Effects of saffron extract on sleep quality: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial
Catholic University Louvain (Belgium). May 10. 2021
According to news reporting from Louvain la Neuve, Belgium, research stated, “A saffron extract has been found to be effective in the context of depression and anxiety, but its effect on sleep quality has not been investigating yet using objective approaches.”
The news reporters obtained a quote from the research from Catholic University Louvain (UCLouvain): “For this purpose, a randomized double-blind controlled study was conducted in subjects presenting mild to moderate sleep disorder associated with anxiety. Sixty-six subjects were randomized and supplemented with a placebo (maltodextrin) or a saffron extract (15.5 mg per day) for 6 weeks. Actigraphy was used to collect objective data related to sleep quality at baseline, at the middle and at the end of the intervention. Sleep quality was also assessed by completion of the LSEQ and PSQI questionnaires and quality of life by completion of the SF-36 questionnaire. Six weeks of saffron supplementation led to an increased time in bed assessed by actigraphy, to an improved ease of getting to sleep evaluated by the LSEQ questionnaire and to an improved sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, and global scores evaluated by the PSQI questionnaire, whereas those parameters were not modified by the placebo.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “In conclusion, those results suggest that a saffron extract could be a natural and safe nutritional strategy to improve sleep duration and quality.”
New evidence links gut bacteria and neurodegenerative conditions
University of Florida, May 6, 2021
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS affect millions of adults, but scientists still do not know what causes these diseases, which poses a significant roadblock to developing treatments or preventative measures.
Recent research suggests that people with these conditions exhibit changes in the bacterial composition of their digestive tract. However, given the vast diversity of microbes found in the human body, identifying which bacteria may be associated with neurodegeneration is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Seeking that proverbial needle, scientists at the University of Florida are looking in an unexpected place: the digestive tract of a tiny, translucent worm called Caenorhabditis elegans.
New research published in PLOS Pathogens establishes, for the first time, a link between specific bacteria species and physical manifestations of neurodegenerative diseases. The study’s lead author is Alyssa Walker, a microbiology and cell science doctoral candidate in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
“Looking at the microbiome is a relatively new approach to investigating what causes neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, we were able to show that specific species of bacteria play a role in the development of these conditions,” said Daniel Czyz, Walker’s dissertation advisor.
Czyz is the senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of microbiology and cell science.
“We also showed that some other bacteria produce compounds that counteract these ‘bad’ bacteria. Recent studies have shown that patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are deficient in these ‘good’ bacteria, so our findings may help explain that connection and open up an area of future study,” he added.
All neurodegenerative diseases can be traced to problems with the way proteins are handled in the body. If proteins are misfolded, they build up and accumulate in tissues. These protein aggregates, as scientists call them, interfere with cell functioning and lead to neurodegenerative disorders.
Czyz and his co-authors wanted to know if introducing certain bacteria into the C. elegans worms would be followed by protein aggregation in the worms’ tissues.
“That is, in fact, what we observed. We have a way of marking the aggregates so they glow green under the microscope. We saw that worms colonized by certain bacteria species were lit up with aggregates that were toxic to tissues, while those colonized by the control bacteria were not,” Czyz said. “This occurred not just in the intestinal tissues, where the bacteria are, but all over the worms’ bodies, in their muscles, nerves and even reproductive organs.”
Surprisingly, the offspring of affected worms also showed increased protein aggregation—even though these offspring never encountered the bacteria originally associated with the condition.
“This is very interesting because it suggests that these bacteria generate some sort of a signal that can be passed along to the next generation,” Czyz said.
Worms colonized by the “bad” bacteria also lost mobility, a common symptom of neurodegenerative diseases.
“A healthy worm moves around by rolling and thrashing. When you pick up a healthy worm, it will roll off the pick, a simple device that we use to handle these tiny animals. But worms with the bad bacteria couldn’t do that because of the appearance of toxic protein aggregates,” explained Walker, who developed this assessment method.
