News Briefs – March 2017

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Scientists have found evidence that links consumption of a pigment found in leafy greens to the preservation of what is known as crystallized intelligence. (Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use the skills and knowledge one has acquired over a lifetime.)

Carotenoids are pigments made by plants, and of these, xanthophylls preferentially accumulate in the human brain, especially the xanthophyll known as lutein. It is found in leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and egg yolks.

The study enrolled 122 healthy participants, aged 65 to 75, who were given a standard test of crystallized intelligence. Researchers also took blood samples to determine blood serum levels of lutein and performed MRI scans to measure the volume of different brain structures. Participants with higher blood serum levels of lutein did better on tests of crystallized intelligence. Also, those with higher lutein levels tended to have thicker gray matter in the parahippocampal cortex, a brain region that, like crystallized intelligence, is preserved in healthy aging.

How dietary lutein affects brain structure is unknown; it may play an anti-inflammatory role or aid in cell-to-cell signaling or act in some other manner.

This study was published December 6, 2016 by the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. It can be read at


A new study has found that when the aluminum content of brain tissue exceeds a certain level, it contributes to any existing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). (For half a century, many experts have recognized a link between AD and aluminum, but until now no definite proof has been identified, resulting in a lack of agreement in the scientific community.)

This study of more than 100 human brains showed that some of the highest levels of aluminum ever detected were found in the brains of people who had died of familial AD, which is an uncommon hereditary form of the disease that strikes earlier in life, generally between 50 and 65 years of age, with symptoms beginning as early as 30 years of age. This research found that a genetic predisposition to develop early-onset AD is linked to the accumulation of aluminum, through everyday exposure, in brain tissue. The study author stressed that this aluminum-genetics link is definitely not the only factor in developing AD, but he suggested that it is an important one.

This study will appear in the March 2017 issue of Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. Meantime, the study is accessible online at


A new study has found that people who take popular heartburn pills known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, have a higher risk of developing intestinal infections than people who do not take these medications. (PPI pills work by stopping cells in the stomach lining from producing too much of the acid that can cause ulcers and reflux symptoms such as heartburn. Many of these drugs are available over the counter. Their ingredient names end with the suffix “prazole” such as omeprazole, which does not require a prescription in the U.S., or rabeprazole. Previous research on PPIs and infections has produced mixed results.)

Researchers examined data collected over 14 years on about 188,000 people who were using these drugs, and about 377,000 not using them. Compared to non-users, users were at a 1.7 times higher risk for a severe form of diarrhea caused by the Clostridium difficile bacteria and a 3.7 times greater risk of getting Campylobacter infections, a common form of food poisoning.

Bottom line: Drugs that reduce stomach acid, which acts as a barrier to infection, increase the risk of getting a gastrointestinal infection. The study also tested for Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli, but found no association between PPIs and these infections.

This study was posted January 23, 2017 on the site of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. It will be published in the print version of this journal at a later time. Meantime, the full report can be accessed at free of charge.


Scientists have found that children whose moms took high doses of fish oil supplements during their last three months of pregnancy were less likely to develop chronic wheezing problems or asthma by the age of five. (Asthma cases have been rising in developed countries, while consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has decreased. Earlier studies suggested that omega-3 deficiency during pregnancy may affect asthma risk in babies, but these studies were too small to be definitive. How fish oil may alter asthma risk is unknown, but it might reduce inflammation.)

Researchers asked some of about 700 women to take 2.4 grams a day of a supplement containing two types of fish oil in their third trimester of pregnancy (when the lungs of babies are maturing), and asked the rest of the women to take identical pills that in fact contained olive oil. Mothers and researchers did not know who was getting what until years later. Results showed that 17% of kids whose moms took fish oil developed a breathing problem by age five. But 24% of the comparison group developed a breathing problem, which is a difference of about one-third.

There also were fewer cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and other such infections in the fish oil group. Almost all of the benefit occurred in children whose mothers had the lowest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids at the start of the study. An editorial in the same journal issue cautioned that the study used amounts of fish oil equal to 15 to 20 times what an average American gets from food, and before recommending such a high intake, further studies should be done to assess behavioural or thinking risks for the babies.

This study was published December 29, 2016 by the New England Journal of Medicine. The full study can be read at with access-fee payment.


Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their heat, slowed the development of breast cancer cells, according to a study reported in the journal Breast Cancer – Targets and Therapy.


Investigators have found new evidence that a bacterium known to cause chronic inflammatory gum infections also triggers the inflammatory autoimmune response characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They identified a common denominator between people with periodontal disease (gum disease) and many people with RA: Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. When a person is infected with this particular bacterium, it appears to induce the production of proteins (citrullinated proteins) that are suspected of activating the immune system and driving the cascade of events leading to RA. (Activating the immune system is a normal and healthy response to infection, but in RA patients this process becomes overactive.)

