Monday, December 16, 2013

Health Research Recap (Week of 12/9/2013)

Many studies have shown a relationship between what your mother eats before and during pregnancy and your health.  A new study on the effects of diet in mice shows that what papa eats may also play a role.  Vitamin B9, or folate, is known to prevent miscarriages and birth defects.  This has led physicians to recommend folate supplementation to expecting mothers.  In this study on mice, the researchers found that male mice with folate deficiency were more likely to have offspring that were born with birth defects.  These effects are mediated by the epigenome, the portion of DNA that carries information about the environment and transfers it between generations.  To send the proper signals to your offspring, consume lots of green leafy vegetables, nuts, fruit, meats, and eggs.  It's not all about what you eat, obese people may not metabolize folate properly so maintaining a healthy diet and body is also important.

Long term use of acid reducing medicines known as Proton Pump Inhibitors(PPIs) is associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.  Researchers found that patients who took PPIs were 65% more likely to experience B12 deficiency than people who didn't use the drugs.  Stomach acid helps the body absorb vitamin B12, so reducing stomach acid levels can negatively impact B12 status.  Not only are these drugs prescribed often for stomach issues, they can also be found as OTC medicines such as Pepcid and Prilosec.  The frustrating part of this scenario is that most people who are prescribed these meds are never tested for stomach acid levels, and in many instances they can actually be experiencing low stomach acid, which may be why people who take acid reducers such as PPIs experience B12 deficiency.  Another deficiency that is likely to come about from PPI use is magnesium deficiency as stomach acid also helps with magnesium absorption.

I have written about lipopolysaccharide(LPS) often in this blog in regards to it's effects on blood glucose control and heart disease.  A news study has uncovered a surprising new twist in how the body handles LPS.    Blood clotting helps wound healing and prevents bacteria from entering the body, turns out it also helps soak up LPS and prevent it from entering circulation.  I wonder if the high circulating levels of LPS found in diabetes, heart disease, and leaky gut may contribute to the increased risk of blood clots.  I know switching to the Paleo diet, which theoretically reduces leaky gut and LPS, caused my blood to thin out when compared to eating the Standard American Diet, this could be one of the ways by which this happens.

HDL is known as "good" cholesterol.  While I disagree with the notion that there is a bad cholesterol since you would die without the so called "bad" cholesterol, people with higher HDL levels seem to have protection against heart disease.  Researchers identified the gene by which HDL does it's work.  Toll-like receptors act as record for the immune system to identify foreign invaders.  The gene ATF3 works to regulate this response by reducing the inflammatory response.  HDL cholesterol works by activating ATF3 and reducing inflammation throughout the body.  It is important to note that eating a diet and living a lifestyle that keeps inflammation at bay is more important than having high HDL cholesterol, but people with high HDL cholesterol are offered more protection from bad lifestyle choices than people with low HDL cholesterol.  High, and thus protective, HDL cholesterol is defined as >60mg/dL.

Speaking of epigenetics, a study looking at changes in gene expression in meditation showed that a day of practicing mindfulness by people experienced in meditation led to changes in the expression of genes related to inflammation.  Several genes that are the target of analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications were down regulated, leading to a decrease in inflammation throughout the body.  In addition, the people practicing mindfulness also showed an improved cortisol response to stress.  What is even more impressive about the results of this study is that all of the tested genes were expressed to the same degree at the beginning, not only suggesting that the results were due specifically to the practice of mindfulness, but also suggesting our minds can have a powerful influence over the way our genes are expressed.  Talk about the benefits of having the proper mindset.

A trio of studies on exercise gives us a glimpse of it's positive effect on health.  The first looked at the use of exercise to combat the sexual side effects of anti-depressant use.  Women who participated in the study either performed moderate physical activity 3 times a week within 30 minutes of sexual activity or the same amount of activity not timed to their sexual encounters.  All of the women who exercise noted improved orgasm as an effect of regular exercise, but the women who timed their exercise 30 minutes prior to intercourse also had stronger libidos and improvements in overall sexual function.  The effect is believed to be due to activating the sympathetic nervous system which increases blood flow to sexual organs.  Antidepressants reduce sympathetic nervous system activation, which is a primary effect of the drugs, not a side effect.

A study that looked at the effects of following a healthy lifestyle for 35 years found that following 4 out of 5 healthy behaviors is associated with a drastically reduced dementia risk.  These 5 lifestyle factors are regular exercise, non-smoking, low body weight, a healthy diet, and low alcohol intake.  While it is not news that these lifestyle factors are important to health, people who followed 4 out of 5 had a 60% decreased risk of dementia and a 70% decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  Of the factors, exercise was identified as the most powerful factor in affecting disease risk.

In the third study, researchers found that beginning exercise as early as possible is highly beneficial in improving depressive symptoms in people with Parkinson's disease.  In the study, participants who exercised for 48 weeks noted improvements in depressive symptoms when compared to a group who had only been exercising for 24 weeks.  Since 50% of Parkinson's patients suffer from depression and the depression symptoms are often worse than the motor symptoms, reducing the depressive symptoms is important.  In addition, as the person falls in to their depression, they are more likely to withdraw from social interaction, decreasing physical activity and leading to a worsening of motor symptoms.  This study failed to show this effect, but a great component of this study that bears mentioning is that the participants were performing group exercise, which could have a synergistic effect in increasing social interaction as well as physical activity, a 2 for 1.

A new study on the effects of the Type 2 diabetes drug Metformin found that the drug had different impacts on heart metabolism in women than in men.  Metformin had a positive impact on heart metabolism in women, bet a negative impact in men.  The study looked at 3 treatment protocols for T2D, all including Metformin.  When the researchers looked at the data without separating the sexes, there was no difference in heart metabolism between the 3 groups.  However, when they looked at the data while separating the sexes, they noticed that the hearts of men burned more fat than glucose, an undesirable trait, while women were the opposite.  This was a very small study so more research is necessary, but it highlights how pharmaceutical drugs tend to enter widespread use in teh population before we know all of their effects.

Think that no-calorie sweetener is safe?  Think again.  We've all been told that sucralose, the no-calories sweetener also known as splenda, is one of the safer sweeteners to drink.  It turns out, not so much.  In a review of the science by researchers, studies looking at the effects of sucralose on health show that it has some significant damaging effects on the health of your gut.  In addition to affecting the way you process sugar, sucralose can negatively impact drug effectiveness, form toxic substances, and negatively impact the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut.  While most of the studies they looked at were in mice, mice are also what drug companies use to determine whether a drug is safe for humans or not before beginning human trials.  Not safe for mice, not safe for humans.

Finally, a little science porn for a certain someone who reads and likes this review on facebook often and I haven't seen in a few years{You know who you are, tell Sharon I said hi  :)}.  Scientists have identified a genetic pathway that, when activated, may restart hair growth in dormant hair follicles.  This is lovely news for many men and women who suffer from hair loss, but is also good news for me as my father and both grandfathers are/were follically challenged.