Release Date 12 FEB 2015
Draft Report Compiled by
In this issue:
- More evidence that musical training protects the brain
- Confidence in government linked to willingness to vaccinate
- Shared symptoms of Chikungunya virus, rheumatoid arthritis may cloud diagnosis
- Light jogging may be most optimal for longevity
- Oral supplements help to heal bed sores in malnourished patients
- Children who get vitamin A may be less likely to develop malaria
- Add nature, art and religion to life’s best anti-inflammatories
- Forever young: Meditation might slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain
- Researchers find link between microbiome, type 1 diabetes
- What’s next in diets: Chili peppers?
- Beating high blood pressure with a combination of coconut oil and physical exercise
- Historic US and UK dietary advice on fats ‘should not have been introduced’
- Low childhood vitamin D linked to adult atherosclerosis
- Unwanted impact of antibiotics broader, more complex than previously known
- Plant extract fights brain tumor
- Hand washing focus in hospitals has led to rise in worker dermatitis
More evidence that musical training protects the brain
Toronto, CANADA – Scientists have found some of the strongest evidence yet that musical training in younger years can prevent the decay in speech listening skills in later life.
According to a new Canadian study led by the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Health Sciences, older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20% faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers on speech identification tests, a benefit that has already been observed in young people with musical training.
The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience (Jan. 21).
Among the different cognitive functions that can diminish with age is the ability to comprehend speech. Interestingly, this difficulty can persist in the absence of any measurable hearing loss. Previous research has confirmed that the brain’s central auditory system which supports the ability to parse, sequence and identify acoustic features of speech – weakens in later years.
Starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition. The Rotman study found “robust” evidence that this brain benefit is maintained even in the older population.
“Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too,” said Gavin Bidelman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow at the RRI and is now an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.
“In our study we were able to predict how well older people classify or identify speech using EEG imaging. We saw a brain-behaviour response that was two to three times better in the older musicians compared to non-musicians peers. In other words, old musicians’ brains provide a much more detailed, clean and accurate depiction of the speech signal, which is likely why they are much more sensitive and better at understanding speech.”
Bidelman received a GRAMMY Foundation research grant to conduct the study and partnered with senior scientist Claude Alain, assistant director of Baycrest’s RRI and a leading authority in the study of age-related differences in auditory cortical activity.
The latest findings add to mounting evidence that musical training not only gives young developing brains a cognitive boost, but those neural enhancements extend across the lifespan into old age when the brain needs it most to counteract cognitive decline. The findings also underscore the importance of music instruction in schools and in rehabilitative programs for older adults.
In this study, 20 healthy older adults (aged 55-75) – 10 musicians and 10 non-musicians – put on headphones in a controlled lab setting and were asked to identify random speech sounds. Some of the sounds were single vowel sounds such as an “ooo” or an “ahhh”, others more ambiguous as a mix of two sounds that posed a greater challenge to their auditory processing abilities for categorizing the speech sound correctly.
During the testing cycles, researchers recorded the neural activity of each participant using electroencephalography (EEG). This brain imaging technique measures to a very precise degree the exact timing of the electrical activity which occurs in the brain in response to external stimuli. This is displayed as waveforms on a computer screen. Researchers use this technology to study how the brain makes sense of our complex acoustical environment and how aging impacts cognitive functions.
According to Bidelman and Alain’s published paper, the older musicians’ brain responses showed “more efficient and robust neurophysiological processing of speech at multiple tiers of auditory processing, paralleling enhancements reported in younger musicians.”
Confidence in government linked to willingness to vaccinate
Public Release: 2-Feb-2015
Study looked at 2009 swine flu vaccine use in United States
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study suggests that confidence in government may play a key role in the public’s willingness to get at least some vaccines.
The study re-analyzed national survey data from 2009 that examined Americans’ views on a then-new vaccine for the H1N1 virus – commonly known as swine flu.
Results showed that Republicans and independents were significantly less likely than Democrats to say they would get the vaccine. But it wasn’t their political affiliation itself that was driving Republican and independent views, said Kent Schwirian, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.
“It’s not that Republicans reject vaccination because of their conservative views or exposure to certain media,” Schwirian said.
“It was their lack of confidence in the government to deal with the swine flu crisis that was driving their anti-vaccination views.”
The study found that people trusting the government’s ability to deal with the epidemic were almost three times more likely to take the vaccine than were others.
Schwirian conducted the study with Gustavo Mesch, a Ph.D. graduate of Ohio State who is now a professor of sociology and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Haifa in Israel. Their results appear online in the journal Health Promotion International and will be published in a future print edition.
The results may apply to the current measles outbreak that started in southern California last year, Schwirian said. Some research has blamed the outbreak on clusters of people in politically liberal areas who didn’t vaccinate their children.
But Schwirian doesn’t necessarily see any conflict between these results that find Republicans were less likely to accept vaccines and current work that finds Democrats who are against vaccine use.
“I believe it is a lack of confidence in government – not political affiliation — that may unite the anti-vaccination people in our study with those from today,” Schwirian said. “Even in our study, about a third of Democrats said they were not likely to get swine flu vaccine and many of those had low confidence in government.”
