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December 2004

What's Hot Archive

December 31, 2004

“Polymeal” healthier alternative to polypill?

Readers of Life Extension Update will recall the lead article of the July 1 2003 issue which summarized a proposal published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) of a multidrug “polypill” that could help prevent or delay a significant amount of cardiovascular disease. Now, in the December 18-25 2004 issue of the journal, researchers have proposed a “polymeal” that contains a combination of foods found to provide similar benefits.

Using data provided by a number of studies, the team identified the following foods as protective against cardiovascular disease: wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits, vegetables, garlic and almonds. Using data obtained from the Framingham study, the benefits of consumption of daily meals containing these components on heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol were projected onto the general population.

It was determined that the combined effects of consuming the foods would lower the incidence of cardiovascular events by 76 percent. Men who consumed the polymeal could expect to live an average of 6.6 more years than men who did not consume the meal, and would live for 9 years longer without heart disease. Women who consumed the polymeal were projected to live 5 years longer than those who did not, and would delay heart disease by 8 years.

Although written in a humorous style appropriate to the Christmas issue of the BMJ, lead author Oscar H Franco, MD, of Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, invited Life Extension to check the evidence for each of the polymeal’s ingredients, although he observed that testing the combination in a randomized, clinical trial would prove difficult. Until then, we will all just have to wash down our chocolate with a fine wine and hope for the best.

—D Dye


December 29, 2004

Curcumin helps inhibit Alzheimer’s plaques

A study published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry on December 7 2004 found that curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric used in Indian cuisine, helped prevent the accumulation of amyloid beta in vitro and in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid beta is a substance involved in the formation of the plaques that develop in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Professor of neurology and medicine Gregory Cole, PhD and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Healthcare System administered a diet containing curcumin or a control diet to mice bred to develop amyloid beta. The diets were initiated at seventeen months of age, at which time amyloid had already accumulated. When the brains of the animals were examined at 22 months of age, mice who received curcumin had less amyloid and plaque than those who did not receive the compound. Curcumin was also found to have bound to plaques, demonstrating that it can cross the blood brain barrier following oral administration. When curcumin was studied in vitro it was found to inhibit amyloid beta aggregation better than ibuprofen or naproxen, which are being evaluated in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Cole commented, "The prospect of finding a safe and effective new approach to both prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease is tremendously exciting. Curcumin has been used for thousands of years as a safe anti-inflammatory in a variety of ailments as part of Indian traditional medicine. Recent successful studies in animal models support a growing interest in its possible use for diseases of aging involving oxidative damage and inflammation like Alzheimer's, cancer and heart disease. What we really need, however, are clinical trials to establish safe and effective doses in aging patients."

—D Dye


December 17, 2004

Vitamin E supplement users have a lower risk of ALS than nonusers

A study published online in advance of January 2005 in the Annals of Neurology has found an association between the use of vitamin E supplements and a lower incidence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Animal studies have found that early administration of the vitamin delays the disease’s onset.

Alberto Ascherio MD and colleagues from Harvard School of Public Health followed 957,740 participants in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II for ten years. Information on supplement use was provided upon enrollment in 1982, and follow-up of 170,000 subjects in 1992 showed that most people were still using vitamin E. Five hundred twenty-five participants died of ALS over the course of the study.

The researchers found that people who took vitamin E supplements for over a decade experienced less than half the risk of dying of ALS than those who did not report using vitamin E supplements. The use of vitamin C or multivitamins did not appear to offer protection against the disease.

Dr Ascherio commented, "There may also be a synergy between vitamin E and the other supplements that vitamin E users take, because people who take vitamin E tend also to use other supplements. But there is insufficient evidence to determine whether vitamin E has to be combined with anything else. Our research shows that vitamin E is the only one specifically associated with a lower risk of ALS, but this does not exclude interactions with other factors."

The vitamin appears to provide protection by reducing oxidative stress. The authors speculate that the lower ALS mortality associated with vitamin E supplement use was most likely caused by a reduced incidence of the disease rather than a better prognosis among those diagnosed with ALS.

—D Dye


December 15, 2004

Calorie restriction helps prevent Alzheimer’s plaques in mice

Research conducted by University of Southern California’s Caleb Finch and collaborators at the University of South Florida in Tampa have found the reducing the calories of mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease led to the development of fewer of the brain plaques that characterize the disease compared to mice allowed to eat all they wanted. The study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

The research involved mice whose DNA contained human genes from families with early onset hereditary Alzheimer’s disease. In young adulthood, half the mice were provided with “all you can eat” diets, and the remainder were given diets that provided 40 percent fewer calories.

