased elevated levels of oxidative stress, as shown by capillary blood tests. Pycnogenol®’s ability to manage heart health is of particular significance as menopausal women live at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.

This study confirms previous findings that Pycnogenol® effectively improves perimenopausal signs and symptoms. A previous study in Taiwan investigated 200 mg of Pycnogenol® in 200 perimenopausal women over a period of half a year and identified an improvement in most signs and symptoms. This study demonstrated Pycnogenol®’s ability to improve signs and symptoms not only with a smaller dosage of Pycnogenol® but also over a shorter period of time.

Wash your mouth out with silver

Published in Letters in Applied Microbiology

Yeasts which cause hard-to-treat mouth infections are killed using silver nanoparticles in the laboratory, scientists have found. These yeast infections, caused by Candida albicans and Candida glabrata target the young, old and immuno-compromised. Professor Mariana Henriques, University of Minho, and her colleagues hope to test silver nanoparticles in mouthwash and dentures as a potential preventative measure against these infections.

Professor Henriques and her team, who published their research in the Society for Applied Microbiology’s journal Letters in Applied Microbiology today, looked at the use of different sizes of silver nanoparticles to determine their anti-fungal properties against Candida albicans and Candida glabrata. These two yeasts cause infections including oral thrush and dental stomatitis, a painful infection affecting around seven out of ten denture wearers1. Infections like these are particularly difficult to treat because the microorganisms involved form biofilms2.

The scientists used artificial biofilms in conditions which mimic those of saliva as closely as possible. They then added different sizes and concentrations of silver nanoparticles and found that different sizes of nanoparticles were equally effective at killing the yeasts. Due to the diversity of the sizes of nanoparticles demonstrating anti-fungal properties the researchers hope this will enable the nanoparticles to be used in many different applications.

Some researchers have expressed concerns around the safety of nanoparticle use but the authors stress this research is at an early stage and extensive safety trials will be carried out before any product reaches the market.

Professor Henriques comments: With the emergence of Candida infections which are frequently resistant to the traditional antifungal therapies, there is an increasing need for alternative approaches. So, silver nanoparticles appear to be a new potential strategy to combat these infections. As the nanoparticles are relatively stable in liquid medium they could be developed into a mouthwash solution in the near future.

Moving forward Professor Henriques hopes to integrate silver nanoparticles into dentures which could prevent infections from taking hold.

The effect of catch-up growth by various diets and resveratrol intervention on bone status

Although many current studies focused on catch up growth (CUG) have described its high susceptibility to insulin resistance-related diseases very few have focused on the effect of CUG on bone metabolism, especially in adulthood. As diet is a controllable factor, the influence of re-feeding with different dietary patterns on bone parameters is important to study. Resveratrol has been attributed a number of beneficial effects in mammals including osteotrophic properties. In the March 2012 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine Wang and colleagues describe the first study to describe the effects of CUG, with different diets, on bone status and the role of resveratrol in CUG models.

CUG can lead to insulin resistance and low-grade systemic inflammation occurs in insulin resistance syndrome. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α is an important inflammatory cytokine, and Lange and Seriolo et al. indicated that anti-TNF alpha therapy may exert beneficial effects on bone metabolism, prevent structural bone damage and increase bone mineral density.

Dr. Wang said “Our results showed that food restriction induced a significant decrease in bone parameters. Eight-week CUG by normal chow demonstrated a greater degree of improvement in mineral density than a high-fat diet, and even returned to normal level.” Dr. Wang also said, “In contrast, Mika C found that re-feeding for two years normalized bone formation activity in adolescent anorexia nervosa patients, but bone mineral density was still significantly lower than that of controls. Compared with neural anorexia, we found in this study the degree of impairment by four-week diet restriction on bone metabolism was relatively weaker, so that bone mineral density returned to normal level after re-feeding.”

To better distinguish the effects of CUG by high-fat diet on bone status, these investigators set up a high-fat diet group. Their results showed that bone parameters in the high-fat diet group were markedly higher than either the normal control or the re-feeding with high-fat diet group. The higher serum TNF-α level in the CUG by high-fat diet group along with a lower body weight may partially explain the decline in bone parameters compared with the high-fat diet group.

