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Simple, Effective Natural Ways to Maintain a Healthy Respiratory System
Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, March 31, 2020
A hallmark of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is that it infects the upper respiratory tract accompanied by shortness of breath, a chronic cough and frequently chills, fever and fatigue. However, these are symptoms similar but not limited to many other viral infections, including other strains of CoV, avian and swine flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), picornaviruses, etc.
The conventional war chest for arming ourselves against respiratory infections are drugs that can lessen the severity of these symptoms and hopefully will kill the virus to prevent it from worsening. But pharmaceutical medications are not the only recourse we can rely upon. There are non-toxic supplements, medicinal botanicals and common sense actions people can adopt to protect themselves. Consequently, even if infected by COVID-19 or another respiratory virus, our immune system can be strengthened naturally to dramatically reduce the risks of serious complications.
At the moment, the primary dispensers of information about the pandemic is the White House, the CDC, the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The mainstream media and state and local health officials have been completely relying upon comments and reports from these sources to inform or education the public. However, what is not being communicated are the clinical experiences and scientific advice from around the world that contain valuable information and analyses to share. In China, Europe, Japan, and the US there are tens of thousands or more physicians and medical professionals using alternative modalities such as nutritional therapy, naturopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine to further protect patients from respiratory infections alongside or to complement conventional drug protocols.
Unfortunately none of these non-conventional doctors and professionals are being asked for their consultation nor is the large body of scientific literature that supports their regimens being recommended. We are referring to studies published in respected journals and research conducted by important centers of medical investigation. The question, therefore, is why has a contingent of people on the frontlines of prevention and complementary approaches to health been completely marginalized from the community of so-called “experts” who dominate the voices in the media?
Therefore we want to share simple natural ways to protect your respiratory system and lungs during this stressful period. None of this information is folk tales but rather it is based on research found in the National Library of Medicine and other professional medical sources.
Unfortunately, being cooped up indoors for long extended periods of time has its own health risks. It has been shown extensively that indoor air usually has higher concentrations of toxins than outdoor air. Aside from the psychological effects of isolation, it adversely affects our immune system. People who spend too much time indoors readily become Vitamin D deficient, which is essential for immune protection to avoid contracting infections. It also disrupts our natural circadian rhythms thereby contributing to poor sleep patterns.
For the large majority of people, our homes and apartments are ridden with allergens, dust, molds and various fungi and cold-like causing germs. It is estimated that most Americans have anywhere between 400 to 800 chemicals stored in their bodies and these are often hoarded in fat cells. Of course, poorly ventilated homes are far more dangerous. Furthermore, many of our every-day house-hold products contain numerous chemical toxins and irritants such as volatile organic compounds (VOC), heavy metals, PBDEs or flame retardants, phthalates and Bisphenol A that are commonly used in all plastics, etc. VOCs are found in aerosol products, dry cleaned clothing, paints and varnishes, floor wax, spot removers and air fresheners. All of these chemicals can vaporize easily thereby further polluting indoor air quality. The same is true for pesticides that we might have in our homes. Ozone can damage the lungs and can contribute to shortness of breath and coughs. Although the majority of ozone is outdoors, according to the CDC, it can accumulate indoors to as much 80% of outdoor levels. For this reason, maintaining a healthy level of humidity is critical for reducing various pathogens and periodically keeping windows open for a period of time to air out rooms is highly recommended.
Sunlight not only increases our level of Vitamin D, which is essential for immune protection; it also raises serotonin levels that can boost our moods. This finding was confirmed by researchers at the Baker Research Institute in Australia and published in The Lancet. Low serotonin, especially during winter months, has been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is characterized by depression, fatigue, and a lack of concentration. And of course, these effects have been shown to adversely affect our immune system. Therefore, making frequent efforts to get outdoors, while maintaining social distancing, not only raises our spirits but also helps clear our respiratory system from allergens and pollutants that accumulate indoors. A series of studies conducted by the University of Rochester found that being outdoors increased both physical and mental vitality. Getting a sufficient amount of outdoor exposure is one of the surest natural ways to cleanse our lungs. Other methods include steam therapy (inhaling water vapor) and exercise to clear airways and drain mucus from the bronchia.
There are also plenty of foods, herbs and even supplements that can protect the lungs and keep the nasal and respiratory passages clear. Water is absolutely essential for maintaining health lungs since dry lungs result in irritation that increases the risks for infection. Also following the Mediterranean diet has been shown by epidemiologists at Harvard to have protective effects for allergic respiratory diseases, largely due to the high intake of olive oil.
Potassium is a vital mineral for proper lung function. It is not uncommon for people who are deficient in potassium to experience sporadic breathing problems. Therefore including potassium rich foods in daily meals, such as avocados, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, beets, bananas and oranges, can raise and sustain healthy potassium levels.
Several studies have shown that apples can improve lung function. A study out of St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London followed over 2,500 individuals between the ages of 45 and 59. Among the various vitamins and foods consumed, Vitamin E and apples were the most effective for slowing the decline in lung function. For people with a history of asthma, apples, which are rich in flavonoids, are inversely linked with asthma, decreased bronchial hypersensitivity, and positively improved general pulmonary health.
Celery contains two important antioxidants — apigenin and luteolin — that have both been associated with reducing inflammation associated with our nasal passages and lungs. It has been shown to be particularly beneficial for those who have allergies that can hinder respiration. Of course it is important to know whether or not you have a rare allergy to celery itself.
In an earlier article, we reported on the health benefits of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule to strength our immune system’s response to invasion. One of the best sources for increasing nitric oxide levels in addition to improved endothelial cell function by decreasing oxidative stress are red beets. Most of our respiratory passageways — from our nasal cavity to our bronchi — are lined with epithelium . Our lungs, on the other hand, are lined with a simple squamous epithelium or “goblet cells”. Beets are one important food that protects these cells to maintain the health of our entire respiratory system. Beets have also been shown by researchers at Southern Methodist University to help prevent common cold symptoms, especially during periods of increased psychological stress.
Green Tea and quercetin can promote healthy lungs due to their antioxidant properties. Both act as natural antihistamines that reduce respiratory irritation and inflammation. A study of 1,000 adults conducted by the medical school at Kyung Hee University in South Korea found that participants who drank two cups of green tea per day had better respiratory function than those who didn’t drink any. Japanese Matcha tea has been investigated and found to be a more powerful antioxidant than regular green teas.
One can conclude that having a daily juice compromised of fresh apples, celery, beets and garlic — which contains the powerful antimicrobial biomolecule allicin that kills human lung pathogenic bacteria — can have an enormous impact on cleansing and protecting our lungs. Matcha tea can be purchased as powders and also added to your daily juice. It is our opinion that following this guideline along with getting sufficient outdoor exposure, exercise, reducing sources of toxicity in the home and proper ventilation, and drinking green tea and supplementing with quercetin, Vitamins C and D and other foods rich in antioxidants is a very simple and effective way of sustaining maximal lung health to get us through the pandemic.
Researchers find that nicotinamide may help treat fibrotic eye diseases and mitigate vision loss
Mount Sinai Hospital, April 2, 2020
Nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3, can inhibit aggressive cell transformations during wound healing and may be key to the development of therapies to treat fibrotic eye diseases that impair vision, according to a new Mount Sinai study published on Thursday, April 2, in Stem Cell Reports.
The findings apply to a condition in which cells in the retinal pigment epithelium, a layer that supports the retina, transform and develop the characteristics of more aggressive cells known as mesenchymal cells. The condition can be triggered by aging, diabetes, or injury to the eye. This causes development of fibrous membranes that resemble damaging cells found in retinal scar tissue, and can lead to retinal detachment.
The researchers found that nicotinamide not only inhibits these cell transformations, but can also reverse that cell transition and slow down the development of eye diseases that may lead to vision loss or blindness.
When applying nicotinamide as a therapy to human adult cells in vitro, the researchers found that the vitamin B derivative slowed down the aggressive cellular transformation and could promote the opposite transition, from mesenchymal to epithelial, helping to preserve the cell’s original identity.
“This is the first study that shows how nicotinamide can inhibit invasive wound healing, but also reverse the development of membranes associated with scar tissue,” said Timothy Blenkinsop, Ph.D., co-lead investigator of the study and Assistant Professor of Cell, Developmental and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “This discovery helps evolve our understanding of wound healing, as well as good inflammation versus bad inflammation. Good inflammation essentially nudges the system into a regenerative response, while bad inflammation can create harmful scar tissue formation. This is an exciting time to understand how this compound can be used to treat and reverse not only fibrotic diseases of the retina but other diseases too.”
The researchers also identified epigenetic and molecular changes that occur during the cell transition process. Nicotinamide therapy resulted in widespread changes in the DNA sequence of the cells, eliciting changes in more than 40,000 identified chromosomal regions. The scientists observed that nicotinamide was associated with massive reorganization of the cell patterns, especially with inducing enhancer elements that lead the cell stage change in the retina. It activated regulatory elements in cells, including transcriptional factors that are prominent regulators of cell transformation.
Sally Temple, Ph.D., co-lead investigator of the study and Scientific Director at Neural Stem Cell Institute, said the study paves the way to develop new forms of treatment for patients. “Now we know the epigenetic landscape that is associated with the changes activated by nicotinamide, which gives deeper insights into cell transformations and provides an opportunity to explore a pathway for new therapeutic approaches for any condition or complication associated with wound healing.”
Lifestyle changes could delay memory problems in old age, depending on our genes
Kings College London, April 2, 2020
Researchers from King’s College London have shown that how we respond to changes in nutrients at a molecular level plays an important role in the aging process, and this is directed by some key genetic mechanisms.
Published in Communications Biology, the study explored the molecular interactions that occur in our response to varying levels of nutrients, otherwise known as nutrient-sensing pathways, as we grow older.
Using a combination of laboratory-based techniques and analysis of data on people’s memory, diet and level of physical exercise, researchers identified a number of genes that are active in nutrient-sensing pathways and demonstrated these genes also show associations to performance on memory tasks in data from over 2000 individuals. The study identified that the genes ABTB1 and GRB10 were both influential in nutrient sensing pathways and showed association to memory.
Advances in medicine and healthcare over the past century have led to increased life expectancies. However, ageing is still accompanied by frailty and a decline in our thought processes. This level of decline varies enormously across individuals and an improved understanding of what influences these ageing mechanisms could help develop strategies to increase “healthspan”, which is the period of time free from debilitating disease.
Previous studies have indicated that neural stem cells (NSCs) in the hippocampal part of the brain play an important role in the decline of our thought process and memory over time. NSCs are cells that keep dividing as long as they are alive and either make more NSCs or cells that have a specialist function in the brain. The maintenance of these NSCs is important in memory and is affected by environmental factors such as diet and exercise, potentially explaining some of the variation in how ageing affects different people.
Although the role of nutrient-sensing-pathways in ageing and the maintenance of stem cells in the brain has been investigated in animal models, no human studies have so far investigated their role in NSCs in the hippocampus.
The study aimed to explore whether nutrient-sensing pathways can provide the molecular basis for the association between lifestyle and ageing. These pathways have been implicated in stem cell maintenance, suggesting they could also be involved in the interaction between lifestyle, NSCs and cognition. Using a novel back-translation approach which uses laboratory-based experiments on NSCs to inform analysis of epidemiological data rather than vice versa the researchers showed that variations in ABTB1 are associated to performance on a standard memory task and that variation in the gene GRB10 is an important player in determining the association between Mediterranean diet and memory performance. The study also identified an interaction between exercise levels and the SIRT1 genotype which led to different performances on memory tasks.
Lead author, Chiara de Lucia, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London said: ‘Our study shows that nutrient-sensing pathways play an important role in memory and suggests that the ABTB1 and GRB10 genes are likely molecular links for the association between diet, the ageing of neural stem cells and our memory ability. Identifying these genes as the missing links between these three important variables could inform new approaches to help improve the ageing process through targeted changes in diet and exercise and ultimately in developing new drugs in the future.’
