Research

Elevated Depressive Symptoms and Fatty Acids

A cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Nutrition (2013 Sept 4; [Epub ahead of print]) looked at 1,746 adults between the ages of 30 and 65 years. Elevated depressive symptoms were found in just over 25% of the female subjects and around 18% of the male subjects. Elevated depressive symptoms were found to be related to intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, in women, the highest tertile of omega-3 fatty acids intake was associated with a reduced odds of EDS by 49%, as compared to the lowest tertile. Specifically, in women, the highest tertile of omega-3 fatty acids intake was associated with a reduced odds of EDS by 49%, as compared to the lowest tertile. Furthermore, the omega-3 PUFA to omega-6 PUFA ratio was inversely associated to EDS in women, and a similar pattern was found for omega-3 HUFA vs omega-6 HUFAs. The authors conclude, “…among United States women, higher intakes of n-3 fatty acids [absolute (n-3) and relative to n-6 fatty acids (n-3:n-6)] were associated with lower risk of elevated depressive symptoms, specifically in domains of somatic complaints (mainly n-3 PUFAs) and positive affect (mainly n-3 HUFAs).”

Folic Acid and Cholesterol Levels

Folic acid is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of high cholesterol, but a small study published in Medical Science Monitor (2013 Sept 4; 19: 733-9), looked at low-dose folic acid supplementation and cholesterol in 124 subjects. The subjects were Caucasian, between the ages of 19 and 39 years of age, with risk factors for atherosclerosis (either a family history of stroke, high cholesterol, sedentary lifestyle, obesity (or overweight), or smoking).

The subjects were given a low dose of folic acid daily (400 mcg/day) for a period of 12 weeks. Supplementation with the folic acid was found to be associated with a significant reduction in mean concentration of total cholesterol in females (203.4 vs. 193.1 mg/dL) and in males (209.5 vs. 201.9), and decreases in LDL cholesterol as well (107.4 vs 99.99 mg/dL in females and 121.5 vs 115.1 mg/dL in males).

Vitamin D and Asthma Severity

A study that was published in Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research (2013 Sept; 5(5): 283-8) looked at the relationship between vitamin D levels and asthma severity. Researchers analyzed 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in serum collected from 121 asthmatic adults from Costa Rica to investigate the association between vitamin D levels and the severity of their disease. Vitamin D levels below 30 ng/mL, we defined as insufficient. Asthma severity was determined by forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and forced vital capacity (FVC). When the population was stratified by vitamin D status, 91% of asthmatic patients with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL (n=36) and 74% of patients with vitamin D levels between 20 and 30 ng/mL (n=73) had severe asthma versus 50% of those with vitamin D sufficiency (n=12; P=0.02). Vitamin D insufficiency was associated with a higher risk of severe asthma. High vitamin D levels were associated with a lower risk of hospitalization or emergency department visit during the last year.

Cognitive Function and Phosphatidylserine

An exploratory study, appearing in Clinical Interventions in Aging (2013; 8: 557-63), looked at cognitive function in 30 subjects between the ages of 50 and 90. The subjects were given 300 mg. of phosphatidylserine each day for 12 weeks. Supplementation with phosphatidylserine was associated with significant improvements in memory recall, memory recognition, executive functions and mental flexibility. Total learning and immediate recall also improved. In addition, the subjects also experienced significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The authors conclude, “This exploratory study demonstrates that SB-PS may have favorable effects on cognitive function in elderly with memory complaints.” Additional research is warranted.

Vitamins C and E May Protect Muscles During Exercise

Research appearing in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine (2013 April; 4(Suppl 1): S16-23) looked at 64 female athletes and the effect of supplementing with vitamins C and E. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group was given 250 mg of vitamin C per day. The second group was given 400 IU of vitamin E each day. The third group was given both vitamin C and vitamin E. The fourth group received a placebo. Chemical markers indicating oxidative stress were lower in the group receiving both vitamins C and E when compared to the placebo group. According to intergroup comparison, creatine kinase was significantly decreased in the vitamin C group and lactate dehydrogenase was significantly decreased in the vitamin E group. According to the authors, “It is induced from the results that vitamin C and E supplementation plays a role in reducing muscle damage markers of aerobic exercises.”

Does the Body Crave Comfort Foods in an Attempt to Curb Chronic Stress?

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have found a feedback system in rats that may explain the craving of so called “comfort foods” in people who are under stress. A steroid hormone, called corticosterone, is produced in rats as a response to stress. The human equivalent of this hormone is cortisol.

