News Briefs – April 2014

RESEARCHERS HAVE FOUND THAT A COMPOUND IN OREGANO OIL, CARVACROL, IS EFFECTIVE AGAINST THE NOROVIRUS

The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health & Anti-Aging From Around the World

OREGANO COMPOUND KILLS NOROVIRUS

Researchers have published a study showing that a compound in oregano oil known as carvacrol is effective against the norovirus, the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea worldwide. This chemical breaks down the protein of the very tough outer coating of the virus, known as the capsid. This allows another virus to enter the norovirus, killing it. (Carvacrol is the substance in oregano oil that gives this herb its distinctive warm, aromatic smell and flavour. Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting disease, is particularly problematic in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and recently in the news – cruise ships. It is a very common cause of food-borne diseases. Al-though unpleasant, most people recover fully within a few days. But for people with an existing serious medical problem, this highly infectious virus can be dangerous, even deadly.)

The team suggested carvacrol could be used as a food sanitizer and possibly as a surface sanitizer, although further study is required. Because carvacrol is slower acting than many disinfectants such as bleach, it would be best used as part of a routine cleaning regimen to provide long-lasting antimicrobial residue on surfaces. The good news is that because carvacrol acts on the external proteins of the virus, it is unlikely that norovirus would ever develop resistance.

This study will appear in a future issue of the Journal of Applied Microbiology. It was pre-released online February 12, 2014 at the journal website, where it can be read in full at https://tinyurl.com/lvyypvu with fee payment.

STUDY CONFIRMS HEMPSEED BENEFITS

Researchers have reported that an analysis of hempseed shows that its sterols, aliphatic alcohols, and linolenic acids have potent but little-known health benefits including reduced clotting (platelet aggregation), lower heart disease risk, decreased cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of dermatological diseases. (Hemp, a derivative of cannabis or marijuana, is a crop full of beneficial oils that has been used for millennia in textiles, medicine and food.)

One of the linolenic acids contained in hempseed oil is an omega-3 fatty acid that some studies have recognized as preventing coronary heart disease. Hemp sterols are useful in lowering cholesterol, and daily dietary intake of sterols has been linked to a lower risk of heart attack. The aliphatic alcohols contained in hempseed oil have also been known to lower cholesterol and reduce platelet aggregation. One of these alcohols, phytol, is associated with antioxidant and anticancer benefits.

Another antioxidant in hempseed oil is tocopherol, which is known to be beneficial against degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Hempseed oil also showed a positive effect on dermatological diseases and lipid metabolism (the process by which fatty acids are broken down in the body). Hempseed contains high levels of vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene, and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and calcium. The THC compounds in hempseed may be medically beneficial for people who have an autoimmune disease.

This study is available online at https://tinyurl.com/ pfs6x8q for a fee. It will be published in a future issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

LOW VITAMIN C LEVELS LINKED TO BLEEDING STROKES

Results just obtained from a small, unreleased study suggest a link between low levels of vitamin C and a higher risk of the most common type of hemorrhagic stroke. (Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables such as oranges, papaya, peppers, broccoli, and strawberries. Vitamin C deficiency has been linked to heart disease.

Hemorrhagic stroke is less common than ischemic stroke, making up only about 15% of all strokes. However, this bleeding type of stroke is more often deadly. The type of hemorrhagic stroke studied here is a type known as intracerebral, in which a blood vessel ruptures inside the brain. This research does not prove cause-and-effect, because low vitamin C may simply indicate an overall unhealthy lifestyle, which itself increases stroke risk. The researchers will recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables but do not recommend vitamin C supplements unless there is a shown and clear deficiency.)

The study involved 65 people who had experienced an intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke. They were compared to 65 healthy people. All participants were tested for vitamin C levels in their blood. Overall, 41% of participants had normal levels of vitamin C, 45% showed depleted levels, and 14% were considered deficient. People who had had a stroke showed depleted levels of vitamin C, while those who had not had a stroke had normal levels of the vitamin. This link could relate to roles played by the vitamin in lowering blood pressure and maintaining blood vessels. However, low vitamin C did not increase risk of death among those who suffered stroke relative to those who suffered stroke with high vitamin C levels. Other risk factors for spontaneous brain hemorrhages noted in the study were high blood pressure, drinking alcohol, and being overweight. This study is planned for presentation in Philadelphia sometime between April 26 and May 3, 2014 at the 66th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Details on publishing or posting are not available at this early time.

