NEWS BRIEFS – December 2014 / January 2015

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SULFORAPHANE, A CHEMICAL IN CRUCIFEROUS FOODS LIKE BROCCOLI, MAY IMPACT AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS

VEGETABLE COMPOUND MAY IMPROVE AUTISM

A new study has found evidence that daily treatment with sulforaphane, a chemical found in cruciferous foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, has the potential to improve some symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Partici-pants receiving a daily dose of sulforaphane showed improvement in both behavioural and communication assessments in as little as four weeks.

(A previous study found that sulforaphane supports key aspects of the cell stress response. Also, over the years, there have been several anecdotal reports that children with autism show improvements when they have a fever, which activates protective cellular stress response. While the mechanism underlying autism spectrum remains unknown, several molecular abnormalities – including some related to the cellular stress response – have been identified.)

This study randomly assigned 44 young men diagnosed with moderate to severe autism to receive a daily dose of either sulforaphane, extracted from broccoli sprouts, or a placebo. Participants were assessed for changes in behaviour and social interaction. The average scores were significantly better for the participants receiving sulforaphane than for those who received a placebo – in behaviour, social interaction, calmness, irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, communication, motivation, and mannerisms.

After supplementation was discontinued, most improvements disappeared, supporting the probability that the improvement resulted from sulforaphane treatment. The authors stress that the results of this pilot study must be confirmed in larger investigations before any firm therapy conclusions can be drawn, and that about one third of supplemented subjects showed no improvement.

This study has been early-posted online in advance of being published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and the full report can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/ktfha7o free of charge.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CUTS GESTATIONAL DIABETES BY HALF

A new study has found that following a healthy lifestyle could prevent nearly half of gestational cases of diabetes. This includes quitting smoking, eating healthily, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that gestational diabetes affects between 2% and 10% of pregnancies in the U.S. It occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to cope with the increased demands of pregnancy. Although gestational diabetes goes away after the mother has given birth, women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35 to 60% chance of developing diabetes in the following 10 to 20 years. A high glucose concentration in the blood is believed to cause the malformation of embryos. Children born after gestational diabetes are more likely to have birth defects and could be at a higher risk of becoming obese or intolerant to glucose when growing up.)

This study examined the effect of these low-risk lifestyle factors on pregnancies in an attempt to calculate how many cases could be prevented through adherence to healthy living guidelines. Women whose Body Mass Index was over 33 prior to pregnancy were found to be more than four times as likely to develop gestational diabetes than other participants. Those who had a combination of three of the previously identified low-risk lifestyle factors (not smoking, regularly exercising, maintaining a healthy weight) were 41% less likely to develop gestational diabetes than other pregnant women. If they began pregnancy at normal weight, this figure increased to 52%.

This study was posted online before its publication in a future issue of the journal BMJ. Meanwhile, the entire report can be read online at https://tinyurl.com /nycv76a without charge.

MEDICATIONS ARE THE BIGGEST CAUSE OF ALLERGY-RELATED DEATHS

A new report that analyzed death certificates from 1999 to 2010 has found that medications are the leading cause of allergy-related sudden deaths in the U.S. The study also found that the risk of fatal, drug-induced allergic reactions was particularly high among older people and African-Americans, and that such deaths have increased significantly in recent years. (Anaphylaxis is the term used for a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes following exposure to an allergen. Until now, data on trends in anaphylactic deaths, or even the number of yearly deaths from anaphylactic shock, has not been well-defined, partly because countries do not maintain a national registry for these deaths.)

By analyzing death certificates, the researchers found that among allergy-related deaths, medication-related anaphylaxis was the most common cause of death at 58.8%, followed by unspecified anaphylaxis at 19.3%, venom at 15.2%, and food at 6.7%. The culprit drugs were not specified in 74% of the cases, but among those with an identified culprit drug, nearly half were antibiotics, followed by radio-contrast agents used during diagnostic imaging procedures, and by chemo-therapeutics that are used in the treatment of cancer. The study showed that fatal drug anaphylaxis has almost doubled between the 1999-2001 and 2008-2010 periods.