For this newly published study, the researchers did a secondary analysis of the Pew Research for the People and Press survey from October 2009. The Pew institute conducts regular surveys of public opinion, and this survey asked about the willingness of Americans to take the swine flu vaccine. A total of 1,000 people were surveyed.
During the winter of 2009-2010, the swine flu was a big deal, Schwirian said. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak the first worldwide pandemic in more than 40 years. In the United States, the virus killed 12,500, hospitalized 275,000 and sickened 61 million.
A vaccine was developed, but during the winter of 2010 the vaccination program became a heated public issue and the number of people who said they would get the vaccine plummeted.
Overall, only 50.4 percent of those who participated in the Pew survey indicated that they would take the vaccine.
A larger percentage of Democrats (63.7 percent) were willing to take the vaccine than Republicans and independents (both about 43 percent).
Nearly 60 percent of those with confidence in government were willing to take the vaccine, compared to 32 percent of those with less confidence.
Those who watched more news were also more likely to want the vaccine.
When the researchers used a statistical model to analyze the data, they learned that confidence in government was the driving force in vaccination views.
Those distrusting the government’s ability were more likely to be older, middle income, politically conservative and less likely to follow media reports about the outbreak.
“Republicans were the most likely to have less confidence in government, so that’s why we saw this strong relationship between Republican affiliation and skepticism about the swine flu vaccine,” Schwirian said.
This survey didn’t ask about participants’ trust in science and medicine, which may also be related to views on vaccines, he noted.
“But this finding is certainly consistent with studies that have shown that the confidence of political conservatives in science has decreased in recent years.”
Public Release: 29-Jan-2015
Shared symptoms of Chikungunya virus, rheumatoid arthritis may cloud diagnosis
A mosquito-borne virus that has spread to the Caribbean and Central and South America and has caused isolated infections in Florida often causes joint pain and swelling similar to that seen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found that blood tests of patients with the Chikungunya virus and those with rheumatoid arthritis can produce similar results. This may lead some patients with the virus to be misdiagnosed.
The findings, reported in the January issue of Arthritis and Rheumatology, underscore the need for doctors to obtain detailed travel and medical histories from patients being evaluated for rheumatoid arthritis. Such details could help distinguish between the two conditions.
“For now, good travel histories of patients are among the best diagnostic tools for physicians,” said senior author Wayne Yokoyama, MD, the Sam and Audrey Loew Levin Professor of Medicine. “Recent travel to the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, India or other areas where the virus is prevalent should raise suspicions of Chikungunya infection. In addition, the disease typically starts with high fever and abrupt onset of severe pain in the joints, which are not usually seen with rheumatoid arthritis.”
The global spread of the Chickungunya virus suggests that the disease is likely to be a diagnostic challenge in the years ahead. Physicians treat rheumatoid arthritis with drugs that suppress the immune system, but it’s not yet known whether that approach will help or harm patients with Chikungunya virus.
The virus is spread by infected mosquitoes and first was identified 60 years ago in eastern Africa. Since then, it has spread to many parts of the world.
In 2014, more than 2,000 people in the United States developed the infection after traveling abroad, mostly to the Caribbean. That same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 11 cases of Chikungunya infection among people living in Florida who had not traveled outside the United States, suggesting that mosquitoes in that state were spreading the virus.
In most patients, the infection causes a fever, rash and severe joint pain in the hands, feet, knees, neck and elbows. The fever and rash typically subside in seven to 10 days, but symptoms of arthritis may persist for 12-15 months in up to 60 percent of patients. Some patients’ symptoms persist for up to three years.
For the study, lead author Jonathan Miner, MD, PhD, a rheumatology fellow, studied 10 St. Louis-area residents who traveled in June 2014 to Haiti, where they were infected with Chikungunya virus. The patients were evaluated seven to 10 weeks after the onset of symptoms. During that time, eight patients developed persistent arthritis, several with joint pain so severe they had difficulty walking.
“All eight patients with Chikungunya-related arthritis met the American College of Rheumatology’s criteria for a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis,” Miner said. “Their recent travel to Haiti led us to suspect they had Chikungunya virus infections.”
As a comparison, the study also included healthy subjects and patients newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis who had not yet received treatment.
Laboratory tests that measured levels of specialized immune cells in the blood showed additional similarities between Chikungunya virus infection and rheumatoid arthritis, including elevated levels of specialized T cells, which suggest, despite the persistence of symptoms, that the immune system has recognized and is fighting the virus. These studies were performed on state-of-the-art instruments in the university’s newly established Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs.
To positively identify Chikungunya virus, the researchers performed highly specialized tests of the immune system, with results that showed antibodies against the Chikungunya virus in patients’ blood. Such testing is only available at the CDC and in research laboratories.
According to Yokoyama, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, the similarities between Chikungunya virus infection and rheumatoid arthritis suggest that learning more about the virus may help scientists better understand rheumatoid arthritis, which affects about one in every 100 people worldwide.
Said co-author Deborah Lenschow, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and of pathology and immunology: “We’re anticipating that Chikungunya virus will spread broadly in the United States, so it’s important to develop better tools for diagnosis, prevention and treatment.”
The researchers also have established a Chikungunya registry at chikv.dom.wustl.edu to build a database of cases for studying the virus in more detail.