MULTIVITAMINS MAY REDUCE THE RISK OF CATARACTS

New research has found that long-term daily use of multivitamin supplements could reduce the risk of cataract for men. (Previous research has shown an association between the use of nutritional supplements and eye health, but there is very limited information on the link between the long-term use of multivitamin supplements and the risk of eye diseases. Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye that can cause blurred vision.)

The research team analyzed 12,641 male doctors from the U.S. who were aged 50 years old. Half of the men were randomly assigned to receive a common daily multivitamin, alongside vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene supplements. The other half of the participants took a placebo. Vitamin doses were in line with U.S. dietary allowance recommendations. The team then followed the men for an average of 11.2 years to determine how many in each group developed new cases of cataract or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in older people. Results revealed that the placebo group developed a total of 945 new cases of cataract, while the multivitamin group developed 872 new cases of cataract, showing a 9% risk reduction for the condition for men. (While 9% may seem like a small reduction in risk, it translates to a substantial public health benefit.)

Looking at the results in more detail, the researchers found that the men who took multivitamins had a 13% reduced risk for nuclear cataract, the type of cataract that develops at the center of the lens, the most common form of the condition linked to aging. The results also revealed that the multivitamin group developed 152 new cases of visually significant AMD, while the placebo group reported 129 new cases; however this difference did not meet the criteria for statistical significance. This study was published February 14, 2014 in the journal Ophthalmology. It can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/m9k7dkh for a fee.

TESTOSTERONE THERAPY INCREASES HEART ATTACK RISK IN MEN

Scientists have reported that men under the age of 65 who have recently started testosterone therapy, and who have some history of heart disease, have three times the risk of heart attack compared to men with the same history not taking testosterone.

(Advertising promotes the taking of testosterone via gel or patch among men who may be suffering from low testosterone levels, which ads generally associate with symptoms of lost sex drive, diminished energy, and moodiness. As a result, sales of testosterone in 2013 have exceeded sales of Viagra. Earlier studies found that men older than 65 who start testosterone therapy have three times the risk of heart attack, but this is the first research showing that the risk for younger men is similarly affected.)

Researchers examined the healthcare records of 55,593 men who had been prescribed testosterone therapy, 48,539 under the age of 65 and 7,054 who were 65 or older. Reached for comment, the senior author of the study stated that, “Extensive and rapidly increasing use of testosterone treatment and the evidence of risk of heart attack underscore the urgency of further large studies. Patients and their physicians should discuss the risk of heart attacks when considering testosterone therapy.”

Released by the journal PLOS ONE, this study is now available online at https://tinyurl.com/ntmeehl where the full-text version can be viewed without cost.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET LINKED TO LOWER HEART DISEASE RISK

New research indicates a link between greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a lower occurrence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. This study is the first to assess the effects of Mediter-ranean-style diet among a group of young, working American adults. A Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, nuts, vegetables, and fruits has been shown in previous studies to lower risk of CVD. However, those studies have primarily been conducted among older people, those with existing health conditions, and among Mediterranean populations.

The study was conducted on 780 young firefighters in the U.S. This group is known to have a high prevalence of obesity and risk factors for CVD. The researchers adjusted for exercise and body weight. The firefighters with greatest adherence to Mediterranean-style diet showed a 35% decreased risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition with risk factors that include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. The study shows that promoting Mediterranean-style diets could have significant health benefits for young, working populations.

This study can now be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/ktxcboc without cost. It was released on Feb. 4, 2014 by the journal PLOS ONE.

POLYUNSATURATED FAT PREVENTS ABDOMINAL FAT ACCUMULATION, PROMOTES MUSCLE

New research on humans shows that consumption of saturated fat builds more fat and less muscle in the body than consumption of poly-unsaturated fat. (This is the first study on humans to show that the fat composition of food not only influences cholesterol levels in the blood and the risk of cardiovascular disease but also determines where the fat will be stored in the body. Liver fat and visceral fat is known to contribute to disturbances in metabolism, and these findings can be important for individuals with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, as well as for elderly people, for whom maintaining muscle mass is of great importance in preventing morbidity. Visceral fat is linked to Type 2 diabetes.)

This study involved 39 young adult men and women of normal weight, who ate 750 extra calories in muffins per day for seven weeks with the goal of increasing their weight by 3%. Both diets provided equal amounts of sugar, carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The only difference between their diets was that one group ate muffins containing polyunsaturated fat and the other ate muffins containing saturated fat.

