Chaga mushrooms, a natural way to regrow hair?
Tokushima University (Japan), February 28 2021
Alopecia areata is a condition characterized by hair falling out in patches. Research suggests it is caused by the immune system attacking the hair follicles, causing them to shrink and slow down hair production. Because of this, alopecia is called an autoimmune disorder.
According to statistics, alopecia is a common autoimmune disorder that affects about 6.8 million people in the U.S. alone. One in five people who suffer from alopecia has a family member with the same condition. Hair loss, however, can vary from nothing more than a few patches to complete loss of hair on the scalp or the entire body.
There are currently no mainstream cures for alopecia, and the reason why the immune system attacks hair follicles is still unknown. But in a recent study, researchers at Tokushima University in Japan reported a natural medicine that can potentially reverse the effects of alopecia. Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as chaga, is a parasitic fungus that grows on birch and other trees. It is traditionally used to treat gastrointestinal diseases as well as to maintain healthy hair in many countries in Asia.
The researchers screened chaga mushrooms for useful phytochemicals and found that it contains plenty of potential anti-alopecia agents. They discussed their findings in detail in an article published in the Journal of Natural Medicines.
Compounds in chaga mushroom promote proliferation of hair follicles
Chaga mushrooms refer to the resting body, or sclerotium, of I. obliquus. In countries like China, Korea, Japan and Russia, these mushrooms are known for their favorable effects on lipid metabolism and cardiac function. Research has also found that they possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-tumor properties, and even exhibit antiviral properties against the hepatitis C virus and the human immunodeficiency virus.
On the other hand, phytochemical analysis of chaga mushrooms reveal that they are rich in polysaccharides, triterpenes and polyphenols. They also contain two components commonly derived from birch trees, namely, betulin (or betulinol) and betulinic acid. Studies show that betulin can help lower cholesterol levels and increase insulin sensitivityin mice, while betulinic acid can activate signaling pathways that lead to cancer cell death.
According to Japanese researchers, chaga mushrooms are used in Mongolia to make shampoo that helps with the maintenance of strong, healthy hair. This prompted them to investigate whether chaga mushrooms can be used for the treatment of alopecia. Bioassay-guided fractionation of chaga mushroom extracts allowed them to identify five lanostane-type triterpenes whose structures they confirmed using spectroscopy.
The researchers then conducted proliferation assays using human follicle dermal papilla cells (HFDPCs) and found that four of the five triterpenes can promote the proliferation of HFDPCs. The compounds were identified as lanosterol, inotodiol, lanost-8,24-diene-3B,21-diol and trametenolic acid. The researchers also reported that these lanostane-type triterpenes were more potent than minoxidil, a conventional treatment for male-pattern baldness that’s used to promote hair growth.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the lanostane-type triterpenes in chaga mushrooms are potent anti-alopecia agents that can be used to stimulate hair growth naturally.
Association of serum folate, vitamin A and vitamin C levels with greater bone mineral density
Tiajin Fifth Central Hospital (China), February 22, 20221
According to news originating from the Tianjin Fifth Central Hospital research stated, “The conclusions on the associations of specific vitamin levels with bone mineral density (BMD) were controversial. Therefore, the aims of this study were to examine the associations of serum vitamins levels with BMD and the modified effect of race/ ethnicity on these associations in the US adults.”
The news editors obtained a quote from the research from Tianjin Fifth Central Hospital: “This study was from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. All participants aged 18 years with complete data were eligible. Serum vitamins A, B9, B12, C, and E levels were assayed using the Quantaphase II Radioassay Kit (Bio-Rad). Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry was employed to measure BMD, including femur neck and the total hip. There were 6023 participants included in the final analysis. Serum folate, vitamins A and C levels were positively associated with BMD. No significant associations of serum vitamins B12 and E levels with BMD were observed. There were positive associations of serum folate level (b = 0.00027 and 0.00032; and 95% CI: 0.00002-0.00057 and 0.00002-0.00063, respectively), vitamin A level (b = 0.01132 and 0.01115; and 95% CI: 0.00478-0.01787 and 0.00430-0.01799, respectively), and vitamin C level (b = 0.00027 and 0.00029; and 95% CI: 0.00012-0.00042 and 0.00013-0.00045, respectively) with BMD at femur neck and the total hip only in the Not Hispanic participants.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Elevated serum folate, vitamins A and C levels were associated with a higher BMD. Furthermore, sex and race/ ethnicity modified the associations of serum vitamins levels with BMD.”
