News flashes are posted here frequently to keep you up-to-date with the latest advances in health and longevity. We have an unparalleled track record of breaking stories about life extension advances.
Amino acid may help autistic children
May 30, 2012. A study described in the June 1, 2012 issue of Biological Psychiatry reveals a benefit for supplementing with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in children with autism. In addition to reducing repetitive behavior, the amino acid decreased irritability, a symptom which can often necessitate antipsychotic drug treatment. "We're not talking about mild things: this is throwing, kicking, hitting, the child needing to be restrained," explained lead author Antonio Y. Hardan, MD who is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University. "It can affect learning, vocational activities and the child's ability to participate in autism therapies."
Dr Hardan's team divided 31 autistic children between the ages of three and eleven to receive a placebo or 900 milligrams NAC daily for four weeks. This was followed by four weeks of NAC or a placebo administered twice daily and concluded with four weeks of either treatment three times per day. Aberrant behavior was assessed at the beginning of the study and at four, eight and twelve weeks.
A significant improvement in irritability was observed in children who received NAC compared to the placebo group, in addition to a reduction in repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Although the effects documented in the current pilot trial were not as dramatic as those elicited by antipsychotics, the amino acid could prove to be a viable alternative therapy for some children with autism.
"Today, in 2012, we have no effective medication to treat repetitive behavior such as hand flapping or any other core features of autism," Dr Hardan noted.
"One of the reasons I wanted to do this trial was that NAC is being used by community practitioners who focus on alternative, nontraditional therapies," he added. "But there is no strong scientific evidence to support these interventions. Somebody needs to look at them."
Vitamin B6 deficiency associated with inflammation
May 25, 2012. In a study described online on May 23, 2012 in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers at Tufts University in Boston report a relationship between low levels of plasma pyridoxal-5'-phosphate (PLP), which indicate reduced levels of vitamin B6, with an increase in markers of inflammation.
"Low vitamin B6 status, based on plasma concentrations of pyridoxal-5-phosphate, has been identified in inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes," write Lydia Sakakeeny of Tufts Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center and her colleagues. "Our objective was to examine the association between plasma PLP and multiple markers of inflammation in a community based cohort."
The current study included 2229 men and women enrolled in the Framingham Offspring study, who were recruited in 1971 and have undergone periodic examinations thereafter. Blood drawn between 1998 and 2001 was analyzed for plasma PLP and 13 markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and other factors.
The researchers created inflammation scores based on the values of each inflammatory marker. An inverse relationship was observed between high inflammation scores and low levels of PLP. The authors note that decreased plasma PLP levels may reflect mobilization of PLP into inflammatory sites and that a causative relationship between reduced vitamin B6 levels and inflammation cannot be determined. However, they conclude that "This study in combination with past findings further supports our hypothesis that inflammation is associated with a functional deficiency of vitamin B6."
Reduced vitamin D levels in mothers associated with more body fat in children
May 23, 2012. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on May 23, 2012, researchers at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC-LEU) at the University of Southampton report a risk of increased body fat in children whose mothers had reduced vitamin D levels during pregnancy.
The study included 977 pregnant women who took part in the Southampton Women's Survey. Body fat levels measured in the women's children when they were six years old were found to be higher in those whose mothers had lower levels of vitamin D. "Although there is growing evidence that vitamin D status is linked to body fatness in children and adults, this research now suggests that the mother's status in pregnancy could be important too," stated University of Southampton Principal Research Fellow Siân Robinson. "An interpretation of our data is that there could be programmed effects on the fetus arising from a lack of maternal vitamin D that remain with the baby and predispose him or her to gain excess body fat in later childhood. Although further studies are needed, our findings add weight to current concerns about the prevalence of low vitamin D status among women of reproductive age."
"In the context of current concerns about low vitamin D status in young women, and increasing rates of childhood obesity in the UK, we need to understand more about the long-term health consequences for children who are born to mothers who have low vitamin D status," Dr Robinson remarked.
Professor Cyrus Cooper, who is the director of the MRC-LEU stated that "The observations that maternal vitamin D insufficiency might be associated with reduced size at birth, but accelerated gain in body fat during early childhood, add to the considerable amount of evidence suggesting that vitamin D status during pregnancy may have critical effects on the later health of offspring."
Folic acid appears protective against some cancers in children
May 21, 2012. In the journal Pediatrics, Kimberly J. Johnson, PhD of Washington University in St Louis and colleagues report the finding of a reduction in the incidence of two types of childhood cancers coinciding with the fortification of grains with folic acid, which was mandated by the U.S. in 1998.
