Vitamin A for nerve cells
University Medical Center Freiburg (Germany), April 1, 2021
Neuroscientists agree that a person’s brain is constantly changing, rewiring itself and adapting to environmental stimuli. This is how humans learn new things and create memories. This adaptability and malleability is called plasticity. “Physicians have long suspected that remodeling processes also take place in humans at the contact points between nerve cells, i.e. directly at the synapses. Until now, however, such a coordinated adaptation of structure and function could only be demonstrated in animal experiments,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Vlachos from the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Freiburg. But now Vlachos, together with Prof. Dr. Jürgen Beck, head of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University Medical Center Freiburg, has provided experimental evidence for synaptic plasticity in humans. In addition to Vlachos and Beck, the research team consists of Dr. Maximilian Lenz, Pia Kruse and Amelie Eichler from the University of Freiburg, Dr. Jakob Strähle from the University Medical Center Freiburg and colleagues from Goethe University Frankfurt. The results were presented in the scientific journal eLife.
In the experiments, the team investigated whether so-called dendritic spines change when exposed to a vitamin A derivative called retionic acid. Dendritic spines are the parts of the synapse that receive, process and transmit signals during communication between neurons. As such, they play a crucial role in brain plasticity and are constantly adapting to everyday experience. For example, learning can change the number and shape of dendritic spines. However, a transformation in the number or shape of the spines is also found in diseases such as depression or dementia.
The research shows that retinoic acid not only increases the size of dendritic spines, but also strengthens their ability to transmit signals between neurons. “We have concluded from our results that retinoic acids are important messengers for synaptic plasticity in the human brain. Thus, this finding contributes to the identification of key mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the human brain and could support the development of new therapeutic strategies for brain diseases, such as depression,” says Vlachos.
To experimentally demonstrate that synaptic plasticity also exists in humans, the researchers use tiny samples of human cerebral cortex, which must be compulsorily removed during neurosurgical procedures for therapeutic reasons. The removed brain tissue was then treated with retinoic acid before functional and structural properties of neurons were analyzed using electrophysiological and microscopic techniques.
Study: Chemical compound in certain essential oils promotes wound healing
Indiana University, April, 2021
A study from Indiana University revealed that a chemical compound in essential oils may enhance wound healing, especially when applied topically. According to co-author Sachiko Koyama, essential oils – like those from lavender, rosemary, ylang-ylang and black pepper – contain a chemical compoundcalled beta-caryophyllene. This contributes to improved wound healing, based on a murine model.
“This is the first finding at the chemical-compound level showing improved wound healing in addition to changes in gene expression in the skin,” said Koyama.
Beta-caryophyllene may decrease inflammation and accelerate re-epithelialization. The latter refers to the restoration of structure and function of injured tissues. During this process, epithelial cells at the wound start to migrate and cover the injured area. The researchers added that beta-caryophyllene may prevent cell death, allowing cells to survive and proliferate.
“I thought maybe wound healing would be accelerated if inflammation was suppressed, stimulating an earlier switch from the inflammatory stage to the next stage,” she added.
The team also noted increased gene expression of hair follicle stem cells in the treated tissue. This potentially indicate that there’s more to wound-healing activity of beta-caryophyllene than just activating genes.
“It’s possibly more complicated,” she added. “Our findings suggest the involvements of some other routes in addition to CB2. I hope to clarify the mechanisms of action in the near future.”
Koyama, a social neuroscientist at Indiana University, said that she wasn’t interested in studying essential oils at first, as her field of expertise was in pheromone and social status. However, her interest was sparked when she saw students working on the wound healing process in mice. She knew from experience that beta-caryophyllene can also activate cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2), which has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Healing beyond smell
Most people know essential oils by way of aromatherapy. These are often used with diffusers, aromatic spritzers, inhalers, facial steamers and clay masks to bring out the aroma coming from the oil. Essential oils, in particular, may help with asthma, insomnia, fatigue and depression, among others.
In the study, the researchers did not find any relationship between the sense of smell and the healing properties of beta-caryophyllene. (Related: Curcumin found to aid in the healing of skin wounds.)