Public Release: 2-Feb-2015
Light jogging may be most optimal for longevity
Study suggests too much strenuous jogging may be harmful
WASHINGTON (Feb. 2, 2015) — Jogging may be best in small quantities according to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Researchers looked at 5,048 healthy participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study and questioned them about their activity. They identified and tracked 1,098 healthy joggers and 413 healthy but sedentary non-joggers for 12 years.
The study, which tracked hours of jogging, frequency, and the individual’s perception of pace, found that over the 12-year study strenuous joggers were as likely to die as sedentary non-joggers, while light joggers had the lowest rates of death.
Jogging from 1 to 2.4 hours per week was associated with the lowest mortality and the optimal frequency of jogging was no more than three times per week. Overall, significantly lower mortality rates were found in those with a slow or moderate jogging pace, while the fast-paced joggers had almost the same mortality risk as the sedentary non-joggers.
Researchers registered 28 deaths among joggers and 128 among sedentary non-joggers. In general, the joggers were younger, had lower blood pressure and body mass index, and had a lower prevalence of smoking and diabetes.
“It is important to emphasize that the pace of the slow joggers corresponds to vigorous exercise and strenuous jogging corresponds to very vigorous exercise,” said Peter Schnohr, MD, DMSc, a researcher from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. “When performed for decades, this activity level could pose health risks, especially to the cardiovascular system.”
These findings show similar results to past studies where researchers have found that more than moderate exercise may cause more harm than good.
“The U-shaped association between jogging and mortality suggests there may be an upper limit for exercise dosing that is optimal for health benefits,” Schnohr said. “If your goal is to decrease risk of death and improve life expectancy, jogging a few times a week at a moderate pace is a good strategy. Anything more is not just unnecessary, it may be harmful.”
Oral supplements help to heal bed sores in malnourished patients
An oral supplement containing arginine, zinc, and antioxidants improves healing of mild to severe pressure ulcers in malnourished patients, according to an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine. Pressure ulcers, or bed sores, can cause serious illness or death and healing them presents a challenge. Researchers conducted a randomized trial of 200 adult malnourished patients with mild to severe pressure ulcers to evaluate whether an oral nutritional supplement could improve healing. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either an energy-dense, protein-rich oral formula enriched with arginine, zinc, and antioxidants (n = 101) or an equal volume of control formula for 8 weeks. All of the patients in both groups received wound care based on an evidence-based guideline. At the end of the trial period, patients in the enriched formula group experienced improved wound healing. The authors conclude that nutritional intervention should be considered an integral part of pressure ulcer care. Note: The URL will be live when the embargo lifts. For a PDF please contact Megan Hanks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-351-2656. For an interview, please contact the lead author, Emanuele Cereda MD, PhD, directly at E.Cereda@smatteo.pv.it.
Public Release: 3-Feb-2015
Children who get vitamin A may be less likely to develop malaria
Large study in sub-Saharan Africa suggests vitamin A’s protective effect
Children under age 5 living in sub-Saharan Africa were 54 percent less likely to develop malaria if they had been given a single large dose of vitamin A, new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests.
The researchers say their findings, published Feb. 3 in the online journal eLife, indicate that vitamin A may protect children against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite, especially if administered under certain conditions, such as during the wet season, when malaria-infected mosquitos are most prevalent.
“More than half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, and the disease is a leading killer of children in some parts of the world, so we urgently need to find better ways to combat it,” says study leader Maria-Graciela Hollm-Delgado, MSc, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Our research found that children who received vitamin A supplementation were less likely to become infected with malaria. Now we need to test vitamin A in a randomized controlled clinical trial to better understand whether this could really be an effective way to prevent this disease.”
For their research, Hollm-Delgado and her colleagues analyzed national survey data from four sub-Saharan countries (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal) on more than 6,100 children between the ages of 6 and 59 months. The researchers were looking for possible links between malaria rates and several types of childhood vaccines as well as vitamin A supplementation. Only vitamin A was found to be protective against the disease.
Vitamin A appeared to be more protective under certain circumstances, including when administered during the rainy season, as well as when given to older children and when more time had passed since supplementation.
The researchers aren’t certain why vitamin A would reduce the rate of malaria infection, but they suspect it is because vitamin A, which is known to boost immunity, and improve the ability to fight off infection, may help the body clear out the malaria parasite more quickly.
Only 62 percent of the children in the study had received vitamin A supplementation, despite the known link between vitamin A deficiency and blindness and even death. Rates were higher for many vaccinations, Hollm-Delgado says. Even though World Health Organization guidelines recommend that all children in sub-Saharan Africa receive a single large dose of vitamin A, Hollm-Delgado says that the guidelines aren’t as specific as they are for most vaccinations, and that vitamin A supplementation may be less likely to be administered as a result.
Malaria is a major public health challenge with more than 7 percent of deaths among children under 5 worldwide attributable to the disease. More than 80 percent of malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is most often prevented through the use of mosquito nets around beds. So far, vaccines against the disease have not been very successful. A promising vaccine candidate still under development is only 50 percent effective, Hollm-Delgado says
Public Release: 3-Feb-2015
Add nature, art and religion to life’s best anti-inflammatories
Positive emotions linked to proteins that fight infection, disease
Taking in such spine-tingling wonders as the Grand Canyon, Sistine Chapel ceiling or Schubert’s “Ave Maria” may give a boost to the body’s defense system, according to new research from UC Berkeley.
