News Briefs – May 2016

Investigators found that by stimulating human immune cells called macrophages, curcumin was able to eradicate Mycobacterium tuber-culosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.

CURCUMIN MAY COMBAT DRUG-RESISTANT TUBERCULOSIS

A new study has found that curcumin, a substance in turmeric that is best known as one of the main components of curry powder, may help fight drug-resistant tuberculosis. (In Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health conditions; it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anti-cancer properties.)

Investigators found that by stimulating human immune cells called macrophages, curcumin was able to remove Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, from experimentally infected human cells in the lab cultures. The ability of curcumin to modulate the immune response to Myco-bacterium tuberculosis points to a potential new tuberculosis treatment that would be less prone to the development of drug resistance. The lead author suggested that the protective role of curcumin to fight drug-resistant tuberculosis still needs confirmation.

This study was first published online March 24, 2016, ahead of print publication in the journal Respirology. The study can be read at http://tinyurl.com/zazgbw4 for a fee.

KEEPING SUGAR AND SALT INTAKE SEPARATE LOWERS BLOOD SUGAR

New research reveals that reducing the simultaneous consumption of salt and sugar can help prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes without surgery or drugs. (Affecting 300 million people globally, Type 2 diabetes is characterized by chronic, excessively high levels of blood glucose and is more often diagnosed in overweight people.)

First, scientists found that gastric bypass surgery (surgically reducing the size of the stomach to combat obesity) reduces the absorption of sugar in the stomach and upper intestine, preventing blood sugar levels from rising. Instead, sugar is absorbed only in the lower intestine after coming into contact with bile. Second, seeking to explain these results, they added salt to the meals of pigs that had undergone gastric bypass surgery and found that the presence of salt in the stomach restored the normal absorption of sugar in the stomach and upper intestine.

They concluded that salt plays a key role in the absorption of sugar in the intestine and that consuming salt and sugar at separate times reduces the total body uptake of sugar, which may lower the risk of diabetes or help treat the condition. The initial phase was conducted on persons diagnosed with diabetes, and thus, for diagnosed diabetics, restricting or reducing combined consumption of salt and sugar may be advisable until further research is conducted.

This study was just posted online by Cell Metabolism. It can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/gvzlgqd for a fee.

BROCCOLI HELPS PREVENT FATTY LIVER AND LIVER CANCER

A new study has found that including broccoli in the diet can protect against liver cancer. It can also protect against development of a fatty liver, also known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can in turn cause liver malfunction and liver cancer. (Broccoli consumption has increased over the last few decades with reports that eating the vegetable three to five times a week lowers the risk of many types of cancer including breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Its effect on liver cancer has not been studied. Individuals, and especially men, have a 5-fold greater risk for liver cancer if they are obese, and obesity is at epidemic levels. Also, the Western diet is high in saturated fats and added sugars, both of which are stored in the liver and lead to excess body fat and increased risk of NAFLD.)

The study team placed groups of mice on different diets: a control diet, a Westernized diet with broccoli, and a Westernized diet without broccoli. In mice on the Westernized diet, both the number of cancer nodules and the size of the cancer nodules increased in the liver. But when broccoli was added to the diet, the number of nodules decreased. (Size was not affected.) The Westernized diet increased fatty liver, but adding broccoli protected against it. Broccoli stopped too much uptake of fat into the liver. Broccoli did not make mice thin, but it did bring liver fat under control, ultimately making these mice healthier.

Although the study only used broccoli, the author suggested that other brassica vegetables, such as cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, may have the same effect.

This study was published in the March 1, 2016 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The full report is available at http://tinyurl.com/zxp8pxy for a fee.

TAKING DIABETES DRUG BOOSTS RISK OF VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY

Researchers report that people taking Metformin (a common medication for Type 2 diabetes) for several years may be at heightened risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia. (Metformin helps to control the amount of glucose in the blood by reducing how much is absorbed from food and produced by the liver, and by increasing the response to the hormone insulin. It is the most commonly used drug to treat Type 2 diabetes, and millions of people take it for many years. Smaller numbers of people take Metformin for prevention of diabetes or treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.)

The researchers used data from a large epidemiological study that followed over 3,000 participants, aged 25 and over, at high risk for Type 2 diabetes for more than 10 years. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 850 milligrams of Metformin twice daily, or a placebo medication. During follow-up, blood samples were taken at the five- and 13-year points. At year five, average B12 levels were lower in the Metformin group than in the placebo group, and B12 deficiency was more common, affecting twice as many Metformin takers as those not taking the drug. Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to severe nerve damage, impaired cognition and dementia, and anemia, which is a low red blood cell count). Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms include fatigue, numbness, and tingling.

Neither the FDA nor the American Diabetes Association have formal recommendations for B12 monitoring for people taking Metformin. Those taking Metformin should ask their physician about B12 testing.

This study was posted in the Early Release section of the website of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The entire report can be read now at http://tinyurl.com/hb96ogq without charge.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY BOOSTS BRAIN VOLUME, SLASHES ALZHEIMER’S RISK

Scientists have found that physically active older persons have larger gray matter volume in key brain areas responsible for memory and cognition, and that various physical activities ranging from gardening to dancing can improve brain volume and cut the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50%. They also found that those already suffering from mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s experienced a reduced decline in gray matter volume over time if their exercise-associated calorie burn was high. (A growing number of studies indicate that physical activity can help protect the brain from cognitive decline, but typically, people are more sedentary as they get older. Current treatments for dementia have limited effectiveness, so developing approaches to prevent or slow these disorders is crucial. Gray matter houses all of the neurons in the brain, so its volume reflects neuronal health.)

