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.
Fish oil use associated with brain volume preservation
June 30 2014. A report published on June 20, 2014 in Alzheimer's & Dementia describes a protective effect for fish oil supplementation on the maintenance of brain volume and cognitive function in older men and women.
The study included 193 Alzheimer's disease patients, 397 individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and 229 cognitively normal individuals who participated in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a five year study designed to evaluate changes in cognition and brain structure in men and women aged 55 to 90. Subjects underwent neuropsychological testing and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain upon enrollment and at six to twelve month intervals. The analysis included 117 subjects who regularly used fish oil supplements at the initial study visit, among whom a significant percentage reported continued use at subsequent visits.
While average hippocampus and cerebral cortex gray matter volume decreased over time in the group as a whole, the use of fish oil was associated with improvements in these areas. Those who used fish oil over follow-up had better scores of cognitive function at any time over the course of the study; however, the effect mainly occurred among those who were not carriers of the apolipoprotein E4 gene, which has been linked with Alzheimer's disease.
"This retrospective cohort study is the first to examine the potential association of ongoing fish oil supplement use with conservation of brain volume and cognition across the spectrum of normal aging and neurodegeneration," Lori A. Daiello of Brown University and colleagues announce. "The relationships of fish oil supplement use with preserved cerebral cortex gray matter volume in MCI and hippocampus volume in Alzheimer's disease have not been previously reported."
They conclude that their results "highlight the need for future research on the effects of long-term fish oil supplement use on cognitive aging and dementia prevention in middle-aged and older adults."
Low dose aspirin use associated with pancreatic cancer risk reduction
June 27 2014. A study described online on June 26, 2014 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention uncovered an association between long term use of low dose aspirin and a decreased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Utilizing data from 362 men and women with pancreatic cancer matched to 690 control subjects enrolled in the Connecticut Pancreas Cancer Case-Control Study, researchers at Yale University determined that regular use of aspirin was associated with a 48% lower risk of cancer of the pancreas in comparison with non-use. Each increasing year of regular aspirin use was associated with a 2% lower risk of the disease and each year of low dose use with a 6% lower risk.
"We found that the use of low dose aspirin was associated with cutting the risk of pancreatic cancer in half, with some evidence that the longer low dose aspirin was used, the lower the risk," reported lead researcher Harvey A. Risch, MD, PhD, who is professor of epidemiology in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. "Because about one in 60 adults will get pancreatic cancer and the five-year survival rate is less than 5 percent, it is crucial to find ways to prevent this disease."
"Older studies of aspirin use have been clouded by the use of [regular- or high-dose] aspirin for pain relief from conditions that themselves might be related to the risk for pancreatic cancer," he noted. "Only recently have people been using low-dose aspirin for long enough times that the use might bear on risk of pancreatic cancer development."
"There seems to be enough evidence that people who are considering aspirin use to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease can feel positive that their use might also lower their risk for pancreatic cancer, and quite certainly wouldn't raise it," he added.
Testosterone replacement enhances aerobic capacity
June 25 2014. The joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society was the site of a presentation on June 22 concerning findings obtained from a clinical trial of men with limited mobility which revealed improved aerobic capacity among those treated with testosterone.
The current study evaluated data from 64 men with low testosterone enrolled in the Testosterone in Older Men with Mobility Limitation Trial. Participants in the trial received 10 milligrams testosterone in gel form or a placebo gel daily for six months. Cycle exercise tests conducted at the beginning and end of the treatment period provided measures of aerobic function, including peak oxygen uptake and gas exchange lactate threshold.
At the trial's conclusion, men who received a placebo saw a reduction in peak oxygen uptake, while those treated with testosterone experienced improvement.
"We believe this is the first report of enhanced endurance performance as a result of testosterone therapy in men who have difficulty performing some physical tasks but are otherwise healthy," announced lead author Thomas W. Storer, PhD, who is the Director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "At least in the short term, testosterone therapy may lessen the rate of decline of an important marker of physical fitness in older men with low testosterone."
