News Briefs – June 2017

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Chili Pepper Compound May Help Cure Diabetes and Colitis

New evidence shows that, when eaten, both chili peppers and marijuana interact with a receptor in the stomach and appear to inhibit inflammation, which may lead to new therapies for diabetes and colitis. In fact, the researchers actually cured mice of diabetes by feeding them chili pepper extract. They fed mice capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers, and found that the mice experienced reduced levels of inflammation in their guts.

When the scientists investigated what was occurring at the molecular level, they found that the capsaicin was binding to a receptor (TRPV1) found on specialized cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract. When this chili pepper compound binds to these cell receptors, they produce anandamide, a chemical similar to the cannabinoid in marijuana that essentially tells the immune system to calm down. These receptors are also found in brain cells; it makes some sense therefore, that these gut receptors can communicate with the brain, which in turn calms the immune system.

The chili pepper compound causes a chain reaction that leads to the release of a type of macrophage (an immune cell) that subdues inflammation. This study was pre-released on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website on April 24, 2017. It will be published in the print journal at a later date. Meanwhile, the full study can be read now at

Avocados Shown to Reduce Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome

A new review has found that avocados improve many of the elements that make up the condition known as metabolic syndrome. (Avocado is a well-known source of carotenoids, minerals, phenolics, vitamins, and fatty acids. Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of risk factors, including high readings of blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index or BMI. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus by five-fold and cardiovascular diseases by three-fold.)

According to the various studies examined in this scientific review, avocados have their most beneficial effects on lipid profiles, meaning beneficial changes to LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and phospholipids. They also were shown to lower the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, blood clotting, and atherosclerosis. The peel, seed, flesh, and leaves of avocados were found to have differing effects on components of metabolic syndrome. This study was posted April 10, 2017 on the site of the journal Phytotherapy Research and will appear in a future print issue of the journal. The full text of this study can now be read at for a fee.

Vitamin B Supplements Offset Effects of Pollution on Heart Health

New research shows that supplementing with B vitamins can mitigate the impact of a type of pollution known as PM2.5, pollution with specific tiny size of fine particle, on cardiovascular disease. (This is the first human clinical trial to evaluate whether B vitamin supplements can change the biologic and physiologic responses to ambient air pollution exposure and potentially help contain its negative health effects. Ambient fine particulate pollution contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths annually worldwide, mostly via effects on the cardiovascular system, but also via immune system suppression. Particulate matter pollution is the most frequent trigger for heart attack.)

Healthy non-smokers who took vitamin B supplements nearly reversed any negative effects of fine-particle pollution on their cardiovascular and immune systems. They reduced the effects of air pollution on their heart rate by 150%, on their total white blood cell count by 139%, and on their lymphocyte (an immune cell) count by 106%. The principal investigator commented that this suggests B vitamins may reduce the inflammatory effect of pollution; inflammation is a common factor in diseases and death of the elderly. The study only enlisted subjects who took no form of vitamin B supplements previously, and so those already supplementing might not derive further protection from increased supplementation. Also, the protection afforded may be reduced in some higher-pollution cities. This study was recently posted at the website of Scientific Reports and will be published in an upcoming issue of this journal. The full report is now available at free of charge.

Camping and Sunlight Can Re-set Our Body Clock to Earlier Timing

Researchers have reported more evidence to suggest that one solution to the growing problem of people staying up late and throwing off body rhythms could be spending more time outdoors in the sun, specifically suggesting that a few days spent backcountry camping is sufficient to send people to bed earlier, no matter the season. (Many people now stay up late into the night, watching TV, fiddling with smartphones, or reading a book by lamplight with the result that getting up to the morning alarm is difficult. Late circadian and sleep-timing in modern society are associated with negative performance and health outcomes such as morning sleepiness and accidents, reduced work productivity and school performance, substance abuse, mood disorders, diabetes, and obesity. Modern exposure to electrical lighting causes about a two-hour delay in our internal clocks, evidenced by a shift in the normal fluctuations of the hormone melatonin.)

A week of summer sun can shift internal clocks back, sending people to bed earlier, without changing how long they slept. To assess wintertime effects, the team sent people camping for a week in the Colorado winter at solstice when days are shortest, with no flashlights or phones allowed. With increased time spent outdoors, subjects started going to bed at an earlier time. Their internal clocks, measured by the timing of when melatonin levels began to rise in their bodies, shifted more than 2.5 hours earlier. Their sleeping patterns followed these changes in melatonin levels and people went to sleep earlier. Also, a single weekend spent camping was found to be enough to break the late-night habit, weekend sleep-in habit, and the later-shifting of circadian clocks.

The full-text study is now available online, free of charge, at and will appear in the journal Current Biology.

Did You Know….

