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Magnesium supplement improves cognitive function in animal study
A report published in the January 28, 2010 issue of the journal Neuron describes research conducted by neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Toronto which found that adding a magnesium compound to the drinking water of rats enhanced learning ability and memory.
In previous research conducted at MIT, Guosong Liu and his associates developed a compound called magnesium-L-threonate that improved brain magnesium levels. The new compound elevates magnesium to levels higher than those associated with a normal diet without inducing diarrhea, which is a common effect of increased magnesium intake.
"Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of many tissues in the body, including the brain and, in an earlier study, we demonstrated that magnesium promoted synaptic plasticity in cultured brain cells," explained Dr Liu, who is now the director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. "Therefore it was tempting to take our studies a step further and investigate whether an increase in brain magnesium levels enhanced cognitive function in animals."
"We found that elevation of brain magnesium led to significant enhancement of spatial and associative memory in both young and aged rats,” he revealed. “If magnesium-L-threonate is shown to be safe and effective in humans, these results may have a significant impact on public health."
"Our findings suggest that elevating brain magnesium content via increasing magnesium intake might be a useful new strategy to enhance cognitive abilities," Dr Liu added. "Moreover, half the population of industrialized countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. This may very well contribute to age-dependent memory decline; increasing magnesium intake might prevent or reduce such decline."
Higher vitamin D levels linked with lower colorectal cancer risk
A report published online on January 21, 2010 in the British Medical Journal reveals the finding of a team of European researchers of a protective effect of higher vitamin D levels against the development of colorectal cancer.
The current study included 1,248 men and women with colorectal cancer matched to an equal number of controls who participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Study. Blood samples obtained between 1992 and 1998 were analyzed for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and questionnaires completed by the subjects provided information on dietary intake. The average time between blood collection and diagnosis was 3.8 years for colon cancer and 3.9 years for rectal cancer.
Men and women whose vitamin D levels were among the top one-fifth of participants had a 40 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to those in the lowest fifth. When subjects with vitamin D levels of 25 to 49.9 nanomoles per liter were compared to those with midlevel levels of between 50 and 75 nanomoles per liter, they were found to have a 28 percent average increased incidence rate of colorectal cancer, and those with levels lower than 25 nanomoles per liter had a 32 percent increase. High levels, defined as 75 and 100 nanomoles per liter, reduced risk by 12 percent compared to midlevel risk. While increased dietary calcium showed some evidence of an association with decreased cancer risk, vitamin D intake did not.
The authors remark that, given the inverse association observed between calcium intake and colorectal cancer risk, vitamin D’s role in calcium homeostasis could provide one explanation for the study’s finding. They recommend randomized trials of vitamin D supplementation to test the hypothesis that higher vitamin D levels reduce colorectal cancer risk without inducing adverse events.
Vitamin D supplementation helps prevent nursing home falls
A meta-analysis published by the Cochrane Library of reviews this month concluded that vitamin D supplementation is helpful to reduce falls among older nursing home patients. Falls are associated with such factors as cognitive problems, muscle weakness and osteoporosis, and are a leading cause of injury, loss of independence and death among older individuals.
To evaluate interventions designed to reduce falls by older people in nursing care facilities and hospitals, Ian Cameron, of Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney in Ryde, Australia and his associates reviewed 41 trials including a total of 25,422 participants with an average age of 83, the majority of whom were women. They determined that multifactorial measures, including exercise, medication and improved environmental factors, helped prevent falls in hospitals but were not of significant benefit in nursing homes unless provided by multidisciplinary teams. Vitamin D supplementation proved to be effective in preventing falls among nursing facility patients in five clinical trials.
“The prescription of vitamin D reduces falls, as may a review of medication by a pharmacist,” the authors conclude in their summary. “There is no evidence that other interventions targeting single risk factors reduce falls and this includes exercise interventions.”
"Many of the preventive measures used to avoid falls in older people are combined in what are called multifactorial interventions, so it can be very difficult to separate out the effects of all the different measures," Dr Cameron observed. "In our review, we saw limited evidence that these combined interventions work, but we could more confidently recommend them if they were delivered by a multidisciplinary team.”
Nutrient cocktail shows promise for Alzheimer’s disease
In the latest issue of the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Richard Wurtman, MD and his colleagues report that a combination of the vitamin choline, the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and uridine, all of which are present in breast milk, improves the memory of men and women with early Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Wurtman believes that the nutrients work by stimulating the growth of connections between brain cells known as neurons that are reduced in Alzheimer’s disease.
Earlier research conducted by Dr Wurtman revealed that choline, DHA and uridine increase the number of dendritic spines that connect neurons to form synapses. "If you can increase the number of synapses by enhancing their production, you might to some extent avoid that loss of cognitive ability," he explained.