“You could compare the pick to an obstacle course: just as a person with a neurodegenerative disease will have trouble getting across, the same is true with these worms, just at a much smaller scale,” Czyz added.
Fun fact: Human eyebrow hairs or eyelashes make for very good picks.
“The worms are very delicate, so you need a tool that won’t damage them. They are also transparent and have a simple body plan. Studies like ours are possible because these worms normally feed on bacteria,” Czyz said.
“The worms are only one millimeter long, and they each have exactly 959 cells,” Czyz said. “But in many ways, they are a lot like us humans—they have intestines and muscles and nerves, but instead of being composed of billions of cells, each organ is just a handful of cells. They are like living test tubes. Their small size allows us to do experiments in a much more controlled way and answer important questions we can apply in future experiments with higher organisms and, eventually, people.”
Currently the Czyz lab is testing hundreds of strains of bacteria found in the human gut to see how they affect protein aggregation in C. elegans. The group is also investigating how bacteria associated with neurodegeneration cause protein misfolding at the molecular level.
Czyz is also interested in possible connections between antibiotic-resistant bacteriaand protein misfolding.
“Almost all of the bacteria we found associated with protein misfolding are also associated with antibiotic-resistant infections in people. However, it will take many more years of research before we can understand what, if any, connection there is between antibiotic resistance and neurodegenerative diseases,” Czyz said.
Meditative practice and spiritual wellbeing may preserve cognitive function in aging
It is projected that up to 152 million people worldwide will be living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by 2050. To date there are no drugs that have a substantial positive impact on either the prevention or reversal of cognitive decline. A growing body of evidence finds that targeting lifestyle and vascular risk factors have a beneficial effect on overall cognitive performance. A new review in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, published by IOS Press, examines research that finds spiritual fitness, a new concept in medicine that centers on psychological and spiritual wellbeing, and Kirtan Kriya, a simple 12-minute meditative practice, may reduce multiple risk factors for AD.
“The key point of this review is that making a commitment to a brain longevity lifestyle, including spiritual fitness, is a critically important way for aging Alzheimer’s disease free,” explain authors Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, Tucson, AZ, USA, and Andrew B. Newberg, MD, Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences, Department of Radiology, Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, USA. “We hope this article will inspire scientists, clinicians, and patients to embrace this new concept of spiritual fitness and make it a part of every multidomain program for the prevention of cognitive disability.”
Research reveals that religious and spiritual involvement can preserve cognitive function as we age. The authors observe that today, spirituality is often experienced outside the context of an organized religion and may be part of every religion or separate to it. Spiritual fitness is a new dimension in AD prevention, interweaving basic, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. The authors discuss the research on how these factors affect brain function and cognition. For example, psychological wellbeing may reduce inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and disability. Significantly, individuals who have a high score on a “purpose in life” (PIL) measure, a component of psychological wellbeing, were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of AD than individuals with low PIL. In another study, participants who reported higher levels of PIL exhibited better cognitive function, and further, PIL protected those with already existing pathological conditions, thus slowing their decline.
Stress and stress management are under-discussed topics in AD prevention, yet the authors point out that there is ample evidence that physical, psychological, and emotional effects of stress may elevate AD risk. Kirtan Kriya (KK) is a 12-minute singing meditation that involves four sounds, breathing, and repetitive finger movements. It has multiple documented effects on stress, such as improving sleep, decreasing depression, and increasing wellbeing. It has also been found to increase blood flow to areas of the brain involved in cognition and emotional regulation and increases gray matter volume and decreases ventricular size in long-term practitioners, which may slow brain aging. Research in healthy individuals, caregivers, and those with cognitive decline found that the practice improves cognition, slows memory loss, and improves mood.