  • Drinking a beetroot juice supplement before working out makes the brain of older adults perform more efficiently, closely mirroring the operations of a younger brain, according to a new study available at
  • Strawberry extract can inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells, both in test tubes and in mice, according to a study in Scientific Reports available at
  • Commonly used sedatives called benzodiazepines increase the risk of pneumonia when used in people with Alzheimer’s disease, reports a study just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Diet Soda Drinks Boost Dementia Risk

A new study has found that people who drink diet soda daily are more likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who do not. (Prior studies linked diet soda intake to stroke risk, but the link with dementia was not previously known.) Researchers examined whether participants had been diagnosed with a stroke or dementia due to Alzheimer’s. After measuring beverage intake at three points over seven years, researchers monitored the volunteers for another 10 years, seeking evidence of stroke in people over age 45 and of dementia in participants over age 60. They found no correlation between sugary beverage intake and stroke or dementia.

However, they did find that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia. Although the researchers took age, smoking, diet quality, and other factors into account, the team was quick to point out that these findings demonstrate correlation but not cause-and-effect. This study did not differentiate between types of artificial sweeteners. Scientists have put forth various hypotheses about how artificial sweeteners may cause harm, from transforming gut bacteria to altering the brain perception of sweet taste.

This study was posted on the website of Stroke on April 20, 2017. It will be published in a future issue of this journal. The full study is available by clicking Download PDF at is free of charge.

Nutrient in Meat and Egg Yolks Raises Blood-Clotting Risk

Researchers have found that a nutrient found in meat and eggs may conspire with gut bacteria to make the blood more prone to clotting. (Researchers are just beginning to understand how gut bacteria and their byproducts affect the cardiovascular system. Choline is an essential nutrient required for brain function and is needed for the production of acetylcholine, which is an anti-aging neurotransmitter. Choline is found in egg yolks, beef, chicken, salmon, liver, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.)

The study team gave 450 mg of choline to 18 healthy volunteers on a daily basis for two months. Of those 18, 10 were meat-eaters and eight were vegans or vegetarians. The researchers found that the choline boosted the production of a chemical called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide) by 10-fold. TMAO, produced when gut bacteria digest choline, makes particular blood platelets that are more prone to sticking together and causing a clot.

Past studies have linked higher TMAO levels in the blood to heightened risks of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. This is the first study to show the links between choline, gut bacteria, and greater susceptibility to clotting. It is critical to note that choline is essential to the nerves and brain, the body cannot make enough for its needs, many people do not absorb choline well, and the Western diet is higher in choline than other diets. Also, a compound in olive oil (as well as baby aspirin) seems to help inhibit TMAO formation.

Scientists hope to yet learn what exact mix of gut bacteria best support cardiovascular health. This study was published in the April 25, 2017 issue of the journal Circulation. The full-text version is also available at for an access fee.

Question of Whether to Eat or Fast Before Exercise is Finally Answered

A new study shows that fasting prior to exercising alters gene expression to provide beneficial effects on adipose (fat) tissue, and that this effect does not occur when exercise follows eating. (Exercise enthusiasts have often debated whether it is best to take in nutrients prior to working out or to fast pre-exercise. This study highlights the different roles that fat cells play in powering and responding to exercise.)

Male volunteers first walked for 60 minutes at 60% maximum oxygen consumption on an empty stomach, and at a later time did the same two hours after consuming a high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich breakfast. The researchers took multiple blood samples after eating, after fasting, and after each of the exercise sessions. They also collected adipose tissue samples just before, and one hour after, walking. The expression of two genes (PDK4 and HSL) increased when participants exercised after fasting and decreased when they exercised after eating. The increased gene expression indicates that stored fat was used to fuel metabolism during exercise while the decreased gene expression indicates that the carbohydrates from the meal were used as fuel instead.

The author explained that after a person eats, their adipose (fat) tissue is busy responding to the meal, and a bout of exercise at this time will not stimulate the same fat-burning benefits. Exercise in a fasted state provokes more favourable changes in adipose tissue. This study was posted online at the site of the American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology Metabolism. It will appear in a future print issue of this journal, but the full-text study can be downloaded now at free of charge.

Furry Pets Protect Babies from Allergies and Obesity

A new study has found that exposure to furry animals such as cats and dogs, both during pregnancy and after birth, helps children to naturally develop two specific types of intestinal bacteria. One is associated with a reduced risk of developing allergies, and the other is linked to a lower risk of becoming obese. When researchers analyzed fecal samples from 746 babies, they found that having dogs and cats in the home during pregnancy and early infancy led to higher levels of two gut microbes: Ruminococcus and OscillospiraRuminococcus appears to lower the risk of allergies; evidence suggests that Oscillospira lowers odds of obesity.

Regardless of how the babies were delivered, they were more than twice as likely to have high levels of these beneficial intestinal bacteria when exposed to furry animals while in the womb or during infancy. Pet exposure was also linked to lower fecal levels of harmful Enterobacteria, which are linked to Salmonella and other infections, even among babies born by emergency cesarean who normally have high levels of these microbes at three months of age. While the study does not demonstrate exactly how cats and dogs cause changes in gut bacteria, the microbiome composition of the infant may be affected by the vaginal or skin microbes transferred from the animals to the mother. Changes in the microbes of the mother can be passed on during birth, even with a surgical delivery. After that, pets may be directly transferring beneficial microbes when they touch babies and infants and may also pass along microbes that are left on household surfaces or in dust.

This study was published in the April 6, 2017 issue of the journal Microbiome. The full study is now available at free of charge.

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