In the resveratrol intervention groups, bone parameters significantly increased. Furthermore, bone parameters were inversely related with serum TNF-α concentrations, but showed positive correlation with body weight. In conclusion, the study shows that CUG can partially reverse the deleterious effects of caloric restriction on bone health, especially in re-feeding with normal chow group. Moreover, resveratrol has protective effect on bone status during the period of CUG, but the exertion of this protective role depends on sufficient nutrition supply. Serum TNF-α levels and body weight also seem to play an important role in regulating bone parameters. Resveratrol has anti-inflammatory effects, increases bone formation but inhibits excessive weight gain. This can be used as a template for synthesizing new drugs, providing a large potential for treatment of overweight and osteoporosis groups.

Steven R. Goodman PhD, Editor in Chief of Experimental Biology and Medicine said “Wang and colleagues have demonstrated that re-feeding with a normal diet showed a larger improvement in bone mineral density than a high-fat diet. Resveratrol has also been demonstrated to have a protective effect on bone status during the period of catch up growth. As serum TNF-α levels and body weight also appear to play a role in regulating bone parameters this study may have important implications for the treatment of obesity and osteoporosis”.

That caffeine in your drink — is it really ‘natural?’

That caffeine in your tea, energy drink or other beverage — is it really natural? Scientists are reporting successful use for the first time of a simpler and faster method for answering that question. Their report appears in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Analytical Chemistry.

Maik A. Jochmann, Ph.D., and colleagues point to the growing consumer preference for foods and beverages that contain only natural ingredients. Coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks and other caffeine-containing drinks are the most popular beverages in the world. Food regulatory agencies require that caffeine be listed on package labels, but do not require an indication of whether the caffeine is from natural or synthetic sources. The scientists set out to develop a faster, simpler method for categorizing caffeine’s origins.

In the study, they describe use of a technique called stable-isotope analysis to differentiate between natural and synthetic caffeine. The test makes use of differences in the kinds of carbon isotopes – slight variations of the same element – found in caffeine made by plants and caffeine made in labs with petroleum-derived molecular building blocks. Their analysis, which takes as little as 15 minutes, found four products that contained synthetic caffeine, despite a “natural” label

Strong scientific evidence that eating berries benefits the brain

Strong scientific evidence exists that eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berry fruits has beneficial effects on the brain and may help prevent age-related memory loss and other changes, scientists report. Their new article on the value of eating berry fruits appears in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

In the article, Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D., and Marshall G. Miller point out that longer lifespans are raising concerns about the human toll and health care costs of treating Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of mental decline. They explain that recent research increasingly shows that eating berry fruits can benefit the aging brain. To analyze the strength of the evidence about berry fruits, they extensively reviewed cellular, animal and human studies on the topic.

Their review concluded that berry fruits help the brain stay healthy in several ways. Berry fruits contain high levels of antioxidants, compounds that protect cells from damage by harmful free radicals. The two also report that berry fruits change the way neurons in the brain communicate. These changes in signaling can prevent inflammation in the brain that contribute to neuronal damage and improve both motor control and cognition. They suggest that further research will show whether these benefits are a result of individual compounds shared between berry fruits or whether the unique combinations of chemicals in each berry fruit simply have similar effects.

Does moderate wine consumption improve lung function?

A research team from the Netherlands assessed the impact of wine and resveratrol (a natural polyphenol found in high quantities in red wine) on lung function. It also looked at genetic factors and mechanisms by which resveratrol might be absorbed by the body and its possible effect on longevity of life. The authors report that pure resveratrol intake was associated with higher lung volumes and that white wine intake (but not red wine intake) and was associated with lower risk of airway obstruction. They report that the genetic factors studied did not relate to the associations found.

While several previous studies (as does this one) have reported that wine intake improves lung function, Forum reviewers were concerned about several aspects of the paper, and especially with the conclusions of the authors that resveratrol was the key factor in improved lung function. A reviewer stated: “Resveratrol may well be just the bystander of something else present in wine.” The beneficial effects on lung function are probably related to many compounds present in wine, and not just resveratrol’.