Study shows mother’s diet may boost immune systems of premature infants
Johns Hopkins University, February 25, 2021
Medical researchers have long understood that a pregnant mother’s diet has a profound impact on her developing fetus’s immune system and that babies — especially those born prematurely — who are fed breast milk have a more robust ability to fight disease, suggesting that even after childbirth, a mother’s diet matters. However, the biological mechanisms underlying these connections have remained unclear.
Now, in a study published Feb. 15, 2021, in the journal Nature Communications, a Johns Hopkins Medicine research team reports that pregnant mice fed a diet rich in a molecule found abundantly in cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower — gave birth to pups with stronger protection against necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is a dangerous inflammatory condition that destroys a newborn’s intestinal lining, making it one of the leading causes of mortality in premature infants.
The team also found that breast milk from these mothers continued to confer immunity against NEC in their offspring.
Seen in as many as 12% of newborn babies weighing less than 3.5 pounds at birth, NEC is a rapidly progressing gastrointestinal emergency in which normally harmless gut bacteria invade the underdeveloped wall of the premature infant’s colon, causing inflammation that can ultimately destroy healthy tissue at the site. If enough cells become necrotic (die) so that a hole is created in the intestinal wall, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause life-threatening sepsis.
In earlier mouse studies, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine showed that NEC results when the underdeveloped intestinal lining in premature infants produces higher-than-normal amounts of a protein called toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). TLR4 in full-term babies binds with bacteria in the gut and helps keep the microbes in check. However, in premature infants, TLR4 can act like an immune system switch, with excess amounts of the protein mistakenly directing the body’s defense mechanism against disease to attack the intestinal wall instead.
“Based on this understanding, we designed our latest study to see if indole-3-carbinole, or I3C for short, a chemical compound common in green leafy vegetables and known to switch off the production of TLR4, could be fed to pregnant mice, get passed to their unborn children and then protect them against NEC after birth,” says study senior author David Hackam, M.D., Ph.D., surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We also wanted to determine if I3C in breast milk could maintain that protection as the infants grow.”
In the first of three experiments, Hackam and his colleagues sought to induce NEC in 7-day old mice, half of which were born from mothers fed I3C derived from broccoli during their pregnancies and half from mothers fed a diet without I3C. They found that those born from mothers given I3C throughout gestation were 50% less likely to develop NEC, even with their immune systems still immature at one week after birth.
The second experiment examined whether breast milk with I3C could continue to provide infant mice with protection against NEC. To do this, the researchers used mice genetically bred without the binding site on intestinal cells for I3C known as the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR).
When AHR-lacking pups were given breast milk from mice fed a diet containing I3C, they could not process the compound. Therefore, they developed severe NEC 50% more frequently than infant mice that had the I3C receptor.
The researchers say this shows in mice — and suggests in humans — that AHR must be activated to protect babies from NEC and that what a mother eats during breastfeeding — in this case, I3C — can impact the ability of her milk to bolster an infant’s developing immune system.
In confirmatory studies, Hackam and his colleagues looked at the amounts of AHR in human tissue obtained from infants undergoing surgery for severe NEC. They found significantly lower than normal levels of the receptor, suggesting that reduced AHR predisposes infants to the disease.
Finally, the researchers searched for a novel drug that could be given to pregnant women to optimize AHR’s positive effect and reduce the risk of NEC in the event of premature birth. After screening in pregnant mice a variety of compounds already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other clinical uses, the researchers observed that one, which they called A18 (clinically known as lansoprazole, a drug approved for the treatment of gastrointestinal hyperacidity), activates the I3C receptor, limits TLR4 signaling and prevents gut bacteria from infiltrating the intestinal wall.
To show the relevance of what they saw in mice, the researchers tested A18 in the laboratory on human intestinal tissue removed from patients with NEC and found the drug produced similar protective results.
“These findings enable us to imagine the possibility of developing a maternal diet that can not only boost an infant’s overall growth, but also enhance the immune system of a developing fetus and, in turn, reduce the risk of NEC if the baby is born prematurely,” says Hackam.