This draft report of the study has been released online by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It can be read online now at https://tinyurl.com/plslsvw for a fee.

HIGH ANTIBIOTIC USE IN HOSPITALS MAY BE BOOSTING RESISTANT BACTERIA

Scientists have reported that about half of all U.S. hospital patients receive antibiotics, and these drugs are most commonly the very compounds that are more likely to promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study identified how many of more than 11,000 patients received antibiotics on a given day at one of 183 hospitals in 2011. About 50% of these patients got at least one antibiotic, and about half of those patients received two or more antibiotics. The most common reasons given for the antibiotic prescriptions were were respiratory tract infections, followed by urinary tract infections, and skin or soft tissue infections. About 76% of the patients received antibiotics to treat infections, and about 19% received them to reduce the risk of infection during surgeries.

More problematic, however, was that the most commonly used medications were broad-spectrum antibiotics, likely due to fear of targeting the wrong pathogen or missing a resistant organism, especially in a sick patient. (While narrow-spectrum antibiotics primarily target specific germs – mostly the harmful ones – broad-spectrum antibiotics go after a broader range of bacteria, often killing helpful bacteria as well. Broad-spectrum antibiotics increase the risk of a patient developing an infection caused by bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics.)

This report was published in the October 7, 2014 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/n2hns2r

DID YOU KNOW…?

• A 2014 Australian study found that sildenafil, one of the ingredients in Viagra, may cause blindness. Sildenafil can obstruct an enzyme that sends light signals from the retina to the brain, and the effect in some men can be permanent.
• The number of cases of pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, would soon drop by 40% if people were to simply stop smoking and maintain a healthy weight.

WALNUTS MAY HELP PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

A study has found that walnuts may help reduce the risk, delay the onset, slow the progression of, and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The conclusion was based on research on mice that were fed a walnut-rich diet, and were later assessed to show significant improvements in learning skills, memory, and motor development. They also had lower anxiety levels. (This study’s finding adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the protective effects of walnuts on cognitive functioning, and it lays the groundwork for future clinical studies.) The researchers suggested that the high antioxidant content of walnuts may be a contributing factor in protecting the brain from the degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Oxidative stress and inflammation are prominent features of this disease. Walnut supplementation for mice comprised six percent or nine percent of the diet, which is equivalent to humans eating one ounce and 1.5 ounces per day, respectively. Walnuts contain numerous vitamins and minerals and are the only nut that contains a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain health benefits.

The researchers also suggest that ALA may have played a role in improving the behavioural symptoms seen in the study. This study was published in the October 2014 edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and is available online at https://tinyurl.com/o79m5cb

FRUIT AND VEGETABLES IDENTIFIED AS KEY TO MENTAL WELL-BEING

Researchers have published a report concluding that eating eight or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day not only leads to better physical health but improves mental well-being. The study involved more than 12,000 adults, and found that participants were at their happiest when they ate five portions of fruit and four portions of vegetables each day. Many public health messages, such as the World Health Organization guidelines, promote the consumption of five servings of fruit and vegetables daily; while the combined portion of eight or more servings of produce may seem relatively high, the present findings closely mirror other recent studies. The researchers found that well-being benefits derived from eating more fruit and vegetables were much higher for women than men, and that solely eating fruit had a greater impact on overall mental health than eating only vegetables. These data were collected from individuals aged between 15 and 93, over a two year period. One portion is the equivalent of one piece of fruit or vegetable the size of the palm of your hand.

This October 2014 report was posted online where it can be read in full at https://tinyurl.com/lpdln2h free of charge.

COCOA FLAVANOLS MAY REVERSE AGE-RELATED MEMORY DECLINE

In a new study, dietary cocoa flavanols, which are naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa, reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults. This provides the first direct evidence that one component of age-related memory decline in humans is caused by changes in a specific region of the brain and that this form of memory decline can be improved by a specific dietary intervention. (As people age, they typically show some decline in cognitive abilities, including learning and remembering such things as the names of new acquaintances or where they put the car keys. This normal age-related memory decline starts in early adulthood but usually does not have any noticeable impact on quality of life until people reach their fifties or sixties. Age-related memory decline is different from the often-devastating memory impairment that occurs with Alzheimer’s, in which a disease process damages and destroys neurons in various parts of the brain, including the memory circuits. Changes in a specific part of the brain, the dentate gyrus, are associated with age-related memory decline. Until now, however, the evidence in humans showed only a co-relational link, not a causal one.)