Senior author, Sandrine Thuret from the IoPPN said: ‘Finding the means to prevent or slow down the processes that drive the decline of our thought processes during ageing is one of the great endeavours of the 21st century. To our knowledge this is one of the first studies looking at these relationships with human data and adopting this back-translation approach which uses lab-based experiments to inform research on large datasets, allowing for a more targeted approach.’
‘Our findings suggest that changes in lifestyle may be able to delay a decline in memory and thinking but that the effectiveness of these approaches will depend on the genetic makeup of each person. For example, adherence to a diet such as the Mediterranean diet may be most beneficial for people with a specific GRB10 mutation while increased exercise may be a better approach for participants with specific SIRT1 variations. Future research should look to replicate these findings on a larger dataset which would allow for the testing of 3-way interactions between diet, exercise and memory to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how these relate to one another.’
Researchers analysed the molecular and genetic mechanisms by exposing human NSCs to serums from either young or old individuals and to chemicals whose effects mimic the ageing process. The genes identified from the in vitro analysis as important in nutrient-sensing-pathways were then associated with genetic data from over 2000 individuals from the TwinsUK cohort and data on performance on the Paired Associates Learning(PAL) task which assesses visual memory and learning, healthy eating, Mediterranean diet, calorie intake and physical activity.
Acupuncture can improve quality of life
Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (Taiwan), April 2, 2020
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease caused by inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which let air in and out of the lungs. This inflammation obstructs airflow from the organ, causing a variety of symptoms, such as cough, mucus production, wheezing and difficulty breathing. These symptoms all lead to poor health-related quality of life (HRQL) and exercise capacity.
But in a recent study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers from Taiwan found that body acupuncture therapy (BAT) can help improve the HRQL of patients with COPD. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing art often used to relieve discomfort associated with a variety of health problems and medical treatments, such as low back pain, migraine, osteoarthritis and cancer therapy.
Acupuncture therapy can improve the quality of life of people with COPD
COPD, a disease that results from long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, such as from cigarette smoke, is highly prevalent around the world. According to the World Health Organization, COPD is estimated to become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
People who suffer from COPD are known to have poor HRQL, even when they are treated with conventional medications. Hence, researchers are still looking for potential treatments, be it alternative or complementary, that would allow COPD sufferers to live better lives.
BAT is a popular non-invasive therapy that has gained traction in recent years. This traditional Chinese medicinal practice is often used to relieve the symptoms of various diseases, especially those that cause pain.
To determine if BAT can help people with COPD, the researchers searched eight electronic databases for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effects of BAT, medication and pulmonary rehabilitation on symptoms of COPD. They considered HRQL as the primary outcome, which was evaluated using St. George’s respiratory questionnaire or COPD assessment test (CAT).
The researchers found 12 studies that met their criteria. These RCTs involved a total of 798 participants with COPD. Analysis of the data presented in the studies indicated a significant improvement that favored the combination of BAT and medications over the use of medication alone in terms of CAT scores.
Based on the results of their evaluation, the researchers concluded that BAT is an effective adjunct treatment that improves the HRQL of COPD patients who are under medical treatment.
Increasing vitamin D serum levels associated with reduced pulmonary exacerbations in patients with cystic fibrosis
Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital (Israel), March 31, 2020
According to news reporting originating from Jerusalem, Israel, by NewsRx correspondents, research stated, “In 2012, The North American Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (NACFF) published new guidelines for the treatment of vitamin D deficiency in individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF). The objectives of our study were to assess the efficacy of these guidelines, and to test the effect of increasing vitamin D dosage on pulmonary function and exacerbations.”
Our news editors obtained a quote from the research from CF Center, “Pulmonary function tests and serum concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] were measured 1 year before increasing vitamin D dosage according to the guidelines and at least 1 year later. In addition, days of hospitalization and pulmonary exacerbations were counted and an average per year (average number of days of hospitalization and average number of pulmonary exacerbations [PEA], respectively) was calculated. A total of 90 patients from The Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at Hadassah Mount-Scopus Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel. The mean serum concentration of vitamin D increased significantly from 20.97 ng/mL (52.34 nmol/L) at baseline to 25.41 ng/mL (63.42 nmol/L) at the end of follow-up (p <0.001). The number of PEA decreased significantly from 2.79 ? 3.96 to 2.15 ? 2.91 (p=0.007). The change in vitamin D levels was correlated with a decrease in PEA (correlation coefficient=-0.318, p=0.002). The NACFF guidelines for management of vitamin D deficiency improve vitamin D levels in patients with CF but did not reach the normal values in most patients.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “The increase in vitamin D serum levels was, however, associated with a decrease in number of pulmonary exacerbations.”
Gardening helps to grow positive body image
Anglia Ruskin University (UK), April 2, 2020
New research has found that allotment gardening promotes positive body image, which measures someone’s appreciation of their own body and its functions, and an acceptance of bodily imperfections.
The study, published in the journal Ecopsychology and led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), involved 84 gardeners from 12 urban allotment sites in north London.
Through a series of questionnaires, it found that the gardeners had significantly higher levels of body appreciation, significantly higher levels of body pride, and significantly higher levels of appreciation for their body’s functionality, compared to a group of 81 non-gardeners, recruited from the same area of London.
The study also discovered that the longer period of time the participants spent gardening, the larger the improvement in positive body image when they left their allotment.
Previous research has shown that gardening is associated with improved psychological wellbeing and physical health. This new study adds to previous work by Professor Swami demonstrating that exposure to natural environments helps to promote positive body image.
Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), in Cambridge, and Perdana University, in Malaysia, said: “Positive body image is beneficial because it helps to foster psychological and physical resilience, which contributes to overall wellbeing.
“My previous research has shown the benefits of being in nature more generally, but increasing urbanisation has meant that many people now have less access to nature.
“The findings from this new study are important because they specifically show the significant benefits of spending time on allotments, which are typically quite small patches of green space in otherwise mainly urban environments.
“Ensuring that opportunities for gardening are available to all people is, therefore, vital and may help to reduce the long-term cost burden on health services. One way to achieve this, beyond policies that ensure access to nature for all citizens, would be through the provision of dedicated and sustained community allotment plots.”
Study: Niacin may help immune system battle a deadly brain tumor
University of Calgary, April 2, 2020
A new study by members of the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary finds niacin, commonly called vitamin B3, combined with chemotherapy can help immune cells attack glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor), dramatically slowing progression of the disease, in mice. The results published in Science Translational Medicine found the lifespan of mice with glioblastoma that received combination therapy tripled, increasing to 150 days from 40 days.
“It is a remarkable result. While it’s not a cure, it’s a promising step forward against this incurable disease,” says Dr. Wee Yong, Ph.D., the principal investigator on the study and a professor in the departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Oncology at the CSM and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. “The brain tumor stem cells for glioblastoma have been very resistant to treatment, so instead of targeting those cells we targeted the immune system to help the body to attack and destroy the stem cells.”
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Even with treatment, chemotherapy and radiation, most people die within 14 to 16 months of being diagnosed. One of the reasons this cancer is so deadly is because it hijacks the immune system, suppressing it and reprogramming immune cells to work for the tumor.
In the study, the researchers found that niacin therapy alone extended survival and that the combination therapy with temozolomide (a chemotherapy drug commonly used against glioblastoma) markedly prolonged survival by stimulating and re-educating immune cells to stop helping the cancer and instead, destroy it.
“We were able to help immune cells do what they’re supposed to do, attack and kill cancer cells,” says Dr. Susobhan Sarkar, Ph.D., first author on the study. “We screened 1,040 compounds and found niacin had the properties needed to activate immune cells, specifically myeloid cells, and inhibit the growth of brain tumor initiating stem cells.”
The study is supported by Alberta Innovates in collaboration with the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the HBI through a translational research grant donated by the Ronald and Irene Ward Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The CIHR has already provided funding to move this research forward to a clinical trial.
“We are very fortunate to have the support of the CIHR,” says Yong. “We still require approvals from Health Canada and ethics. It’s extremely important to follow strict protocols and conduct a clinical trial first, even though this treatment involves two well-known, existing therapies. It’s important people don’t rush out and try adding niacin on their own, as we need to confirm dosage, delivery and length of time for optimum clinical results.”
Cognitive Decline and Poor Glycemic Control Go Hand-in-Hand
Sheba Medical Center and Tel Aviv University (Israel), April 2, 2020
Poorer glycemic control was tied to cognitive decline following a lacunar stroke in a prospective cohort study.
Among 942 individuals with type 2 diabetes who had a lacunar stroke, every 1% higher HbA1c was tied to a 0.06 drop in cognitive function at baseline measured by Cognitive Assessment Screening Instrument (CASI) z-score (95% CI -0.101 to -0.018), reported Tali Cukierman-Yaffe, MD, MSc, of Sheba Medical Center and the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University in Israel.
This relationship was significant even after adjusting for demographic factors and clinical factors such as depression, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, body mass index, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, diabetic retinopathy, nephropathy, insulin use, and white matter abnormalities.
And those who started with higher average HbA1c levels at baseline tended to have lower cognitive functioning scores over time (P for interaction=0.037), Cukierman-Yaffe noted in her presentation at the virtual ENDO 2020 meeting sponsored by The Endocrine Society.
This association wasn’t stagnant either, as a 1% increase in HbA1c during follow-up was tied to a decrease in Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument (CASI) score by approximately 0.021 points (95% CI -0.0043 to -0.038) over time.
This relationship between higher glucose levels and poorer cognitive functioning extended beyond just CASI z-score, as well, Cukierman-Yaffe noted. Higher HbA1c levels were also tied to significantly poorer performance in other psychological tests, including the clock making test of executive functioning, test of discriminative ability, and for the test of verbal fluency.
The prospective cohort analysis drew upon data from the individuals who participated in the Secondary Prevention of Small Subcortical Strokes (SPS3) trial. This included adults over the age of 30 — mean age of 63 — with an existing diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and a recent, symptomatic MRI-defined small subcortical ischemic stroke. These individuals had no evidence of cortical strokes, nor any evidence of severe cognitive functional impairment.
Many possible explanations could be underlying these significant associations seen in this study, she explained, also pointing out that this relationship is likely bidirectional.
“It may be that individuals with cognitive impairment have difficulty managing their [diabetes] disease, and thus have worse glucose control,” she stated, adding that “second, hyperglycemia may accelerate the rate of cognitive decline by either reducing capillary reperfusion or accelerating large vessel disease, or directly damaging the brain.”
But nonetheless, further research is needed to delve into these associations, she suggested. Future studies are not only needed to confirm these results, but also intervention studies should be done to delineate whether better glucose control could possibly slow the rate of cognitive declines in high-risk populations, such as this one.
In the meantime, Cukierman-Yaffe told MedPage Today that healthcare providers should be evaluating older patients with diabetes for cognitive decline, according to current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association, The Endocrine Society, and several more international societies.
“Cognitive assessment should be part of the routine check-up of older people with diabetes,” she said, noting that this is particularly important for two reasons: the relationship between cognitive dysfunction and self-care, and the fact that cognitive dysfunction is another one of many possible complications of diabetes posing a larger threat to older patients.
Stress disrupts our ability to plan ahead
Stanford University, April 3, 2020
New research from Stanford University has found that stress can hinder our ability to develop informed plans by preventing us from being able to make decisions based on memory.
“We draw on memory not just to project ourselves backward into the past but to project ourselves forward, to plan,” said Stanford psychologist Anthony Wagner, who is the senior author of the paper detailing this work, published April 2 in Current Biology. “Stress can rob you of the ability to draw on cognitive systems underlying memory and goal-directed behavior that enable you to solve problems more quickly, more efficiently and more effectively.”
Combined with previous work from Wagner’s Memory Lab and others, these findings could have broad implications for understanding how different people plan for the future—and how lack of stress may afford some people a greater neurologically-based opportunity to think ahead.
“It’s a form of neurocognitive privilege that people who are not stressed can draw on their memory systems to behave more optimally,” said Wagner, who is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “And we may fail to actually appreciate that some individuals might not be behaving as effectively or efficiently because they are dealing with something, like a health or economic stressor, that reduces that privilege.”