"These findings are potentially relevant to older men who have experienced the age-related decline in endurance capacity that may be due in part to low testosterone," he added. "If proven safe over the long-term, restoring testosterone to normal levels may improve an important measure of physical performance and enhance their quality of life."
Severe calorie restriction suspends worm development
June 23 2014. On June 19, PLOS Genetics published the discovery of a team from Duke University of an arrest in the development of the roundworm C. elegans when its calories were severely restricted. Although the semi-starved worm continues to forage for food, its cells and organs enter a quiescent state during which development pauses. Upon regaining access to food, development is resumed, yet life span can be twice as long as that experienced by normal worms.
Acting upon the finding of an arrest in development that occurs when C. elegans' eggs are hatched in a nutrient-free environment, David R. Sherwood and colleagues decided to investigate whether initiating dietary restriction later in life would result in a similar effect. The team discovered that severely restricting food during the final two stages of larval development resulted in pauses at specific stages, but not between those stages. The pauses appear to occur at checkpoints that allow the organism to assess its viability before proceeding to the next stage. If the worm has failed to accumulate sufficient nutrients, development is arrested until the need has been met.
"Development isn't a continuous nonstop process," explained lead author Adam Schindler, PhD. "Organisms have to monitor their environment and decide whether or not it is amenable to their development. If it isn't, they stop, if it is, they go. Those checkpoints seem to exist to allow the animal to make that decision. And the decision has implications, because the resources either go to development or to survival."
"It is possible that low-nutrient diets set off the same pathways in us to put our cells in a quiescent state," speculated Dr Sherwood, who is an associate professor of biology at Duke. "The trick is to find a way to pharmacologically manipulate this process so that we can get the anti-aging benefits without the pain of diet restriction."
Higher vitamin D levels associated with better cancer prognosis
June 20 2014. The British Medical Journal published the results of a meta-analysis on June 17, 2014 which indicate having a higher level of vitamin D is associated not only with a lower risk of dying from any cause over follow-up, but also with a reduction in the risk of dying from cancer among those with a history of the disease.
Researchers analyzed data from seven cohorts belonging to the Consortium on Health and Ageing: Network of Cohorts in Europe and the United States plus participants in the third US National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey. Subjects were restricted to nonsmokers with enrollment serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] data available. Among 6,695 deaths that occurred over up to 15.8 years of follow-up, 2,624 were due to cardiovascular diseases and 2,227 to cancer.
For men and women whose serum vitamin D levels were among the lowest one-fifth of subjects, there was a 57% higher risk of dying from any cause in comparison with those whose levels were among the top fifth. Among those with the lowest vitamin levels who did not have a history of cardiovascular disease, the risk of cardiovascular mortality was 41% greater than subjects whose levels were highest, and for those with a history of the disease, the risk was 65% higher.
When the risk of dying from cancer was examined, a different picture emerged. While subjects with no history of cancer whose vitamin D levels were lowest had the same risk of dying as those whose levels were highest, for those with a history of the disease, the risk was 70% greater for those in the lowest vitamin D category, indicating that the vitamin may play a role in improving prognosis.
"Despite levels of 25(OH)D strongly varying with country, sex, and season, the association between 25(OH)D level and all-cause and cause-specific mortality was remarkably consistent," Ben Schöttker and colleagues write. Future clinical trials will offer more information on the effect of vitamin D on mortality outcomes.
Broccoli sprout compounds could help protect humans from air pollution
June 18 2014. An article published online on June 9, 2014 in Cancer Prevention Research reports a protective effect for a beverage made from broccoli sprouts against the accumulation of airborne pollutants in Chinese men and women. Broccoli sprouts are an abundant source of glucoraphanin, which generates a compound known as sulforaphane that induces cell-protective enzymes, including glutathione S-transferases.
The trial enrolled 62 men and 229 women residing in a heavily industrialized region of China. Participants were randomized to receive a beverage that contained freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder or a control beverage daily for twelve weeks. Urine samples were periodically analyzed for levels of the carcinogen benzene and lung irritants acrolein and crotonaldehyde.