The researchers utilized the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program from 1986 to 2008 to collect data concerning 8,829 children up to the age of four who were diagnosed with cancer. The team found a reduction in a type of kidney cancer known as Wilms' tumor, as well as a decline in the incidence of brain cancers known as primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET) associated with the implementation of folic acid fortification.
"Declines in Wilms' tumors and PNETs in children were detected by multiple analyses of the data," reported Dr Johnson. "We found that Wilms' tumor rates increased from 1986 to 1997 and decreased thereafter, which is an interesting finding since the downward change in the trend coincides exactly with folic acid fortification. PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter. This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily."
"Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may also lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States," she announced. "Importantly, the reduced rates of Wilms' tumors also were found in a smaller study conducted in Ontario, Canada, that was published in 2011. More research is needed to confirm these results and to rule out any other explanations."
"Here, we are showing that folic acid fortification does not appear to be increasing rates of childhood cancers, which is good news," she added.
Fish oil supplementation may benefit dialysis patients
May 18, 2012. A study reported in the May 2, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that supplementing with fish oil may provide some benefits to kidney dialysis patients who have arteriovenous grafts.
"Optimal hemodialysis requires reliable vascular access," the authors explain in their introduction to the article. "The arteriovenous graft was the predominant vascular access type in North America during the early 1990s but fell out of favor owing to its high complication rates and associated costs. For example, thrombosis occurs in more than 50 percent of all arteriovenous grafts within 1 year after placement, necessitating a salvage procedure in more than 75 percent."
Charmain E. Lok, MD, MSc of the University of Toronto and colleagues randomized 201 men and women undergoing kidney dialysis that necessitated arteriovenous graft access to receive four capsules containing one gram each of fish oil per day or a placebo beginning a week after the creation of the graft and continuing for twelve months. While the proportion of participants that had a primary thrombosis event or required intervention to maintain graft patency was not significantly different between those who received fish oil and those who received a placebo by the end of the study, the rate of events was lower in the fish oil group. This group experienced increased time until clotting occurred, fewer corrective interventions, and decreased blood pressure and cardiovascular events.
"This study provides very exciting results," stated coauthor Louise Moist of Lawson Health Research Institute. "Fish oil did not fix all the problems with grafts but it reduced the number of costly, time consuming procedures for patients already receiving a very burdensome treatment with dialysis. It is not often we have such encouraging results that benefit patients' quality of life and reduce health care costs."
Antioxidants may help in rare genetic disorder
May 16, 2012. An article published on May 16, 2012 in Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases summarizes the findings of researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal which suggest a benefit for antioxidant compounds in the stabilization of patients with Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder. The disease is characterized by chromosome instability, defects in DNA repair and increased sensitivity to oxidative damage which leads to a greater risk of cancer. "All Fanconi anemia patients have, in common, unique markers that characterize the disease: hypersensitivity to the clastogenic effect of DNA cross-linking agents, in particular to diepoxybutane (DEB), and hypersensitivity to oxidative damage," Filipa Ponte and colleagues write in their introduction. "The objective of the present work is to evaluate the putative protective effect of alpha-lipoic acid, a mitochondrial protective agent, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a direct antioxidant and a known precursor for glutathione synthesis, in spontaneous and DEB-induced chromosome instability in lymphocyte cultures from Fanconi anemia patients."
The researchers administered alpha-lipoic acid and/or NAC to white blood cells from Fanconi anemia patients and healthy controls, and exposed some of the cells to DEB. "Pretreating cells with the antioxidants alpha-lipoic acid and NAC (or to a lesser extent alpha-LA or NAC individually) significantly reduced the number of spontaneous DNA breaks in blood cells taken from patients with Fanconi anemia and from normal controls," reported Dr Ponte. "Alpha-lipoic acid is essential for metabolism and NAC breaks disulfide bonds and consequently is used in treating paracetamol overdose to prevent liver damage. In fact, a cocktail of alpha-lipoic acid and NAC was able to reduce chromosome instability by at least 60%."
She concluded that "These results show that alpha-lipoic acid plus NAC cocktail may be useful to keep chromosome stability in Fanconi anemia patients, which could help block or delay the progression of the disease."