The overall relationship between spiritual fitness and a person’s complete physical and mental health is a topic of investigation in the emerging field of study called neurotheology. Early work has focused on the development of models regarding which brain areas are affected through spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer. Over the last 20 years, there has been an extensive growth in neuroimaging and other physiological studies evaluating the effect of meditation, spiritual practices, and mystical experiences. A neuroimaging study of KK found long term brain effects, during meditation and afterwards. Neurotheological studies can help understanding of how a practice such as KK can lead to more permanent effects in brain function that support spiritual fitness, according to Dr. Khalsa and Dr. Newberg.
“Mitigating the extensive negative biochemical effects of stress with meditation practices, in tandem with the creation of heightened levels of spiritual fitness, may help lower the risk of AD. Small shifts in one’s daily routine can make all the difference in AD prevention,” Dr. Khalsa and Dr. Newberg conclude. “We are optimistic this article will inspire future research on the topic of spiritual fitness and AD.”
Type 2 Diabetes: Sitting can Cause Problems with Blood Sugar Levels, So Get Up and Move
Many people spend large portions of their day sitting, which can cause a range of health problems. But many may not realise that sitting too much can also worsen certain health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Research shows that spending too much time sitting can cause problems with blood sugar levels – making it even more important for those with type 2 diabetes to get plenty of physical activity into their day.
Type 2 diabetes causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to become too high. For someone with diabetes, high sugar levels in the blood can cause serious damage to your body, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, feet and nerves. Controlling blood sugar levels is important for avoiding the risk of serious health problems.
Lifestyle changes, such as adjusting diet and physical activity, and diabetes medications, such as metformin or gliptin, are used to lower blood sugar levels. Yet following recommended diets and taking diabetes medications aren’t always effective at controlling blood sugar levels, as our research found. This shows us there’s a need to re-think diabetes care and management.
As type 2 diabetes can be different for everyone, how well a person controls their blood sugar levels can be influenced by different factors, such as age, gender, activity levels, diet and weight. This makes it important to target new, modifiable lifestyle factors – such as how much time is spent sitting.
Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results.
Our research has also shown that sitting less or breaking up periods of sitting with bouts of activity could be a simple way to manage blood sugar levels – including high sugar levels before and after breakfast, which is a common problem for people with type 2 diabetes. We found that simply walking more often could be beneficial to blood sugar control throughout the day.
In fact, walking every 15 minutes for as little as three minutes each time at a person’s usual pace could be enough to help them control their blood sugar – and could even be as effective as standard diabetes medications. Other research has shown that keeping bouts of sitting shorter than 15 minutes is better for blood sugar levels.
The reason walking – and other types of exercise – are so good for regulating blood sugar is because they make the body’s muscles work. Movement causes muscles to contract, which subsequently starts the mechanisms that allow the sugar in the blood to enter cells and fuel the body. This reduces blood sugar levels as a result.
With many people continuing to spend large portions of their days sitting while working from home, it’s important for people with type 2 diabetes to stand and walk often. Of course, that is sometimes easier said than done. But even small changes in sitting patterns throughout the day may be beneficial to a person’s blood sugar control. For example, going to the kitchen to get water or make tea can be a great opportunity to walk around for a few minutes. Even standing or walking while taking calls or during meetings can be a good idea.
It’s still important for people with type 2 diabetes to follow the advice of their doctor and stick to any special diets or take any medications they’ve been prescribed. But adding extra movement into their day will not only improve blood sugar control, it may also improve other aspects of health – including heart health and bone density.
Grapeseed compound has senolytic activity
Chinese Academy of Sciences, May 10, 2021
According to news reporting based on a preprint abstract, our journalists obtained the following quote sourced from biorxiv.org:
“Aging causes functional decline of multiple organs and increases the risk of age-related pathologies.
“In advanced lives, accumulation of senescent cells, which develop the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), promotes chronic inflammation and causes diverse conditions.
“Here we report the frontline outcome of screening a natural product library with human primary stromal cells as an experimental model. Multiple candidate compounds were assayed, and grape seed extract (GSE) was selected for further investigation due to its leading capacity in targeting senescent cells.