In a double-blinded trial, 225 Alzheimer’s disease patients were randomized to receive a daily cocktail of DHA, choline and uridine plus B vitamins, phospholipids and antioxidants, or a placebo beverage for 12 weeks. At the trial’s conclusion, 40 percent of the patients who received the nutrient cocktail experienced significant improvements in a delayed verbal recall test compared to 24 percent of those who received the placebo. Patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease showed the greatest improvement. Other Alzheimer’s disease assessments, such as those involving orientation and movement/spatial memory, remained unchanged; however, Dr Wurtman noted that early Alzheimer’s disease patients mainly show cognitive changes.
The nutrient combination is additionally being tested in three ongoing trials in Europe and the US. The researchers believe that the nutrients may be of value to individuals challenged by other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. "There are a lot of diseases associated with synapse deficiency," Dr Wurtman noted.
Fish oil supplementation benefits septic patients
An article published on January 19, 2010 in the online journal Critical Care reports the discovery of researchers at the University of Southampton in England of improvements in patients hospitalized for systemic inflammatory response syndrome or sepsis who received intravenous treatment with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.
In their introduction to the article, Philip Calder and his colleagues explain that “Sepsis results from a host inflammatory response to infection and is characterised by high circulating concentrations of inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6 and IL-8. Although conditions other than infections can trigger a state of hyperinflammation, sepsis requires special attention since even with current treatments it is often associated with very high mortality.”
Dr Calder’s team randomized 23 patients hospitalized with sepsis in the intensive care unit (ICU) of Hospital Padre Américo in Portugal to receive a parenteral lipid emulsion with or without fish oil for up to six days. They found that patients who received fish oil had reduced blood levels of inflammatory agents, improved lung function and earlier hospital discharge.
"Recently there has been increased interest in the fat and oil component of vein-delivered nutrition, with the realization that it not only supplies energy and essential building blocks, but may also provide bioactive fatty acids,” Dr Calder commented. “Traditional solutions use soybean oil, which does not contain the omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil that act to reduce inflammatory responses.”
"This is the first study of this particular fish oil solution in septic patients in the ICU,” he announced. “The positive results are important since they indicate that the use of such an emulsion in this group of patients will improve clinical outcomes, in comparison with the standard mix."
Vitamin C halts premature aging disease
A report published in the January 2010 issue of FASEB Journal reveals the discovery of Canadian researchers that vitamin C effectively treats a mouse model of Werner syndrome, a disorder caused by a genetic mutation which results in a pro-oxidant status, premature aging and shortened life span. Humans with Werner syndrome begin showing signs of increased aging in their twenties and commonly do not survive to the age of 50. The finding could have implications not only for Werner's syndrome, but for other progeroid syndromes.
Michel Lebel, PhD of the Centre de Recherche en Cancerologie in Quebec and his colleagues tested the effects of the vitamin in normal mice and in mice with a mutation in the WRN gene responsible for Werner syndrome. While animals with the mutation were diabetic and obese, and showed signs of developing heart disease or cancer, treatment with vitamin C resulted in the reversal of several age-related abnormalities in liver and fatty tissue, and normalized life span. Treated mice also had lower oxidative stress, and improved inflammatory status and genomic integrity. The vitamin did not appear to affect the healthy control animals. "These results indicate that vitamin C supplementation could be beneficial for patients with Werner syndrome," the authors write.
"Vitamin C has become one of the most misunderstood substances in our medicine cabinets and food," noted Gerald Weissmann, MD, who is FASEB Journal's Editor-in-Chief. "This study and others like it help explain how and why this chemical can help to defend some, but certainly not all, people from premature senescence."
"An organism or individual with a mutation in the WRN gene or any gene affected by the WRN protein . . . may benefit from a diet with the appropriate amount of vitamin C,” Dr Lebel concluded.
Vitamin C aids in the production of stem cells from adult cells
Stem cell therapy holds promise for the treatment of a variety of diseases and conditions. Reprogramming adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) is one method of stem cell generation that avoids the ethical controversy generated by obtaining these cells from human embryos. The process is accomplished by turning on a set of genes, which recent research has aided by the introduction of transcription factors present in embryonic stem cells. However, the conversion is extremely inefficient, which has sparked a search for methods to increase its results.
"The low efficiency of the reprogramming process has hampered progress with this technology and is indicative of how little we understand it," explains Dr Duanqing Pei from the South China Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who is the senior author of a new report published online in the journal Cell Stem Cell. "Further, this process is most challenging in human cells, raising a significant barrier for producing iPSCs and serious concerns about the quality of the cells that are generated."
Dr Pei and colleagues found that vitamin C enhanced pluripotent stem cell generation in mouse and human cells, while accelerating gene expression changes. The vitamin appears to act, in part, by retarding cell senescence. "Our results highlight a simple way to improve iPSC generation and provide additional insight into the mechanistic basis of reprogramming," Dr Pei concluded. "It is also of interest that a vitamin with long-suspected anti-aging effects has such a potent influence on reprogramming, which can be considered a reversal of the aging process at the cellular level. It is likely that our work may stimulate further research in this area as well."