Using mathematical modeling, the researchers found that individuals who burned the most calories had larger gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes of the brain, areas associated with memory, learning, and performing complex cognitive tasks. Of the 300 participants, those with the highest energy expenditure had larger gray matter volumes in these key areas on initial brain scans and were half as likely to have developed Alzheimer’s disease five years later. They also found that gray matter increased in people who became more active in the five years leading up to their MRI. It may soon be feasible to conduct baseline neuroimaging on people with mild cognitive impairment or at risk for dementia, with the aim of prescribing physical activity to prevent further memory deterioration. Rescanning five years later could confirm the improvement.

This study was published March 11, 2016 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The full study report is available now at http://tinyurl.com/hquazog cost-free.

MEDITATION FOUND TO BE A ‘UNIQUE’ PAIN-BLOCKING ALTERNATIVE TO OPIOIDS

A new study investigating alternative forms of pain relief has concluded that mindfulness meditation is an effective way to reduce pain and can frequently be used as an alternative to potent opioids. Even when the opioid receptors in the body were chemically blocked, meditation was able to significantly reduce pain by using a completely different pain-relief pathway. This is the first study to clearly demonstrate that mindfulness-related pain relief is distinct from placebo pain relief and that it uses a different mechanism to block pain. At the same time as this study release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new prescription guidelines in an attempt to prevent prescription drug misuse and reduce overdoses. (The CDC has declared that the US is now in an opioid epidemic. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 100 million Americans experience chronic pain, costing over $600 billion each year. When the body feels pain, the natural production of opioids in the body is its main source for blocking pain.)

The study tested whether meditation is efficacious and whether it uses the natural production of opioids by the body to reduce pain or works differently. The researchers injected 78 healthy, pain-free study subjects with either a drug called naloxene that blocks the pain-reducing effects of opioids, or a saline placebo. They divided the volunteers into four treatment groups during the 4-day trial: meditation plus naloxene, non-meditation control plus naloxene, meditation plus saline placebo, and non-meditation control plus placebo. To generate pain in the study subjects, the researchers used a thermal probe to heat a part of the skin to 120.2 degrees F, a level of heat considered very painful. The participants then used a sliding scale to rate their pain.

Pain in the meditation group that also received naloxone was reduced by 24%. Participants in the meditation and placebo group had pain ratings that were reduced by 21%. Participants in the non-meditation control groups reported increases in pain, whether they received the naloxone or placebo. The scientists concluded that meditation can reduce pain, and it does not work through the body’s natural opioid system. They found that something unique is happening in the way meditation reduces pain.

This alternative pain therapy study was published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The full study can be read online now at http://tinyurl.com/zjpqr6k with access fee. The new CDC pain prescription guidelines and other information on opioids are available at http://tinyurl.com/jbzh5cr without cost.

SPECIFIC EXERCISES PROVEN TO BE AS EFFECTIVE AS DRUGS, SURGERY FOR CERTAIN DISORDERS

A comprehensive review study has found that different exercises can treat different chronic health problems at least as effectively, and with less harm, as drugs and surgeries commonly prescribed for these conditions. The review also found that doctors should be regularly prescribing exercise for common problems such as knee osteoarthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study concluded that well-documented exercise therapies are often overlooked as a treatment by physicians, partly because they are simply unaware of the wealth of evidence indicating how effective exercise can be and do not know what specific exercises to suggest for different problems. Patients are equally unaware of how effective exercise can be for ailments seemingly unrelated to exercise, such as osteoarthritis and diabetes.

The study team also found that healthcare workers are poorly trained in this area and that published studies provide generally poor descriptions of beneficial exercise therapies tested. Striving to change this, this new study includes a how-to guide that lists step-by-step effective exercises for a variety of health problems including COPD, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease and heart failure, knee and hip osteoarthritis, and low back pain, as well as fall prevention. Stressing that prescribed exercise must be tailored for the specific health problem, it details specifics for each condition, such as materials needed, number and length of exercise sessions required to be effective, and degree of benefit.

This study was pre-released March 14, 2016 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal and will be print-published at a later time. The full study is available now at http://tinyurl.com/hxmpmh6 free of charge.

WESTERN DIET BOOSTS ALZHEIMER’S RISK

Newly released findings indicate that prolonged consumption of a Western diet, which is high in fat, salt, sugar, and carbs – when combined with a sedentary lifestyle – leads to an increased susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease.

(Alzheimer’s disease is believed to have a strong genetic component and is often hereditary. But this research has found that poor nutrition and inactivity are also major risk factors and account for as many as 25% of all cases.)

Although the research involved laboratory mice, the scientists consider the findings to have significant implications for people. Results suggest that some components of the North American diet such as animal products, fat, and sugars promote both inflammation and an overactive immune response that together promote Alzheimer’s. This study also strengthens the possibility that immune activity in the brain increases Alzheimer’s disease susceptibility. Previous studies had focused on specific components of the Western diet, but the study author suggested that it may be the combination of foods that is important.

This study was posted online early, ahead of publishing in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. The entire report can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/j8shuta without cost.

DID YOU KNOW…?

A study found that a ginger compound (6-shogaol) destroys breast cancer stem cells at dosages small enough to avoid harming healthy cells. The full study is available free of charge at http://tinyurl.com/hbslktn.

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