The hormone causes rats to engage in pleasure seeking behavior 24 hours after stress. This behavior causes the rats to crave high calorie food. In the rats’ case, the food was sugar and lard. The hormone’s effect on people is likely to make them crave chocolate or greasy burgers.

The research also explains why some people get abdominal obesity. Chronic stress caused the rats to gain weight around the abdomen. The fat cells actually work to curb the stress. The researchers suspect that the metabolic signal to inhibit the stress system comes directly from fat depots. The finding offers an explanation into how chronic stress can be inhibited, or curbed.

The body’s acute response to stress, like a single event like being cut off in traffic, diminishes through an inhibitory feedback mechanism of the adrenal stress system. Chronic stress, which is a series of negative events, worrying, frustration occurring over a period of weeks or months, does damage to the body. It creates depression, obesity, a tendency to type II diabetes, the metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol with high LDL, low HDL, high triglycerides and high blood pressure), cardiovascular problems and a loss of brain tissue.
“Our studies suggest that comfort food applies the brakes on a key element of chronic stress,” says study co-author Norman Pecoraro, PhD, “And it could explain, why solace is often sought in such foods by people with stress, anxiety or depression.” The mechanism may also explain bulimia and night time binge eating.

This may be part of a survival mechanism. In the animal kingdom, it’s eat or be eaten, and constant, or chronic, stress may make the animal prefer to eat high-energy foods for fuel to help with survival. Under the model that the research team has proposed, corticosterone (or in humans, cortisol) would prompt vigilance to threats and also send a signal to the brain of a chronically stressed animal to seek high-energy food. If it were successful in finding such food, stress and its attendant feelings would end.

If there is war, food shortage, disease, food shortage and other threats to survival, the need for high calorie food is great. In a society where people do not face these dire conditions, stress comes in the form of job deadlines, fights with the spouse, rush hour traffic, or financial worries. But the stressed out office worker seeks the same solution as the person or animal who’s survival is being threatened—food. The choice to eat chocolate or a greasy burger may well come from chronic stress.

In a society where people eat too much junk food and there is a problem with adult onset diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, we need a better way to address chronic stress. In a civilized society, overeating merely makes the physiologic problems of stress. Better solutions would be exercise, deep-breathing, yoga, meditation, or even a good hot bath. These can stimulate neurochemicals that activate regions of the brain that stimulate pleasure. Relaxation techniques may work by reducing the psychological drives on stress output, which can be the root causes of stress.

Bioflavonoids and Diabetes

Bioflavonoids are a class of water-soluble plant pigments found in fruits, vegetables, and certain beverages that have antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against the damaging effects of reactive chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage.

In a meta-analysis, published in the journal, Clinical Nutrition (27 March 2013; [Epub ahead of print]) looked at four articles consisting of six prospective cohorts that involved 18,146 cases and 284,806 participants were identified. The summary relative risk (RR) of type 2 diabetes for the highest intake of total flavonoids compared with the lowest was 0.91 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.87–0.96). Furthermore, an increase in the total flavonoids intake of 500 mg/d was associated with a significant risk reduction of 5% (RR = 0.95, 95% CI: 0.91–0.98). In subgroup analyses, the observed beneficial effects were observed in US population, in those mean age > 40 years old people and in studies ≥20 years in duration. The authors conclude, “The present meta-analysis indicates that consumption of dietary total flavonoids is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Science, Allergies and Natural Health Care

It is important to reconcile scientific research with natural health approaches. It is sometimes a difficult task. All of the medical journals sell ads to drug companies and it should be obvious that economics help to determine what appears in the journals. But occasional natural health gems appear; they are usually small studies that can still be branded as “inconclusive”. The overall attitude of the journals tend to be, “My, isn’t this amusing. We will have to look into it someday.” But as long as drugs like Ritalin make $3 billion per year and are advertised in the journal, you will not see the journal take a stand and suggest that kids with ADD need B vitamins, omega-3 oils, exercise and to stop eating junk food. They will, however, print the occasional amusing little study. One such study, appearing in the journal, Annals of Allergy, May 1994 evaluated 26 children with ADHD. The children were put on an allergy elimination diet. Along with eliminating artificial colors and preservatives, some foods were eliminated. These included common allergens like wheat, dairy products, egg, corn, yeast, soy, citrus, chocolate and peanuts. Of the 26 subjects, 19 responded well to the diet. It is a small study, but it should offer hope to people with ADD.