Take a virtual walk
The researchers conducted experiments where they monitored participants’ behavior and brain activity—via fMRI—as they navigated through virtual towns. After participants became very familiar winding routes in a dozen towns, they were dropped onto one of the memorized paths and told to navigate to a goal location.
To test the effects of stress, the researchers warned some participants that they could receive a mild electric shock, unrelated to their performance, during their virtual rambles. Participants who didn’t have to worry about being randomly shocked tended to envision and take novel shortcuts based on memories acquired from prior journeys, whereas the stressed participants tended to fall back on the meandering, habitual routes.
Prior to beginning their trek, the participants were virtually held in place at their starting position. Brain scans from this period showed that the stressed individuals were less likely than their counterparts to activate the hippocampus—a brain structure that would have been active if they were mentally reviewing previous journeys. They also had less activity in their frontal-parietal lobe networks, which allows us to bring neural processes in line with our current goals. Previous work by the researchers had found that stress hinders this neural machinery, making it harder for us to retrieve and use memories.
The researchers believe their new study is the first to show how hippocampal-frontal lobe network disruption takes memory replay offline during a planning session due to stress.
“Its kind of like our brain is pushed into a more low-level thought-process state, and that corresponds with this reduced planning behavior,” said Thackery Brown, who was a postdoctoral scholar in the Memory Lab during this research and is lead author of the paper.
Stress and old age
Looking forward, the researchers are especially interested in how the relationship between stress and memory affects older populations, who often experience both health and economic issues. Older people are also more likely to be concerned about memory loss. Together, these combined stressors could contribute to a diminished ability to remember, which could further exacerbate their stress and also impair their ability to deal with it.
Brown has begun conducting studies similar to the virtual navigation experiments with participants between the ages of 65 and 80 to try to better understand how the associations between stress, memory and planning play out in older populations.
“It’s a powerful thing to think about how stressful events might affect planning in your grandparents,” said Brown, who is now an assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. “It affects us in our youth and as we interact with and care for older members of our family, and then it becomes relevant to us in a different way when we are, ourselves, older adults.”
Zinc therapy is a reasonable choice for patients with pressure injuries
Third People’s Hospital (China), March 31, 2020
According to news reporting originating from Jiangsu, People’s Republic of China, by NewsRx correspondents, research stated, “The aim of this systematic review was to summarize the evidence on the efficacy of zinc supplementation in patients with pressure injuries (PIs). Electronic data bases (Embase, MEDLINE, and Web of Science) were searched from inception to 2019 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and non-RCTs addressing the efficacy of zinc supplementation compared with a control nutrition invention on PI outcomes.”
Our news editors obtained a quote from the research from Third People’s Hospital, “The primary study outcome was the healing rate of PIs during treatment; the secondary outcomes were the improvement of PI area and pressure ulcer scale for healing (PUSH) score. A total of 7 studies were included in this systematic review and meta-analysis. The intervention group significantly had improved healing vs that of the control group (relative risk, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.01-2.06; p=0.043, I=19.3%). There was no obvious asymmetry in the funnel plot and no strong evidence of publication bias. Sensitivity analysis showed that meta-analysis has good stability. Studies showed a greater mean reduction in PI area. All the studies we included had a significant improvement in the PUSH score of PIs.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Our systematic review and meta-analysis from clinical research confirmed that zinc therapy can promote wound healing and suggest that medical staff should consider providing patients with zinc during PI treatment.”
How stress can cause a fever
Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine
You are about to take the stage to speak in front of a large audience. As you wait, your heart starts to pound, your breathing quickens, your blood pressure rises and your palms sweat. These physiological responses are evolutionarily conserved mechanisms to prepare your body to fight against imminent dangers, or to run away quickly. Another key response is an increase in body temperature. Emotional stress can cause this psychogenic fever in many mammalian species, from rodents to humans1,2. What is the neural mechanism that underlies this phenomenon? Writing in Science, Kataoka et al.3 describe a key neural circuit in psychologically induced hyperthermia.
The current work builds on a long legacy of research by the same group, who began their quest for a neuronal circuit that triggers heat production in 2004, using brown fat tissue as an entry point4. Brown fat is a type of ‘good’ fat that can generate heat when needed. Blocking the activity of β3-adrenergic receptor proteins, which are abundant in brown fat and enable the tissue to respond to signals from neurons, attenuates stress-induced hyperthermia5.
In the 2004 study, the researchers injected viral ‘retrograde tracers’ into brown fat in rats; the tracers move through connected neurons, allowing the authors to identify brain regions from which neurons project to the fat4. This revealed that neurons in a brainstem area called the rostral medullary raphe (rMR) connect to brown fat. Later on, the same group identified2 the dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH) as a key brain region upstream of the rMR. When the authors artificially activated the DMH-to-rMR pathway, they found an increase in neuronal activity and heat production in brown fat. Unexpectedly, activating this pathway also increased heart rate and blood pressure, suggesting that DMH–rMR could coordinate various physiological responses during stress.
In humans, psychological stress often involves an understanding of complicated situations, and thus probably requires instructions from regions of the brain’s cortex, which is involved in cognition. In the current study, Kataoka et al. set out to identify the cortical regions that could send these instructions to the DMH. As in their previous work, the authors used retrograde tracers — this time, injected into the DMH — to look for neurons that link into their heat-generating circuit. They found that only one, little-studied, region of the cortex was strongly labelled by the tracer. This region, called the dorsal peduncular cortex and dorsal taenia tecta (DP/DTT), is also highly active in rats in the wake of social defeat (a hostile interaction in which the animal has lost a fight with another, dominant rat).
To examine the role of this region in stress responses, the authors impaired its connection to the DMH in three ways. They blocked activity throughout the DP/DTT using a chemical inhibitor; they used a virus to kill cells projecting from the DP/DTT to the DMH; and they used a sophisticated genetic approach to inhibit activity specifically in the projections that DP/DTT neurons send to the DMH. In each case, their intervention reduced stress-induced hyperthermia.
By contrast, artificial activation of the neuronal projections between the two regions elicited a battery of responses, including increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and heat production in brown fat. The group provided evidence that the DP/DTT neurons send excitatory signals to the DMH, and demonstrated that the projections from the DP/DTT terminate close to the DMH cells that, in turn, project to the rMR. Taken together, Kataoka and colleagues’ experiments support the idea of a DP/DTT–DMH–rMR–brown fat circuit for heat production in response to stress
How does the stress-related information reach the DP/DTT? Further retrograde tracing experiments revealed that the strongest inputs to the DP/DTT are from the brain’s midline thalamic regions, including the paraventricular (PVT) and mediodorsal (MD) thalamic nuclei. The PVT is highly sensitive to various physical and psychological stressors, such as predator cues and pain6. By contrast, the MD interacts with the prefrontal cortex to mediate complex cognitive functions, such as rule learning, abstraction, evaluation and (in humans) imagination7. Thus, every possible stressor, from physical pain to anticipated legal trouble, can find their way to the DP/DTT. It remains unclear, however, how different stressors are encoded in the DP/DTT, whether the responses of the DP/DTT to stressors are influenced by experience, and whether deficits in DP/DTT cells could be responsible for abnormal physiological responses to stress. Future studies using electrophysiological or optical recordings of the DP/DTT cells will help to address these questions.
The philosopher and psychologist William James suggested that fear is an interpretation of physiological responses to threat, instead of the other way around8. In other words, rather than running from a bear because we are afraid, we are afraid because we are running from a bear. If James is right, rats should stop being afraid if their physiological responses to a threat are blocked. Kataoka et al. therefore asked whether inhibiting the DP/DTT–DMH pathway can suppress the fear that a rat shows when presented with an aggressive, dominant counterpart that has recently defeated it in a stressful social interaction.
Under normal conditions, a defeated animal will try to stay away from the aggressor to avoid incurring further damage. By contrast, naive animals that have not previously gone through a social defeat show no signs of fear, and investigate the dominant rat with great interest. Remarkably, when the authors blocked the DP/DTT–DMH pathway in rats that had been defeated, the animals behaved like naive rats.
Thus, the behavioural manifestation of fear, and perhaps the perception of fear (which can only be inferred from behaviours in rats), depends on bodily responses to threat. These data provide an indication of why taking a deep breath before that big public speech might help to calm us down. The data also suggest that suppressing physiological responses to stress could be an effective way to alleviate stressful feelings. Of importance in this context, non-stress-related thermoregulation — changes in internal temperature caused by infections or external temperature change, for instance — is mediated, not by the DP/DTT, but by another region upstream of the DMH, the preoptic area9. Blocking the DP/DTT–DMH pathway would therefore be expected to leave day-to-day regulation of temperature unchanged. It is early days, but manipulation of the DP/DTT could potentially be a way to curb chronic psychological stress.
Protective effects of curcumin against neuroinflammation
Wenzhou Medical University (China), April 1, 2020
According to news reporting originating from Wenzhou, People’s Republic of China, he research stated, “Activated microglia induced by amyloid-beta (A beta) release proinflammatory cytokines that can induce neurotoxicity. High-mobility group box I protein (HMGB1) and HMGB1-mediated inflammatory responses have been attributed with memory impairment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).”
Our news editors obtained a quote from the research from Wenzhou Medical University, “There is accumulating evidence to suggest curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory polyphenol. However, whether curcumin could effectively inhibit inflammation through the suppression of HMGB1 production or HMGB1-mediated inflammatory responses in AP-activated microglia is still unclear. Primary microglia were prepared from the cerebral cortices of one- to three-day-old Sprague Dawley rats. The microglia were cultured and treated with A beta(25-35) 50 mu M for 24 h to prove a toxic effect. Curcumin 10 mu M was administrated 1 h before A beta(25-45) treatment. The levels of HMGB1, interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in the culture medium were analyzed by ELISA. Western blotting was conducted to assess the expression level of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and the receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE). In addition, PC12 cells were treated with conditioned medium from microglia treated with A beta(25-35), or A beta(25-35) and curcumin, and cell viability was subsequently assessed by MTT. Curcumin was found to significantly inhibit HMGB1 expression and release in A beta(25-35)-stimulated microglia. Pretreatment with curcumin reduced TLR4 and RAGE expression. Proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha were also remarkably reduced by curcumin. In addition, curcumin protected neurons from indirect toxicity mediated by A beta(25-35)-treated microglia.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Curcumin effectively inhibits A beta(25-35)-induced neuroinflammation in microglia, partly by suppressing the expression of HMGB1, TLR4, and RAGE.”
Making healthy lifestyle choices can prevent the onset of dementia
Universities of Exeter, Michigan, Oxford and Southern Australia, April 2, 2020
Researchers found that individuals aged 60 years and above who follow a healthy lifestyle have a lower risk of dementia than those who have an unhealthy lifestyle. Additionally, they found that genetic risk can be mitigated by healthy lifestyle choices.
Fortunately, the onset of dementia can be prevented. In their study, American and British researchers hypothesized that adherence to a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of dementia.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers examined data drawn from the UK Biobank, a prospective cohort study that collected data from approximately 500,000 individuals in the U.K. from 2006 to 2010. The researchers restricted their analyses to data from individuals aged 60 years and above, who had no symptoms or diagnosis of dementia. The number of participants that fit the criteria amounted to 196,383.
To assess the participants’ lifestyles, the researchers used a touchscreen questionnaire that scored the participants based on the following dementia risk factors: smoking status, physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption.
Over a follow-up period of eight years, the researchers identified 1,769 cases of dementia. Surprisingly, they found that participants with unhealthy lifestyles, regardless of their genetic risk, had a higher likelihood of developing dementia than participants who followed healthier lifestyles.
This suggests that a person’s lifestyle choices can dictate his dementia risk, regardless of whether he is genetically predisposed to dementia or not. Having a healthy lifestyle can help prevent a person from developing dementia.
Dementia is the leading cause of disability and dependency among older individuals. Fortunately, the study proved that dementia is not inevitable. According to David Llewellyn, one of the authors of the study, their research “delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia.”
