25 JAN 2014 / White paper draft
Compiled by Ralph Turchiano
• Detailed research references and further affiliations on each article are posted at http://www.healthreserachreport.me .
In this Issue:
- Study examines probiotic use in preventing gastrointestinal disorders in infants
- Altering the community of gut bacteria promotes health and increases lifespan
- Warning! Warning Labels Can Be Dangerous to Your Health
- Vitamin D supplements reduce pain in fibromyalgia sufferers
- Higher vitamin D levels associated with better cognition and mood in PD patients
- Melatonin may lower prostate cancer risk
- Ingredients in chocolate, tea and berries could guard against diabetes
- McMaster University researchers find fever-reducing medications may aid spread of influenza
- Can fish oil help preserve brain cells?
- Detecting Sickness By Smell
- More benefits emerging for one type of omega-3 fatty acid: DHA
Study examines probiotic use in preventing gastrointestinal disorders in infants
Giving an infant a probiotic during the first three months of life appears to reduce the onset of gastrointestinal disorders and result in lower associated costs, according to a study by Flavia Indrio, M.D., of the Aldo Moro University of Bari, Italy, and colleagues.
Infant colic, acid reflux and constipation are the most common gastrointestinal disorders that lead to a pediatrician referral during the first six months of life. They are often responsible for hospitalization, feeding changes, use of drugs, parental anxiety and loss of parental working days, according to the study background.
Researchers randomized 554 newborns in nine pediatric units in Italy to the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 (L reuteri DSM 17938) or placebo for 90 days, and asked parents to record in diary entries the number of vomiting episodes and evacuations (emptying of the bowels), the duration of inconsolable crying and the number of pediatrician visits. Change in daily crying time, vomiting, constipation and the cost benefits of probiotic supplement use was measured during the three month period.
At three months of age, the average duration of crying time (38 vs. 71 minutes), regurgitations (2.9 vs. 4.6) and evacuations per day (4.2 vs. 3.6) differed in the probiotic and placebo groups, respectively. Probiotic use also was associated with a nearly $119 average savings per patient in each family.
“Driving a change of colonization during the first weeks of life through giving lactobacilli may promote an improvement in intestinal permeability; visceral sensitivity and mast cell density and probiotic administration may represent a new strategy for preventing these conditions, at least in predisposed children,” the authors conclude.
Altering the community of gut bacteria promotes health and increases lifespan
Study published in Cell provides first systemic understanding of aging gut
Scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have promoted health and increased lifespan in Drosophila by altering the symbiotic, or commensal, relationship between bacteria and the absorptive cells lining the intestine. The research, appearing in the January 16, 2014 edition of Cell, provides a model for studying many of the dysfunctions that are characteristic of the aging gut and gives credence to the growing supposition that having the right balance of gut bacteria may be key to enjoying a long healthy life.
Even though recent research in humans has linked the composition of gut flora with diet and health in the elderly and the list of age-related diseases associated with changes in gut bacteria include cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease, lead author and Buck faculty Heinrich Jasper, PhD, says there is no systematic understanding of how we go from having a young, healthy gut to one that is old and decrepit. “Our study explores age-related changes in the gut that include increased oxidative stress, inflammation, impaired efficiency of the immune response, and the over-proliferation of stem cells,” said Jasper. “It puts these changes into a hierarchical, causal relationship and highlights the points where we can intervene to rescue the negative results of microbial imbalance.”
Jasper says the bacterial load in fly intestines increases dramatically with age, resulting in an inflammatory condition. The imbalance is driven by chronic activation of the stress response gene FOXO (something that happens with age), which suppresses the activity of a class of molecules (PGRP-SCs, homologues of PGLYRPs in humans) that regulate the immune response to bacteria. PGRP-SC suppression deregulates signaling molecules (Rel/NFkB) that are important to mount an effective immune response to gut bacteria. The resulting immune imbalance allows bacterial numbers to expand, triggering an inflammatory response that includes the production of free radicals. Free radicals, in turn, cause over-proliferation of stem cells in the gut, resulting in epithelial dysplasia, a pre-cancerous state.