After four weeks, the brains of the mice were examined. Mice who received the diets that were restricted in calories had half the amount of plaques than the unrestricted mice and the size of the plaques were 50 percent smaller.

Dr Finch, who is the holder of the ARCO-William F. Kieschnick Chair in the Neurobiology of Aging at USC, announced, "This is the first indication that modest changes in the normal diet can slow some aspects of Alzheimer's disease. But that is far and away yet to be proven for humans. It's a big jump to say that what's true for a mouse in a cage is relevant to people living in our complex world."

It has been observed that obese humans have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but the reasons for this association are subject to speculation. Dr Finch added, "We are going to look into the details of metabolism to try and isolate which of the consequences of diet restriction is at work. Is it the blood glucose? Is it the lowered insulin? Those are two targets."

—D Dye


December 13, 2004

Supplement use and increased omega-3 fatty acid levels are associated with improved cognitive aging

A study published in the December 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (http://www.ajcn.org/) documented improved cognition later in life in individuals who used nutritional supplements and in those who had higher red blood cell membrane omega-3 fatty acid content.

Scottish researchers recruited 350 men and women who had taken part in the Scottish Mental Survey, which measured the intelligence quotient (IQ) of 2,617 eleven year old children in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1947. Interviews conducted between 1999 and 2001 provided information on health history and supplement and alcohol use. Current cognitive function was assessed by five tests, and blood samples were collected during physical examinations. Blood testing measured the fatty acid content of red blood cell membranes and other factors.

The researchers found that food (nonherbal) supplement users had better cognitive function at 64 years of age than those who did not use supplements. After adjusting for childhood IQ, mental speed test scores were still higher in the supplement users.

Not surprisingly, fish oil supplement users were found to have greater red blood cell membrane omega-3 fatty acid content. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid content was correlated with improved cognitive function in late life, before and after adjustment for childhood IQ. A greater ratio of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to arachidonic acid was also associated with better cognitive function.

In their discussion of the findings, the authors conclude that, “specific cognitive advantages at the age of 64 years were found in users of food supplements compared with nonusers. These cognitive advantages of vitamins are consistent with earlier reports that vitamins may reduce dementia risk.” They also suggest that optimizing omega-3 fatty acid intake could improve the retention of cognitive function in older people.

—D Dye


December 10, 2004

Drinking tea not as beneficial as taking green tea supplements

A study published in the December 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (http://www.ajcn.org/) found that green tea extract supplements offered greater bioavailability of polyphenols and increase plasma antioxidant activity compared to tea consumed as a beverage. Tea has been found to be protective against cancer and other diseases, and green tea polyphenols are taken in supplement form by many individuals to obtain their antioxidant and benefits.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles assigned three different sequences Darjeeling black tea, green tea or green tea capsules containing similar amounts of EGCG to 14 men and 16 women, with one week between each treatment period. Tea flavanol, theaflavin and caffeine were measured in the teas before administration to the participants. Blood samples collected before consumption of the tea or tea supplement, and at 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 hours measured the polyphenols epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) and epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG).

Although polyphenol absorption after taking encapsulated green tea extract was delayed, it proved to be greater than polyphenol absorption from green or black tea consumed as a beverage. This led to the green tea supplement producing a small but significant increase in plasma antioxidant activity compared to black or green tea.

The authors conclude that “green tea extract supplements retain the beneficial effects of green and black tea and may be used in future chemoprevention studies to provide a large dose of tea polyphenols without the side effects of caffeine associated with green and black tea beverages.”

—D Dye


December 8, 2004

Alzheimer's disease-diabetes connection explained

A study published in the December 8 2004 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience reported that a shortage of a protein called insulin degrading enzyme occurs in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, and established for the first time a cause and effect relationship between insulin signaling and increased production of the protein. Insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE) is involved in eliminating amyloid peptides that form plaques in the brains afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

The increased risk of Alzheimer's disease experienced by individuals with type 2 diabetes has generated interest in the relationship of insulin signalling to the disease. Diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and reduced insulin secretion, leading to an elevation of blood glucose.

Lead author and professor of medicine and neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Greg M Cole, PhD, and colleagues studied fetal rat brain cultures and brain tissue from humans with Alzheimer's disease. They also examined the brains of adult mice bred to develop amyloid who were given a diet in which the source of fat was safflower oil, or a standard diet whose fat content was provided by soy and fish oil. A safflower oil based diet provides almost no omega-3 fatty acids, and has been found to speed up Alzheimer's-like conditions in the brains of laboratory animals.