Study finds that Pilates significantly improves blood pressure in young, obese women
Marymount University (US), April 1, 2020
A new paper in The American Journal of Hypertension, published by Oxford University Press, finds that mat Pilates may be an effective strategy to improve cardiovascular health for young obese women, a population that is at risk for hypertension and early vascular complications.
With an estimated 9 million participants in 2018 and a series of celebrity endorsements, including Beyoncé and Emma Stone, mat Pilates training has seen a recent resurgence in popularity. It has become one of the most widely known wellness routines in the United States. The program emphasizes core strength, flexibility, body posture, and controlled breathing.
At the same time, the prevalence of obesity in young adults has become a major public health issue. Though it is well-documented that exercise is a key factor in preventing and managing cardiovascular health problems, obese women tend not to maintain traditional workout routines. Despite sources in the media reporting on the cardiovascular benefits of Pilates, the existing scientific literature is scarce.
Researchers here studied young obese women (age 19-27) with elevated blood pressure and a body mass index between 30-40kg/m2 through 12 weeks of mat Pilates. The participants were free of chronic diseases, were non-smokers and performed less than 90 minutes of regular exercise per week. There were three one-hour training sessions per week, which were divided into the following stages: initial warm up and stretch (10min), general mat Pilates exercises (40 min), and a cool down (10 min). The training increased over the 12 weeks, with the repetition of each exercise steadily increasing. A certified mat Pilates instructor supervised all sessions.
This is the first study to find that mat Pilates routines significantly reduced arterial stiffness and blood pressure, including central (aortic) pressure.
“We hypothesized that Mat Pilates might decrease the risk of hypertension in young obese women. Our findings provide evidence that Mat Pilates benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and body fatness in young obese women with elevated blood pressure. Because adherence to traditional exercise (both aerobic and resistance) is low in obese individuals, Mat Pilates Training might prove an effective exercise alternative for the prevention of hypertension and cardiovascular events in young obese adults.”
Tempting by design: Study reveals exposure to “food cues” increases a person’s cravings
Ever wonder why you sometimes get cravings after seeing a picture of food, even though you know you aren’t really hungry? According to a recent study, it’s all in the mind, or more precisely, in how the mind processes food cues.
According to psychologists at Dartmouth College, there is a physiological process responsible for heightened sensitivity to food cues that brings about food cravings. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers were able to observe changes in the brain when volunteers were exposed to images of food.
The data comes as part of a study focused on figuring out how exposure to certain kinds of images can help predict behavior. The idea that the researchers wanted to demonstrate was that exposure to such images can lead to failures in self-regulation.
The brain gives you food cravings when it sees food cues
To test their hypothesis, the scientists had female college students weighed and had their brains scanned using fMRI while viewing images of neutral scenes and appetizing foods. The fMRI scans focused on changes to the nucleus accumbens of the volunteers.
Located deep near the basal region of the brain, the nucleus accumbens is part of its reward system. Specifically, it controls the reward and punishment centers of the brain, transferring relevant motivational information to the motor cells in order to obtain a certain reward or satisfaction. This, of course, includes the satisfaction felt when eating.
Based on this, the researchers theorized that there is a relationship between greater activity in the nucleus accumbens while viewing pictures of food and weight gain. Any participants who showed less response to the images would be less likely to gain weight.
Six months after the scans, the participants returned to the lab for a follow-up weighing. As expected, those who demonstrated greater activity in the nucleus accumbens when viewing food images did actually gain weight.
Exposure can occur unconsciously
The interesting, but also frightening, thing that the study discovered was that the whole process can take place unconsciously. Just seeing triggers on TV commercials or other media can increase the likelihood of cravings and eating. In a way, the study sheds new light on just how effective the food-related imagery in such commercials can be. (Related: Fighting your cravings: Researchers identify new brain circuits that can help curb junk food cravings.)
The study also demonstrates how resisting cravings triggered by these images and commercials isn’t just a matter of “will power” — there are actual physiological processes driving them. Learning about how these images can cause cravings can go a long way towards resisting them.
More than just food cravings
The study is just one part of a larger study on how images, in general, can affect the nucleus accumbens and predict behavior. In addition to food, the researchers also studied reactions towards sexually suggestive images and whether or not it resulted in an increase in sexual activity.
Upon returning after six months, the participants were also made to answer two surveys for sexual activity, the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory and the Sexual Desire Inventory (SDI). The researchers noted a correlation between increased activity in the nucleus accumbens when viewing sexually suggestive images and sexual activity (both alone and with a partner).
Based on these results, scientists believe that further research into how the nucleus accumbens and the brain’s reward centers react to images could be useful for predicting health risks, such as obesity and sexually transmitted diseases (STD). It can also give further insight into how such imagery can be used and abused by certain parties, such as advertisers, to their benefit and the public’s detriment.
Older people generally more emotionally healthy, better able to resist daily temptations
Duke University, March 24, 2020
The stereotype of grumpy old people apparently doesn’t hold up under closer inspection. A new study from Duke and Vanderbilt University psychologists finds that older people are generally more emotionally stable and better able to resist temptations in their daily lives.
“There is evidence here that emotional health and regulation improve with age,” said Daisy Burr, a Duke PhD student who led the study with Gregory Samanez-Larkin, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience. Their work appeared March 23 in the journal Emotion.
The researchers pinged 123 study participants aged 20 to 80 on their cell phones three times a day for ten days. Participants were asked to indicate how they felt on a five-point scale for each of eight emotional states, including contentment, enthusiasm, relaxation and sluggishness. Then they were asked whether they were desiring anything right then, including food or alcohol, cigarettes, social media, shopping, talking to someone, sex, sleep or work. They could report up to three temptations at once.
Each participant had also been assessed on a standard measure of “global life satisfaction,” which determined their general well-being, regardless of the moment-to-moment moods.
What the researchers were looking for is how positive or negative feelings and the ability to resist temptations might change as people get older.
What they found is that the older people in the study were more stable and “less volatile in their emotions,” Samanez-Larkin said. And age, it turns out, is a stronger predictor of the ability to resist temptation than the emotional state.
Samenez-Larkin said a person’s goals change with age. The older person may be more oriented toward the present and “trying to maximize well-being every day. You want to feel good as much as possible.”
The researchers said their findings are a better reflection of real-world conditions because they surveyed participants in their own time and space, rather than having them respond to cues in a laboratory setting. Burr added that older people are better at regulating their emotional state when allowed to do what they want.
In the end, Burr’s analysis of the data found people experiencing more negative affect are worse at resisting desires. Younger study participants who had higher levels of life satisfaction were better able to resist desires.
But older adults were better at resisting temptation, regardless of their life satisfaction.
Most diets lead to weight loss and lower blood pressure, but effects largely disappear after a year
Monash University (Australia), April 1, 2020
Reasonably good evidence suggests that most diets result in similar modest weight loss and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors over a period of six months, compared with a usual diet, finds a study published by The BMJ today.
Weight reduction at the 12 month follow-up diminished, and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors largely disappeared, except in association with the Mediterranean diet, which saw a small but important reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
As such, at least for short-term benefits, the researchers suggest that people should choose the diet they prefer without concern about the size of benefits.
Obesity has nearly tripled worldwide since 1975, prompting a plethora of dietary recommendations for weight management and cardiovascular risk reduction.
But so far, there has been no comprehensive analysis comparing the relative impact of different diets for weight loss and improving cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
To address this, a team of international researchers set out to determine the relative effectiveness of dietary patterns and popular named diets among overweight or obese adults.
Their findings are based on the results of 121 randomised trials with 21,942 patients (average age 49) who followed a popular named diet or an alternative control diet and reported weight loss, and changes in cardiovascular risk factors.
The studies were designed differently, and were of varying quality, but the researchers were able to allow for that in their analysis.
They grouped diets by macronutrient patterns (low carbohydrate, low fat, and moderate macronutrient—similar to low fat, but slightly more fat and slightly less carbohydrate) and according to 14 popular named dietary programmes (Atkins, DASH, Mediteranean, etc).
Compared with a usual diet, low carbohydrate and low fat diets resulted in a similar modest reduction in weight (between 4 and 5 kg) and reductions in blood pressure at six months. Moderate macronutrient diets resulted in slightly less weight loss and blood pressure reductions.
Among popular named diets, Atkins, DASH, and Zone had the largest effect on weight loss (between 3.5 and 5.5 kg) and blood pressure compared with a usual diet at six months. No diets significantly improved levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol or C reactive protein (a chemical associated with inflammation) at six months.
Overall, weight loss diminished at 12 months among all dietary patterns and popular named diets, while the benefits for cardiovascular risk factors of all diets, except the Mediterranean diet, essentially disappeared.
The researchers point to some study limitations that could have affected the accuracy of their estimates. But say their comprehensive search and thorough analyses supports the robustness of the results.
As such, they say moderate certainty evidence shows that most macronutrient diets result in modest weight loss and substantial improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, particularly blood pressure, at six but not 12 months.
Differences between diets are, however, generally trivial to small, implying that for short-term cardiovascular benefit people can choose the diet they prefer from among many of the available diets without concern about the magnitude of benefits, they conclude.
The extensive range of popular diets analysed “provides a plethora of choice but no clear winner,” say researchers at Monash University, Australia in a linked editorial.
As such, they suggest conversations should shift away from specific choice of diet, and focus instead on how best to maintain any weight loss achieved.
As national dietary guidelines fail to resonate with the public, taking a food-based approach with individuals and encouraging them to eat more vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and less sugar, salt and alcohol is sound advice, they add.
“If we are to change the weight trajectory of whole populations, we may learn more from understanding how commercial diet companies engage and retain their customers, and translate that knowledge into more effective health promotion campaigns,” they conclude.
Dietary niacin intake affects risk of hip fracture, hip bone mineral density
Medical College of Georgia and University of Washington, April 2, 2020
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is an essential micronutrient that helps the body break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins and convert them into energy. It is also involved in the production of certain hormones and plays a role in liver function. Niacin can be obtained from a wide variety of food sources, such as organ meats like liver, white meat and fish.
However, recent studies suggest that niacin intake may have an influence on the development of age-related diseases. To investigate this, researchers from different universities in the U.S. examined the association of dietary niacin intake with multiple skeletal health parameters, such as bone mineral density (BMD), hip fractures and body composition.
In their paper, which appeared in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, they detailed how consuming too much or too little of this important vitamin can affect bone health, particularly in the elderly.
Low or high intake of niacin can increase the risk of hip fractures in older adults
According to the researchers, interest in niacin has increased recently due to its potential involvement in diseases associated with aging. However, to date, no study has investigated its influence on bone health, particularly in African American and white men and women.
For their study, the researchers recruited 5,187 men and women from the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a population-based study of coronary heart disease and stroke in adults aged 65 and above. These participants have a mean daily dietary niacin intake of 32.6 milligrams (mg) and were divided into four groups:
- Group 1, with an intake of 3.6 to 21.8 mg per day
- Group 2, with an intake of 21.9 to 30.2 mg per day
- Group 3, with an intake of 30.3 to 40.9 mg per day
- Group 4, with an intake of 41 to 102.4 mg per day
The researchers estimated the risk of incident hip fracture per 10 mg increment of daily dietary niacin intake using proportional hazards models.
They reported that during a median follow-up of 13 years, 725 participants had an incident hip fracture. Adjusting for demographic, clinical characteristics and diet, the researchers found that high and low dietary niacin intake was significantly associated with an increased risk of hip fractures.
The two groups with the lowest and highest niacin intake had an increased risk of incident hip fracture compared with groups 2 and 3. Meanwhile, dietary niacin intake was inversely associated with hip BMD. However, it had no significant association with total body BMD or any body composition measures.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that in elderly, community-dwelling African American and white men and women, high and low dietary niacin intake significantly increases the risk of hip fracture.
Teen marijuana use boosts risk of adult insomnia
University of Colorado, April 1, 2020
Smoke a lot of weed as a teenager, and when you reach adulthood you’ll be more likely to have trouble falling or staying asleep, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study of nearly 2,000 twins.