Plant-based diets improve cardiac function, cognitive health
Boston University Medical School, February 25, 2021
What if you could improve your heart health and brain function by changing your diet? Boston University School of Medicine researchers have found that by eating more plant-based food such as berries and green leafy vegetables while limiting consumption of foods high in saturated fat and animal products, you can slow down heart failure (HF) and ultimately lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Heart failure (HF) affects over 6.5 million adults in the U.S. In addition to its detrimental effects on several organ systems, presence of HF is associated with higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Similarly, changes in cardiac structure and function (cardiac remodeling) that precede the appearance of HF are associated with poor cognitive function and cerebral health.
The adoption of diets, such as the Mediterranean diet (MIND) and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), which are characterized by high intakes of plant-based foods are among lifestyle recommendations for the prevention of HF. However, whether a dietary pattern that emphasizes foods thought to promote the maintenance of neurocognitive health also mitigates changes in cardiac structure and function (cardiac remodeling) has been unclear until now.
The researchers found the MIND diet, which emphasizes consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables while limiting intakes of foods high in saturated fat and animal products, positively benefited the hearts’ left ventricular function which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body.
The researchers evaluated the dietary and echocardiographic data of 2,512 participants of the Framingham Heart Study (Offspring Cohort), compared their MIND diet score to measures of cardiac structure and function and observed that a dietary pattern that emphasizes foods thought to promote the maintenance of neurocognitive health also mitigates cardiac remodeling.
According to the researchers previous studies have highlighted the importance of diet as a modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. “Our findings highlight the importance of adherence to the MIND diet for a better cardiovascular health and further reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the community,” explained corresponding author Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics at BUSM and an Investigator for the Framingham Heart Study.
Although Xanthakis acknowledges that following a healthy diet may not always be easy or fit with today’s busy schedules, people should make a concerted effort to adhere to healthy eating to help lower risk of disease and achieve better quality of life.
Fear of memory loss impacts well-being and quality of life
Trinity College Dublin, February 23, 2021
Research from the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) at Trinity College suggests that experiencing high levels of fear about dementia can have harmful effects on older adults’ beliefs about their memory and general well-being.
To date, few studies have measured the impact of dementia-related fear on daily functioning, despite its clinical relevance. In this new study, published in the journal Aging and Mental Health, researchers investigated if fear of memory decline predicted increased memory failures and poorer quality of life in older adults.
Dr. Francesca Farina, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at GBHI, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cambridge, University of Maastricht and Northwestern University developed a novel scale—known as the Fear of Memory Loss (FAM) scale—to capture different components of fear related to memory loss.
Using the scale, healthy older adults aged 55+ were assessed with respect to the different dimensions of fear. Questions probed specific fears like becoming dependent on others, being treated differently by friends or colleagues, and loss of identity, as well as coping strategies like avoiding social situations for fear of embarrassment.
Findings from the study showed that having higher levels of fear about dementia was associated with reporting more memory lapses and a lower quality of life. Notably, these results were independent of performance on memory tests and the level of reported anxiety. That is, fears about dementia had a negative influence on peoples’ beliefs regardless of how they performed on an objective lab-based memory test, or how they rated their anxiety levels.
- Heightened fear of memory loss significantly predicted lower quality of life and increased self-reported memory failures, after controlling for objective memory performance and general anxiety.
- There was no difference in the level of fear expressed between those with and without a family history of dementia. Though surprising, this result is consistent with evidence of widespread fear of dementia among the general population.
- Over half of respondents (57%) said they worried about losing their memory and feared how people would treat them if this happened.
- The novel FAM scale highlights the important role played by avoidance behaviors in maintaining fear, along with subjective experiences and cognitions.
- Findings also have important healthcare implications. Fear of dementia is a psychological process that can be modified using interventions such as psycho-education and psychotherapy.
The researchers propose a preliminary fear-avoidance model, where perceived changes in memory result in fear, which over time, creates avoidance and social withdrawal. This combination of fear and avoidance has a negative impact on everyday functioning, which then impairs mood and sense of self.
Identifying effective ways to challenge fears about dementia could prove beneficial to individuals and society. On the individual level, reducing fear could lead to improvements in how people view their memory function and quality of life. At the societal level, acknowledging and addressing fears about dementia would help to eliminate stigma associated with the condition.
