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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.

Longer telomere length associated with reduced risk of dementia and death over nearly a decade of follow-up

Longer telomere length associated with reduced risk of dementia and death over nearly a decade of follow-upJuly 27, 2012. An article published online on July 23, 2012 in the Archives of Neurology reveals an association between longer telomeres and a decreased risk of mortality or dementia over a median period of 9.3 years.  Telomeres are protective DNA sequences located at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with each division of the cell.  Although telomeres are a known marker of cellular aging, their association with whole organism aging and various diseases is currently being explored. 

Columbia University researchers evaluated leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length in 1,983 participants in the Washington Heights-Inwood Community Aging Project, which studied aging and dementia in New York City residents.  The average age at blood drawing was 78.3 years.  Over the follow-up period, 863 men and women died and 190 developed dementia.

Men’s telomeres were on average shorter than women’s, and younger subjects had longer telomeres in comparison with older subjects.  Telomere length was shorter among those who had pre-existing dementia or who developed dementia over follow-up.  Short telomeres also increased the risk of dying during over the follow-up period.  “Short telomere length may cause more rapid aging, or alternatively states of illness, including incipient dementia, might cause short telomere length, or some independent factor might cause shortened telomeres and aging and dementia,” write Lawrence S. Honig and his associates. “Our studies do not imply the direction of causation, and telomeres may simply be a marker of aging, rather than a determinant of the aging process.”

“If telomere length was a determinant rather than a marker of aging, one could speculate that therapies directed toward modifying telomere length shortening, by modestly increasing telomerase activity, might be helpful in decreasing the incidence of age-related dementia,” they conclude.

Aspirin users have lower risk of precancerous condition

Vitamin D may help protect smokers’ lungsJuly 25, 2012. The July, 2012 issue of the American Gastroenterological Association journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology published the finding of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital of a protective effect for aspirin against the risk of Barrett's esophagus: a condition that strongly elevates the risk of developing esophageal cancer. Barrett's esophagus is often the result of gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can damage the lining of the esophagus over time if not treated. While previous studies have shown a protective effect for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (including aspirin) against the development of esophageal cancer, the effect of the drug on Barrett's esophagus has not been well explored.

Chin Hur, MD, MPH and colleagues matched 434 patients who had Barrett's esophagus identified by endoscopy with control subjects who also underwent endoscopy but did not have the condition. They found that subjects who were aspirin users had a 44 percent lower risk of developing Barrett's esophagus than those who did not use aspirin. The team additionally observed a higher incidence of Barrett's esophagus in men compared to women.

"The protective effect of aspirin use appears robust because the analyses suggests a dose-response relationship in which high-dose aspirin was significantly associated with decreased Barrett's esophagus risk," stated Dr Hur, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Technology Assessment. "It would not be advisable at this time for patients to start taking aspirin, particularly at higher doses, if preventing Barrett's esophagus is the only goal. However, if additional data confirms our findings and an individual at high risk for development of Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer also could derive additional benefits, most notably cardiovascular, aspirin could be a consideration."

Vitamin D may help protect smokers’ lungs

Vitamin D may help protect smokers’ lungsJuly 23, 2012. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published an article ahead of print on July 19, 2012 that suggests a protective effect for adequate vitamin D levels on lung function in smokers.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston University School of Medicine evaluated data from 626 older men who participated in the Normative Aging Study. Serum vitamin D levels and lung function were assessed during three visits between 1984 and 2003.

Although no association between lung function and vitamin D levels was found in the population as a whole, when smokers were separately analyzed, a protective effect for higher vitamin D levels on lung function emerged. Mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) was lower among smokers whose vitamin D was deficient at 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) or lower in comparison with smokers whose levels were sufficient, and a more rapid rate of decline in FEV1 over time occurred among deficient participants.

"We examined the relationship between vitamin D deficiency, smoking, lung function, and the rate of lung function decline over a 20 year period in a cohort of 626 adult white men from the Normative Aging Study," stated lead author Nancy E. Lange, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women's Hospital's Channing Laboratory. "We found that vitamin D sufficiency (defined as serum vitamin D levels of greater than 20 ng/ml) had a protective effect on lung function and the rate of lung function decline in smokers."