Healthy volunteers, aged 50 to 69, received either a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of cocoa flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of cocoa flavanols a day) for three months. Researchers found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink. The high-flavanol group also performed significantly better on the memory test. If a high-flavanol participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, then after three months, that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old. Flavanols are also found naturally in tea leaves and in certain fruits and vegetables. Besides flavanols, exercise has been shown to improve memory and dentate gyrus function, at least in younger people. This study was released by the journal Nature Neuroscience on October 26, 2014 in an advanced online publication, view it at: https://tinyurl.com/kyuesfe (access fee required).

EVEN ONE SESSION OF WEIGHTLIFTING BOOSTS YOUR MEMORY

New research concludes that lifting weights gives your memory capacity a sustained boost. This study found that a single intense body-building workout, even for just 20 minutes, can enhance long-term memory by about 10%. The research involved a group of volunteers who were asked to study events and photos just before working out just one time. Two days later, researchers tested their memories of those events and photos. After exercising, participants were able to recall 60% of the photos and events, while a similar group of individuals who did not work out could recall only 50%. This shows a 20 percent enhancement in recall, even after two days.

The study indicates that people do not have to dedicate large amounts of time to give their brain a boost.

Although this research used weight exercises, the study notes that resistance activities such as squats or knee bends would likely produce the same results. These non-weight exercises do not require individuals to be in good enough shape to bike, run, or participate in prolonged aerobic exercises. This study was published in the November 2014 issue of the journal Acta Psychologica. It can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/ndn2dyf for an access fee.

DID YOU KNOW…?

Among people over 65, over the past two decades, there has been a 24% reduction in strokes, and a 20% reduction in deaths from stroke, according to a July 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

MUSHROOM EXTRACT CAN ELIMINATE HPV IN INFECTED WOMEN

A pilot clinical trial has found that a Japanese mushroom extract called AHCC (active hexose correlated compound) can effectively eradicate human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. (Currently, there is no effective medicine or supplement to treat HPV, which is associated with more than 99% of cervical cancer cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several other cancers are related to HPV, including 95% of anal cancers, 60% of oropharyngeal cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers, 50% of vulvar cancers, and 35% of penile cancers.)

AHCC is a readily available nutritional supplement with no known side effects that works to improve the innate immune system. Human and preclinical studies have shown that AHCC increases the number and activity of natural killer cells, dendritic cells, and cytokines which help the body fight off infections and block tumour growth.

In this study, 10 HPV-positive women were treated orally with the mushroom extract AHCC once daily for up to six months. Five achieved a negative HPV test result during the study; three more showed confirmed HPV eradication after stopping AHCC; and the remaining two responders are still continuing with treatment. The results were presented on October 28, 2014 in Houston at the 11th International Conference of the Society for Integrative Oncology in Houston. They have not yet been published or posted.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY COMMON IN MEN WITH ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION

Scientists have examined the status of blood levels of vitamin D among patients with erectile dysfunction (ED) and found that deficiency of this vitamin-hormone was significantly associated with the more severe cases of ED. The patients were divided according to their type of ED, which included arteriogenic ED (50 patients), borderline ED (28 patients), and non-arteriogenic (65 patients). (Arteriogenic ED refers to erectile dysfunction that involves increased diameter of arterial vessels.) The researchers found that 45.9% of all ED patients had vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D levels were significantly lower for patients with severe or complete ED compared to those with mild ED. They were also especially lower for patients with the arteriogenic type of ED compared to the non-arteriogenic type of ED.

The researchers concluded that doctors should routinely measure the serum vitamin D levels in all erectile dysfunction patients, and they should then recommend vitamin D supplementation as required.

This study was published in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The full report is available online at https://tinyurl.com/nj6mpsv for a $6 fee.

Michael Downey is a columnist with Vitality Magazine, contributing his News Briefs column every month.

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