“We found procyanidin C1 (PCC1), a polyphenolic component, plays a critical role in mediating the antiaging effects of GSE. PCC1 blocks the SASP expression when used at low concentrations. Importantly, it selectively kills senescent cells upon application at higher concentrations, mainly by enhancing production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and disturbing mitochondrial membrane potential, processes accompanied by upregulation of Bcl-2 family pro-apoptotic factors Puma and Noxa in senescent cells. PCC1 depletes senescent cells in treatment-damaged tumor microenvironment (TME) and enhances therapeutic efficacy when combined with chemotherapy in preclinical assays. Intermittent administration of PCC1 to both senescent cell-implanted mice and naturally aged animals alleviated physical dysfunction and prolonged post-treatment survival, thus providing substantial benefits in late life stage. Together, our study identifies PCC1 as a distinct natural senolytic agent, which may be exploited to delay aging and control age-related pathologies in future medicine.”
This preprint has not been peer-reviewed.
Team Links Leaky Epithelial Barriers to 2 Billion Chronic Diseases
University of Zurich, May 7, 2021
Epithelial cells form the covering of most internal and external surfaces of the human body. This protective layer acts as a defense against invaders—including bacteria, viruses, environmental toxins, pollutants and allergens.
If the skin and mucosal barriers are damaged or leaky, foreign agents such as bacteria can enter into the tissue and cause local, often chronic inflammation with both direct and indirect consequences.
“The epithelial barrier hypothesis proposes that damages to the epithelial barrier are responsible for up to two billion chronic, non-infectious diseases,” says Cezmi Akdis, director of the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF), which is associated with the University of Zurich.
In the past 20 years, researchers at the SIAF alone have published more than 60 articles on how various substances damage the epithelial cells of a number of organs.
The epithelial barrier hypothesis provides an explanation as to why allergies and autoimmune diseases have been increasing for decades—they are linked to industrialization, urbanization, and westernized lifestyle.
Today many people are exposed to a wide range of toxins, such as ozone, nanoparticles, microplastics, household cleaning agents, pesticides, enzymes, emulsifiers, fine dust, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, and countless chemicals in the air, food, and water.
“Next to global warming and viral pandemics such as COVID-19, these harmful substances represent one of the greatest threats to humankind,” Akdis says.
Local epithelial damage to the skin and mucosal barriers lead to allergic conditions, inflammatory bowel disorders, and celiac disease. But disruptions to the epithelial barrier can also be linked to many other diseases that are characterized by changes in the microbiome.
Either the immune system erroneously attacks “good” bacteria in healthy bodies or it targets pathogenic—i.e., “bad”—invaders.
In the gut, leaky epithelial barriers and microbial imbalance contribute to the onset or development of chronic autoimmune and metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or ankylosing spondylitis.
Moreover, defective epithelial barriers have also been linked to neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorders, and chronic depression, which may be triggered or aggravated by distant inflammatory responses and changes in the gut’s microbiome.
“There is a great need to continue research into the epithelial barrier to advance our understanding of molecular mechanisms and develop new approaches for prevention, early intervention and therapy,” says Akdis.
Novel therapeutic approaches could focus on strengthening tissue-specific barriers, blocking bacteria or avoiding colonization by pathogens. Other strategies to reduce diseases may involve the microbiome, for example through targeted dietary measures. Last but not least, the focus must also be on avoiding and reducing exposure to harmful substances and developing fewer toxic products.
The paper appears in Nature Reviews Immunology
Study supports heart health benefits of mushroom powders
Tufts University, May 11, 2021
Adding Portobello or shiitake powder to a high-fat diet may protect arteries from the detrimental effects of a high fat diet, according to findings presented at the recent Experimental Biology event.
Scientists from Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research on Aging at Tufts University report that supplementing the diets of lab mice with the mushroom powders had lower body weight gains, compared to animals fed an unsupplemented high-fat diet.