"Our results suggest that vitamin D might modify the damaging effects of smoking on lung function," she added. "These effects might be due to vitamin D's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. If these results can be replicated in other studies, they could be of great public health importance. Future research should also examine whether vitamin D protects against lung damage from other sources, such as air pollution."

Higher antioxidant levels in adolescents associated with lower risk of metabolic syndrome

Higher antioxidant levels in adolescents associated with lower risk of metabolic syndromeJuly 20, 2012. An article published ahead of print in the Journal of Nutrition on July 18, 2012 associates higher levels of carotenoids and vitamin C with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes, in adolescents between the ages of 12 to 19.

For their study, researchers at the National Institute on Aging evaluated data from 2001 to 2006 for 4,285 adolescent participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Blood test results provided information on carotenoids, vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters), vitamins C and E, glucose, triglycerides, lipids, C-reactive protein (CRP) and other factors. The presence of metabolic syndrome was determined in 7 percent of the male and 3 percent of the female subjects in whom three or more of the following conditions occurred: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and high fasting plasma glucose levels.

Participants who reported using nutritional supplements had higher levels of antioxidants compared to those who were nonusers. Carotenoid levels, specifically beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein plus zeaxanthin, were lower among those with metabolic syndrome, as was vitamin C. Although high total carotenoids as well as retinol plus retinyl esters were associated with decreased levels of CRP, retinol and retinyl esters were associated with an increase in metabolic syndrome. However, the authors note that high retinol and retinyl esters can be markers of liver impairment, which can be related to metabolic syndrome.

“Preventive efforts aiming at modifiable risk factors for metabolic syndrome and its related comorbidities are warranted,” the authors write. “The associations of metabolic syndrome and its components with low serum antioxidant concentrations suggest that future nutritional interventions with recommendation for appropriate dietary intakes should be conducted to assess the utility of modifying serum concentrations of antioxidants.”

Increased vitamin E intake linked with lower rate of liver cancer

Increased vitamin E intake linked with lower rate of liver cancerJuly 18, 2012. On July 17, 2012, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Shanghai Cancer Institute report the outcome of an analysis of two studies which indicates a protective effect for higher vitamin E intake from diet or supplements against the risk of liver cancer.

Wei Zhang, MD, MPH of the Shanghai Cancer Institute, Renji Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine and colleagues analyzed data from 132,837 Chinese subjects who enrolled in the Shanghai Women's Health Study from 1997 to 2000 or the Shanghai Men's Health Study from 2002 to 2006. Dietary questionnaires completed at the beginning of the study and at follow-up two to three years later provided information concerning vitamin intake from food and supplements. The subjects were followed through 2011, and any cancers that occurred were documented.

Between the second year following enrollment and 2011, 149 men and 118 women developed liver cancer. Participants whose vitamin E intake was among the top 25 percent of subjects had a 40 percent lower risk of developing liver cancer over follow-up compared to those whose intake was among the lowest 25 percent. Similar associations were observed for vitamin E subtypes and for vitamin E from food. When vitamin E from supplements was analyzed, those who reported having ever used vitamin E supplements had a 48 percent lower risk of liver cancer compared with those who never supplemented.

"We found that high intake of vitamin E either from diet or supplements was related to lower risk of liver cancer in middle-aged or older people from China," the authors conclude. "If confirmed, these findings could open a new venue for prevention of liver cancer, the third most common cause of death worldwide."

Anxiety linked to aging biomarker

Anxiety linked to aging biomarkerJuly 16, 2012. An article published on July 11, 2012 in the journal PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science One) reveals an association between chronic phobic anxiety and shorter telomere length in women. Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that protect the ends of the cells' chromosomes. Telomeres shorten with cell division, and not only reflect aging of individual cells, but have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stress and other conditions.

The research included 5,243 women aged 42 to 69 who participated in the Nurses' Health Study or other studies that obtained information on the presence of phobic anxiety. Relative telomere length was measured in DNA extracted from white blood cells.

Women who reported the highest amount of phobic anxiety were less likely to use daily multivitamins and more likely to have used benzodiazepine drugs. Having a higher level of anxiety was linked with a significant reduction in telomere length in comparison with women who reported less anxiety. The difference in length experienced by the most anxious women was equivalent to being six years older than those who reported the least anxiety.

