News Briefs – April 2017

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VITAMIN B-3 MAY HELP PREVENT GLAUCOMA – New research suggests that vitamin B-3 may help prevent glaucoma. (There is currently no cure for glaucoma, a group of neurodegenerative diseases that affect the optic nerve and leads to visual impairment and blindness. It affects more than 60 million people worldwide.)

Scientists carried out tests on a group of mice genetically predisposed to developing glaucoma, as well as on healthy control mice. They found that aging decreases levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a coenzyme that plays a key role in the oxidation of a cell. When ingested, vitamin B-3, also known as niacin and nicotinamide, eventually converts into NAD. The NAD decline weakens brain-cell metabolism and makes intraocular pressure particularly dangerous in terms of leading to glaucoma.

So researchers added B-3 to the drinking water of glaucoma-predisposed mice. This stopped most of the molecular changes usually associated with advancing age and protected against the onset of glaucoma. This outcome suggests that vitamin B-3 improves the metabolism of cells known as retinal ganglion cells, making them more resilient to the pressure-induced damage behind glaucoma. This team is now planning a test to see how effective B-3 treatment may be in other neurodegenerative diseases.

This study was published in the February 17, 2017 issue of the journal Science. The full report is available at for a fee.

EXCESS ANTIBIOTIC USE IN NEWBORNS DAMAGES LUNG IMMUNE SYSTEMS – New research suggests that short-term disruption of intestinal bacteria through the use of antibiotics in newborn babies increases their risk of developing pneumonia and the risk of dying from it. And longer-term, intestinal-gut disruption may cause permanent immune-system damage and higher mortality. (It has long been known that antibiotics which protect infants from infection can also disrupt the normal growth of their beneficial gut bacteria. But this new study shows that routine antibiotic use may have deeper and longer-lasting consequences.)

This study found that even after birth, the lungs of an infant are still forming, and their immune defenses remain under construction. The development of a human infant’s immune system is complete by about a year post-birth.

These scientists experimented with mice and found that strong immune defenses depend on a flow of molecular signals occurring as the body reacts to waves of normal bacteria colonizing the gut. These signals tell the lungs when to build immune cells, how many, and where they should be deployed. When antibiotics wipe out good bacteria, they cut off that important flow of signals. As a result, the lungs build weaker castle walls with fewer guards on duty.

This study draws into question the near-automatic practice of prescribing antibiotics to women before Cesarean section deliveries. As a precaution and to help prevent Group B streptococcal infections, virtually all C-section mothers receive antibiotics shortly before delivery, and up to 30% of newborns in neonatal intensive care units also receive antibiotics. For every 200 babies given prophylactic antibiotics, either pre- or post-delivery, of course all are exposed to the unwanted effects of these drugs. But only one of these babies would have become infected without the drugs. So 200 are exposed. One infection is prevented.

It is possible to restore intestinal bacteria levels after antibiotic use, and when the researchers did so in mice, it restored their resistance to pneumonia.(*)

This study was published in the February 8, 2017 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The report is available at for a fee.

(*Editor’s note: High quality probiotic supplements have been used successfully to restore the friendly bacteria in a damaged microbiome, so it is reasonable to expect that babies fed antibiotics would benefit from taking a probiotic supplement geared for that age group. As well, breastfeeding is very important to help the baby establish a healthy microbiome.)

VITAMIN D MAY PREVENT COLDS AND ‘FLU ON PAR WITH FLU SHOTS – According to a new study, vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and ‘flu. (This is the most robust evidence yet that vitamin D has benefits beyond bone and muscle health. Vitamin D is thought to protect against respiratory infections by boosting levels of antimicrobial peptides, natural antibiotic-like substances in the lungs. Acute respiratory infections are a major cause of global mortality.)

Raw data from about 11,000 participants in 25 clinical trials conducted in 14 countries suggested that higher vitamin D protected against respiratory infections. Some of the studies found no connection, possibly because participants in those studies already had adequate vitamin D levels. These results fit the observation that colds and ‘flu are most common in winter and spring, when levels of vitamin D are at their lowest.

Supplementing with vitamin D cut the risk of acute respiratory infection by 50% in people with the lowest vitamin D levels. People with higher vitamin D levels experienced a more modest 10%  reduction of cold and ‘flu risk. Overall, the reduction in risk induced by vitamin D was on a par with the protective effect of the ‘flu vaccine. Vitamin D supplementation is safe and inexpensive.