Studies supporting the use of natural health care for allergies exist. Scientists in Finland have found that the type of fats consumed in the diet may be connected to the tendency toward allergy, according to research published in the journal Allergy (2001;56:425-428).The British Medical Journal (January 19, 2002; 324:144) has research that shows the herb, butterbur may be useful for allergic symptoms. There is even a journal article about homeopathy and allergies. In a small study, published in the August 19, 2000 issue of the British Medical Journal, 24 patients were given a homeopathic remedy daily and 27 patients received a placebo. Although it was a small group, the study was double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized.

The information found in medical journals is interesting, but it does not give the practitioner information that is good enough to effectively treat airborne allergies. The doctor who is a real scientist, and who wants to make his or her patients better will make note of the journal research, but also look at what patients respond to and take into account seemingly unrelated research. For instance, we know that eating sugar and producing insulin exacerbates inflammation. The symptoms of hay fever are largely due to inflammatory chemicals produced by the body, so it stands to reason that refined sugar is something that should be avoided by patients with hay fever. The same thing goes for trans fats. Yet this advice is seldom given in traditional medical offices; they are waiting for the perfect study to prove this (perhaps prompting Nasonex to pull its ads).

A real scientist will take the journal articles into account, but also take clinical and anecdotal information into account. Although the journals scorn anecdotal information, some of the most clinically useful stuff comes to us anecdotally. And why not use anecdotal information if you are dealing with a very low risk therapy like nutrition that potentially can produce good results?

Hormones produced by the adrenal glands fight inflammation. Indeed, adrenal support is a mainstay for natural health practitioners to treat allergies. You don’t see a lot of articles in medical journals about nutrient support for adrenals. There is some information about herbs and vitamin C in the journals. Bioflavonoids, like quercitin are often very useful for hay fever patients. Many herbs are also useful.

Natural Health Care and Neurologic Diseases

Alzheimer’s disease, MS, ALS and other serious neurological diseases, may be considered to be uncurable, but patients with these conditions may do well by taking steps to improve general health. Each patient and each disease state is different, but no one suffering from any disease, no matter how serious, will not benefit from taking steps to improve his or her general health.

For example, an analysis of data from the Nurse’s Health Study published in the Jan. 13, 2004 issue of Neurology, vitamin D may have a protective effect against multiple sclerosis (MS). Periods of exacerbation in MS patients have been linked to periods of low vitamin D levels and periods of remission have been linked to high vitamin D levels. Because the incidence of MS increases as you get farther from the equator, some scientists think that sunlight exposure and high levels of vitamin D may reduce the risk of MS.

Mark Goodman Ph.D. has some interesting observations of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He believes that many patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease actually have dementia caused by a lack of vitamin B12 (“Are U.S. Lower Normal B12 Limits Too Low?” Journal of The American Geriatric Society, October, 1996;44(10):1274-1275).

A team of researchers at UCLA studied mice that were genetically predisposed to get an Alzheimer-like disease. Researchers fed one group of mice a diet deficient in DHA (a fatty acid found in fish oil). Another group was fed a diet that was very high in DHA. After five months the mice were given a memory test. They were trained to find a platform in water. The platform was then submerged. The mice had to remember where the platform was in order to find it again. The mice fed the DHA did much better in finding the platform than those fed the DHA deficient diet. In many cases the DHA deficient mice swam in a circle on the edge of the tank and could not find the platform at all.

In a study, published in the journal, Neurology (March 2000;54:1265-1272) 3,385 Japanese American men ages 71-93 were surveyed and tested for dementia over a nine year period. Participants taking both vitamin E and C supplements regularly (at least once a week) in 1988, were 88% less likely to have vascular dementia four years later. The group taking the supplements was also 69% less likely to have forms of dementia other than vascular or Alzheimer’s related dementia or mixed forms of dementia.

A study performed on mice and published in the January 2002 issue of the Journal of Neurochemistry indicates that mice fed folic acid were more resistant to Parkinson’s disease than mice fed a diet deficient in the vitamin. According to research published in the February 14, 2002 New England Journal of Medicine shows high homocysteine levels can also double the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The conversion reactions that change homocysteine to the more benign amino acids are dependent on vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid.

A six-month double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 23 individuals with mild multiple sclerosis (MS) was performed at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine. Physicians noted better performance on neuropsychological tests by patients who took Ginkgo biloba compared to those who took an inactive placebo. Past studies have shown that Ginkgo slows mental decline in Alzheimer’s patients, but no previous studies have been done on MS patients.

 

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