"Many people wonder about whether—and how—stress can make us age faster," commented lead author Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, who is affiliated with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School's Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry. "So, this study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress—phobic anxiety—and a plausible mechanism for premature aging. However, this type of study design cannot prove cause-and-effect or which problem came first—the anxiety or shorter telomeres."

Deficient vitamin D levels associated with decreased lung function in asthmatic children treated with steroids

Deficient vitamin D levels associated with decreased lung function in asthmatic children treated with steroids July 13, 2012. An article published ahead of print in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on July 13, 2012 reports an association between diminished vitamin D levels and poorer lung function among children with asthma who use inhaled corticosteroids.

Boston researchers evaluated data from 1,024 asthmatic children who participated in the Childhood Asthma Management Program, which examined the effects of an inhaled corticosteroid known as budesonide, nedocromil (another inhaled asthma treatment), or placebo. Blood samples collected at the beginning of the trial were analyzed for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Subjects with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) were classified as deficient, and insufficient levels were defined as those between 20 ng/mL to 30 ng/mL.

"In our study of 1,024 children with mild to moderate persistent asthma, those who were deficient in vitamin D levels showed less improvement in pre-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) after one year of treatment with inhaled corticosteroids than children with sufficient levels of vitamin D," reported Ann Chen Wu, MD, MPH, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. "These results indicate that vitamin D supplementation may enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of corticosteroids in patients with asthma."

"Our study is the first to suggest that vitamin D sufficiency in asthmatic children treated with inhaled corticosteroids is associated with improved lung function," Dr Wu announced. "Accordingly, vitamin D levels should be monitored in patients with persistent asthma being treated with inhaled corticosteroids. If vitamin D levels are low, supplementation with vitamin D should be considered."

More evidence found for nutritional formula in Alzheimer's disease

More evidence found for nutritional formula in Alzheimer's diseaseJuly 11, 2012. The July, 2012 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease published positive results for a clinical trial of a nutrient formula developed by Richard J. Wurtman, PhD and his associates to help treat Alzheimer's disease. The formula, which contains choline, uridine (a component of RNA found in tomatoes and other foods) and the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has elicited benefits in earlier human research, as well as in studies involving gerbils and mice.

For the current trial, a team led by Philip Scheltens, of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam administered a placebo or choline, uridine and DHA to 259 men and women with mild Alzheimer's disease for 24 weeks. Memory function tests and electroencephalograph (EEG) evaluations were conducted at the beginning of the trial, at 12 weeks and at the trial's conclusion.

An improvement in memory test scores was observed among those who received the nutrient formula in comparison with the control group over the course of the study. Electroencephalography patterns normalized among the supplemented group, suggesting an improvement in synaptic function.

"You want to improve the numbers of synapses, not by slowing their degradation — though of course you'd love to do that too — but rather by increasing the formation of the synapses," Dr Wurtman stated. He noted that research involving individuals with more advanced disease did not find a benefit for the nutrient combination, probably because the subjects had lost more neurons, which diminishes the ability to form synapses.

The nutritional cocktail is currently being tested in men and women with mild cognitive impairment. Dr Wurtman predicts that if the supplements are found to help, they could be useful for those who test positive for early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Study suggests space travel could extend life

Study suggests space travel could extend lifeJuly 9, 2012. Escaping the planet could have life extension benefits—that is, if you're a worm.

In an article published online on July 5, 2012 in the Nature publication Scientific Reports, Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk of the University of Nottingham and his colleagues in Japan describe the effects of spaceflight on Caenorhabditis elegans, the common roundworm. The team observed a decrease in toxic proteins that accumulate within aging muscle and a reduction in the expression of a specific group of genes. Decreasing the expression of these genes in C. elegans that did not travel into space resulted in a longer life for the worms. "We identified seven genes, which were down-regulated in space and whose inactivation extended lifespan under laboratory conditions," Dr Szewczyk reported. "We are not entirely certain, but it would appear that these genes are involved in how the worm senses the environment and signals changes in metabolism in order to adapt to the environment. For example, one of the genes we have identified encodes insulin which, because of diabetes, is well known to be associated with metabolic control. In worms, flies, and mice insulin is also associated with modulation of lifespan."