The study, published in the journal Sleep, comes at a time when cannabis—in everything from THC-infused gummies to prerolled joints and high-potency vape pens—is increasingly being marketed as a sleep aid in states where marijuana is legal. It adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that while it may help some users fall asleep occasionally, chronic use can have negative long-term consequences, particularly for the young.
“People tend to think that cannabis helps with sleep, but if you look closely at the studies, continued or excessive use is also associated with a lot of sleep deficits,” said lead author Evan Winiger, a graduate student in the Institute for Behavioral Genetics. “Our study adds to that literature, showing for the first time that early use is associated with increased rates of insomnia later on.”
For the study, Winiger analyzed data from 1,882 young adults from the Colorado Twin Registry, which has been following twins for research since 1968. Each had completed surveys about their sleep habits, marijuana use and mental health.
They found that about one-third of subjects who started using marijuana regularly before age 18 had insomnia in adulthood, compared to less than 20% among those who didn’t use cannabis regularly as teens. The same pattern held true for a particularly hazardous form of insomnia known as “short sleep” (sleeping fewer than six hours per night on a regular basis). About one in 10 subjects who used cannabis regularly as teens grew up to be short-sleepers, while only about 5% of non-users did.
People who started using marijuana after they turned 18 also had slightly higher rates of insomnia in young adulthood. And these patterns persisted when controlling for depression, anxiety and shift work (which can all also impair sleep).
Lasting impacts on developing brains
Exactly why early cannabis use correlates with later sleep problems remains unclear, but several theories are emerging.
As Winiger explains, the human body has its own endocannabinoid system, producing chemicals much like the cannabinoids (CBD and THC) present in marijuana that bind to cannabinoid receptors in our brains and have been shown to influence our cognition, emotions and circadian rhythm—or body clock.
“One theory is that these receptors are being desensitized or disturbed from all the cannabis use at a time that the brain is still developing, and that leads to waking issues later,” he said.
It could also be that cannabis use in adolescence leads to structural changes in the brain. (Previous brain imaging studies have shown it can alter the developing prefrontal cortex.)
Or chronic use may set teens up for poor sleep habits when they are young, which linger into adulthood.
Genes may also be at play.
By looking at 472 identical twin pairs (who share 100% of their genetic makeup) and 304 fraternal pairs (who share only 50%), the researchers were able to infer to what degree the traits were inherited. They concluded that many of the same genes that contribute to the risk of early cannabis use are also associated with insomnia and insomnia with short sleep.
This is the first study to find a direct genetic correlation between cannabis use and insomnia.
In short, it remains a chicken-and-egg question.
“It is possible that sleep problems could influence cannabis use, cannabis use could influence sleep problems, or common genetics could be responsible,” the authors wrote.
Co-author Ken Wright, director of the Sleep and Chronobiology lab, says the study does not necessarily mean all strains of marijuana are bad for sleep in all people all the time. Some previous studies show cannabis can help people fall asleep if used occasionally.
“The evidence in adults is quite mixed, and unfortunately we can’t do randomized controlled trials with different strains and different doses,” Wright said, pointing to federal laws that prohibit researchers from handling cannabis, providing it to subjects or being present while subjects use it.
What he can say now is this:
“We would not recommend that teenagers utilize marijuana to promote their sleep. Anytime you are dealing with a developing brain you need to be cautious.”
Boosts in serum EPA levels from prescription fish oil drive heart benefits
As with lowering LDL, raising EPA with icosapent ethyl helped lower CVD risk, study finds
Harvard Medical School, March 31, 2020
Higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in the blood–and not a decrease in triglyceride levels as originally thought–appear to explain the striking reductions in cardiovascular events and deaths seen among people taking 4 grams daily of the prescription fish oil, icosapent ethyl, according to findings from a REDUCE-IT substudy presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology (ACC.20/WCC).
“A major missing piece of the puzzle, and what many clinicians want to know, is how icosapent ethyl actually works to produce such dramatic cardiovascular risk lowering,” said Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the current study. “On-treatment EPA levels achieved via the drug strongly correlated with lower rates of cardiovascular events, heart attack, stroke, coronary revascularization procedures, unstable angina, sudden cardiac arrest, new heart failure, or death for any reason.”
REDUCE-IT enrolled 8,179 patients at 473 sites in 11 countries who had elevated cardiovascular risk and were already being treated with statins. The trial found that taking a high dose of icosapent ethyl cut the combined rate of first and subsequent nonfatal heart attacks, strokes, cardiovascular deaths, procedures for coronary artery disease such as stenting, or hospitalizations for unstable angina by 25% and 30%, respectively, over a median of 4.9 years of follow-up. Most patients in the trial were already on antiplatelet therapy, ACE-inhibitors/ARBs, beta blockers, aspirin and statins, which, researchers said, provided reassurance that icosapent ethyl, by itself, offered separate and incremental benefit.
Prior to REDUCE-IT, icosapent ethyl was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people with triglycerides above 500 mg/dL, so Bhatt said many people understandably thought the study drug reduced cardiovascular events primarily by lowering triglycerides. However, Bhatt said the current study, which looked at the association between blood serum levels of EPA achieved on icosapent ethyl and cardiovascular outcomes, found the lion’s share of the drug’s remarkably large cardiovascular benefit is driven by achieved EPA levels.
“Changes in triglycerides levels and other cardiovascular risk markers, including LDL, HDL, apoB and CRP, appear to be responsible for a significantly lesser portion of the overall observed benefit,” he said. “I think this finding is going to usher in a whole new era of cardiovascular therapies. We are, in a sense, where we were with statins when the first one came out.”
As part of the analysis, Bhatt and his team first looked at EPA levels prior to randomization to determine whether the drug worked differently based on a person’s initial baseline EPA level, which may reflect a diet high in fish consumption or genetics. But they found that regardless of patients’ initial serum EPA levels, they derived a similar and large degree of cardiovascular benefit. Data on baseline EPA were missing for 14% patients, but the baseline characteristics and outcomes were similar between patients with and without missing data.
The researchers then examined achieved EPA levels on the drug compared with placebo, grouping patients into thirds, or tertiles, ranging from the lowest to highest levels of EPA and averaged across visits. Achieved EPA within the icosapent ethyl group was strongly associated with cardiovascular events, and each of the tertiles showed a significant relative risk reduction in cardiovascular events.
They examined on-treatment EPA levels from lowest to highest and found significant associations with all measured cardiovascular outcomes. “The higher the EPA level in their blood, the lower the rates of the different cardiovascular events, cardiovascular deaths and even total mortality,” Bhatt said.
Overall, the drug significantly increased serum EPA levels by 386% from baseline to one-year compared with placebo. Levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is another omega-3 fatty acid also found in oily fish like salmon, decreased by 2.9%, which Bhatt said suggests the cardiovascular benefits are clearly from EPA and not DHA.
Researchers also examined the relationship between on-treatment EPA levels and several other cardiovascular outcomes, though analyses for bleeding and atrial fibrillation were not yet available. While there were no significant reductions in heart failure in REDUCE-IT, among patients with the highest on-treatment EPA levels, there was a significant reduction in hospitalizations for new heart failure with the drug versus placebo, which Bhatt said is quite remarkable. There were also significant associations between on-treatment EPA levels and lower risks of sudden cardiac death and cardiac arrest, further validating what was seen in the overall trial.
Experts don’t know why some people are able to achieve higher serum EPA levels and others are not. Bhatt and his team accounted for whether patients took the drug, but there may be other influencing factors, such as how someone metabolizes EPA, their body size or their genetics–this needs further study.
Bhatt said the EPA levels attained on the drug are well beyond what can be achieved with diet or dietary supplements. He said that the study drug is a unique prescription medicine and that the results do not apply to other omega-3 products or to dietary supplement formulations, which are not approved or strictly regulated by the FDA and which, per the FDA, have not demonstrated reliable or consistent cardiovascular risk reduction.
Based on the data from REDUCE-IT, the FDA in December 2019 expanded the icosapent ethyl label to be used as an add-on to maximally tolerated statin therapy to help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, coronary revascularization and unstable angina requiring hospitalization in adult patients with triglyceride levels ?150 mg/dL and either established cardiovascular disease or diabetes mellitus plus two or more additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Based on this, Bhatt said icosapent ethyl stands to benefit over 12 million patients in the U.S. alone.
Greater intake of calcium, vitamin D associated with lower ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of 29 epidemiological studies
Jinan University (China), March 30, 2020
According to news reporting originating in Guangdong, People’s Republic of China, by NewsRx journalists, research stated, “The findings for the roles of dairy products, calcium, and vitamin D on ovarian cancer risk remain controversial. We aimed to assess these associations by using an updated meta-analysis.”
The news reporters obtained a quote from the research from Jinan University, “Five electronic databases (e.g., PubMed and Embase) were searched from inception to December 24, 2019. Pooled relative risks (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. A total of 29 case-control or cohort studies were included. For comparisons of the highest vs. lowest intakes, higher whole milk intake was associated with increased ovarian cancer risk (RR: 1.35, 95% CI: 1.15, 1.59), whereas decreased risks were observed for higher intakes of low-fat milk (RR: 0.84, 95% CI: 0.73, 0.96), dietary calcium (RR: 0.71, 95% CI: 0.60, 0.84), and dietary vitamin D (RR: 0.80, 95% CI: 0.67, 0.95). Additionally, for every 100-g/d increment, increased ovarian cancer risks were found for total dairy products (RR: 1.03, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.04) and for whole milk (RR: 1.07, 95% CI: 1.03, 1.11); however, decreased risks were found for a 100-g/d increased intakes of low-fat milk (RR: 0.95, 95% CI: 0.91, 0.99), cheese (RR: 0.87, 95% CI: 0.76, 0.98), dietary calcium (RR: 0.96, 95% CI: 0.95, 0.98), total calcium (RR: 0.98, 95% CI: 0.97, 0.99), dietary vitamin D (RR: 0.92, 95% CI: 0.87, 0.97), and increased levels of circulating vitamin D (RR: 0.84, 95% CI: 0.72, 0.97).”
According to the news reporters, the research concluded: “These results show that whole milk intake might contribute to a higher ovarian cancer risk, whereas low-fat milk, dietary calcium, and dietary vitamin D might reduce the risk.”
Quercetin, the active compound in Yang-Yin-Qing-Fei-Tang, found to inhibit lung cancer
Kunshan Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (China), March 31, 2020
In an recent study published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, researchers from China looked into the chemical components and mechanism of action of a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) known as yang yin qing fei tang (YYQFT). They found that quercetin is not only one of the main active components of YYQFT, but it is also responsible for the medicine’s inhibitory effect on the growth of non-small cell lung cancer cells.
YYQFT can prevent the growth of lung cancer, thanks to quercetin
According to the researchers, YYQFT is a well-known TCM used in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary emphysema, bronchitis and cytomegaloviral pneumonia, but its mode of action is still unclear.
To elucidate the mechanism underlying its medicinal properties, the researchers first obtained extracts from YYQFT using different solvents. They then identified the most effective extract by assessing their individual effects on non-small cell lung cancer cell growth. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer in humans.
The researchers identified several active compounds in YYQFT and found that quercetin is one of them. They then tested the anti-tumor activity of quercetin in vivo using a lung cancer xenograft model in mice.
The researchers reported that quercetin at a concentration of 200 micrograms per milliliter (mcg/mL) significantly reduced tumor volume without affecting the body weight of the mice. Quercetin also induced apoptosis in tumor tissues by upregulating multiple apoptosis-related genes, such as p53, Bax and Fas.
In addition, quercetin increased the ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 proteins. This ratio is considered by scientists as an indicator of the susceptibility of cells to apoptosis, or programmed cell death. A low Bax/Bcl-2 ratio is typically seen in human cancer cells that resist apoptosis, while a high ratio is indicative of impending cell death.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that quercetin, as the main active component of YYQFT, is responsible for the inhibitory effects shown by this TCM on non-small cell lung cancer cell growth.