Dr. Francesca Farina, Atlantic Fellow at GBHI, and lead author said: “Almost 80% of the general public are concerned about developing dementia, according to the World Alzheimer Report 2019. Evidence also suggests that these fears increase with age. Given global population aging and the increased visibility of dementia, it is crucial that we find ways to address peoples’ fears. Understanding and tackling these fears will serve to promote brain health and well-being, and reduce societal stigma for people living with disease and their carers.”
Tackling Fear and Stigma Through Art
Data from the study inspired “Remembering What I Have Forgotten’: a fictional diary written from the perspective of someone experiencing symptoms of dementia. Created by Irish artist Aoibheann Brady, student at the National College of Art and Design, the diary aims to capture the feelings and perspectives of people experiencing memory loss. Through the medium of a diary, “Remembering What I Have Forgotten’ offers a realistic insight into the experience of dementia, with entries such as “I feel more withdrawn and am not going out or connecting” and “I am anxious that I will make mistakes.”
This diary, however, was not written by a person—but by a software application known as a chatbot, which had been trained on anonymous interviews with healthcare professionals and carers of people living with dementia.
Aoibheann Brady, creator of “Remembering What I Have Forgotten’ said: “With this project, I aimed to create work that is a crossover between art and science. I hope it helps demonstrate, to younger generations and members of the art world, that dementia is something that should be considered more in artistic practices.”
Diet of fish and olive oils beneficially modifies membrane properties in striatal rat synaptosomes
National Institute of Neurology & Neurosurgery (Mexico), February 25, 2021
According to news reporting originating in Mexico City, Mexico, research stated, “Essential fatty acids (EFAs) and non-essential fatty acids (nEFAs) exert experimental and clinical neuroprotection in neurodegenerative diseases. The main EFAs, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), nEFAs, and oleic acid (OA) contained in olive and fish oils are inserted into the cell membranes, but the exact mechanism through which they exert neuroprotection is still unknown.”
The news reporters obtained a quote from the research from the National Institute of Neurology & Neurosurgery, “In this study, we assessed the fatty acids content and membrane fluidity in striatal rat synaptosomes after fatty acid-rich diets (olive- or a fish-oil diet, 15% w/w). Then, we evaluated the effect of enriching striatum synaptosomes with fatty acids on the oxidative damage produced by the prooxidants ferrous sulfate (FeSO4) or quinolinic acid (QUIN). Lipid profile analysis in striatal synaptosomes showed that EPA content increased in the fish oil group in comparison with control and olive groups. Furthermore, we found that synaptosomes enriched with fatty acids and incubated with QUIN or FeSO4 showed a significant oxidative damage reduction.”
According to the news reporters, the research concluded: “Results suggest that EFAs, particularly EPA, improve membrane fluidity and confer antioxidant effect.”
This research has been peer-reviewed.
Soy intake is associated with lowering blood pressure in adults: A meta-analysis of randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials
Shiraz University of Medical Sciences (Iran), February 24, 2021
Soy has several beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD); however, results of clinical trial studies are equivocal. Thus, the present study sought to discern the efficacy of soy intake on blood pressure.
The search process was conducted in PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library, to ascertain studies investigating the efficacy of soy intake on blood pressure in adults, published up to June 2020. A random-effects model was applied to pool mean difference and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Meta-regression analysis was performed to discern potential sources of heterogeneity. Begg’s and Egger’s methods were conducted to assess publication bias.
Pooled effects from 17 studies revealed a significant improvement in systolic blood pressure (SBP) (-1.64; -3.25 to -0.04 mmHg; I2 = 50.5 %) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) (-1.21; -2.29 to -0.12 mmHg, I2 = 50.7 %) following soy consumption, in comparison with controls. Subgroup analysis demonstrated a reduction in both SBP and DBP in younger participants with lower baseline blood pressure and intervention durations of <16 weeks.
In the present study, pooled effect sizes from 17 studies revealed a significant improvement in SBP and DBP in adults following soy consumption, in comparison with controls. In addition, subgroup analysis indicated a further reduction in both SBP and DBP in younger participants with lower baseline blood pressure and intervention durations < 16 weeks. Thus, increases to soy consumption could be considered as an alternative or complementary approach to improving BP outcomes among adults, and particularly among younger adults.