The study's findings could have implications for human space travel, in which a longer life could be an advantage in reaching distant destinations.

"Most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space," he continued. "These latest results suggest that this is almost certainly an adaptive response rather than a pathological one. Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of aging."

High dose vitamin D supplementation eliminates disparity

High dose vitamin D supplementation eliminates disparityJuly 6, 2012. The results of a trial described online on July 3, 2012 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicate that supplementing with 4,000 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D could eliminate the disparity in serum vitamin D levels that exists between African Americans and Caucasians. The findings also suggest a way to help lower the higher rate of diseases associated with insufficient vitamin D levels that occur more frequently among African American men and women, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston administered 4,000 IU vitamin D3 daily for one year to 35 Caucasian and 12 African American men with early stage, low risk prostate cancer. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were measured every two months over the course of the study.

African American participants' vitamin D levels averaged 21.4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) at the beginning of the study, in contrast with 36.73 ng/mL in Caucasians. However, serum vitamin D levels in African American and Caucasian participants averaged 67.68 ng/mL and 67.25 ng/mL at the trial's conclusion.

"Possible explanations for the higher prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease among African Americans include socioeconomic, genetic, and environmental/dietary factors," write Elizabeth Garrett-Mayer and colleagues. "We propose that these health disparities are also the result of widespread hypovitaminosis D within this population and that, through appropriate vitamin D3 supplementation, vitamin D deficiency can be easily remedied in African Americans. Through well-designed prospective, randomized clinical trials it will be possible to establish whether, by using an intervention strategy that is extremely cost-effective and easy to implement, vitamin D3 supplementation has the potential to greatly reduce health disparities among African Americans."

Study finds rapamycin helps preserve memory

Drinking more coffee associated with lower skin cancer riskJuly 4, 2012. In the journal Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center report the finding of a protective effect for the drug rapamycin against cognitive decline that can occur with aging. The drug was originally obtained from the soil of Easter Island, and is currently used as an antifungal in organ transplant patients.

In their introduction to the article, published on June 28, 2012, assistant professor of physiology Veronica Galvan, PhD, of UT's Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies and her associates note that inhibition of mammalian target of rapamycin (MTOR) activity in mice by administration of the drug extends the animals' life span. In the current study, mice given rapamycin throughout their lifespan showed improved memory and learning in youth as well as in old age. The animals were also less anxious and showed less depressive behavior at youth, middle age and advanced age. In comparison with untreated animals, those that received rapamycin experienced midbrain elevations of the monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with feelings of well-being. The finding could help explain the results of earlier research conducted by Dr Galvan's team, in which rapamycin improved memory and learning in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. "This is super-interesting, something we are going to pursue in the lab," Dr Galvan said.

"We made the young ones learn, and remember what they learned, better than what is normal," she remarked. "Among the older mice, the ones fed with a diet including rapamycin actually showed an improvement, negating the normal decline that you see in these functions with age."

Drinking more coffee associated with lower skin cancer risk

Drinking more coffee associated with lower skin cancer riskJuly 2, 2012. In a study published in Cancer Research, Jiali Han, PhD and colleagues report a relationship between increased intake of coffee and a lower risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

Dr Han and associates analyzed data from 112,897 participants in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Over more than 20 years of follow-up, 22,786 men and women developed basal cell carcinoma. The researchers uncovered an association between increased coffee intake and a lower risk of the disease. While a similar association was observed for intake of caffeine from any source, decaffeinated coffee was not found to be protective against basal cell carcinoma risk.

"Our data indicate that the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma," stated Dr Han, who is an associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard School of Public Health. "I would not recommend increasing your coffee intake based on these data alone. However, our results add basal cell carcinoma to a list of conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption. This list includes conditions with serious negative health consequences such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease."

"Given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health," he continued. "These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption. This would be consistent with published mouse data, which indicate caffeine can block skin tumor formation. However, more studies in different population cohorts and additional mechanistic studies will be needed before we can say this definitively."

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