Jasper said the most exciting result of their study occurred when his group increased the expression of PGRP-SC in epithelial cells of the gut, which restored the microbial balance and limited stem cell proliferation. This enhancement of PGRP-SC function, which could be mimicked by drugs, was sufficient to increase lifespan of flies. “If we can understand how aging affects our commensal population – first in the fly and then in humans – – our data suggest that we should be able to impact health span and life span quite strongly, because it is the management of the commensal population that is critical to the health of the organism.”
Warning! Warning Labels Can Be Dangerous to Your Health
Thursday, January 16, 2014
TAU research shows that some warning labels can make products like cigarettes more appealing
Many products, like cigarettes and medications, are stamped with warning labels alerting consumers to their risks. Common sense suggests these warnings will encourage safer choices.
But now Dr. Yael Steinhart of Tel Aviv University‘s Recanati Business School, along with Prof. Ziv Carmon of INSEAD in Singapore and Prof. Yaacov Trope of New York University, has shown that warning labels can actually have the opposite effect. When there is a time lag between reading a warning and then buying, consuming, or evaluating the associated products, the warnings may encourage trust in the manufacturers of potentially dangerous products, making them less threatening. Published in Psychological Science, the study findings could help improve the efficacy of warning labels.
“We showed that warnings may immediately increase concern and decrease consumption,” said Dr. Steinhart. “But over time, they paradoxically promote trust in a product and consequently lead to more positive product evaluation and more actual purchases.” The findings have important implications for regulators and managers in fields including consumer products, healthcare, and finance.
The best laid plans
The study is based on an idea called “the construal-level theory” (CLT), developed by Prof. Trope and Prof. Nira Liberman of TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences. When thinking about objects over a period of time, people tend to construe them abstractly, emphasizing what they describe as “high-level features” and suppressing “low-level features.” The high-level feature of warning labels is that they build trust in consumers by creating the impression that all the relevant information about the products is being presented. The low-level feature of warning labels is that they make consumers more aware of the products’ negative side effects.
The CLT holds that over long periods of time, consumers deemphasize side effects and emphasize the feeling of trust communicated by warnings over time. Ironically, this may increase the purchase, consumption, and assessment of the associated products.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
To test this prediction, the researchers ran a series of experiments. In one experiment, they showed smokers one of two ads for an unfamiliar brand of cigarettes: either with or without a health warning. When smokers were told the cigarettes would arrive the next day, the warning worked — decreasing the number of cigarettes purchased by an average of 75 percent compared to a group that was not shown the warning. But when smokers were told the cigarettes would arrive in three months, the warning backfired — the number of cigarettes purchased increased by an average of 493 percent compared to a group that was not shown the warning.
In another experiment, the researchers showed women ads for an artificial sweetener, again either with or without a health warning. When women were given the chance to order the sweetener right away, the warning worked — decreasing the packages of sweetener ordered by an average of 94 percent compared to a group that was not shown the warning. But when women were given the chance to order the sweetener just two weeks later, purchases increased by 265 percent compared to a group that was not shown the warning.
Consumer entities that want to minimize the deterrent effects of warnings would be better off building in a delay of some sort than burying the warnings in fine print, the researchers say. But those who genuinely want to inform customers of risks should ensure warnings are seen, or repeated, shortly before products are bought or consumed.
Vitamin D supplements reduce pain in fibromyalgia sufferers
Researchers say Vitamin D may be cost-effective treatment or adjunct for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome and low vitamin D levels, reports PAIN®
Philadelphia, January 17, 2014 – Patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) typically have widespread chronic pain and fatigue. For those with low vitamin D levels, vitamin D supplements can reduce pain and may be a cost-effective alternative or adjunct to other treatment, say researchers in the current issue of PAIN®.
In addition to pain and fatigue, individuals diagnosed with FMS may experience sleep disorders, morning stiffness, poor concentration, and occasionally mild-to-severe mental symptoms such as anxiety or depression. The condition can have a significant impact on the patient’s quality of life, resulting in loss of employment and/or withdrawal from social life. There is no cure, and no treatment will address all of the symptoms, but some symptoms may be alleviated by physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, temporary drug therapy (such as amitriptyline, duloxetine, or pregabaline) and multimodal therapies.