Based on a number of scientific studies, moderate wine intake appears to have a favorable effect on lung function. The doses of resveratrol seen in these epidemiologic studies are at levels that could be expected from moderate wine consumption, unlike the huge doses of resveratrol, which we doubt are capable of being metabolized, being evaluated as a potential life-extending drug in pharmaceutical studies.

Study pinpoints effects of different doses of an ADHD drug; Finds higher doses may harm learning

MADISON – New research with monkeys sheds light on how the drug methylphenidate may affect learning and memory in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The results parallel a 1977 finding that a low dose of the drug boosted cognitive performance of children with ADHD, but a higher dose that reduced their hyperactivity also impaired their performance on a memory test.

“Many people were intrigued by that result, but their attempts to repeat the study did not yield clear-cut results,” says Luis Populin, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

Populin was senior author of the new study exploring the same topic, now available in the early access section of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, published last week. In the study, three monkeys were taught to focus on a central dot on a screen, while a “target” dot flashed nearby. The monkeys were taught that they could earn a sip of water by waiting until the central dot switched off, and then looking at the location of the now-vanished target dot.

The system tests working (short-term) memory, impulsiveness and willingness to stick with the task, as the monkeys could quit “working” at any time, says Populin. The study used different doses of methylphenidate — the generic name for Ritalin — that were comparable to the range of clinical prescriptions for ADHD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 5 percent of American children are taking medications for ADHD.

Strikingly, dosage had a major and unexpected impact. “At a low dose, the performance scores improved because the monkeys could control their impulses and wait long enough to focus their eyes on the target. All three were calmer and could complete a significantly larger number of trials,” says Populin, who collaborated with Jeffrey Henriques and graduate student Abigail Rajala on the study.

At the higher dose, “performance on the task is impaired,” Populin says, “but the subjects don’t seem to care, all three monkeys continued making the same errors over and over.” The monkeys stayed on task more than twice as long at the higher dose, even though they had much more trouble performing the task.

Although ADHD drugs are commonly thought to improve memory, “If we take the accuracy of their eye movements as a gauge of working memory, memory was not helped by either dose,” says Populin. “It did not get better at the lower dose, and there actually was a small negative effect at the higher dose.”

Memory is at the root of many intellectual abilities, but it can be affected by many factors, says Bradley Postle, a professor of psychology at UW-Madison.

Postle, an expert on working memory who was not involved in the study, says methylphenidate affects the brain’s executive function, “which can create an internal environment that, depending on the dose, is either more or less amenable to memory formation and/or retention. If you can concentrate, and are able to process information without being interrupted by distracting thoughts or distractions in your environment, you will perform much better on a memory test. Apparently, the lower dose of methylphenidate helped create the conditions for success without actually improving memory itself.”

Monkeys are not people, but monkeys in the study still reminded him of school children, Populin says.

“They made premature movements, could not wait to look at the target before they could be rewarded for doing so. It’s like a kid where the teacher says, ‘When you complete the task, raise your hand.’ But he can’t wait, even if he knows that by responding prematurely he will not get rewarded,” he says.

The study results had another parallel with daily life, Populin says. Drug dosages may be set high enough to reduce the characteristic hyperactivity of ADHD, “but some children say that makes them feel less creative and spontaneous; more like a robot. If learning drops off as it did in our study, that dose may not be best for them. Our monkeys actually did act like robots at the higher doses, keeping at it for up to seven hours even though their performance was so low.”

The logical way forward would involve a similar study with people diagnosed with ADHD, Populin says. With millions of children, and an increasing number of adults, taking medicines for the condition, “We have to be very careful about finding the right spot on the dose curve, or we may get changes in behavior that we don’t want. People think these drugs help improve memory, but our data say, ‘No, your memory is not getting better.’ At the higher dose, you get a behavioral improvement at a price, and that price is cognitive ability.”

 




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These reports are done with the appreciation of all the Doctors, Scientist, and other

Medical Researchers who sacrificed their time and effort. In order to give people the

ability to empower themselves. Without the base aspirations for fame, or fortune. Just honorable people, doing honorable things.