Researchers have linked positive emotions – especially the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art and spirituality – with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder.
“Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” said Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, which she conducted while at UC Berkeley.
While cytokines are necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma, sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health and such disorders as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease and clinical depression.
It has long been established that a healthy diet and lots of sleep and exercise bolster the body’s defenses against physical and mental illnesses. But the Berkeley study, whose findings were just published in the journal Emotion, is one of the first to look at the role of positive emotions in that arsenal.
“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study.
In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Samples of gum and cheek tissue, known as oral mucosal transudate, taken that same day showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.
In addition to autoimmune diseases, elevated cytokines have been tied to depression. One recent study found that depressed patients had higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts. It is believed that by signaling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules, cytokines can block key hormones and neurotransmitters – such as serotonin and dopamine – that control moods, appetite, sleep and memory.
In answer to why awe would be a potent predictor of reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, this latest study posits that “awe is associated with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioral responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment,” Stellar said.
As for which came first – the low cytokines or the positive feelings – Stellar said she can’t say for sure: “It is possible that having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions, or that the relationship is bidirectional,” Stellar said.
Public Release: 5-Feb-2015
Forever young: Meditation might slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain
University of California – Los Angeles
Since 1970, life expectancy around the world has risen dramatically, with people living more than 10 years longer. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that starting when people are in their mid-to-late-20s, the brain begins to wither — its volume and weight begin to decrease. As this occurs, the brain can begin to lose some of its functional abilities.
So although people might be living longer, the years they gain often come with increased risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease. Fortunately, a new study shows meditation could be one way to minimize those risks.
Building on their earlier work that suggested people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter, a new study by UCLA researchers found that meditation appeared to help preserve the brain’s gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons.
The scientists looked specifically at the association between age and gray matter. They compared 50 people who had mediated for years and 50 who didn’t. People in both groups showed a loss of gray matter as they aged. But the researchers found among those who meditated, the volume of gray matter did not decline as much as it did among those who didn’t.
The article appears in the current online edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Dr. Florian Kurth, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, said the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the difference.
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” he said. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
As baby boomers have aged and the elderly population has grown, the incidence of cognitive decline and dementia has increased substantially as the brain ages.
“In that light, it seems essential that longer life expectancies do not come at the cost of a reduced quality of life,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, first author and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “While much research has focused on identifying factors that increase the risk of mental illness and neurodegenerative decline, relatively less attention has been turned to approaches aimed at enhancing cerebral health.”
Each group in the study was made up of 28 men and 22 women ranging in age from 24 to 77. Those who meditated had been doing so for four to 46 years, with an average of 20 years.
The participants’ brains were scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging. Although the researchers found a negative correlation between gray matter and age in both groups of people — suggesting a loss of brain tissue with increasing age — they also found that large parts of the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated seemed to be better preserved, Kurth said.
The researchers cautioned that they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. Too many other factors may come into play, including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences.
“Still, our results are promising,” Luders said. “Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds. Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice, not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging.”
Public Release: 5-Feb-2015
Researchers find link between microbiome, type 1 diabetes
Largest longitudinal study to date sees shift in microbiome species diversity prior to onset of disease
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
CAMBRIDGE, MA, February 5, 2015 – In the largest longitudinal study of the microbiome to date, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the DIABIMMUNE Study Group have identified a connection between changes in gut microbiota and the onset of type 1 diabetes (T1D). The study, which followed infants who were genetically predisposed to the condition, found that onset for those who developed the disease was preceded by a drop in microbial diversity – including a disproportional decrease in the number of species known to promote health in the gut. These findings, published by Cell, Host & Microbe, could help pave the way for microbial-based diagnostic and therapeutic options for those with T1D.
The human microbiome, which consists of the trillions of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and other assorted “bugs”) that reside in our bodies, has become an area of growing interest to the medical community as researchers have begun to probe the role it plays in human health and disease. While most bugs in our microbiome are harmless, and even beneficial, changes in the microbiome (and in the interactions microbial species share with their human hosts) have been linked to various disease states, including diabetes and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
To explore the possible connection between changes in the microbiome and type 1 diabetes, a team led by Ramnik Xavier, an Institute Member of the Broad and Chief of Gastroenterology at MGH, followed 33 infants (out of a much larger cohort of Finnish and Estonian children) who were genetically predisposed to T1D. From birth to age 3, the team regularly analyzed the subjects’ stool samples, collecting data on the composition of their gut microbiome.
In the handful that developed T1D during this period, the team observed a 25% drop in community diversity (in other words, in the number of distinct species present in the microbiome) one year prior to the onset of the disease. They also noted that this population shift included a decrease in bacteria known to help regulate health in the gut, along with an increase in potentially harmful bacteria that are known to promote inflammation. The findings are further evidence of a previously identified link between inflammation of the gut and type 1 diabetes.
“We know from previous human studies that changes in gut bacterial composition correlate with the early development of type 1 diabetes, and that the interactions between bacterial networks may be a contributing factor in why some people at risk for the disease develop type 1 diabetes and others don’t,” said Jessica Dunne, Director of Discovery Research at JDRF, which funded the study. “This is the first study to show how specific changes in the microbiome are affecting the progression to symptomatic T1D.”