Vitamin K2 could benefit Parkinson's disease patients
May 14, 2012. An article published on May 11, 2012 in the journal Science reports the outcome of research that suggests that the administration of vitamin K2 could reverse mitochondrial defects responsible for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Mitochondria are organelles within the cells that function as power plants to provide energy for the cells' operation. Energy is generated via the transporting of electrons—a process that is disrupted in Parkinson's disease. This loss of energy production leads to such characteristic symptoms as tremors, muscle stiffness and lack of movement that occur in Parkinson’s disease patients.
In their introduction to the article, neuroscientist Patrik Verstreken of the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology and his colleagues at Northern Illinois University note that "Vitamin K2 is best known as a cofactor in blood coagulation, but in bacteria it is a membrane-bound electron carrier. Whether vitamin K2 exerts a similar carrier function in eukaryotic cells is unknown."
For their research, the team used fruitflies that were genetically modified to have defects found in human Parkinson's disease patients that lead to decreased mitochondrial activity. While flies with mutated PINK1 or Parkin were flightless due to defects in their mitochondria, those that received vitamin K2 were better able to fly due to improved electron transport within the mitochondria that led to more energy being produced--a process similar to that elicited by ubiquinone. "Thus, mitochondrial dysfunction was rescued by vitamin K2 that serves as a mitochondrial electron carrier, helping to maintain normal ATP production," the authors conclude.
"It appears from our research that administering vitamin K2 could possibly help patients with Parkinson's," Dr Verstreken remarked. "However, more work needs to be done to understand this better."
D3 better than D2; 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 may be even better
May 11, 2012. Two articles comparing different forms of vitamin D published online on May 2, 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest superiority for supplementation with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) as well as a form of the vitamin known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in elevating serum levels.
In one study, researchers from England conducted a review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that compared the ability of supplementation with vitamins D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 to elevate serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels in men and women. Meta-analysis of seven trials found a significantly greater effect of vitamin D3 compared to D2 in raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D; however, the effect appeared to be greatest when the vitamin was administered in weekly or monthly bolus dosages in comparison with daily supplementation. "To our knowledge, our reported work is the first-ever systematic review and meta-analysis of the comparative effectiveness of ergocalciferol compared with cholecalciferol in the raising of serum 25(OH)D concentrations," the authors announce. "There was a clear favoring of cholecalciferol supplementation in the raising of serum 25(OH)D concentrations compared with that of ergocalciferol supplementation. We have also shown that, regardless of whether supplementation with vitamin D was in small daily doses or in larger and more infrequent bolus dosages, the favoring toward cholecalciferol was still evident."
The other study reported the results of a randomized controlled trial which compared the effects of 20 micrograms vitamin D3, 7 or 20 micrograms 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and a placebo among 56 adults over ten weeks in winter. The researchers found that each microgram of 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 was approximately five times more effective than vitamin D3 at raising 25(OH)D levels.
Although 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 is not commonly available to the public in supplement form, vitamin D3 has been widely available for a number of years. "Vitamin D3 could potentially become the preferred choice for supplementation," the authors of the first study conclude. "However, additional research is required to examine the metabolic pathways involved in oral and intramuscular administration of vitamin D and the effects across age, sex, and ethnicity."
Reduced vitamin D levels associated with obesity
May 9, 2012. An article published online on February 6, 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals an association between decreased serum vitamin D levels and a greater incidence of obesity in adults.
Xiao-Mei Mai of Norwegian University of Science and Technology and colleagues evaluated data from 2,460 men and women aged 19 to 55 who participated in the second and third surveys of the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, conducted between 1995 to 1997 and 2006 to 2008. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and anthropometric measurements were obtained upon enrollment and at follow up.
Twelve percent of the subjects were classified as obese [defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more] at the beginning of the study and 15 percent were classified as obese after 11 years of follow-up. Having a serum vitamin D level below 20 ng/mL (50 nmol/L) was associated with a four times greater adjusted risk of obesity than that experienced by subjects whose levels were 30 ng/mL (75 nmol/L) or higher at the beginning of the study, and with a 1.73 times greater risk of developing obesity over follow-up. Similar results were observed when waist circumference was used to classify obesity, indicating an association with central adiposity.
"Our study is one of the few prospective cohort studies to have investigated the possible effect of low vitamin D status on change in adiposity and development of obesity," the authors write. "We found a consistent inverse association between baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and incident obesity defined by either BMI or waist circumference after 11 years of follow-up, and this inverse association was not modified by season of blood sample collection."
They recommend large prospective studies to further investigate the relationship between low vitamin D levels and the development of obesity.