MRI scans and muscle mass tests were done before and after the weight gain, as well as tests of gene activity in abdominal visceral fat using a gene chip. Despite comparable weight gains, the surplus consumption of saturated fat in the saturated fat group caused a markedly greater increase in total body fat, particularly in the amount of fat added in the liver and abdomen, especially visceral fat (fat surrounding the internal organs).

Furthermore, the increase in muscle mass was three times less for those who ate saturated fat compared to those who ate polyunsaturated fat. Thus, gaining weight on excess calories from polyunsaturated fat caused more gain in muscle mass, and less body fat than eating a similar amount of saturated fat. The researchers noted that over-consumption of saturated fats seems to turn on certain genes in fatty tissue that increase the storage of fat in the abdomen and also hamper insulin regulation. Polyunsaturated fats, instead, turn on genes in visceral fat that are linked to reduced storage of fat and improved sugar metabolism. The polyunsaturated fat used in the study was sunflower oil, while the saturated fat used was palm oil. (The fat in sunflower oil is a mixture of omega-6 and omega-9.)

This research was published on February 18, 2014 by the journal Diabetes. The study can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/lxxd5mf with access fee.

DID YOU KNOW…?

If you ate all of your meals in restaurants, you would on average be consuming 200% of your recommended daily sodium intake.

TV-SERIES HELPS REAL DOCTORS DIAGNOSE COBALT POISONING

A newly published case report details how an episode of the TV series House, in which the fictional doctor Gregory House diagnoses cobalt poisoning, helped a medical team finally solve the mystery of a male patient with similar symptoms, after 18 months of tests and hospital visits. The cobalt in this case resulted from debris created by wear on a metal hip that had been implanted six months before the first appearance of symptoms. The eventual diagnosis clarified the true cause of the hypothyroidism, esophagitis, fever of unknown origin, increasing deafness, loss of sight, and finally, severe heart failure.

The medics working on the case finally noticed striking similarities between the symptoms of the real-life patient and the fictional patient in the TV series, who was diagnosed by as having cobalt poisoning caused by debris from a metal hip replacement. The real-life patient had undergone a metal-on-plastic hip re-placement to replace a broken ceramic-to-ceramic hip prosthesis. The patient underwent an operation to install a new ceramic hip and his symptoms improved, including his heart function. This type of cobalt poisoning is on the increase and can be life-threatening. This report was published in the Feb. 8, 2014 edition of The Lancet and can be read at https://tinyurl.com/og8za4s

COFFEE DURING PREGNANCY TIED TO CHILDHOOD LEUKEMIA

New research shows that maternal coffee consumption during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of childhood acute leukemia, or AL. (Childhood acute leukemia includes acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, and acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.) This study was in the form of a meta-analysis, which incorporates results of previously published studies on the same subject, of which there were seven. Results of the analysis indicated that there was a 22% higher risk of AL for children of mothers who drank coffee at any time during pregnancy. There was a 16% higher risk of AL for children of mothers who were low to moderate-level drinkers of coffee during pregnancy. And there was a 72% higher risk of AL for children of mothers who were high-level coffee drinkers during pregnancy. There was a dose-response relationship, meaning that risk increased in direct proportion to the amount consumed.

This study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, but the dose-response substantially suggests there may be one. This study was published in the February 2014 issue of the journal American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It can be read online in full at https://tinyurl.com/mteh9ju without charge.

EXERCISE MAY PROTECT AGAINST VISION LOSS

A new study has reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps to preserve the structure and function of nerve cells in the retina after they have been damaged. The findings suggest that exercise may be able to slow the progression of retinal degenerative diseases. (Age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly, is caused by the death of light-sensing nerve cells in the retina called photoreceptors.)

Scientists had mice run on a treadmill for one hour a day, five days a week, for two weeks both before and after exposing the animals to toxic bright light that results in retinal degeneration. They then exercised the mice for a further two weeks. They found that treadmill training preserved photoreceptors and retinal cell function in the mice. The exercised mice lost only half the number of photoreceptor cells as mice that spent equivalent time on a stationary treadmill.

This is the first report of simple exercise having a direct effect on retinal health and vision. It may lead to tailored exercise regimens or combination therapies in treatment of blinding diseases. People at risk of macular degeneration or who have early signs of the disease may be able to slow down the progression of visual impairment.