Previous studies have shown that transferring microbiota from mice that were predisposed to autoimmune diabetes (the mouse equivalent of T1D) to mice that were not predisposed increased the prevalence of autoimmune diabetes in mice that were otherwise unlikely to develop the disease. Studies in humans have also shown an association between T1D and the bacterial composition of the gut. However, those studies were retrospective, meaning they were conducted after the patients developed the disease, making causality difficult to prove.
“This study is unique because we have taken a cohort of children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes and then followed what changes in the microbiome tip the balance toward progression to the disease,” Xavier said.
Aleksandar Kostic, a postdoctoral fellow in Xavier’s lab and first author of the study, agreed, calling the study “a compelling piece of evidence pointing toward a direct role of the microbiome in type 1 diabetes.”
Since the study also followed infants who did not ultimately develop type 1 diabetes, the researchers were also able to gain insights into the normal development of the microbiome during infancy. They found that, while the species of bacteria present in the gut microbiome vary greatly between individuals, the composition of the microbiome is generally stable within the individual over time.
Moreover, using metabolomic analysis (looking at the metabolites – the tiny molecules produced during metabolism – in subject stool samples), the researchers were also able to see that, while bacterial species varied between individuals, the biological functions served by the various species in the microbiome remained consistent over time, and from person to person.
“Whether the bacterial community is very small, as it is in early infancy, or if it’s larger as it is later in life, the community is always serving the same major functions regardless of its composition. No matter which species are present, they encode the same major metabolic pathways, indicating that they’re doing the same jobs,” Kostic said.
By revealing patterns in the development of the microbiome in healthy individuals, and in those progressing toward T1D onset, the findings may ultimately have diagnostic or therapeutic implications. In terms of diagnostics, understanding how the microbiome shifts prior to the onset of disease could ultimately help clinicians spot early microbial features of T1D.
As for therapeutics, Xavier, who is also the Kurt Isselbacher Chair in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Co-Director of the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics at MIT, says that knowing which species are absent and which are flourishing in the gastrointestinal tract of children with T1D may help make it possible to slow progression of the disease after onset by revealing ways to manipulate the microbiome and, in-turn, microbiome-induced immunoregulation.
The next step, he says, is to broaden the sample pool to determine what factors in the environment and in the microbiome might be making Finns – who are at exceptionally high risk of T1D – more predisposed to the disease than other populations. That includes revisiting the hygiene hypothesis, which holds that a lack of childhood exposure to microbiota and other potentially infectious agents may hinder the development of the immune system and increase susceptibility to immunological disorders.
The researchers are also examining the metagenomic data gathered in the study to determine what biological pathways the microbiota are acting upon – or what metabolites they may be producing – that could be contributing to disease.
Public Release: 8-Feb-2015
What’s next in diets: Chili peppers?
Researchers at the University of Wyoming discover that adding capsaicin from chili peppers to a diet can help to prevent weight gain in mice on high-fat diet
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 8, 2015 — Don’t go chomping on a handful of chili peppers just yet, but there may be help for hopeful dieters in those fiery little Native American fruits.
A large percentage of the world’s population — fully one third, by the World Health Organization’s estimates — is currently overweight or obese. This staggering statistics has made finding ways to address obesity a top priority for many scientists around the globe, and now a group of researchers at the University of Wyoming has found promise in the potential of capsaicin — the chief ingredient in chili peppers — as a diet-based supplement.
The temptation to eat fatty foods is often so strong that, for many, it can override or overpower any dietary restrictions. As a solution to this problem, a group of researchers at the University of Wyoming developed a novel approach to stimulate energy metabolism–without the need to restrict calorie intake.
During the Biophysical Society’s 59th Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Md., Feb. 7-11, 2015, the researchers from the laboratory of Dr. Baskaran Thyagarajan, University of Wyoming will describe how dietary capsaicin may stimulate thermogenesis and energy burning by activating its receptors, which are expressed in white and brown fat cells. This may help to prevent and manage obesity and other related health complications such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases — though this effect has not yet been demonstrated in carefully-controlled clinical trials.
“Obesity is caused by an imbalance between calorie intake and energy dissipation,” explained Vivek Krishnan, a graduate student working in Baskaran Thyagarajan’s laboratory at the University of Wyoming’s School of Pharmacy — a research group known as “Baskilab.”
“In our bodies, white fat cells store energy and brown fat cells serve as thermogenic (heat produced by burning fat) machinery to burn stored fat. Eating calorie-rich food and a lack of physical activity cause an imbalance in metabolism that leads to obesity.”
While pursuing a strategy for obesity management, our group’s laboratory data revealed that “dietary capsaicin — a chief ‘agonist’ (initiator of a response) of transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel protein — suppresses high-fat-diet-induced obesity,” Krishnan said.
Baskilab has found that high-fat-diet obesity and dietary capsaicin — 0.01 percent of capsaicin in the total high fat diet — prevented high-fat-diet-induced weight gain in trials with wild type mice, but not in mice that genetically lacked TRPV1.
Further, dietary capsaicin didn’t modify food or water intake in these mice, “although it did significantly increase the metabolic activity and energy expenditure in wild type mice fed a high-fat diet, “but not for mice that genetically lack TRPV1” Krishnan noted.
