News Briefs – November 2016

IN ONE STUDY, WHITE WILLOW BARK PROVED TO BE THE MOST POTENT PLANT EXTRACT FOR DELAYING AGING

SIX EXTRACTS HOLD KEYS TO DELAYING AGING AND DISEASE

A newly released study indicates that six previously identified plant extracts can significantly delay the aging process, each by targeting a different signalling pathway via which the body slows down or speeds up aging, known as pro-longevity and pro-death pathways. (In essence, different signalling pathways in the human body, as well as in yeast, set the pace of growing old with some pathways moving the aging process forward and others retarding aging. This study is remarkable in that, of all known substances, it has identified six that specifically target these pathways.)

To make this identification, the researchers used yeast, which is the best cellular-aging model to test the effectiveness of plant extracts. That is because, at the cellular level, aging progresses similarly in both yeast and humans. And in both, the pace of aging is defined by a distinct set of chemical reactions, or signalling pathways, that regulate the rate of aging. Yeast age and have chronic aging diseases similar to humans. Of the six plant extracts found effective, one stood out: Salix alba, commonly known as white willow bark. It is the most potent, age-delaying pharmacological intervention described. The others are less well-known, such as Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh), Apium graveolens L. (Wild Celery), Valeriana officinalis L. (Valerian Root), and Ginkgo biloba. Each of the six plant extracts targets a different pathway, either activating an anti-aging pathway or inhibiting a pro-aging pathway. In yeast, different extracts were shown to accomplish different effects to decelerate symptoms and diseases of old age by: imitating the effects of calorie restriction; eliciting a mild stress response; extending lifespan; delaying age-related diseases; slowing the aging process by a previously unknown pathway; and by delaying age-related diseases in non-yeast organisms. (Age-related diseases include arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver dysfunction, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and many forms of cancer.)

This study is a landmark one, because learning exactly how to utilize these signalling pathways could eventually delay the onset of age-related diseases in humans. The study cannot recommend use of these extracts until the best ways and dosages to achieve these effects in humans are studied. This study was published in the August 9, 2016 issue of the journal Oncotarget, and is now available at http://tinyurl.com/jzzvg5x free of charge.

ANTIBIOTICS IN EARLY LIFE LINKED TO ALLERGIES IN ADULTHOOD

Scientists report that early-life exposure to antibiotics is related to increased risk of allergies later in life. (Previous research had suggested this same finding, but results were inconsistent and inconclusive.) Data-bases were searched for observational studies published from January 1966 through November 2015 that assessed both antibiotic consumption during the first two years of life and the risk of eczema or hay fever later in life. A total of 22 studies, including a total of 394,517 patients, were selected to study the risk of eczema. And 22 studies, including 256,609 patients, were selected to study the risk of hay fever, with some overlap. The increased risk of eczema due to early-life use of antibiotics varied from 15 to 41%. Use of antibiotics in early life increased the risk of hay fever in later life by 14 to 56%.

Furthermore, the association both for eczema and for hay fever was stronger if the toddler’s patients had been treated with two antibiotic courses (compared with one course). The authors suggest the mechanism behind this effect is the immunomodulatory effect of antibiotics and the disruption of the bacteria in the gut (microbiome) caused by antibiotics, which can lead to reduced immune responses. This research was presented September 6, 2016 at the 2016 European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in London. It has not yet been published.

ALKALINE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES CUT BLOOD PRESSURE IN KIDNEY PATIENTS

A new study has found that people with kidney disease improved their blood pressure and cut their medicine expenses in half after adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet without making any other dietary changes. Diseased kidneys are less able to eliminate acid from the body, and kidney disease patients are often treated with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to neutralize the excess acid (metabolic acidosis). But many fruits and vegetables work to naturally reduce acid. Researchers compared blood pressure control in three groups of patients: those who received added fruits and vegetables for their acidosis; those who received baking soda for their acidosis; and those who received neither. All three groups continued to take their usual medications designed to reduce their systolic (upper) reading of blood pressure.

After five years, the groups were assessed. The average systolic reading in the fruit and vegetable group was lower (125 mm Hg) than that of the patients receiving baking soda (135 mm Hg) or those receiving neither (134 mm Hg). Also, by the end of the study, the prescribed dose of blood pressure medication needed was lower in the fruit and vegetable group than in the other patients, which lowered the drug cost by half. This just-released study was presented in Orlando on September 14 at the High Blood Pressure 2016 Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association and has not yet been published.

VITAMIN D IMPROVES INSULIN RESISTANCE IN MICE

A new study shows that supplemental vitamin D improves insulin insensitivity caused by a chronically high-sugar, high-fat diet. Vitamin D also reduces the accumulation of fat in muscles (myosteatosis), another sign of improved metabolism. (Prior epidemiological evidence had suggested that low vitamin D status may increase the risk of insulin resistance, although the mechanisms underlying this effect are still not completely understood. Also, early clinical evidence suggests that severe vitamin D deficiency is associated with myopathy, a muscle disease.)