Calcifediol (also known as calcidiol, 25-hydroxycholecalciferol, or 25-hydroxyvitamin D (OH)D) is a prehormone produced in the liver by the enzyme cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Calcifediol is then converted to calcitriol (1,25-(OH)2D3), which is the active form of vitamin D. The concentration of calcifediol in blood is considered the best indicator of vitamin D status.
Researchers hypothesized that vitamin D supplementation would reduce the degree of chronic pain experienced by FMS patients with low levels of calcifediol and also might improve other symptoms. “Low blood levels of calcifediol are especially common in patients with severe pain and fibromyalgia. But although the role of calcifediol in the perception of chronic pain is a widely discussed subject, we lack clear evidence of the role of vitamin D supplementation in fibromyalgia patients,” says lead investigator Florian Wepner, MD, of the Department of Orthopaedic Pain Management, Spine Unit, Orthopaedic Hospital, Speising, Vienna, Austria. “We therefore set out to determine whether raising the calcifediol levels in these patients would alleviate pain and cause a general improvement in concomitant disorders.”
In a randomized controlled trial, 30 women with FMS with low serum calcifediol levels (below 32ng/ml) were randomized to a treatment or control group. The goal for the treatment group was to achieve serum calcifediol levels between 32 and 48ng/ml for 20 weeks via oral cholecalciferol supplements. Serum calcifediol levels were reevaluated after five and 13 weeks, and the dose was reviewed based on the results. The calcifediol levels were measured again 25 weeks after the start of the supplementation, at which time treatment was discontinued, and after a further 24 weeks without supplementation.
Twenty-four weeks after supplementation was stopped, a marked reduction in the level of perceived pain occurred in the treatment group. Between the first and the 25th week on supplementation, the treatment group improved significantly on a scale of physical role functioning, while the placebo group remained unchanged. The treatment group also scored significantly better on a Fibromalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ) on the question of “morning fatigue.” However, there were no significant alterations in depression or anxiety symptoms.
“We believe that the data presented in the present study are promising. FMS is a very extensive symptom complex that cannot be explained by a vitamin D deficiency alone. However, vitamin D supplementation may be regarded as a relatively safe and economical treatment for FMS patients and an extremely cost-effective alternative or adjunct to expensive pharmacological treatment as well as physical, behavioral, and multimodal therapies,” says Wepner. “Vitamin D levels should be monitored regularly in FMS patients, especially in the winter season, and raised appropriately.”
Higher vitamin D levels associated with better cognition and mood in PD patients
Findings published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease
Amsterdam, NL, 16 January 2014 – A new study exploring vitamin D levels in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) opens up the possibility of a new avenue of early intervention that may delay or prevent the onset of cognitive impairment and depression. The findings are published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
Investigators conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 286 patients with PD and found that higher plasma vitamin D levels were associated with lower symptom severity, better cognition, and less depression in the entire group, but the relationships were even stronger in those who were not demented.
“About 30% of persons with PD suffer from cognitive impairment and dementia, and dementia is associated with nursing home placement and shortened life expectancy,” says Amie L. Peterson, MD, of the Oregon Health and Sciences University. “We know mild cognitive impairment may predict the future development of dementia. Intervening in the development of dementia has the potential to improve morbidity and mortality in persons with PD.”
In this analysis, which was an add-on study to an ongoing longitudinal study of neuropsychiatric function in people with PD, patients were given a battery of tests measuring global cognitive function, verbal memory, semantic verbal fluency, executive function, and depression. On the same day, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were measured. Of the 286 subjects, 61 were considered to be demented by a consensus panel based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (4th edition) and 225 were not demented.
For the entire group, significant negative associations were found between vitamin D levels and disease severity, as measured both by the Hoehn and Yahr Scale and the United Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale motor section. Mean vitamin D3 levels were higher in those who were not demented, although the differences did not reach statistical significance.