This study was published in the February 12, 2014 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience and is expected to be available at the journal website at https://www.jneurosci.org

REGULAR WALKS CAN SLOW BRAIN AGING BY TWO YEARS

New information indicates that simple exercise, such as regularly walking at a good pace, can clearly slow down the normal aging process of the brain in older persons. (Exercise was previously shown to cut the risk of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.) New details of a study, which was first published in 2011, were presented in Chicago at the 2014 annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The original study involved 120 people, aged 65 and older. The analysis shows that the older brain is highly modifiable even late in adulthood through regular exercise. Although the brain shrinks with age, physical activity helps improve its overall functioning and, in particular, increases the volume of the hippocampus by 2%. This reverses cerebral aging by one to two years and boosts mental capacities.

Analysis of the study results has demonstrated that even though the brain shrinks and experiences overall decline with age, this does not seem to be inevitable, and exercise was found to take advantage of the natural capacity for brain plasticity. Only a modest amount of exercise was needed to get this result, although little is known about how much is required. This study analysis was presented February 16, 2014 and has not been published or posted.

SOCIAL CONTACT IS CRITICAL TO LIVING LONGER

Research has found that social contact and avoidance of loneliness are major keys to aging well and living a longer life, and analysis demonstrates that social isolation has twice the impact on the risk of death as the impact of obesity. Feeling extremely lonely can increase the chances of premature death by 14%. The research carried out on a group of 20,000 people revealed substantial adverse health effects of feeling alone, which include sleep problems, high blood pressure, impaired immune cells, and depression. Also, loneliness is often accompanied by a sedentary lifestyle, which can significantly weaken health.

The study presenter suggested that retiring to a warmer climate is not necessarily beneficial to health if it means being disconnected from people who mean the most to you. According to the Pew Research Center, the baby boomer generation began to turn 65 on January 1, 2011, with 10,000 doing so each day until 2030. As a result, about fifteen years ago many had predicted higher incidence of dementia and poor health, but in fact there have been declines in disability and poor health. The reasons, indicated the presenter, are medical advances and boomers taking better care of themselves; unfortunately, sedentary lifestyles still persist.

These findings were presented on February 16, 2014 at the 2014 annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Chicago. The study has not been published or posted.

PEOPLE OVER EIGHTY OFTEN OVER-TREATED

A new study reports that patients in their 80’s are often prescribed drugs to ward off a stroke when the risk of a stroke is not high, which may be unwise because the anti-stroke drugs have other side effects. (Statins and antihypertensive drugs are the most commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs. They are widely prescribed to patients in their 80’s to ward off stroke by lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure.) These findings apply only to people over age 80. However, the conclusions suggested that, by age 80, high blood pressure is no longer a key risk factor for stroke.

Also, high cholesterol itself at this age has little effect on overall stroke risk. According to this report, the largest trials of antihypertensive therapy and statins for people in this age group have shown only a marginal reduction in stroke and very modest reductions in other cardiovascular events. This suggests that statins and antihypertensive drugs are greatly over-prescribed in the healthy elderly and are mostly irrelevant in the frail elderly. (Statin side effects include muscle weakness and liver damage. Antihypertensive drug side effects include dizziness, rash, and erection problems.) This study was released February 16, 2014 by the journal Evidence Based Medicine, ahead of publication in a later issue. Full details can now be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/njuoxzq with journal subscription or fee.

VITAMIN D FOUND TO REGULATE SEROTONIN

New research has found that vitamin D indirectly regulates levels of three brain hormones, including serotonin which is associated with mood, appetite, sleep, and social behaviour. (Depression can result from low serotonin, and restoring serotonin levels is the main mechanism of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs.) The new study, led by renowned biochemist Bruce Ames, PhD, reveals that serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin are all activated by vitamin D. Results show that vitamin D activates the gene that makes an enzyme that converts the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin. This key finding suggests that autism and depression may be linked to the reduced serotonin levels caused by deficient vitamin D intake.

This research has key implications for prevention of autism, and likely its treatment. The current guidelines for vitamin D levels are concentrations above 30 nanograms per ml. Vitamin D is made in the skin from sun radiation, but melanin in dark-skinned individuals and sunscreen inhibit this action. The most recent National Health and Examination survey reports that more than 70% of people do not meet this requirement. Vitamin D levels plummeted over the last 20 years, and autism rates have climbed. This study was released February 20, 2014 ahead of publication in a future issue of the FASEB Journal. It can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/lvjjyju for a fee.

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