This study was published online February 15, 2017 by the journal BMJ. It is now available at /jjfawny free of charge.

SOFT DRINK CONSUMPTION LINKED TO LIVER DISEASE – Scientists have found that consuming fructose can increase concentrations of uric acid in the blood. They also found that those with greater fructose intake, as well as those with greater uric acid concentrations in their blood, are more likely to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. (NAFLD is the accumulation of extra fat in liver cells in people who drink little or no alcohol and is the fastest growing cause of liver disease, affecting up to 30% of people and posing both a liver cancer risk and a mortality risk.)

Researchers studied 271 obese children and adolescents with NAFLD who underwent liver biopsy and completed a food questionnaire. Nearly 90% were found to be consumers of soft drinks or sodas one or more times weekly. High fructose intake was clearly associated with liver damage in both children and adults. Also, 95% regularly consumed crackers, pizza and salty food, biscuits, yogurt, or other snacks.

Liver health may be protected by limiting access to soda and other sweetened beverages that contain fructose. This study was posted online on February 14, 2017 in the Articles In Press section of the Journal of Hepatology. It will later be published in print but can be accessed now at https:// with access fee.

NSAID DRUGS DO NOT WORK FOR BACK PAIN – A new study has found that commonly used, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, used to treat back pain provide little clinical benefit but do cause side effects. (One common example of a NSAID is ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory pain drug sold under the trade name Motrin.)

The findings of this systematic review of 35 trials involving over 6,000 people reveal that only one in six patients treated with NSAID pain pills achieved any significant reduction in pain. NSAIDs do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, only for a brief time, and arguably not in any clinically significant way. And patients taking NSAIDs were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and bleeding. (Earlier research demonstrated that acetaminophen, which is a non-anti-inflammatory pain drug sold under the trade name Tylenol, is ineffective, providing minimal benefit over placebo. This new study looks at anti-inflammatory pain drugs.)

This highlights an urgent need to develop new therapies to treat back pain, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Better still, education and exercise programs can substantially reduce the risk of developing low back pain.

This study was published online first, on February 2, 2017, ahead of later publication in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. It is available at https://tinyurl. com/jleq26v for a fee.

ACUPUNCTURE DIMINISHES FREQUENCY OF MIGRAINE HEADACHES – New research shows that regular acupuncture treatments may help reduce the frequency of the debilitating attacks of migraine headaches. Scientists recruited people who had between two and eight migraines of the type known as migraines without aura per month. They found that patients who suffered from this type of headache, and who received five acupuncture treatments per week for four consecutive weeks, had about one less headache per month than similar patients who got the same number of sham acupuncture treatments. Treatments included acupuncture needles and electrical stimulation, each lasting 30 minutes. This represents a 12.5 to 50% reduction in headache frequency. After 16 weeks, migraines in the acupuncture group fell by three headaches a month, representing a 37.5 to 100% reduction in frequency.

The study authors concluded that acupuncture should now be considered for migraine prophylaxis. (About 18% of women and 6% of men in the U.S. suffer from migraine headaches in a given year, making the condition a leading cause of disability. Acupuncture is commonly used to treat migraines in China, but studies have been inconsistent.)

This New Online study was posted February 20, 2017. It will be published later in JAMA Internal Medicine. The report can be accessed at for fee.

HIGHER INTAKE OF PRODUCE BOOSTS WELL-BEING FAST – Researchers have reported that increased healthy eating, defined as consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, can improve feelings of psychological well-being in just two weeks. Their study involved 171 young adults aged 18-25, split into three groups. Over two weeks, they either continued eating as normal, or were encouraged by text reminders and pre-paid vouchers to eat more fruit and vegetables, or were personally given two extra daily servings of fresh produce. The produce was comprised of carrots, kiwifruit, apples, and oranges.

Those in the last group reported improved psychological well-being, vitality, and motivation. Those reminded by text and given vouchers did not show a similar improvement and, when surveyed, were found more likely to have eaten cooked vegetables in casseroles or mixed in with other meals. The group directly given fresh fruit and vegetables mostly ate them uncooked.

Further research would be needed to address whether eating more fresh produce might make a difference for those with already diminished well-being, such as those who have depression.

This study was published online February 3, 2017 by the journal PLoS ONE. The study can be read now at cost-free.

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