Investigators found that for the entire group, higher levels of serum vitamin D3 were associated with greater fluency for naming vegetables and animals and immediate and delayed recall on a verbal learning test. When the group was divided into those who were demented or not, significant findings with vitamin D were found for fluency and verbal learning only for those who were not demented. “The fact that the relationship between vitamin D concentration and cognitive performance seemed more robust in the non-demented subset suggests that earlier intervention before dementia is present may be more effective,” says Dr. Peterson.
A significant negative association was also found for vitamin D levels and depression, as measured by the Geriatric Depression Scale, for both the entire group and those who were not demented. No significant relationship was found for those who were demented.
The authors point out that a cross-sectional study cannot determine causation: for instance, does low vitamin D affect cognitive performance, or are persons with more advanced PD and worse cognition less ambulatory, get less sun exposure, and subsequently have lower vitamin D? The study also did not consider if patients were taking vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D’s role in health has been a subject of considerable scrutiny in recent years. Low levels increase the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, cancer, and infections. Vitamin D receptors and its final converting enzyme have been found in human brain tissue, including the hippocampus, which plays a significant role in memory and learning.
Melatonin may lower prostate cancer risk
SAN DIEGO — Higher levels of melatonin, a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle, may suggest decreased risk for developing advanced prostate cancer, according to results presented here at the AACR-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Prostate Cancer Research, held Jan. 18-21.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced exclusively at night in the dark and is an important output of the circadian rhythm, or the body’s inherent 24-hour clock. Many biological processes are regulated by the circadian rhythm, including the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin may play a role in regulating a range of other hormones that influence certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancers.
“Sleep loss and other factors can influence the amount of melatonin secretion or block it altogether, and health problems associated with low melatonin, disrupted sleep, and/or disruption of the circadian rhythm are broad, including a potential risk factor for cancer,” said Sarah C. Markt, M.P.H., doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “We found that men who had higher levels of melatonin had a 75 percent reduced risk for developing advanced prostate cancer compared with men who had lower levels of melatonin.
“Our results require replication, but support the public health implication of the importance of maintaining a stable light-dark and sleep-wake cycle,” added Markt. “Because melatonin levels are potentially modifiable, further studies of melatonin and prostate cancer risk and progression are warranted.”
To investigate the association between urine levels of the main breakdown product of melatonin, 6-sulfatoxymelatonin, and risk of prostate cancer, Markt and colleagues conducted a case-cohort study of 928 Icelandic men from the AGES-Reykjavik cohort between 2002 and 2009. They collected first morning void urine samples at recruitment, and asked the participants to answer a questionnaire about sleep patterns.
The researchers found that one in seven men reported problems falling asleep, one in five men reported problems staying asleep, and almost one in three reported taking sleeping medications.
The median value of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin in the study participants was 17.14 nanograms per milliliter of urine. Men who reported taking medications for sleep, problems falling asleep, and problems staying asleep had significantly lower 6-sulfatoxymelatonin levels compared with men without sleep problems, according to Markt.
Of the study participants, 111 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, including 24 with advanced disease. The researchers found that men whose 6-sulfatoxymelatonin levels were higher than the median value had a 75 percent decreased risk for advanced prostate cancer. A 31 percent decreased risk for prostate cancer overall was observed as well, but this finding was not statistically significant.
“Further prospective studies to investigate the interplay between sleep duration, sleep disturbance, and melatonin levels on risk for prostate cancer are needed,” said Markt.
Ingredients in chocolate, tea and berries could guard against diabetes
Eating high levels of flavonoids including anthocyanins and other compounds (found in berries, tea, and chocolate) could offer protection from type 2 diabetes – according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and King’s College London.
Findings published today in the Journal of Nutrition reveal that high intakes of these dietary compounds are associated with lower insulin resistance and better blood glucose regulation.
A study of almost 2,000 people also found that these food groups lower inflammation which, when chronic, is associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Prof Aedin Cassidy from UEA’s Norwich Medical School led the research. She said: “Our research looked at the benefits of eating certain sub-groups of flavanoids. We focused on flavones, which are found in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, and celery, and anthocyanins, found in berries, red grapes, wine and other red or blue-coloured fruits and vegetables.