The team found that insulin increased IDE protein in fetal rat brain tissue. In human brains afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, a deficiency of IDE protein was observed. And in the brains of mice whose source of dietary fat was from safflower oil rather than fish and soy, IDE levels were lower than in those from mice on the standard diet.

The findings explain the association between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, and show that the protective IDE protein can be increased by dietary manipulation.

—D Dye


December 6, 2004

Nutritional value of produce has declined over half a century

A report published in the Decmeber 2004 issue of the Journal of The American College of Nutrition has found a reduction in the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables occurring over the past 50 years. Modern agrigulture methods designed to improve traits other than nutrition may be to blame.

Donald Davis, PhD of the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and colleagues studied 43 vegetables and fruits using nutritional data for 1950 and 1999 obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture. They compared the crops individually and as a group, compensating for variations in moisture content.

The team found a decrease in the amount of protein, calciulm, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past 50 years, with riboflavin showing the greatest decline. Dr Davis commented on the findings: "It is much more reliable to look at average changes in the group rather than in individual foods, due to uncertainties in the 1950 and 1999 values. Considered as a group, we found that six out of 13 nutrients showed apparently reliable declines between 1950 and 1999."

Dr Davis explained that efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance, and climate adaptability has allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.

He added, "Perhaps more worrisome would be declines in nutrients we could not study because they were not reported in 1950 -- magnesium, zinc, vitamin B-6, vitamin E and dietary fiber, not to mention phytochemicals. I hope our paper will encourage additional studies in which old and new crop varieties are studied side-by-side and measured by modern methods."

—D Dye


December 3, 2004

Lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent cataracts

The carotenoid xanthophylls lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to offer protection from age-related macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that can lead to blindness. Now researchers at Ohio State University have revealed that the nutrients can also help prevent cataracts.

In the current study, reported in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, human eye cells were treated with several concentrations of lutein, zeaxanthin or vitamin E, and exposed to ten seconds of ultraviolet-beta radiation (UVB). Ultraviolet-beta radiation is a wavelength of sunlight that is believed to be responsible for cataract formation. An additional group of cells was not pretreated.

The team found that although vitamin E had a protective effect, lutein and zeaxanthin were nearly ten times more powerful. Vitamin E reduced signs of damage by 25 to 32 percent compared to that observed in the untreated cells, while lutein and zeaxanthin reduced the damage by 50 to 60 percent at a concentration ten times less than that of vitamin E. Ohio State University assistant professor of nutrition and study coauthor Joshua Bomser explained, “"The lens is equipped with antioxidant defense mechanisms designed to guard against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation and oxidative stress. In addition to protective enzymes and compounds like vitamins C and E, we think that low concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin in the eye lens help shield the eye from the harmful effects of UVB radiation."

“Along with the many environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors associated with cataracts, exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and oxidative stress appear to be the most relevant in this disease," Dr Bomser noted. "Our results are the first to provide physical evidence suggesting that lutein and zeaxanthin decrease damage caused by ultraviolet radiation.

—D Dye


December 1, 2004

SAMe improves symptoms in depressed individuals

The December 2004 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology (www.psychopharmacology.com) published the findings of a pilot study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital that for patients who are not responding to antidepressant drugs, the addition of S-adenosy-L-methionine (SAMe) may be of benefit. SAMe is found in every cell in the body, and is available as a dietary supplement.

Thirty subjects who failed to respond after a month of treatment with Prozac, Paxil, Effexor or other standard antidepressant drugs received 400 milligrams SAMe twice per day for two weeks, followed by 800 milligrams twice per day for four weeks. Participants in the study were free to decrease the dose to 400 milligrams after consulting with their physician. At the study’s conclusion, half the patients were found to have experienced significant improvement in their depressive symptoms and 43 percent experienced a complete remission. No serious adverse events were reported.

Research team leader and associate director of the MGH Depression and Clinical Research Program, Jonathan Alpert, MD, stated, "One of the most common problems in treating depression is the number of people who are left with symptoms after initial treatment with a first-line antidepressant. Some previous trials have suggested that SAMe might have effects comparable to some antidepressants, but there has not been sufficient research on oral SAMe preparations or comparisons with available antidepressants. This is the first study to look at the safety and efficacy of combining SAMe with antidepressant treatment after antidepressants had proven insufficient on their own. Patients and physicians have been using these combinations without good supporting data, and these results are an initial step toward compiling the necessary scientific evidence."

The National Institutes of Health is sponsoring a current and future trial of SAMe in depressed patients.

—D Dye

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