This research was conducted on mice that had diet-induced insulin-resistance. A total of 40 male mice were provided with a standard diet or high fat-high sugar diet (HFHS) for four months. For the last two months, the diet of a subset was supplemented with vitamin D three times a week at the dose of seven micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Body weight and food intake were recorded weekly with a glucose tolerance test performed at the end of the study. Markers of fat generation and insulin signaling were analyzed. In comparison to standard diet, the HFHS diet without vitamin D induced weight increase (a 28% average increase), hyperglycemia, fat accumulation, higher triglycerides, and impaired insulin responsiveness. But in those given an HFHS diet that was supplemented with vitamin D, body weight was reduced, oral glucose tolerance was improved, fatty acid synthesis in muscles was decreased, and muscle insulin responsiveness was improved.  This research was presented on September 16 at the European Assn. for the Study of Diabetes meeting in Munich.

MELATONIN AND BREAST CANCER

Early lab work suggests that melatonin can suppress breast cancer cells, according to a study in Genes and Cancer that is available at http://tinyurl.com/j5qo9pv free of charge.

HEALTHY DIET IMPROVES EARLY READING SKILLS

Scientists have found that a healthy diet is linked to better reading skills in the first three years of school. The study involved 161 children aged six to eight years old and followed up on them from the first grade to the third grade. The quality of their diet was analyzed using food diaries, and their academic skills were assessed with the help of standardized tests. The closer the diet followed the Baltic Sea Diet and Finnish nutrition recommendations (the study was conducted in Finland), the healthier it was considered. This diet is essentially high in vegetables, fruit and berries, fish, whole grain, and unsaturated fats. It is low in red meat, sugary products, and saturated fat. Children reared on a healthier diet did better in tests measuring reading skills at grade one than their peers with a poorer diet quality. Also, children whose diets continued to be healthier after grade one improved more in grades two and three than children whose diet was poor during these years.

This study was released “Online First” on September 9, 2016 and will be published in the European Journal of Nutrition at a later time. The full report can be read now at http://tinyurl.com/z4roepr for a fee.

PRENATAL MERCURY EXPOSURE PREVENTS AEROBIC BRAIN-BENEFITS

New research shows that cognitive function improves for people who participate in aerobic exercise, but not for those who were exposed to high levels of mercury before they were born. Adults with high prenatal exposure to methylmercury, which mainly comes from maternal consumption of fish with high mercury levels, simply did not experience the faster cognitive processing and better short term memory benefits of exercise that were seen in those with low prenatal methylmercury exposures. (This is one of the first studies to examine how methylmercury exposure in the womb may affect cognitive function in adults. Mercury comes from industrial pollution in the air that falls into lakes and oceans, where it turns into methylmercury and accumulates in fish. Neurodevelopment is a delicate process that is especially sensitive to methylmercury and other environmental toxins, and researchers are still discovering the lifelong, ripple effects of these exposures.)

The study scientists suspect that prenatal exposure to methylmercury, known to have toxic effects on the developing brain and nervous system, may result in a limitation of the normal ability of the nervous system tissues to grow and develop in response to increased aerobic fitness. The health of 197 inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, where fish is a strong component of the diet, was followed since they were in the womb in the late 1980s. At age 22, they took part in a follow-up exam that included estimating VO2 max, or the rate at which oxygen is used, which increases with aerobic fitness. Also, a range of cognitive tests were performed related to short-term memory, verbal comprehension and knowledge, psychomotor speed, visual processing, long-term storage and retrieval, and cognitive processing speed. When subjects were divided into two groups based on methylmercury levels in their mothers while they were pregnant, researchers found that these benefits were confined to the group with the lowest exposure. (Low-mercury fish include salmon, shrimp, pollock, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish, and cod. But four types of fish should be avoided because of typically high mercury levels: tile fish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.). This study was published September 9, 2016 by Environmental Health Perspectives, and the full report can be downloaded or read at http://tinyurl.com/gwou22y free of charge.

BPA COMPOUND MAY LOWER BLOOD LEVELS OF VITAMIN D

New evidence suggests that exposure to a compound called BPA, or bisphenol A, commonly found in plastics and various consumer products, may reduce levels of vitamin D in the bloodstream. (BPA is just one of an array of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, that have been linked to adverse effects resulting from interference with hormones in the body. This study is the first to find an association between EDC exposure and vitamin D levels in a large group of adults. Nearly everyone is exposed to BPA, so the possibility that these chemicals may even slightly reduce vitamin D levels has widespread implications. Low vitamin D levels have been implicated in outcomes of numerous conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.) The link was strongest in women. More research is needed into why an association exists, but it is possible that this type of compound alters the active, or available, form of vitamin D in the body. This research was posted online September 20, 2016 ahead of publication, as an early-release study at the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism website. It can be read at http://tinyurl.com/zxvm2q8 free of charge.

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