“This is one of the first large-scale human studies to look at how these powerful bioactive compounds might reduce the risk of diabetes. Laboratory studies have shown these types of foods might modulate blood glucose regulation – affecting the risk of type 2 diabetes. But until now little has been know about how habitual intakes might affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and inflammation in humans.”
Researchers studied almost 2,000 healthy women volunteers from TwinsUK who had completed a food questionnaire designed to estimate total dietary flavonoid intake as well as intakes from six flavonoid subclasses. Blood samples were analysed for evidence of both glucose regulation and inflammation. Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, was assessed using an equation that considered both fasting insulin and glucose levels.
“We found that those who consumed plenty of anthocyanins and flavones had lower insulin resistance. High insulin resistance is associated with Type 2 diabetes, so what we are seeing is that people who eat foods rich in these two compounds – such as berries, herbs, red grapes, wine– are less likely to develop the disease.
“We also found that those who ate the most anthocyanins were least likely to suffer chronic inflammation – which is associated with many of today’s most pressing health concerns including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
“And those who consumed the most flavone compounds had improved levels of a protein (adiponectin) which helps regulate a number of metabolic processes including glucose levels.
“What we don’t yet know is exactly how much of these compounds are necessary to potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes,” she added.
Prof Tim Spector, research collaborator and director of the TwinsUK study from King’s College London, said: “This is an exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances. If we can start to identify and separate these substances we can potentially improve healthy eating. There are many reasons including genetics why people prefer certain foods so we should be cautious until we test them properly in randomised trials and in people developing early diabetes.”
Here comes the sun to lower your blood pressure
– shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure
– suggest that minimising exposure may be disadvantageous by increasing the risk of prevalent conditions related to cardiovascular disease
– The results suggest that UVA exposure dilates blood vessels, significantly lowers blood pressure, and alters NO metabolite levels in the circulation, without changing vitamin D levels
Exposing skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure and thus cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests.
Research carried out at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure.
Martin Feelisch, Professor of Experimental Medicine and Integrative Biology at the University of Southampton, comments: “NO along with its breakdown products, known to be abundant in skin, is involved in the regulation of blood pressure. When exposed to sunlight, small amounts of NO are transferred from the skin to the circulation, lowering blood vessel tone; as blood pressure drops, so does the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
While limiting sunlight exposure is important to prevent skin cancer, the authors of the study, including Dr Richard Weller of the University of Edinburgh, suggest that minimising exposure may be disadvantageous by increasing the risk of prevalent conditions related to cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease, often associated with high blood pressure, accounts for 30 per cent of deaths globally each year. Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are known to vary according to season and latitude, with higher levels observed in winter and in countries further from the equator, where ultraviolet radiation from the sun is lower.
During the study, the skin of 24 healthy individuals was exposed to ultraviolet (UVA) light from tanning lamps for two sessions of 20 minutes each. In one session, the volunteers were exposed to both the UVA rays and the heat of the lamps. In another, the UV rays were blocked so that only the heat of the lamps affected the skin.
The results suggest that UVA exposure dilates blood vessels, significantly lowers blood pressure, and alters NO metabolite levels in the circulation, without changing vitamin D levels. Further experiments indicate that pre-formed stores of NO in the upper skin layers are involved in mediating these effects. The data are consistent with the seasonal variation of blood pressure and cardiovascular risk at temperate latitudes.
Professor Feelisch adds: “These results are significant to the ongoing debate about potential health benefits of sunlight and the role of Vitamin D in this process. It may be an opportune time to reassess the risks and benefits of sunlight for human health and to take a fresh look at current public health advice. Avoiding excess sunlight exposure is critical to prevent skin cancer, but not being exposed to it at all, out of fear or as a result of a certain lifestyle, could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Perhaps with the exception of bone health, the effects of oral vitamin D supplementation have been disappointing.
“We believe that NO from the skin is an important, so far overlooked contributor to cardiovascular health. In future studies we intend to test whether the effects hold true in a more chronic setting and identify new nutritional strategies targeted at maximizing the skin’s ability to store NO and deliver it to the circulation more efficiently.”
McMaster University researchers find fever-reducing medications may aid spread of influenza
Hamilton, ON (Jan. 21, 2014) — Contrary to popular belief, fever-reducing medication may inadvertently cause more harm than good.