Vegetable compound sulforaphane decreases amyloid beta oligomers-mediated decrease in phagocytic activity of microglial cells
National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (India), March 27, 2020
According to news reporting from Gujarat, India, research stated, “Microglia are the brain mononuclear phagocytes which plays a key role in neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Till date, microglia have been explored mostly for their neuro-inflammatory functions.”
The news correspondents obtained a quote from the research from the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, “Recent studies have shifted their focus towards less explored functions which involve non-autonomous clearance of protein aggregates. However, these functions are significantly affected by aging and neurodegeneration. In Alzheimer’s disease (AD), microglia have been reported to clear amyloid beta (A beta) deposits via phagocytosis or release various pro-inflammatory cytokines. Whether microglia could be beneficial or detrimental to the brain, it all depends upon the type and strength of stimulus. So, if their beneficial properties could be selectively harnessed without activating pro-inflammatory response, a potential therapeutic strategy could be developed to check the formation of protein aggregates like A beta. In the present study, we have checked the effect of toxic amyloid beta oligomers (A beta o) on the microglial phagocytic activity. Our findings revealed that at lower concentrations, A beta o are not toxic to the cells and they can survive even with longer exposures but with decreased phagocytic activity. However, at higher concentrations A beta o become toxic and resulted in modulation of various genes which regulates microglial phagocytic activity. Sulforaphane (SFN) treatment has shown to induce the phagocytic activity of A beta o treated microglial cells. In addition, low dose A beta o and SFN treatment have not shown modulation in the levels of pro-inflammatory mediators of microglia.”
According to the news reporters, the research concluded: “Taken together, these findings suggest that SFN treatment may ameliorate the A beta o mediated decrease in microglial phagocytic activity.”
Hypothyroidism patients cite effectiveness in choosing alternative to standard therapy
University of Arkansas and Mayo Clinic, March 30, 2020
Three in four hypothyroidism patients who chose desiccated thyroid extract (DTE) over the standard therapy said this option was more effective than other thyroid hormone medications, according to an analysis of comments in online patient forums accepted for presentation at ENDO 2020, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, and publication in a special supplemental section of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Patients commenting in the forums on DTE use most frequently mentioned an improvement in symptoms and overall well-being as benefits, said researcher Freddy J.K. Toloza, M.D., of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (Little Rock, Ark) and Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn).
This alternative treatment–also known as nature thyroid, thyroid USP or Armour thyroid–is made from dehydrated pig thyroid glands. An estimated 10%-25% of people with hypothyroidism–an underactive thyroid–use this treatment, although it is a medication that hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Among people with hypothyroidism, some may prefer thyroid extract over other guideline-recommended thyroid hormone replacement therapies for many reasons, including better perceived effectiveness, improvement in symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain, and improvement in overall well-being,” Toloza said. He noted that nearly half (45%) of people who wrote about using DTE in online patient forums reported that a clinician initially drove their interest in trying DTE, even though treatment guidelines do not recommend the use of this medication.
Hypothyroidism affects 0.5%-2% of the U.S. population. Levothyroxine (LT4), a synthetic thyroid hormone, is the recommended treatment for patients with hypothyroidism.
The researchers analyzed patient-reported information from online forums to better understand patient preferences for and attitudes toward the use of DTE to treat hypothyroidism. They searched the 10 most popular patient forums based on the number of users using the following key terms: desiccated thyroid extract, desiccated thyroid treatment, thyroid USP, commercial names of DTE (Armour Thyroid® or Natural Thyroid®), thyroid extract, and hypothyroidism.
They retrieved and analyzed 1,235 unique posts from those websites between each forum’s inception and March 2018. After the initial screening, they selected 673 posts from three of these forums (WebMD, Patients Like Me, and Drugs.com) based on the completeness of the available information.
Patients described many reasons for switching from a previous thyroid treatment to DTE, including lack of improvement in symptoms (58%) and the development of side effects (22%). Among a majority of patients, DTE was described as moderately-to-majorly effective overall (81%) and more effective than other thyroid hormone medications (77%). The most frequently described benefits associated with DTE use were an improvement in clinical symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain (56%), as well as a change in overall well-being (34%). One-fifth of people also described side effects related to the use of DTE.
“The findings underscore the need for clinicians to individualize therapy approaches for hypothyroidism,” Toloza said.
Air pollution linked to dementia and cardiovascular disease
Karolinska Institute (Sweden), March 30, 2020
People continuously exposed to air pollution are at increased risk of dementia, especially if they also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, according to a study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in the journal JAMA Neurology. Therefore, patients with cardiovascular diseases who live in polluted environments may require additional support from care providers to prevent dementia, according to the researchers.
The number of people living with dementia is projected to triple in the next 30 years. No curative treatment has been identified and the search for modifiable risk and protective factors remains a public health priority. Recent studies have linked both cardiovascular disease and air pollution to the development of dementia, but findings on the air pollution-link have been scarce and inconsistent.
In this study, the researchers examined the link between long-term exposure to air pollution and dementia and what role cardiovascular diseases play in that association. Almost 3,000 adults with an average age of 74 and living in the Kungsholmen district in central Stockholm were followed for up to 11 years. Of those, 364 people developed dementia. The annual average level of particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in width (PM2.5) are considered low compared to international standards.
“Interestingly, we were able to establish harmful effects on human health at levels below current air pollution standards,” says first author Giulia Grande, researcher at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet. “Our findings suggest air pollution does play a role in the development of dementia, and mainly through the intermediate step of cardiovascular disease and especially stroke.”
For the last five years of exposure, the risk of dementia increased by more than 50 percent per interquartile range (IQR) difference in mean PM2.5 levels and by 14 percent per IQR in nitrogen oxide. Earlier exposures seemed less important. Heart failure and ischemic heart disease both enhanced the dementia risk and stroke explained almost 50 percent of air pollution-related dementia cases, according to the researchers.
“Air pollution is an established risk factor for cardiovascular health and because CVD accelerates cognitive decline, we believe exposure to air pollution might negatively affect cognition indirectly,” says Giulia Grande. “In our study, virtually all of the association of air pollution with dementia seemed to be through the presence or the development of CVD, adding more reason to reduce emissions and optimize treatment of concurrent CVD and related risk factors, particularly for people living in the most polluted areas of our cities.
Men with erectile dysfunction may face higher risk of death
Leuven University Hospital (Belgium), March 31, 2020
Men with erectile dysfunction have a higher risk of death, regardless of their testosterone levels, suggests a study accepted for presentation at ENDO 2020, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, and publication in a special supplemental section of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
“As both vascular disease and low testosterone levels can influence erectile function, sexual symptoms can be an early sign for increased cardiovascular risk and mortality,” said lead researcher Leen Antonio, M.D., Ph.D., of KU Leuven-University Hospitals in Belgium.
Low testosterone levels have been linked to a higher risk of death in middle-aged and older men, but results from large studies are inconsistent, Antonio said. Studies have also linked sexual dysfunction with mortality in older men.
The new study used data from the European Male Ageing Study (EMAS), a large observational study that was designed to investigate age-related hormonal changes and a broad range of health outcomes in elderly men. The researchers analyzed data from 1,913 participants in five medical centers. They analyzed the relationship between their hormone measurements and sexual function at the beginning of the study, and whether they were still alive more than 12 years later.
During the average follow-up period of 12.4 years, 483 men–25 percent–died. In men with normal total testosterone levels, the presence of sexual symptoms, particularly erectile dysfunction, increased the risk of death by 51 percent compared with men without these symptoms.
Men with low total testosterone levels and sexual symptoms had a higher risk of death compared with men with normal testosterone levels and no sexual symptoms.
Men with erectile dysfunction, poor morning erections and low libido had a higher mortality risk compared to men with no sexual symptoms. In men with these three sexual symptoms, the risk of dying was almost 1.8 times higher compared to men without symptoms. In men with just erectile dysfunction, the risk of dying was 1.4 times higher compared to men without erectile dysfunction.
Levels of free testosterone (the testosterone that is easily used by the body) were lower in those who died. Men who had the lowest levels of free testosterone had a higher risk of death compared to men who had the highest levels.
Dietary supplement shows promise for reversing cardiovascular aging
University of Colorado, March 29, 2020
Scientists have long known that restricting calories can fend off physiological signs of aging, with studies in fruit flies, roundworms, rodents and even people showing that chronically slashing intake by about a third can reap myriad health benefits and, in some cases, extend lifespan.
From a public health perspective, that advice would be impractical for many and dangerous for some.
But a new University of Colorado Boulder study published today indicates that when people consume a natural dietary supplement called nicotinomide riboside (NR) daily, it mimics caloric restriction, aka “CR,” kick-starting the same key chemical pathways responsible for its health benefits.
Supplementation also tends to improve blood pressure and arterial health, particularly in those with mild hypertension, the study found.
“This was the first ever study to give this novel compound to humans over a period of time,” said senior author Doug Seals, a professor and researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology. “We found that it is well tolerated and appears to activate some of the same key biological pathways that calorie restriction does.”
For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, Seals and lead author Chris Martens, then a postdoctoral fellow at CU Boulder, included 24 lean and healthy men and women ages 55 to 79 from the Boulder area.
Half were given a placebo for six weeks, then took a 500 mg twice-daily dose of nicotinamide riboside (NR) chloride (NIAGEN). The other half took NR for the first six weeks, followed by placebo.
The researchers took blood samples and other physiological measurements at the end of each treatment period.
Participants reported no serious adverse effects.
The researchers found that 1,000 mg daily of NR boosted levels of another compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) by 60 percent. NAD+ is required for activation of enzymes called sirtuins, which are largely credited with the beneficial effects of calorie restriction. It’s involved in a host of metabolic actions throughout the body, but it tends to decline with age.
Research suggests that as an evolutionary survival mechanism, the body conserves NAD+ when subjected to calorie restriction. But only recently have scientists begun to explore the idea of supplementing with so-called “NAD+-precursors” like NR to promote healthy aging.
“The idea is that by supplementing older adults with NR, we are not only restoring something that is lost with aging (NAD+), but we could potentially be ramping up the activity of enzymes responsible for helping protect our bodies from stress,” Martens said.
The new study also found that in 13 participants with elevated blood pressure or stage 1 hypertension (120-139/80-89 mmHg), systolic blood pressure was about 10 points lower after supplementation. A drop of that magnitude could translate to a 25 percent reduction in heart attack risk.
“If this magnitude of systolic blood pressure reduction with NR supplementation is confirmed in a larger clinical trial, such an effect could have broad biomedical implications,” the authors note.
Ultimately, the authors say, such CR-mimicking compounds could provide an additional option—alongside the dietary changes and exercise currently recommended—for people whose blood pressure is not yet high enough to warrant medication but who are still at risk for a heart attack.
They stress that the study was small and “pilot in nature.”
“We are not able to make any definitive claims that this compound is safe or going to be effective for specific segments of the population,” said Martens, now an assistant professor at the University of Delaware. “What this paper provides us with is a really good stepping stone for future work.”
Martens and Seals have applied for a grant to conduct a larger clinical trial looking specifically at the impact of NR supplementation on blood pressure and arterial health. Martens is also launching a separate trial looking at the impact NR has on older adults with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
Alcohol consumption by fathers before conception could negatively impact child development
UC Riverside researchers’ mouse studies also show how a common nutrient can help babies of alcoholic moms
University of California at Riverside, March 30, 2020
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have explored the relationship between parental alcohol consumption — before conception in the case of fathers and during pregnancy in the case of mothers — and offspring development.
In a paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the researchers report that when alcohol-exposed male mice mated with alcohol-naïve females, the offspring displayed significant deficits in brain development. Specifically, the neocortex, the most complex part of the mammalian brain responsible for complex cognitive and behavioral function, had patterning deficits where abnormal gene expression led to miswiring of connections. Although neither these mice nor their mothers had ever been exposed to alcohol, their brains showed changes consistent with a mouse model of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD.
“People have known about the dangers of maternal drinking during pregnancy for years; however, the safety of paternal drinking while trying to conceive has barely been considered,” said Kelly Huffman, an associate professor of psychology who led the study and whose lab generated the FASD mouse model. “Our research shows that fathers’ exposure to alcohol leading up to conception can have deleterious effects on the child’s brain and behavioral development.”