So, Baskilab’s overarching hypothesis is that dietary capsaicin induces browning of white adipose tissue and stimulates thermogenesis to counteract obesity. “The main goal of our work is to expand the knowledge of the mechanism by which capsaicin antagonizes obesity, as well as to advance the proof of principle of the anti-obesity potential of dietary capsaicin. Next, we’ll focus on our longer-term goal of developing TRPV1 agonists as new drug molecules to prevent and treat obesity,” said researchers from Baskilab.
Developing a natural dietary supplement as a strategy to combat obesity can be easily advanced to human clinical trials, according to the researchers. “We envision a nanoparticle-based sustained-release formulation of capsaicin, which is currently under development in our laboratory,” added researchers from Baskilab. “In turn, this will advance a novel dietary supplement-based approach to prevent and treat one of the life-threatening diseases, obesity and its associated complications — in humans.”
The group’s strategy to counteract obesity is expected to form a major focus of future healthcare priorities for both the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense.
Baskilab has already submitted a patent application for the drug delivery aspect of the discovery.
The poster #B399, “Dietary capsaicin and exercise: analysis of a two-pronged approach to counteract obesity” by Vivek Krishnan, Kevin Fettel and Baskaran Thyagarajan, will be in a poster session beginning at 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, February 8, 2015 in Hall C of the Baltimore Convention Center. ABSTRACT: http://tinyurl.com/kjq6tpp
Public Release: 9-Feb-2015
Beating high blood pressure with a combination of coconut oil and physical exercise
New study in rats shows potential for combining coconut oil and exercise to successfully reduce hypertension
Coconut oil is one of the few foods that can be classified as a “superfood.” Its unique combination of fatty acids can have profound positive effects on health, including fat loss, better brain function and many other remarkable benefits.
Researchers working at the Biotechnology Center at the Federal University of Paraiba in Brazil set out to test the hypothesis that a combination of daily coconut oil intake and exercise training would restore baroreflex sensitivity and reduce oxidative stress, resulting in reduction in blood pressure. They published their findings today in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
Their experiments were performed in spontaneously hypertensive rats. They found that both coconut oil and exercise training were able to reduce weight gain compared to rats that were given saline and were not exposed to the exercise training protocol along the 5 weeks of study.
Either coconut oil supplementation or exercise training was shown to reduce blood pressure. However, only combined coconut oil and exercise training were able to bring the pressure back to normotensive values. The reduction in blood pressure caused by the combination of coconut oil supplementation and exercise training might be explained by the improvement of the reduced baroreflex sensitivity and by the reduction in oxidative stress in the serum, heart and aorta.
“This is an important finding as coconut oil is currently being considered a popular “superfood” and it is being consumed by athletes and the general population who seek a healthy life style”, explained Dr. Valdir de Andrade Braga, co-author of the study. “The possibility of using coconut oil as an adjuvant to treat hypertension adds to the long list of benefits associated with its consumption. Our next step is to start some clinical trials in order to verify whether we can reproduce those findings in hypertensive human patients.”
This article “Coconut Oil Supplementation and Physical Exercise Improves Baroreflex Sensitivity and Oxidative Stress in Hypertensive Rats” was published today in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
Public Release: 9-Feb-2015
Historic US and UK dietary advice on fats ‘should not have been introduced’
BMJ-British Medical Journal
National dietary advice on fat consumption issued to millions of US and UK citizens in 1977 and 1983, to cut coronary heart disease incidence, lacked any solid trial evidence to back it up, and “should not have been introduced,” concludes research published in the online journal Open Heart.
Both sets of dietary guidelines recommended reducing overall dietary fat consumption to 30% of total energy intake, and specifically, saturated fat to 10% of total energy intake. Both acknowledged that the evidence was not conclusive.
In the absence of any analysis of the evidence used to corroborate the dietary recommendations, the researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of the randomised control trial data that would have been available to the US and UK regulatory committees at the time.
After a comprehensive search of research databases, they found six relevant trials, covering seven different dietary interventions, spanning an average of five years, and involving 2467 men.
All the trials had been published before 1983 and had looked at the relationship between dietary fat, serum cholesterol, and the development of coronary heart disease.
Five out of the six did not consider either the overall or saturated fat recommendations. And all but one focused on secondary rather than primary prevention.
The pooled data revealed a total of 740 deaths from all causes, and 423 from coronary heart disease.
There was no difference in deaths from all causes between the ‘treatment’ and comparison groups, with 370 deaths in both. And there was no significant difference in deaths from coronary heart disease, with 207 in the ‘treatment’ groups and 216 in the comparison groups.
The falls in serum cholesterol were significantly greater in the ‘treatment’ groups, but this did not seem to have any impact on the death rates from all causes or from coronary heart disease, the analysis showed.
The researchers highlight several caveats in the evidence available at the time: no women were included; no trial tested the dietary recommendations; no trial concluded that dietary guidelines should be drawn up.
“It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men,” write the researchers.
They go on to say: “The results of the present meta-analysis support the hypothesis that the available [randomised controlled trials] did not support the introduction of dietary fat recommendations in order to reduce [coronary heart disease] risk or related mortality.”
And they conclude: “Dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced.”
But in a linked editorial, Rahul Bahl, of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, sounds a note of caution.