New research from McMaster University has discovered that the widespread use of medications that contain fever-reducing drugs may lead to tens of thousands more influenza cases, and more than a thousand deaths attributable to influenza, each year across North America. These drugs include ibuprofen, acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid.
“When they have flu, people often take medication that reduces their fever. No-one likes to feel miserable, but it turns out that our comfort might be at the cost of infecting others,” said lead author David Earn, an investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR) and professor of mathematics at McMaster University.
“Because fever can actually help lower the amount of virus in a sick person’s body and reduce the chance of transmitting disease to others, taking drugs that reduce fever can increase transmission. We’ve discovered that this increase has significant effects when we scale up to the level of the whole population.”
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B today, was co-authored with McMaster professors Ben Bolker, of the departments of mathematics & statistics and biology and the IIDR, and Paul Andrews of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour.
“People often take — or give their kids — fever-reducing drugs so they can go to work or school,” Earn said. “They may think the risk of infecting others is lower because the fever is lower. In fact, the opposite may be true: the ill people may give off more virus because fever has been reduced.”
The researchers assembled information from many sources, including experiments on human volunteers and on ferrets (which are the best animal model for human influenza). They then used a mathematical model to compute how the increase in the amount of virus given off by a single person taking fever-reducing drugs would increase the overall number of cases in a typical year, or in a year when a new strain of influenza caused a flu pandemic.
The bottom line is that fever suppression increases the number of annual cases by approximately five per cent, corresponding to more than 1,000 additional deaths from influenza in a typical year across North America.
“This research is important because it will help us understand how better to curb the spread of influenza,” said David Price, professor and chair of family medicine for McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.
The family physician agrees with the researchers’ conclusions. “As always, Mother Nature knows best. Fever is a defence mechanism to protect ourselves and others. Fever-reducing medication should only be taken to take the edge off the discomfort, not to allow people to go out into the community when they should still stay home.”
“People are often advised to take fever-reducing drugs and medical texts state that doing so is harmless,” added Andrews. “This view needs to change.”
The research findings echo previous research that has shown how the widespread use of medication can have unwanted effects on the transmission of disease. For example, it is now well accepted that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics has driven the emergence of life-threatening antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Bolker said: “Parents and health care professionals alike have focused on making their children or patients feel better by reducing fever, without being aware of potentially harmful side effects at the population level.
“Although we have put together the best available estimates for each parameter in our model, we have a long way to go before we can make concrete policy proposals.
“We need more experiments to determine precisely how much reducing fever increases viral shedding in humans, and to estimate how much more people spread disease because they are more active in the community when they alleviate their symptoms by taking medication.”
Can fish oil help preserve brain cells?
MINNEAPOLIS – People with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also have larger brain volumes in old age equivalent to preserving one to two years of brain health, according to a study published in the January 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Shrinking brain volume is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease as well as normal aging.
For the study, the levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA+DHA in red blood cells were tested in 1,111 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Eight years later, when the women were an average age of 78, MRI scans were taken to measure their brain volume.
Those with higher levels of omega-3s had larger total brain volumes eight years later. Those with twice as high levels of fatty acids (7.5 vs. 3.4 percent) had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume.
“These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” said study author James V. Pottala, PhD, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc., in Richmond, Va.
Those with higher levels of omega-3s also had a 2.7 percent larger volume in the hippocampus area of the brain, which plays an important role in memory. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to atrophy even before symptoms appear.
Detecting Sickness By Smell
Humans are able to smell sickness in someone whose immune system is highly active within just a few hours of exposure to a toxin, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
According to researcher Mats Olsson of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, there is anecdotal and scientific evidence suggesting that diseases have particular smells. People with diabetes, for example, are sometimes reported to have breath that smells like rotten apples or acetone.
Being able to detect these smells would represent a critical adaptation that would allow us to avoid potentially dangerous illnesses. Olsson wondered whether such an adaptation might exist already at an early stage of the disease.
“There may be early, possibly generic, biomarkers for illness in the form of volatile substances coming from the body,” explains Olsson.