Joggers reach life's finish line last
May 7, 2012. A presentation at the EuroPRevent2012 meeting, held May 3-5, 2012, in Dublin, revealed that men and women who regularly jog live at least five years longer on average than those who don't. Jogging at a slow or moderate pace a few times per week compared to a faster pace or longer times was found to be associated with the greatest benefit.
The investigation involved approximately 20,000 participants in the Copenhagen City Heart study, which began in 1976. Peter Schnohr of Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen and his associates compared 1,116 male joggers and 762 female joggers to participants who did not engage in jogging. Subjects answered questions concerning time and pace of jogging, and the researchers noted any deaths that occurred during up to 35 years of follow-up.
While 122 deaths took place among those who jogged, 10,158 occurred among non-joggers. The risk of dying over follow up was 44 percent lower for joggers, resulting in a survival increase of 6.2 years for men and 5.6 years for women. One to two-and-one-half hours per week of jogging, performed in two to three sessions, conferred the greatest benefits, particularly when the pace was slow or average. "The relationship appears much like alcohol intakes," commented Dr Schnohr, who is chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. "Mortality is lower in people reporting moderate jogging, than in non-joggers or those undertaking extreme levels of exercise. You should aim to feel a little breathless, but not very breathless."
"The results of our research allow us to definitively answer the question of whether jogging is good for your health," Dr Schnohr concluded. "We can say with certainty that regular jogging increases longevity. The good news is that you don't actually need to do that much to reap the benefits."
Immune function impairment correlated with reduced vitamin D levels
May 4, 2012. In the May, 2012 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Spanish researchers describe impairments in immune function in association with reduced levels of vitamin D.
Victor Manuel Martinez-Taboada, MD and his associates at the Unversidad de Cantabria, in Santander, Spain measured serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in subjects aged 20 to 30, 31 to 59 and 60 to 86 years. They observed an age-related decline in serum vitamin D, with 5% of young, 21.7% of middle aged and 31.6% of the elderly subjects having levels less than 20 nanograms per milliliter, which was the level considered normal by the researchers. This led to the evaluation of vitamin D's relationship with toll-like receptor expression on white blood cells known as lymphocytes and monocytes. Toll-like receptors are proteins involved in innate immune system function that alert the immune system to microbial infections. The researchers discovered that the toll-like receptor that was impacted the most by insufficient vitamin D levels is toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7), which regulates the immune response to viruses.
"There are numerous studies showing the benefits of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels," commented Dr Martinez-Taboada. "As more and more research into vitamin D is conducted, we are learning that it is extremely important for human health. Our study is no different, and vitamin D supplements should be considered one of many tools that might help when conventional therapies are not enough."
"This study shows that sunlight, or more precisely the lack of vitamin D, could have a role in the seasonally higher rates of infection," commented John Wherry, PhD, who is the Journal of Leukocyte Biology's deputy editor. "More extensive studies must be conducted for this link to be conclusive, but since vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and generally safe, this is a really exciting discovery."
More evidence for resveratrol
May 2, 2012. Harvard Medical School professor of genetics David A. Sinclair and his associates confirm in the May, 2012 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism that the red wine compound resveratrol does indeed impact the longevity gene SIRT1, as well as affect other proteins. "This study provides the first in vivo evidence that beneficial effects of resveratrol on mitochondrial function require SIRT1," the authors announce.
Earlier research involving yeast, worms and flies had indicated that resveratrol targeted the sirtuin family of genes of which SIRT-1 is a member, but the findings, which were not duplicated in animals due to the fact that those in which the gene for SIRT1 is knocked out don't survive, had been called into question. The concern led one pharmaceutical company to suspend some of its research involving the compound. However, Dr Sinclair's team has now produced mice in which SIRT1 can be completely disabled during adulthood via administration of the drug tamoxifen and have shown that these animals don't experience improved mitochondrial function in response to resveratrol, while mice with normal SIRT1 exhibit increased mitochondrial formation and function. They determined that resveratrol targets SIRT1 at moderate doses and that other molecules, such as AMPK (which is also related to the mitochondria), are targeted at higher doses.
"Resveratrol improves the health of mice on a high-fat diet and increases life span," stated Dr Sinclair. "The results were surprisingly clear. Without the mitochondria-boosting gene SIRT1, resveratrol does not work."
"It's standard when you study molecules that you use the lowest dose that gives you an effect because of the risk of hitting other things if you use too much," he noted. "But for the downstream benefits on energy, you still need SIRT1. Our paper shows that SIRT1 is front and center for any dose of resveratrol."