In a second paper, published in Neuropharmacology, Huffman’s team reports that when female mice were given choline, an essential nutrient, along with alcohol during their pregnancies, the negative outcomes associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, such as smaller body weight, brain weight, and abnormalities in the anatomy of the neocortex, were reduced in the offspring. This suggests choline supplementation could prevent the adverse outcomes associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.
“Our work shows that prenatal choline supplementation, when administered at the time of prenatal alcohol exposure, improves abnormal brain and behavioral development in offspring,” Huffman said. “It rescues some of the phenotypes associated with FASD.”
Sins of the father
In the first study, male mice consumed alcohol for approximately two-three weeks before mating with alcohol-naïve females. Huffman’s team found this preconceptual paternal alcohol exposure altered neocortical gene expression and connectivity in their offspring. The offspring also demonstrated atypical features such as increased anxiety or hyperactivity and reduced motor function, consistent with some documented behavior patterns of children born to alcoholic fathers.
“Fathers who consistently consume moderate to high amounts of alcohol leading up to conception may negatively impact offspring development due to the exposure to the paternal sperm,” Huffman said. “In our previous study, we described how the paternal germ line specifically can transmit heritable changes through multiple generations after a single prenatal alcohol exposure. Clearly, the paternal environment before conception is critical for healthy offspring development.”
Additionally, the team found male offspring generally seem to be more adversely affected than female offspring by paternal alcohol exposure in terms of increased hyperactivity, impaired coordination, and impaired short-term motor learning abilities.
The study is the first to examine the effects of preconceptual paternal alcohol exposure on the gross anatomical development of the neocortex, including genetic patterning and circuit development, coupled with extensive behavioral analyses in the affected offspring. Huffman’s team plans to extend the mouse study to investigate whether the effects of paternal alcohol consumption on the offspring are transmitted to subsequent generations.
Huffman was joined in the research by graduate students Kathleen E. Conner and Riley T. Bottom.
Nutrient to the rescue
Depending on maternal age, up to 18% of pregnant women in the United States report alcohol consumption during their pregnancies. Gestational or prenatal alcohol exposure can produce problematic deficits in offspring. In mice, prenatal alcohol exposure, via maternal drinking, results in gross developmental abnormalities, including decreased body weight, brain weight, and brain size. Also, the exposure causes profound abnormalities in the patterning of an infant’s neocortex and the resulting circuitry, or connections, necessary for precise function.
In the second study, Huffman’s team exposed pregnant mice to 25% alcohol, the usual dose for the FASD model, as well as about 640 milligrams per liter of choline chloride supplement throughout the pregnancy. Her team’s goal was to test potential rescue effects of choline supplementation on abnormal neocortical and behavioral development induced by prenatal alcohol exposure.
Choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient, is a methyl group donor and is crucial for proper brain development as it generates the methyl group that attaches to DNA and affects gene expression. Given the transgenerational effects of prenatal alcohol consumption discovered by the Huffman lab, Huffman’s team believed co-administration of choline with alcohol could mitigate the deleterious effects of the exposure.
“Our findings suggest that providing methyl group donors, such as choline, to alcoholic women during pregnancy could be effective in reducing the extent of the damage that prenatal alcohol exposure can cause,” said Bottom, the first author of the research paper. “This could possibly reduce the multigenerational transmission of FASD in our prenatal alcohol exposure model.”
Huffman and Bottom were joined in the study by Charles W. Abbott III, a former graduate student in Huffman’s lab. This work is a major component of Bottom’s dissertation researc
More nutrients, less harmful fats could help in colorectal cancer patients’ recovery
Soonchunhyang University (Korea), March 29, 2020
Greater vitamin and fibre intake are crucial factors in avoiding metabolic syndrome in colorectal cancer patients, a new Korean study revealed.
“Hyperglycemia and hypertriglyceridemia are closely related to the presence of colon polyps. Obesity, high blood sugar, and elevated blood pressure are major diagnostic factors for metabolic syndrome,” researchers from Soonchunhyang University Bucheon Hospital in Korea, wrote in the journal Clinical Nutrition Research.
They found that “weight management and balanced nutritional intake should be emphasised to prevent metabolic syndrome and to improve the condition in patients with colorectal cancer.”
Researchers studied 143 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The patients were divided into two groups, metabolic and normal groups.
The metabolic group consisted of patients with three or more risk factors for metabolic syndrome. The average waistline measurements of the metabolic group was 93.3cm compared to the normal group’s 76.3cm.
The mean triglycerides for metabolic was 189.1mg which was higher than the normal group’s 130.5mg average level. The metabolic group also had higher HDL-cholesterol, 50.2mg vs. 38.5mg in the normal group.
A comparison of the two groups’ nutrient intake status revealed that the metabolic group’s consumption of total fat, animal fat, total calcium, animal calcium and phosphorus was higher than the normal group.
However, the normal group had higher intake of fibre, β-carotene, vitamin C, and folic acid.
“In this study, the metabolic syndrome group consumed significantly higher energy, protein, and fat than the normal group and consumed fewer factors that lower blood cholesterol such as fibre, β-carotene, vitamin C, and folate, or consumed fewer antioxidant nutrients,” researchers noted.
Thus, the study suggested that patients with colon cancer need to change their dietary habits to help them recover after colon surgery. Diet and nutrient intake should also be managed if the patient has metabolic syndrome. The study also suggested that increased triglycerides and cholesterol resulting from alcohol consumption could also lead to obesity, a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.
“We confirmed that weight management, decreases in fat and saturated fatty acid intake, and increases of fibre and vitamin intake should be implemented to prevent metabolic syndrome in colorectal cancer patients,” the study concluded.
Decrease in NAD(+) availability with age plays a critical role in age-related neurovascular and cerebromicrovascular dysfunction
University of Oklahoma, March 27, 2020
According to news reporting out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by NewsRx editors, research stated, “Aging-induced structural and functional alterations of the neurovascular unit lead to impairment of neurovascular coupling responses, dysregulation of cerebral blood flow, and increased neuroinflammation, all of which contribute importantly to the pathogenesis of age-related vascular cognitive impairment (VCI). There is increasing evidence showing that a decrease in NAD(+) availability with age plays a critical role in age-related neurovascular and cerebromicrovascular dysfunction.”
Funders for this research include American Heart Association, Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institute of GeneralMedical Sciences Oklahoma Shared Clinical and Translational Resources (OSCTR), National Institute of GeneralMedical Sciences Molecular Mechanisms and Genetics of Autoimmunity COBRE, Presbyterian Health Foundation, NIA, Oklahoma Nathan Shock Center, Cellular and Molecular GeroScience CoBRE.
Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from the University of Oklahoma, “Our recent studies demonstrate that restoring cellular NAD(+) levels in aged mice rescues neurovascular function, increases cerebral blood flow, and improves performance on cognitive tasks. To determine the effects of restoring cellular NAD(+) levels on neurovascular gene expression profiles, 24-month-old C57BL/6 mice were treated with nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), a key NAD(+) intermediate, for 2 weeks. Transcriptome analysis of preparations enriched for cells of the neurovascular unit was performed by RNA-seq. Neurovascular gene expression signatures in NMN-treated aged mice were compared with those in untreated young and aged control mice. We identified 590 genes differentially expressed in the aged neurovascular unit, 204 of which are restored toward youthful expression levels by NMN treatment. The transcriptional footprint of NMN treatment indicates that increased NAD(+) levels promote SIRT1 activation in the neurovascular unit, as demonstrated by analysis of upstream regulators of differentially expressed genes as well as analysis of the expression of known SIRT1-dependent genes. Pathway analysis predicts that neurovascular protective effects of NMN are mediated by the induction of genes involved in mitochondrial rejuvenation, anti-inflammatory, and anti-apoptotic pathways.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “The recently demonstrated protective effects of NMN treatment on neurovascular function can be attributed to multifaceted sirtuin-mediated anti-aging changes in the neurovascular transcriptome. Our present findings taken together with the results of recent studies using mitochondria-targeted interventions suggest that mitochondrial rejuvenation is a critical mechanism to restore neurovascular health and improve cerebral blood flow in aging.”
A plant-based diet helps to prevent and manage asthma, according to new review
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, August 28, 2020
A plant-based diet can help prevent and manage asthma, while dairy products and high-fat foods raise the risk, according to a new review published in Nutrition Reviews.
Asthma is a common chronic condition in which the airways become narrow and inflamed–sometimes leading to difficulty with breathing, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
“Asthma is a condition that affects more than 25 million Americans, and unfortunately it can make people more vulnerable in the COVID-19 outbreak,” says study author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee. “This research offers hope that dietary changes could be helpful.”
Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine examined the evidence related to diet and asthma and found that certain foods–including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods–can be beneficial, while others–such as dairy products and foods high in saturated fat–can be harmful.
The review authors highlight a study finding that when compared to a control group, asthma patients who consumed a plant-based diet for eight weeks experienced a greater reduction in use of asthma medication and less severe, less frequent symptoms. In another study, asthma patients adopted a plant-based diet for a year and saw improvements in vital capacity–a measure of the volume of air patients can expel–and other measures.
The authors suggest that a plant-based diet is beneficial because it has been shown to reduce systemic inflammation, which can exacerbate asthma. Plant-based diets are also high in fiber, which has been positively associated with improvements in lung function. The researchers also highlight the antioxidants and flavonoids found in plant foods, which may have a protective effect.
The review also finds that dairy consumption can raise the risk for asthma and worsen symptoms. One 2015 study found that children who consumed the most dairy had higher odds of developing asthma, compared with the children consuming the least. In another study, children with asthma were placed in either a control group, where they made no dietary changes, or in an experimental group where they eliminated dairy and eggs for eight weeks. After eliminating dairy, the experimental group experienced a 22% improvement in peak expiratory flow rate–a measure of how fast the children were able to exhale–while children in the control group experienced a 0.6% decrease.
High fat intake, consumption of saturated fat, and low fiber intake were also associated with airway inflammation and worsened lung function in asthma patients.
“This groundbreaking research shows that filling our plates with plant-based foods–and avoiding dairy products and other high-fat foods–can be a powerful tool for preventing and managing asthma,” says Dr. Kahleova.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges those with asthma to have a plan in place–including stocking up on supplies, taking asthma medication as needed, avoiding crowds, and practicing good hygiene.
These herbs can protect your skin from cancer, says research
Bastyr University, March 27, 2020
Low-risk skin cancers or non-melanoma skin cancers are a group of cancers that develop in the upper layers of the skin. These types of cancer usually affect people with fair skin, as well as the elderly. Although low-risk skin cancers are more common than the more serious melanoma, treatment options for them are still limited and oftentimes ineffective. Thankfully, alternative treatments that yield much better results are also available.
In a recent article published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Claire Zimmerman, a naturopathic doctor and adjunct professor at Bastyr University in Washington reviewed various botanical interventions that are used to protect against sun damage — the primary cause of skin cancer. Zimmerman believes that the compounds present in herbs like St. John’s wort and green tea can offer photoprotection and prevent low-risk skin cancers, as well as pre-cancerous skin conditions like actinic keratosis.
How sun exposure causes skin cancer
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a natural component of sunlight. Although overexposure to UV rays is the main cause of sunburn, infrared (IR) rays, and not UV rays, are responsible for the sun’s heat. Nevertheless, UV rays can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer.
According to research, low-risk cancers, precancerous skin conditions and melanomas are caused by two main types of UV rays: UVB, which causes the majority of sunburns, and UVA, which penetrates the skin and causes premature skin aging.
When the skin is exposed to too much sunlight, UV radiation can damage the DNA in skin cells. It can also inhibit the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that stores and transports chemical energy within cells. This impairs the skin’s immunity and the natural ability of cells to repair DNA. Once DNA damage builds up, it can cause cells to grow out of control and turn into cancer cells.