To test this hypothesis, Olsson and his team had eight healthy people visit the laboratory to be injected with either lipopolysaccharide (LPS) — a toxin known to ramp up an immune response — or a saline solution. The volunteers wore tight t-shirts to absorb sweat over the course of 4 hours.
Importantly, participants injected with LPS did produce a noticeable immune response, as evidenced by elevated body temperatures and increased levels of a group of immune system molecules known as cytokines.
A separate group of 40 participants were instructed to smell the sweat samples. Overall, they rated t-shirts from the LPS group as having a more intense and unpleasant smell than the other t-shirts; they also rated the LPS shirt as having an unhealthier smell.
The association between immune activation and smell was accounted for, at least in part, by the level of cytokines present in the LPS-exposed blood. That is, the greater a participant’s immune response, the more unpleasant their sweat smelled.
Interestingly, in a chemical assay the researchers found no difference in the overall amount of odorous compounds between the LPS and control group. This suggests that there must have been a detectable difference in the composition of those compounds instead.
While the precise chemical compounds have yet to be identified, the fact we give off some kind of aversive signal shortly after the immune system has been activated is an important finding, the researchers argue. It grants us a better understanding of the social cues of sickness, and might also open up doors for understanding how infectious diseases can be contained.
More benefits emerging for one type of omega-3 fatty acid: DHA
- 01/23/2014CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study of the metabolic effects of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, concludes that these compounds may have an even wider range of biological impacts than previously considered, and suggests they could be of significant value in the prevention of fatty liver disease.
The research, done by scientists at Oregon State University and several other institutions, was one of the first of its type to use “metabolomics,” an analysis of metabolites that reflect the many biological effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the liver. It also explored the challenges this organ faces from the “Western diet” that increasingly is linked to liver inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis and sometimes liver failure.
The results were surprising, researchers say.
Supplements of DHA, used at levels that are sometimes prescribed to reduce blood triglycerides, appeared to have many unanticipated effects. There were observable changes in vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism, protein and amino acid function, as well as lipid metabolism.
Supplementation with DHA partially or totally prevented metabolic damage through those pathways often linked to the Western diet – excessive consumption of red meat, sugar, saturated fat and processed grains.
The findings were published last month in PLOS One, an online professional journal.
“We were shocked to find so many biological pathways being affected by omega-3 fatty acids,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Most studies on these nutrients find effects on lipid metabolism and inflammation.
“Our metabolomics analysis indicates that the effects of omega-3 fatty acids extend beyond that, and include carbohydrate, amino acid and vitamin metabolism,” he added.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been the subject of much recent research, often with conflicting results and claims. Possible reasons for contradictory findings, OSU researchers say, are the amount of supplements used and the relative abundance of two common omega-3s – DHA and EPA. Studies at OSU have concluded that DHA has far more ability than EPA to prevent the formation of harmful metabolites. In one study, it was found that DHA supplementation reduced the proteins involved in liver fibrosis by more than 65 percent.
These research efforts, done with laboratory animals, used a level of DHA supplementation that would equate to about 2-4 grams per day for an average person. In the diet, the most common source of DHA is fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines.
The most recent research is beginning to break down the specific processes by which these metabolic changes take place. If anything, the results suggest that DHA may have even more health value than previously thought.
“A lot of work has been done on fatty liver disease, and we are just beginning to explore the potential for DHA in preventing or slowing disease progression,” said Jump, who is also a principal investigator in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.
“Fish oils, a common supplement used to provide omega-3, are also not prescribed to regulate blood glucose levels in diabetic patients,” he said. “But our studies suggest that DHA may reduce the formation of harmful glucose metabolites linked to diabetic complications.”
Both diabetes and liver disease are increasing steadily in the United States.
The American Liver Foundation has estimated that about 25 percent of the nation’s population, and 75 percent of those who are obese, have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer.
This study established that the main target of DHA in the liver is the control of inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis, which are the characteristics of more progressively serious liver problems. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to keep cells from responding to and being damaged by whatever is causing inflammation.
Collaborators on this research were from OSU, the Baylor College of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Metabolon, Inc. It was supported by the USDA and the National Institutes of Health.
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.