The most up to date review of the evidence also concluded that the evidence on which current dietary guidance is based was “very limited,” but this doesn’t mean that the risk factor identified is not a true risk factor, he says.
There is epidemiological and ecological evidence suggesting a link between dietary fat and heart disease, added to which public policies generally don’t require randomised controlled trial evidence, he adds.
“There is certainly a strong argument that an overreliance in public health on saturated fat as the main dietary villain for cardiovascular disease has distracted from the risks posed by other nutrients, such as carbohydrates,” he writes.
“Yet replacing one caricature with another does not feel like a solution,” he insists
Public Release: 10-Feb-2015
Low childhood vitamin D linked to adult atherosclerosis
Study finds low vitamin D levels in childhood may have deleterious effect on vasculature
Washington, DC–Low levels of 25-OH vitamin D in childhood were associated with subclinical atherosclerosis over 25 years later in adulthood, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The importance of vitamin D for cardiovascular health has been the focus of increasing interest. Low levels of vitamin D have previously been shown to be related to increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are highly prevalent among children worldwide, and this study examined the relationship between low childhood vitamin D levels and adult increased carotid intima-thickness (IMT). IMT is a marker of structural atherosclerosis, which correlates with cardiovascular risk factors, and predicts cardiovascular events.
“Our results showed an association between low 25-OH vitamin D levels in childhood and increased occurrence of subclinical atherosclerosis in adulthood,” said one of the JCEM study’s authors, Markus Juonala, MD, PhD, of the University of Turku Finland. “The association was independent of conventional cardiovascular risk factors including serum lipids, blood pressure, smoking, diet, physical activity, obesity indices and socioeconomic status.”
This study analyzed 2,148 subjects from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, aged 3-18 years at baseline. Subjects were re-examined at age 30-45 years. Childhood levels of vitamin D were measured from stored serum. Carotid IMT was measured on the posterior wall of the left carotid artery using ultrasound technology. Study subjects with 25-OH vitamin D levels in the lowest quartile in childhood had a significantly higher prevalence of high-risk IMT as adults (21.9% vs. 12.7%).
“More research is needed to investigate whether low vitamin D levels have a causal role in the development increased carotid artery thickness,” Juonala said. “Nevertheless, our observations highlight the importance of providing children with a diet that includes sufficient vitamin D.”
Unwanted impact of antibiotics broader, more complex than previously known
Public Release: 10-Feb-2015
- 40 percent of all adults and 70 percent of all children take one or more antibiotics every year
- They also kill intestinal epithelium. Destruction of the intestinal epithelium is important because this is the site of nutrient absorption
- antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant microbes caused significant changes in mitochondrial function
Oregon State University
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that antibiotics have an impact on the microorganisms that live in an animal’s gut that’s more broad and complex than previously known.
The findings help to better explain some of the damage these medications can do, and set the stage for new ways to study and offset those impacts.
The work was published online in the journal Gut, in research supported by Oregon State University, the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon and the National Institutes of Health.
Researchers have known for some time that antibiotics can have unwanted side effects, especially in disrupting the natural and beneficial microbiota of the gastrointestinal system. But the new study helps explain in much more detail why that is happening, and also suggests that powerful, long-term antibiotic use can have even more far-reaching effects.
Scientists now suspect that antibiotic use, and especially overuse, can have unwanted effects on everything from the immune system to glucose metabolism, food absorption, obesity, stress and behavior.
The issues are rising in importance, since 40 percent of all adults and 70 percent of all children take one or more antibiotics every year, not to mention their use in billions of food animals. Although when used properly antibiotics can help treat life-threatening bacterial infections, more than 10 percent of people who receive the medications can suffer from adverse side effects.
“Just in the past decade a whole new universe has opened up about the far-reaching effects of antibiotic use, and now we’re exploring it,” said Andrey Morgun, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy. “The study of microbiota is just exploding. Nothing we find would surprise me at this point.”
This research used a “cocktail” of four antibiotics frequently given to laboratory animals, and studied the impacts.
“Prior to this most people thought antibiotics only depleted microbiota and diminished several important immune functions that take place in the gut,” Morgun said. “Actually that’s only about one-third of the picture. They also kill intestinal epithelium. Destruction of the intestinal epithelium is important because this is the site of nutrient absorption, part of our immune system and it has other biological functions that play a role in human health.”
The research also found that antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant microbes caused significant changes in mitochondrial function, which in turn can lead to more epithelial cell death. That antibiotics have special impacts on the mitochondria of cells is both important and interesting, said Morgun, who was a co-leader of this study with Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko, a researcher in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine who has an M.D. from Kharkiv Medical University.
Mitochondria plays a major role in cell signaling, growth and energy production, and for good health they need to function properly.
But the relationship of antibiotics to mitochondria may go back a long way. In evolution, mitochondria descended from bacteria, which were some of the earliest life forms, and different bacteria competed with each other for survival. That an antibiotic would still selectively attack the portion of a cell that most closely resembles bacteria may be a throwback to that ingrained sense of competition and the very evolution of life.
Morgun and Schulzhenko’s research group also found that one of the genes affected by antibiotic treatment is critical to the communication between the host and microbe.
“When the host microbe communication system gets out of balance it can lead to a chain of seemingly unrelated problems,” Morgun said.