Primary treatments for low-risk skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and pre-cancerous conditions like actinic keratosis (AK), include surgery, cryotherapy and chemotherapy. However, these treatments not only tend to leave lasting scars, but skin cancers treated with these interventions have a high rate of recurrence. Hence, the use of alternative treatments for low-risk skin cancers has become popular recently.
Daily hot baths tied to lower cardiovascular disease risk
Osaka Institute of Public Health and Osaka University (Japan), March 27, 2020
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term referring to various conditions that affect the heart and the vascular system.
These conditions are very common among the aging population — and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death at a global level.
Certain lifestyle factors can influence a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems, and a person can take steps to change them. Among these modifiable factors are levels of exercise and the diet.
Now, new research conducted by investigators from seven Japanese institutions plus Minia University, in Egypt, has found an association between regular, frequent hot bathing and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
While the study was observational, and thus cannot verify that any relationship is causal, the authors suggest the possibility of a credible underlying mechanism.
“Heat exposure increases core body temperature, cardiac contractility, heart rate and blood flow, and decreases vessel endothelial shear stress,” the authors note in their study paper, published in the journal Heart.
The paper’s first author is Tomohiko Ukai, from the Osaka Prefectural Institute of Public Health and Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, in Japan.
“These effects,” the researchers explain, “are similar to the impact of exercise and are believed to improve vascular function over the long term.”
28% lower cardiovascular risk
In their study, the researchers accessed data from the Japan Public Health Center-based Study Cohort I, which included over 61,000 participants aged 45–59.
Around 43,000 of these participants filled in targeted questionnaires at the start of the study, in 1990.
Through these questionnaires, they reported information not just related to their bathing practices, but also to potential confounding factors, including exercise habits, dietary habits, alcohol intake, body mass index, average sleep duration, and medical history.
The original study included follow-up information about the participants’ health, either until their death or until the end of the study, in December 2009, whichever came first.
Finally, the researchers were able to access complete data from 30,076 individuals, which they included in their final analysis.
Between 1990 and 2009, the team recorded 2,097 deaths due to cardiovascular problems, of which 275 were related to heart attacks, 53 were related to sudden cardiac death, and 1,769 were related to stroke.
The researchers’ analysis indicated that people who had a hot bath on a daily basis had a 28% lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease and a 26% lower overall risk of stroke, compared with those who bathed twice a week or less frequently.
This analysis accounted for potentially confounding factors.
At the same time, the researchers noted that there were no associations between a person’s bathing habits and the risk of sudden cardiac death or a form of stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Taking their study further, the researchers found that people who preferred bathing in warm water had a 26% lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease, while those who preferred hot baths had a 35% lower risk of the same, compared with other participants.
There were no significant associations between bathwater temperature and overall stroke risk.
Other experts urge ‘caution’
Finally, the researchers assessed their data again, after discounting participants who had developed cardiovascular disease within 5–10 years of the study’s start.
This analysis revealed that the associations between bathing practices and cardiovascular disease risk remained statistically significant, if not as strong as in the initial analysis.
In their study paper, the investigators caution that their research was unable to take into account certain factors, such as potential changes in bathing frequency.
They also note that they did not account for bathing styles, which can differ among people and cultures. In Japan, the country from which the study cohort hailed, the bathing style often involves immersion up to the shoulders, and the researchers suggest that this might have an impact on the effects.
Moreover, the investigators caution that the positive association between hot baths and lower cardiovascular disease risk should not discount the fact that hot baths come with their own set of health risks.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Andrew Felix Burden also makes this point, saying that “There can be no doubt about the potential dangers of bathing in hot water, and the occurrence of death from this increases with age, as well as with the temperature of the water.”
Bathing in water that is too hot, he notes, can lead to states of confusion, which, in turn, may lead to drowning.
Dr. Burden encourages researchers to conduct further studies about the links between hot bathing and cardiovascular health, while also urging people not to jump to conclusions based on the current study’s findings.
Neuroprotective effects of limonene in a model of Alzheimer disease
Konkuk University (South Korea), March 27, 2020
According to news reporting out of Seoul, South Korea, by NewsRx editors, research stated, “Forest bathing is suggested to have beneficial effects on various aspects of human health. Terpenes, isoprene based-phytochemicals emitted from trees, are largely responsible for these beneficial effects of forest bathing.”
Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from Konkuk University, “Although the therapeutic effects of terpenes on various diseases have been revealed, their effects on neuronal health have not yet been studied in detail. Here, we screened 16 terpenes that are the main components of Korean forests using Drosophila Alzheimer’s disease (AD) models to identify which terpenes have neuroprotective effects. Six out of the 16 terpenes, p-cymene, limonene (+), limonene (-), linalool, alpha-pinene (+), and beta-pinene (-), partially suppressed the beta amyloid 42 (A beta 42)-induced rough eye phenotype when fed to A beta 42-expressing flies. Among them, limonene (+) restored the decreased survival of flies expressing A beta 42 in neurons during development. Limonene (+) treatment did not affect A beta 42 accumulation and aggregation, but did cause to decrease cell death, reactive oxygen species levels, extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation, and inflammation in the brains or the eye imaginal discs of A beta 42-expressing flies. This neuroprotective effect of limonene (+) was not associated with autophagic activity.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Our results suggest that limonene (+) has a neuroprotective function against the neurotoxicity of A beta 42 and, thus, is a possible therapeutic reagent for AD.”
Improving memory with magnets
McGill University (Montreal), March 27, 2020
The ability to remember sounds, and manipulate them in our minds, is incredibly important to our daily lives—without it we would not be able to understand a sentence, or do simple arithmetic. New research is shedding light on how sound memory works in the brain, and is even demonstrating a means to improve it.
Scientists previously knew that a neural network of the brain called the dorsal stream was responsible for aspects of auditory memory. Inside the dorsal stream were rhythmic electrical pulses called theta waves, yet the role of these waves in auditory memory were until recently a complete mystery.
To learn precisely the relationship between theta waves and auditory memory, and to see how memory could be boosted, researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University gave seventeen individuals auditory memory tasks that required them to recognize a pattern of tones when it was reversed. Listeners performed this task while being recorded with a combination of magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG). The MEG/EEG revealed the amplitude and frequency signatures of theta waves in the dorsal stream while the subjects worked on the memory tasks. It also revealed where the theta waves were coming from in the brain.
Using that data, researchers then applied transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the same theta frequency to the subjects while they performed the same tasks, to enhance the theta waves and measure the effect on the subjects’ memory performance.
They found that when they applied TMS, subjects performed better at auditory memory tasks. This was only the case when the TMS matched the rhythm of natural theta waves in the brain. When the TMS was arrhythmic, there was no effect on performance, suggesting it is the manipulation of theta waves, not simply the application of TMS, which alters performance.
“For a long time the role of theta waves has been unclear,” says Sylvain Baillet, one of the study’s co-senior authors. “We now know much more about the nature of the mechanisms involved and their causal role in brain functions. For this study, we have built on our strengths at The Neuro, using MEG, EEG and TMS as complementary techniques.”
The most exciting aspect of the study is that the results are very specific and have a broad range of applications, according to Philippe Albouy, the study’s first author.
“Now we know human behavior can be specifically boosted using stimulation that matched ongoing, self-generated brain oscillations,” he says. “Even more exciting is that while this study investigated auditory memory, the same approach can be used for multiple cognitive processes such as vision, perception, and learning.”
The successful demonstration that TMS can be used to improve brain performance also has clinical implications. One day this stimulation could compensate for the loss of memory caused by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“The results are very promising, and offer a pathway for future treatments,” says Robert Zatorre, one of the study’s co-senior authors. “We plan to do more research to see if we can make the performance boost last longer, and if it works for other kinds of stimuli and tasks. This will help researchers develop clinical applications.”
This study was published in the journal Neuron , and was a result of collaboration between the Neuroimaging/Neuroinformatics and Cognition research groups of the MNI.
Investigation of the anti-cancer effect of quercetin on HepG2 cells
University of Electronic Science and Technology (China). March 27, 2020
Studies in the Area of Cyclin D Reported from University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (Investigation of the anti-cancer effect of quercetin on HepG2 cells in vivo) According to news reporting originating from Chengdu, People’s Republic of China, by NewsRx correspondents, research stated, “Quercetin, a natural polyphenolic flavonoid compound, can inhibit the growth of several malignant cancers. However, the mechanism still remains unclear.”
Financial support for this research came from Basic Research Programs of Sichuan Province (see also Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins – Cyclin D).
Our news editors obtained a quote from the research from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, “Our previous findings have suggested that quercetin can significantly inhibit HepG2 cell proliferation and induce cell apoptosis in vitro. It can also affect cell cycle distribution and significantly decrease cyclin D1 expression. In this study, we investigated the anti-cancer effect of quercetin on HepG2 tumor-bearing nude mice and its effect on cyclin D1 expression in the tumor tissue. First, the nude murine tumor model was established by subcutaneous inoculation of HepG2 cells, then quercetin was administered intraperitoneally, and the mice injected with saline solution were used as controls. The daily behavior of the tumor-bearing mice was observed and differences in tumor growth and survival rate were monitored. The expression of cyclin D1 in isolated tumor sections was evaluated by immunohistochemistry. We found that HepG2 tumor became palpable in the mice one-week post-inoculation. Tumors in the control group grew rapidly and the daily behavior of the mice changed significantly, including listlessness, poor feeding and ataxia. The mice in quercetin-treated group showed delayed tumor growth, no significant changes in daily behavior, and the survival rate was significantly improved. Finally, we observed increased tumor necrosis and a lighter cyclin D1 staining with reduced staining areas.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Our findings thus suggest that quercetin can significantly inhibit HepG2 cell proliferation, and this effect may be achieved through the regulation of cyclin D1 expression.”
Could Viagra, Cialis work largely by placebo effect?
Smith Institute for Urology (New York), March 26, 2020
Until the discovery of Viagra, men with erectile dysfunction were largely left with the impression that their sexual problems were all in their head.
A good number of men receiving a placebo in clinical trials for erectile dysfunction drugs experienced an improvement in their function, researchers said in a report published online March 20 in JAMA Network Open.
This placebo effect was most pronounced in men with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suggesting that for some men psychology is more important than physiology in dealing with erectile dysfunction, said lead researcher Alexander Stridh of the Karolinska Institute’s department of clinical neuroscience, in Stockholm.
For this analysis, his team pooled data from 63 studies involving more than 12,500 men.
The studies showed that Viagra and its relatives had a strong effect helping men who had erectile dysfunction due to chronic illness.
“The studies included in this meta-analysis mainly were trials on men with [erectile dysfunction] due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.,” Stridh said. “It is likely that there is a limit to how much the brain can influence erectile function when the problem is mainly dysfunctions in blood vessels or peripheral nerves.”
But the researchers found that men in the placebo arm of these trials also experienced a small to moderate improvement of their erectile function. The placebo effect was notably stronger among men with PTSD.
“This paper highlights the importance of taking into account the underlying cause of [erectile dysfunction] in each individual, which could also help determine what the best treatment option would be,” Stridh said. Some men might benefit more from psychotherapy, others with a pharmaceutical approach, he added.
“It is clear that Viagra and other [erectile dysfunction drugs] work very well in many cases, but we should not disregard the importance of psychological aspects of [erectile dysfunction], particularly in individuals who have no clear physiological causes for [the condition],” Stridh said.
Urologist Dr. Manish Vira said the researchers have a point.
“Given the significant improvement in symptoms with placebo among patients with PTSD, the study suggests that physicians should work to address some of the psychological stress factors prior to starting patients on medication for treatment,” said Vira. He is vice chairman for urologic research at Northwell Health’s Arthur Smith Institute for Urology in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Stridh said the analysis also found that Viagra-like drugs don’t work better than placebo for long-term recovery of erectile function after prostate cancer treatment, a common practice in some places that he added “seems to be questionable.”
Although the results seem to indicate that some men would benefit more from counseling, Stridh cautioned that a perceived placebo effect might actually be natural fluctuations in symptom severity.
“Patients have a tendency to seek help when their symptoms are on the worse end and might be improved within a couple of weeks regardless of the treatment given,” he said.