Koyama also offered a caveat for those looking to use essential oils for treatment, in particular, warning against the use of any essential oils. In the study, the researchers used essential oils that underwent purification processes to achieve that result.
“It’s not very precise to use the essential oils themselves because there are differences,” she added. “Even if you say you used lavender, when the lavender was harvested, where it was harvested, how it was stored—all of this makes a difference in the chemical composition.”
The team is also hopeful that their results will warrant further studies to determine an exact chemical composition for beta-caryophyllene that can be used to treat skin wounds.
“There are many things to test before we can start using it clinically, but our results are very promising and exciting; someday in the near future, we may be able to develop a drug and drug delivery methods using the chemical compounds found in essential oils,” she added.
Exercise may help slow cognitive decline in some people with Parkinson’s disease
Hallym University (South Korea), April 1, 2021
For people with Parkinson’s disease, problems with thinking and memory skills are among the most common nonmotor symptoms of the disease. A new study shows that exercise may help slow cognitive decline for some people with the disease. The study is published in the March 31, 2021, online issue of Neurology.
Research has suggested that people with Parkinson’s who have the gene variant apolipoprotein E e4, or APOE e4, may experience faster cognitive decline and earlier in the disease than people without the variant. APOE e4 is known as a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The study looked at whether exercise could play a role in slowing cognitive decline for people with APOE e4.
“Problems with thinking skills and memory can have a negative impact on people’s quality of life and ability to function, so it’s exciting that increasing physical activitycould have the potential to delay or prevent cognitive decline,” said study author Jin-Sun Jun, M.D., of Hallym University in Seoul, Korea.
The study involved 173 people with early Parkinson’s disease who were on average 63 years old at the time and 59 years old when they developed the disease. A total of 27% had the APOE e4 gene variant. People reported their physical activity with a questionnaire on how much activity they had in the previous week through leisure activities such as walking or biking, household activities such as dusting or yard work and work activities for pay or as a volunteer.
People took a test of their thinking skills at the beginning of the study and then one and two years later. Overall, scores at the beginning of the study averaged 26 points. For people with the APOE e4 gene variant, test scores declined by an average of 1.33 points by the end of the study compared to those without the variant. But researchers also found that greater physical activity at the start of the study lessened APOE e4-related cognitive decline two years later by an average of 0.007 points.
“Additional research is needed to confirm our findings, but these results would support the use of interventions that target physical activity as a way to delay cognitive decline in people with early Parkinson’s who have the APOE e4 gene variant,” Jun said.
A limitation of the study was that participants reported their own levels of physical activity, so there is the possibility that they would not remember their levels exactly.
Time to shift from ‘food security’ to ‘nutrition security’ to increase health and well-being
Tufts and Georgetown Universities, April 1, 2021
In the 1960s, a national focus on hunger was essential to address major problems of undernutrition after World War II. In the 1990s, the nation shifted away from hunger toward “food insecurity” to better capture and address the challenges of food access and affordability.
Now, a new Viewpoint article argues that today’s health and equity challenges call for the U.S. to shift from “food insecurity” to “nutrition insecurity” in order to catalyze appropriate focus and policies on access not just to food but to healthy, nourishing food.
The Viewpoint, by Dariush Mozaffarian of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Sheila Fleischhacker of Georgetown Law School, and José Andrés of World Central Kitchen, was published online in JAMA this week.
The concept of food security focuses on access to and affordability of food that is safe, nutritious, and consistent with personal preferences. In reality, however, the “nutritious” part often has been overlooked or lost in national policies and solutions, with resulting emphasis on quantity, rather than quality, of food, say the authors.
“Food is essential both for life and human dignity. Every day, I see hunger, but the hunger I see is not only for calories but for nourishing meals. With a new focus on nutrition security, we embrace a solution that nourishes people, instead of filling them with food but leaving them hungry,” said Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen.
The authors define nutrition security as having consistent access to and availability and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, while preventing — and, if needed, treating — disease. Nutrition security provides a more inclusive view that recognizes that foods must nourish all people.