Digestive dysfunction is near the top of the list, with antibiotic use linked to such issues as diarrhea and ulcerative colitis. But new research is also finding links to obesity, food absorption, depression, immune function, sepsis, allergies and asthma.
This research also developed a new bioinformatics approach named “transkingdom network interrogation” to studying microbiota, which could help further speed the study of any alterations of host microbiota interactions and antibiotic impact. This could aid the search for new probiotics to help offset antibiotic effects, and conceivably lead to systems that would diagnose a person’s microbiome, identify deficiencies and then address them in a precise and individual way.
Healthy microbiota may also be another way to address growing problems with antibiotic resistance, Morgun said. Instead of trying to kill the “bad” bacteria causing an illness, a healthy and functioning microbiota may be able to outcompete the unwanted microbes and improve immune function.
Public Release: 11-Feb-2015
Plant extract fights brain tumor
Silibinin from milk thistle seeds as novel, non-invasive treatment strategy for Cushing Disease
Cushing Disease, not to be confused with Cushing’s Syndrome, is caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland in the brain. The tumour secrets increased amounts of the stress hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) followed by cortisol release from the adrenal glands leading to rapid weight gain, elevated blood pressure and muscular weakness. Patients are prone to osteoporosis, infections and may show cognitive dysfunction or even depression. In 80 to 85 % of the patients the tumour can be removed by uncomfortable brain surgery. For inoperable cases, there is currently only one targeted therapy approved which unfortunately causes intense side effects such as hyperglycemia in more than 20 % of the patients.
Scientists around Günter Stalla, endocrinologist at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, now discovered in cell cultures, animal models and human tumour tissue that a harmless plant extract can be applied to treat Cushing Disease. “Silibinin is the major active constituent of milk thistle seeds. It has an outstanding safety profile in humans and is already used for the treatment of liver disease and poisoning,” explains Marcelo Paez-Pereda, leading scientist of the current study published in the renowned scientific journal Nature Medicine. After silibinin treatment, tumour cells resumed normal ACTH production, tumour growth slowed down and symptoms of Cushing Disease disappeared in mice.
In 2013, the Max Planck scientists filed a patent on a broad family of chemical and natural compounds, including silibinin, to treat pituitary tumours. Compared to humans, of which only 5.5 in 100,000 people worldwide develop Cushing Disease, this condition is very common in several pets. For example, 4 % of dogs and even 7 % of horses suffer from Cushing Disease. Thus, the researchers now plan to test special formulations with a very pure substance and slow release of the active component silibinin in clinical trials.
Silibinin: Mode of action
“We knew that Cushing Disease is caused by the release of too much ACTH. So we asked ourselves what causes this over production and how to stop it,” says Paez-Pereda. In their first experiments the researchers found tremendously high amounts of the heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) in tumour tissue from patients with Cushing Disease. In normal amounts HSP90 helps to correctly fold another protein, the glucocorticoid receptor which in turn inhibits the production of ACTH. “As there are too many HSP90 molecules in the tumour tissue, they stick to the glucocorticoid receptor,” explains Paez-Pereda. “We found that silibinin binds to HSP90 thus allowing glucocorticoid receptor molecules to dissolve from HSP90. With silibinin we might have discovered a non-invasive treatment strategy not only for the rare Cushing Disease but also for other conditions with the involvement of glucocorticoid receptors such as lung tumours, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or multiple myeloma,” concludes Paez-Pereda.
Public Release: 12-Feb-2015
Hand washing focus in hospitals has led to rise in worker dermatitis
A new study from The University of Manchester has revealed that the incidence of dermatitis has increased 4.5 times in health care workers following increased hand hygiene as a drive to reduce infections such as MRSA has kicked in.
Researchers from the University’s Institute of Population Health studied reports voluntarily submitted by dermatologists to a national database which is run by the University (THOR), between 1996 and 2012. Sixty percent of eligible UK dermatologists used this database which is designed to report skin problems caused or aggravated by work.
They found that out of 7,138 cases of irritant contact dermatitis reported 1,796 were in healthcare workers. When the numbers were broken down by year, health workers were 4.5 times more likely to suffer from irritant contact dermatitis in 2012 as in 1996. In two control groups, cases declined or did not change.
Prevention of healthcare associated infections, such as MRSA and C. difficile, became an NHS priority in 1999, and successive campaigns have emphasised the washing of hands with soap or alcohol hand rub by staff, patients and visitors. This has been a success, with a reduction of infections reported and a greatly increased use of cleaning products.
Dr Jill Stocks, who led the research, said: “Campaigns to reduce these infections have been very successful and many lives have been saved. However, we need to do all we can to prevent skin irritation among these frontline workers.”
The implications of increasing levels of irritant dermatitis are potentially counter-productive to the aims of infection reducing campaigns. Other studies have identified that infections can remain present for longer on damaged and broken skin and having irritated skin can put people off washing their hands.
Dr Stocks said: “Obviously we don’t want people to stop washing their hands, so more needs to be done to procure less irritating products and to implement practices to prevent and treat irritant contact dermatitis.”
The paper, ‘The impact of national level interventions to improve hygiene on the incidence of irritant contact dermatitis in healthcare workers: changes in incidence from 1996-2012 and interrupted times series analysis’, was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.