This research may be the closest yet to uncovering a key root cause of rheumatoid arthritis, according to the study author. This study was published on December 14, 2016 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The full study is available at for a fee.


Researchers have reported that a breathing-based form of yoga known as Sudarshan Kriya may be an effective add-on therapy for patients with major depressive disorder who fail to respond to antidepressants. (Antidepressant medication is considered a primary treatment for major depression, but these drugs fail to fully work for more than half of those who use them, and they can lead to unpleasant side effects. Depression is the most common mental illness in the U.S. Around 15.7 million adult Americans experience at least one major depressive episode in a given year. Sudarshan Kriya yoga is a meditation technique that focuses on rhythmic breathing exercises, with the aim of placing the mind into a deep, restful state.)

For their study, the team enrolled 25 adults who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD). All patients had been taking antidepressants for at least eight weeks but had seen no significant improvement in symptoms. The program included six sessions of Sudarshan Kriya yoga exercises, yoga postures, and stress education in the first week. For the remaining seven weeks, participants attended a once-weekly yoga follow-up session, with practice sessions at home.

In this first-ever clinical study of this type, the study team found that eight weeks of Sudarshan Kriya yoga improved symptoms of anxiety and depression in outpatient patients with MDD who were not responding to antidepressants. The control group experienced no improvement.

This study was posted in the ahead-of-print section of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The full report can be read at with access fee.


New research shows that tiny air pollution particles, the type that mainly come from power plants and automobiles, may greatly increase the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), in women. (Microscopic particles generated by fossil fuels get into our bodies directly through the nose into the brain. Cells in the brain treat these particles as invaders and react with inflammatory responses, which over the course of time promote dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.)

Older women, aged from 65 to 79 who live in places with fine particulate matter that exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, were found to have an 81% greater risk for cognitive decline and 92% higher risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s. If these findings hold up in the general population, air pollution could be responsible for about 21% of dementia cases. The adverse effects were stronger in women who had the APOE4 gene, a genetic variation that increases the risk for AD; one way this occurs might be that this gene variation interacts with air-pollution particles to accelerate brain aging. The offending pollutants are known as PM2.5, which are fine, inhalable particles with diameters 2.5 micrometers or smaller.

This study was posted online January 31, 2017, ahead of publication in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The study can be accessed at


Researchers have identified a link between regular sauna use and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in men. (There are about 47 million people worldwide living with dementia, and unless new prevention and treatment strategies are found, this number is expected to reach 132 million by 2050. Previous studies have suggested sauna use may benefit cardiovascular health, but no studies have previously investigated whether it can benefit memory disorders.)

The team analyzed data of 2,315 apparently healthy men aged 42 to 60 and divided the subjects into three groups based on their weekly sauna use: once, two to three times, or four to seven times weekly. Participants were followed for a median 20.7 years. Compared with men who used a sauna once weekly, those who used a sauna four to seven times weekly were found to be at 66% lower risk of any dementia and had a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Further studies are needed to establish whether the effect is the same for women. The study author speculated that sauna use increases heart rate in a way that is comparable to exercise, which is known to benefit heart health.

This study was posted online ahead of publication in the journal Age and Ageing. It can be read now at with access fee.


New research has found that older adults who nap after lunch have better memory and thinking skills than those who do not nap at all or who nap for more than 90 minutes. A study of this type cannot determine whether the napping causes this boost in cognitive functioning in older adults, but the researchers suggested that a one-hour nap in the afternoon may result in better mental and memory performance. Intervention studies would be required to find out.

As we age, cognitive functioning often declines, but for some older individuals, the decline in cognitive functioning can be more severe, potentially leading to dementia. Studies have shown that being active, both mentally and physically, can help to keep the mind sharp in older age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, an afternoon nap of around 20-30 minutes is best for boosting alertness and mental performance, without interfering with nighttime sleep.

For this study, scientists analyzed data on 2,974 adults, aged 65 and older, all of whom underwent tests of attention, episodic memory, and visuospatial abilities, including mathematical tests, word recall, and figure drawing. Moderate-nappers had better cognitive performance than non-nappers or extended-nappers (over 90 minutes). The reductions in mental abilities of non-nappers, short-nappers, and extended-nappers were around four to six times greater than those of moderate nappers, which is comparable to the cognitive function of a five-year older age.

This study was released online by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, ahead of publication in an upcoming issue. The study report can be accessed at free of charge.

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