“‘Nutrition security’ incorporates all the aims of food security but with additional emphasis on the need for wholesome, healthful foods and drinks for all. COVID-19 has made clear that Americans who are most likely to be hungry are also at highest risk of diet-related diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers – a harsh legacy of inequities and structural racism in our nation. A new focus on nutrition security for all Americans will help crystallize and catalyze real solutions that provide not only food but also well-being for everyone,” said first author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University.
“It’s the right time for this evolution,” said Sheila Fleischhacker, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, who has drafted food, nutrition and health legislation and campaign positions at the local, state, tribal and federal levels. “By prioritizing nutrition security, we bring together historically siloed areas – hunger and nutrition – which must be tackled together to effectively address our modern challenges of diet-related diseases and disparities in clinical care, government food and food assistance policies, public health investments, and national research.”
“The current approach is not sufficient,” the authors write, and “traditionally marginalized minority groups as well as people living in rural and lower-income counties are most likely to experience disparities in nutrition quality, food insecurity, and corresponding diet-related diseases.”
Fasting acts as diet catalyst in those with metabolic syndrome
Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine (Germany), March 30, 2021
One in four Germans suffers from metabolic syndrome. Several of four diseases of affluence occur at the same time in this ‘deadly quartet’: obesity, high blood pressure, lipid metabolism disorder and diabetes mellitus. Each of these is a risk factor for severe cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attack and stroke. Treatment aims to help patients lose weight and normalise their lipid and carbohydrate metabolism and blood pressure. In addition to exercise, doctors prescribe a low-calorie and healthy diet. Medication is often also required. However, it is not fully clear what effects nutrition has on the microbiome, immune system and health.
A research group led by Dr Sofia Forslund and Professor Dominik N. Müller from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC) has now examined the effect a change of diet has on people with metabolic syndrome. The ECRC is jointly run by the MDC and Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. “Switching to a healthy diet has a positive effect on blood pressure,” says Andras Maifeld, summarising the results. “If the diet is preceded by a fast, this effect is intensified.” Maifeld is the first author of the paper, which was recently published in the journal “Nature Communications”.
Broccoli over roast beef
Dr Andreas Michalsen, Senior Consultant of the Naturopathy Department at Immanuel Hospital Berlin and Endowed Chair of Clinical Naturopathy at the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and Professor Gustav J. Dobos, Chair of Naturopathy and Integrative Medicine at the University of Duisburg-Essen, recruited 71 volunteers with metabolic syndrome and raised systolic blood pressure. The researchers divided them into two groups at random.
Both groups followed the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet for three months, which is designed to combat high blood pressure. This Mediterranean-style diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products, nuts and pulses, fish and lean white meat. One of the two groups did not consume any solid food at all for five days before starting the DASH diet.
On the basis of immunophenotyping, the scientists observed how the immune cells of the volunteers changed when they altered their diet. “The innate immune system remains stable during the fast, whereas the adaptive immune system shuts down,” explains Maifeld. During this process, the number of proinflammatory T cells drops, while regulatory T cells multiply.
A Mediterranean diet is good, but to also fast is better
The researchers used stool samples to examine the effects of the fast on the gut microbiome. Gut bacteria work in close contact with the immune system. Some strains of bacteria metabolise dietary fibre into anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids that benefit the immune system. The composition of the gut bacteria ecosystem changes drastically during fasting. Health-promoting bacteria that help to reduce blood pressure multiply. Some of these changes remain even after resumption of food intake. The following is particularly noteworthy: “Body mass index, blood pressure and the need for antihypertensive medication remained lower in the long term among volunteers who started the healthy diet with a five-day fast,” explains Dominik Müller. Blood pressure normally shoots back up again when even one antihypertensive tablet is forgotten.
Blood pressure remains lower in the long term – even three months after fasting
Together with scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research and McGill University, Montreal, Canada, Forslund’s working group conducted a statistical evaluation of these results using artificial intelligence to ensure that this positive effect was actually attributable to the fast and not to the medication that the volunteers were taking. They used methods from a previous study in which they had examined the influence of antihypertensive medication on the microbiome. “We were able to isolate the influence of the medication and observe that whether someone responds well to a change of diet or not depends on the individual immune response and the gut microbiome,” says Forslund.