Benzene excretion increased by 61% among those who received broccoli sprout powder beginning with the first day of the study, and acrolein excretion increased by 23% over the course of the trial. The authors note that the dosage of glucoraphanin and sulforaphane provided by the beverage was higher than that commonly associated with broccoli consumers and that future trials should evaluate the effectiveness of lower doses.
"This study points to a frugal, simple and safe means that can be taken by individuals to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks associated with air pollution," noted lead researcher Thomas Kensler, PhD. "This while government leaders and policy makers define and implement more effective regulatory policies to improve air quality."
"Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem," observed coauthor John Groopman, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "To address this problem comprehensively, in addition to the engineering solutions to reduce regional pollution emissions, we need to translate our basic science into strategies to protect individuals from these exposures. This study supports the development of food-based strategies as part of this overall prevention effort."
Fasting lowers cholesterol in prediabetics
June 16 2014. A presentation on June 14, 2014 at the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions revealed a benefit over time for fasting on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in individuals with prediabetes, defined as elevated blood sugar that is not yet diagnostic of diabetes.
"Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention," announced lead researcher Benjamin Horne, PhD, who is the director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. "Though we've studied fasting and it's health benefits for years, we didn't know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes."
Acting on the findings of a 2011 study of fasting in healthy people, Dr Horne and his colleagues studied its effects in prediabetics with at least three metabolic syndrome components. "During actual fasting days, cholesterol went up slightly in this study, as it did in our prior study of healthy people, but we did notice that over a six-week period cholesterol levels decreased by about 12 percent in addition to the weight loss," Dr Horne reported. "Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells, this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention."
"The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes," he added. "Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, insulin resistance may be frustrated by fasting."
"Although fasting may protect against diabetes, it's important to keep in mind that these results were not instantaneous in the studies that we performed," Dr Horne noted. "It takes time. How long and how often people should fast for health benefits are additional questions we're just beginning to examine."
Review affirms higher vitamin D levels are associated with a reduced risk of premature mortality
June 13 2014. The results of a systematic view published on June 12, 2014 in the American Journal of Public Health reaffirm what a number of studies conducted over the past decade have indicated: that having a higher serum level of vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of dying prematurely.
Cedric Garland, DrPH and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego selected 32 studies that provided data on a total of 566,583 men and women for their analysis. They determined that having a vitamin D level of 30 ng/mL is associated with approximately half the risk of dying over an average nine years of follow-up in comparison with lower levels. Dr Garland, who is a professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego, noted that serum levels of vitamin D lower than 30 ng/mL are estimated to exist in two-thirds of the United States population.
"Three years ago, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that having a too-low blood level of vitamin D was hazardous," he stated. "This study supports that conclusion, but goes one step further. The 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) blood level cutoff assumed from the IOM report was based solely on the association of low vitamin D with risk of bone disease. This new finding is based on the association of low vitamin D with risk of premature death from all causes, not just bone diseases."
"This study should give the medical community and public substantial reassurance that vitamin D is safe when used in appropriate doses up to 4,000 International Units (IU) per day," commented Heather Hofflich, DO, also of UC San Diego. "However, it's always wise to consult your physician when changing your intake of vitamin D and to have your blood level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D checked annually."
Omega-3 fatty acids cut tobacco craving
June 11 2014. A report published on June 4, 2014 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology reveals the outcome of a trial of orally administered eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which uncovered a reduction in smoking and tobacco craving among those who received the supplements.
Forty-eight regular smokers were given 2710 mg EPA and 2040 mg DHA, or a placebo for one month. Tobacco craving and number of cigarettes smoked per day were assessed at the beginning of the trial, at the end of the treatment period and 30 days following the end of treatment.
Participants who received omega-3 fatty acids had significantly less craving for tobacco at the end of one month in comparison with initially assessed levels. Although craving rose in the month following the treatment period, it was still lower than that experienced initially among those who received EPA and DHA. In contrast, participants who received the placebo reported similar craving levels at all time points evaluated. Those who received omega-3 smoked 11.2% fewer cigarettes after one month in comparison to the amount smoked at the beginning of the study.
Author Sharon Rabinowitz of Haifa University notes that decreased intake of omega-3 fatty acids can affect dopamine neurotransmission, which negatively impacts the function of brain systems associated with reward and dependence. This decrease in function could enhance tobacco craving, making quitting more difficult.
