Monday, December 9, 2013

Health Research Recap (Week of 12/2/2013)

A study looking at a high risk gene associated with late onset Alzheimer's disease found that people with the gene begin seeing changes in their brain beginning in childhood.  If this has you terrified, don't be.  The researchers stated that the gene actually contributes very little to the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease when compared to lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity.  How about that?

Researchers believe that supplementation with the Omega 3 fatty acid DHA can be protective against certain forms of Alzheimer's disease.  A recent study showed that DHA can cross the blood brain barrier where it can improve markers for inflammation and slow the development of Alzheimer's disease.  There were questions surrounding whether the Omega 3 fatty acids were able to cross the blood brain barrier and improve levels of DHA, which are correlated progression of Alzheimer's.  This study showed that DHA levels in the brain are related to progression of Alzheimer's disease and Omega 3 supplementation improves these levels.

Another study on obesity found that children whose parents experience high levels of stress have a BMI 2% higher than children whose parents experience low levels of stress.  Furthermore, children whose parents experience higher levels of stress also gained weight at a faster rate.  While the numbers seen in the study were quite low, people develop their lifetime eating habits while they are young and obese children tend to become obese adults.  The way the study was conducted, it appears that showing this stress is the important factor.  If you are experiencing high levels of stress, it's best to manage it in a way that your children aren't exposed to uncontrolled outbursts.

Not getting your sleep will not only make you cranky, it can also increase your risk for obesity and mood disorders.  A study looking at sleep disturbances and obesity found that 75% of obese participants in the study had poor sleep.  In addition, 52% were anxious and 43% were depressed.  There was also a relationship between mood disorders and sleep disturbance as those who reported poor sleep were more likely to experience either mood disorder. 

Another study on depression found that women who are depressed during pregnancy can cause changes in the development of the wiring of their children's brain.  The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. While children of mothers who were depressed during pregnancy developed a normal amygdala, they had a decrease in connectivity to the right amygdala.  You may remember the amygdala as it is the target of improvements related to the stress reducing effects of meditation.  Perhaps meditating during times of depression may be a good idea in pregnant women. 

Researchers have found a "clock" within the stomach that may help regulate the times when we consume more food.  Nerves in the stomach respond to stretch in order to tell us when we have eaten enough.  These nerves are most sensitive during waking hours, probably to allow us to consume more food while we are more active.  This may help shed some light on why people who work night shift or have a disturbed circadian rhythm tend to eat more.  An interesting aspect of this research is that fasting may cause alterations in the sleep/wake cycle that decreases our ability to sleep, and this may be the mechanism by which it works.  It has been proposed that an interesting way to beat jet lag would be to fast for 24 hours prior to your trip and eat breakfast at home or on the plane at the time breakfast would normally be consumed at your destination.

In autism news, researchers found that changing the gut bacteria of mice who had autism with the probiotic B. fragilis had a positive effect on autism like behaviors.  In humans, children of mothers who had a severe viral infections during pregnancy are more likely to be autistic.  The researchers recreated this condition in mice and exposed them to the probiotic.  The result...The mice had less anxiety and were more likely to communicate with other mice.  The mechanism behind this improvement?  The mice had a leaky gut that was corrected with the probiotic.  Whether this is reproducible in humans is eyt to be seen, but taking steps to correct leaky gut in children with autism may show an improvement in antisocial behavior.

In research on gut bugs in the buckets of disease that we know as children, the toxic bacteria C. Difficile is found in the guts of 1/3 of children between the ages of 1 1/2 to 3 years.  While it resides harmlessly in their gut and will eventually make way for healthier bacteria, it is not so harmless in adults.  While this is not cause for alarm and shouldn't cause you to begin shunning your children, it should make you more cognizant of who should limit their exposure to young children.  People with compromised immune systems and people who are on antibiotics may want to steer clear of young children who are not their own until their immune systems are stronger or their course of antibiotics is done.

In more gut bug news, people with colorectal cancer have a lower diversity of bacteria in their gut.  People with colorectal cancer had fewer bacteria of the class Clostridia, which contains members that ferment fiber in to butyric acid, which is used to heal gut damage.  In addition, they also had higher levels of Fusobacterium and Porphyromonas, which are associated with higher levels of inflammation in the GI tract.

A cool study found that the skin appears to communicate with the liver and affects liver metabolism.  Some mice who were bred to have altered fat metabolism also had greasy fur and accumulated fat in the liver.  The researchers hypothesized that the increased fat accumulation in the liver was due to an increased loss of water through the skin.  They put vaseline on the mice to prevent the skin from losing water and heat due to evaporization of water from the skin and the fat in the liver went away.  To make sure this wasn't from fat absorption by the skin, they used liquid latex and got the same result.  The more research we do, the more complex human biology gets.

One of the most important match ups of the last million years appears to have a clear cut winner. Researcher looked at the effects of coffee and alcohol on the length of telomeres.  Telomeres are little caps, like shoelaces, found on the end of DNA.  Every time a cell divides the telomeres on the cell's DNA shorten.  The length of the telomeres get shorter as we age and are associated with poorer health.  The researchers found that caffeine shortens, while alcohol lengthens telomeres.  Before you go out and celebrate the news, there is likely a limit to the amount of alcohol that is beneficial.  Once you exceed that point I imagine you get the opposite effect.  In other words, this study does not show that binge drinking is healthy, just that moderate to low alcohol consumption may be protective.