If a high-fibre, low-fat diet fails to deliver results, it is possible that there are insufficient gut bacteria in the gut microbiome that metabolise fibre into protective fatty acids. “Those who have this problem often feel that it is not worth the effort and go back to their old habits,” explains the scientist. It is therefore a good idea to combine a diet with a fast. “Fasting acts as a catalyst for protective microorganisms in the gut. Health clearly improves very quickly and patients can cut back on their medication or even often stop taking tablets altogether.” This could motivate them to stick to a healthy lifestyle in the long term.
Rice bran adds microbiome diversity, slows growth of colon cancer cells
University of Colorado, April 5, 2021
At the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers at Colorado State University present results of a phase II clinical trial of 29 people exploring the effects of adding rice bran or navy beans to the diets of colorectal cancer survivors. After the 4-week randomized-controlled trial during which people added rice bran, navy bean powder or neither, both the rice bran and navy bean groups showed increased dietary fiber, iron, zinc, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and alpha-tocopherol. The rice bran group also showed increased microbiome richness and diversity. When researchers treated colorectal cancer cells with stool extracts from these groups, they saw reduced cell growth from the groups that had increased rice bran and navy bean consumption.
Previous work shows the ability of these diets to decrease colorectal cancer risk in animal models. The current trial confirms that people can eat enough bean- and rice bran-enhanced foods to promote gut health at levels shown to prevent colorectal cancer in animals. Guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research recommend reducing the risk of cancer by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, such as beans. Ryan has established from these studies that eating a half-cup of beans and 30 grams of rice bran per day is enough to see changes in small molecules that can confer protection against colorectal cancer.
“The simple message is, ‘Food is medicine,’ and we are looking at how to simplify that and make it apply to our everyday lives,” says study co-author Regina Brown, MD, assistant professor at the CU School of Medicine and oncologist for CUHealth.
Brown is long-time collaborator of CU Cancer Center investigator and CSU assistant professor, Elizabeth Ryan, PhD. The Ryan Lab in the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences studies the potential power of navy beans and rice bran to promote digestive health and to prevent metabolic alterations in obesity, heart disease and certain cancers.
“The evidence is there in animals and we can now study this in people. The question is, what are we doing to achieve adequate levels of intake of these foods?” Ryan said. “It’s not enough to say ‘I eat them once in a while.’ That’s not going to work, particularly if you are at higher risk. You have to meet a dose, just like you need a dose of a certain drug, you need to reach intake levels and consume increased amounts of these foods, and that’s where people, including me, are challenged. Not everyone wants to open up a can of beans and eat them every day.”
The two met about 10 years ago, when Ryan was a researcher in CSU professor Henry Thompson’s Cancer Prevention Lab, and Brown was practicing medicine in Fort Collins and caring for her mother, who had uterine cancer.
“It was kind of a novel partnership and had we not dug in our heels it could have died, but I told Elizabeth, ‘Your work is so interesting and so valuable. We have to take this translational research from the benchtop to the clinic.’ I guarantee, nine out of 10 of my patients, the first thing they ask is about their diet,” Brown said.
The study’s lead author is Erica Borresen, Ryan’s research associate and study coordinator, who worked with colorectal cancer survivors to make sure they ate their beans and rice bran provided in meals and snacks, and that they filled out their food logs and gastrointestinal health questionnaires. It was sometimes intimate and awkward, but so is getting a colonoscopy and being treated for colorectal cancer. “Our participants donated their time and effort, and I want to make sure they understand they are appreciated,” said Borresen, who earned her Master of Public Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, and plans to become a physician’s assistant. “I came to realize I love the patient interaction – that’s one of my favorite parts about coordinating our studies.”
The next phase of Ryan’s research examines effects of the cooked navy bean powder and rice bran on the colon tissue of people who have already had colorectal cancer and are at high risk for recurrence. “I really feel that there’s hope in this being a practical solution to improve gut health and specifically colorectal cancer prevention,” says Ryan.
Research suggests L-tryptophan supplements might help prevent impulsivity associated with psychological disorders
University of California Berkeley, April 2, 2021
According to news reporting originating from Berkeley, California, research stated, “Emotion-related impulsivity, defined as the tendency to say or do things that one later regret during periods of heightened emotion, has been tied to a broad range of psychopathologies. Previous work has suggested that emotion-related impulsivity is tied to an impaired function of the serotonergic system.”