“Despite the low body weight gains, EchoMRI analysis of body composition revealed that the overall lean mass was not affected as significantly as fat mass, indicating a plausible positive effect of mushrooms on fat metabolism and lipid profiles,” wrote the researchers in their abstract, published in the FASEB Journal .
Consumer interest in mushrooms and their potential health benefits has been growing in recent years, with demand for Reishi, Chaga, Shiitake, Maitake, and the rest has never been higher and the global market was pegged at $18 billion in 2014 (up from $6 billion in 1999).
SPINS data shows surging sales of products with various types of mushrooms as primary ingredients across the natural, specialty and conventional multi-outlet retail channels. Reishi was up 91% for the 52 weeks ending September 4, 2016 versus the previous 52 weeks. Impressive growth is also being posted for Chaga (up 46%), Cordycep (up 19%) and Shiitake (up 26%),
“While several types of mushrooms have been studied for their effects on serum lipid profiles, few studies have demonstrated edible mushrooms’ effects on atherogenesis,” explained the Tufts researchers in their abstract.
L-ergothioneine was first isolated as a natural compound from rye ergot (Claviceps purpurea) in 1909. It is naturally present in small amounts in food sources like mushrooms, some varieties of black and red beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and cereals.
The human body has a dedicated transporter for the molecule, which is a potent antioxidant.
Lab mice were divided into one of five groups: A low-fat control group (4% fat); a high fat control group (8% fat); a high-fat diet supplemented with Portobello mushroom powder; a high fat diet supplemented with shiitake mushroom powder; or a “control mixture”, which matched to the average nutrient levels of the mushroom powders.
After 16 weeks of feeding, the results showed that animals from both mushroom groups had reduced body weight gains, compared to the other dietary groups, with the weight gain lower in the shiitake group compared to the Portobello group.
Additional analyses showed that only mice fed the shiitake powder had significantly fewer aortic lesions compared to the high fat control mice and the control mixture.
“These results further support the potential role of high levels of bioactive compounds such as ergothioneine, a strong antioxidant in [shiitake mushroom], on suppression of dietary fat induced atherosclerosis, an inflammatory disease of arteries,” wrote the researchers.
The study was funded by the USDA and the Mushroom Council.
MIT Study Suggests Six Foot Social Distancing, Limited Occupancy Rules Are Completely Pointless
After over a year, scientists have determined that social distancing and limited occupancy rules may be totally useless
A new study conducted by MIT scientists and released this week reveals that the six foot social distancing and limited occupancy guidelines made law in most of the civilized world have done little to slow the spread of COVID-19, and suggests the only way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to limit exposure to highly populated areas and areas where people are physically exerting themselves, such as gyms, or areas where people are singing or speaking, such as churches.
The study reveals that the social distancing guidelines employed throughout much of the world for over a year have done nothing to limit the spread of COVID-19, suggesting that the adaption of the guidelines did not stop the spread of the of the China-originated virus, and it can only be slowed with the employment of severe lockdowns. Paradoxically, states and cities that have engaged in severe lockdowns have seen the largest spikes of COVID-19.
“We argue there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks,” MIT professor Martin Z. Bazant said, as reported by NBC. “It really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance.” In other words, widespread mask wearing may simply change the physical vectors of transmission within a given room rather than stop it, effectively making six foot distancing rules pointless.
In their study, Bazant and the other researchers declare, “Adherence to the Six-Foot Rule would limit large-drop transmission, and adherence to our guideline, [of limiting time spent in densely populated areas], would limit long-range airborne transmission.” In the guideline, the researchers write, “To minimize risk of infection, one should avoid spending extended periods in highly populated areas. One is safer in rooms with large volume and high ventilation rates. One is at greater risk in rooms where people are exerting themselves in such a way as to increase their respiration rate and pathogen output, for example, by exercising, singing, or shouting.”
Bazant also told the media, “What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good.” He added, “I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.”