Our news editors obtained a quote from the research from the University of California Berkeley, “Central serotonin synthesis relies on the intake of the essential amino acid, tryptophan and its ability to pass through the blood brain barrier. The aim of this study was to determine the association between emotion-related impulsivity and tryptophan intake. Undergraduate participants (N = 25, 16 women, 9 men) completed a self-rated measure of impulsivity (Three Factor Impulsivity Index, TFI) and daily logs of their food intake and exercise. These data were coded using the software NutriNote to evaluate intakes of tryptophan, large neutral amino acids, vitamins B6/B12, and exercise. Correlational analyses indicated that higher tryptophan intake was associated with significantly lower scores on two out of three subscales of the TFI, Pervasive Influence of Feelings scores r = -.502, p< .010, and (lack-of) Follow-Through scores, r = -.407, p< .050. Findings provide further evidence that emotion-related impulsivity is correlated to serotonergic indices, even when considering only food habits.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “It also suggests the need for more research on whether tryptophan supplements might be beneficial for impulsive persons suffering from a psychological disorder.”
This research has been peer-reviewed.
Nutritional supplementation in preconception and pregnancy linked to reduced risk of preterm birth
University of Southampton (UK), March 30, 2021
Increasing evidence suggests that a mother’s nutritional status at the onset of pregnancy has an important influence on the growth and development of her baby, and that a good nutritional status during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
A specific blend of nutrients and probiotics was tested in an international multicentre double blind randomized controlled trial NiPPeR (Nutritional Intervention Preconception and during Pregnancy to maintain healthy glucosE levels and offspRing health). Researchers from the international EpiGen Global Research Consortium, an academic group of clinicians and scientists including from around the world, including the University of Southampton, specifically assessed the effects of a nutritional intervention, a combination of myo-inositol, probiotics and micronutrients, consumed both before and during pregnancy, on maintaining healthy blood sugar levels in pregnancy and sustaining a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
As published in the journal Diabetes Care, (Myo-inositol, Probiotics and Micronutrient Supplementation from Preconception for Glycemia in Pregnancy: the NiPPeR study involved 1,729 women from the UK, New Zealand and Singapore who were planning pregnancy—one of the largest international preconception randomized controlled trials of its type.
While the study found that the intervention did not influence the mother’s blood sugar levels or birthweights of the 585 babies born, the nutritional supplement decreased the incidence of preterm birth, particularly the cases associated with preterm pre-labor rupture of membranes.
“Preterm delivery is a serious, common and costly public health problem worldwide that continues to increase in incidence,” said Professor Keith Godfrey from the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton. “Preterm pre-labor rupture of membranes is a major cause of preterm birth. Our study presents for the first time a clinical trial of a novel non-pharmacological approach that started preconception and extended throughout pregnancy, through the innovative use of a combination of nutritional ingredients. The study findings highlight the potential value of the mix of nutrients and probiotics in reducing the risk of preterm birth and supporting a timely delivery,” Professor Godfrey continued.
Associate Professor Shiao-Yng Chan, a principal investigator on the study from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, deputy executive director at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, A*STAR, and Senior Consultant, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, National University Hospital, commented “One of the strengths of our study is the diversity of its participants as we have involved women of multiple ethnicities from the general population across three countries, which means that the outcomes have wide relevance to women planning for pregnancy. Additionally, the study included blinded intervention and control groups, so bias is minimized.”
Sharing his thoughts, Professor Wayne Cutfield, principal investigator on the study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, said, “The importance of the preconception period on maternal and offspring health is being increasingly recognized, but there are very few randomized control trials seeking to optimize preconception nutrition.”
Dr. Isabelle Bureau-Franz, Head of Nestlé Research, who partnered with EpiGen for this academic-led trial, says, “We are focused on discovering science-based solutions for mothers and their infants during preconception, pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The NiPPeR study is a great example of how a public-private partnership can build scientific evidence on nutritional interventions in a largely understudied group.”