"It is assumed that the re-establishment of polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the current study reduced tobacco craving following cigarette cue exposure by affecting dopamine transmission compromised by smoking-induced lipid peroxidation," Dr Rabinowitz writes. "Future studies should examine if polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation affects smoking behavior and its relation to subjective stress via polyunsaturated fatty acid serum bioavailability and metabolism and should attempt to determine the neural mechanisms that may have played a role in the decreased craving observed in this study."
Vitamin D insufficiency associated with HIV progression
June 09 2014. On May 5, 2014, the Journal of Infectious Diseases reported findings from the PEARLS trial of HIV-positive men and women undergoing antiretroviral treatment, which reveal a protective effect for higher vitamin D levels against disease progression and premature death.
The current study compared participants who developed a World Health Organization classified stage 3 or 4 event (defined by advanced or severe symptoms) or death to those who did not develop this outcome. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels, defined as less than 32 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), were found in an average of 49% of the participants. Subjects with low vitamin D had more than double the adjusted risk of experiencing a stage 3 or 4 disease event or death by 96 weeks than those with sufficient vitamin D levels, and median time to the development of this outcome was shorter in the vitamin-insufficient group.
In a separate analysis of virologic failure, defined as two successive plasma HIV-1 RNA measurements higher than 1,000 copies per milliliter at or after the study's 16 week visit, those with low vitamin D levels had twice the risk compared to those with sufficient levels. "To our knowledge, this is the first time low 25-hydroxyvitamin D has been associated with HIV virologic failure and represents a novel risk factor for virologic failure," authors Fiona Havers and colleagues announce.
"We showed prospectively that low 25(OH)D is a predictor of poor clinical outcomes among HIV‐infected adults in diverse geographic, economic and cultural settings," they conclude. "Our findings support the concept that 25‐hydroxyvitamin D supplementation may be an inexpensive, safe therapeutic addition for HIV‐infected persons, but clearly a well‐designed clinical trial is needed."
Fasting regenerates the immune system
June 06 2014. The June 5, 2014 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell published the finding of Valter D. Longo and colleagues at the University of Southern California (USC) of a rejuvenating effect for fasting on immune system cells.
"When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged," stated Dr Longo, who is the director of the USC Longevity Institute. "What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?"
Dr Longo and his associates determined that the reduction in these immune system cells triggers the stem cell-based regeneration of new cells. Fasting was found to reduce an enzyme known as PKA, which, when lowered, extended the life span of simple organisms in previous research conducted by the team. "PKA is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode," Dr Longo explained. "It gives the 'okay' for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system."
"The good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting," he continued. "Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system."
"We are investigating the possibility that these effects are applicable to many different systems and organs, not just the immune system," he added.
Experts take issue with anti-supplement sentiment
June 04 2014. A letter composed by such notable authorities as Bruce N. Ames, PhD, and Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, appeared on June 3, 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine in response to a 2013 editorial titled "Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements." The authors assert that, rather than the case being closed as stated in the article, nutritional supplements do offer significant benefits.
"There are many issues that have helped to mislead people when it comes to the study of micronutrients," stated the letter's first author Balz Frei, who is director of the Linus Pauling Institute. "For instance, most research is done without first checking to see if a person is inadequate in a nutrient, and you won't find much effect from a supplement if it isn't needed."
"In similar fashion, too much research has been done with groups such as doctors and nurses who are probably not representative of the general population," he added. "Whatever has been shown to be useful in such research probably would be even more effective in people who have poor diets or clear nutritional inadequacies."
"It's naïve to ignore the fact that most people have micronutrient inadequacies, and wrong to condemn a daily supplement that could cover these nutritional gaps safely and at low cost," Dr Frei continued. "There's strong evidence that a multivitamin/mineral supplement supports normal functioning of the body and helps improve overall health, and may even help lower chronic disease risk. It's irresponsible to ignore decades of nutrition research and tell the people of the United States they have no need for a supplement that could be so helpful, and costs as little as $1 a month. And if they have a poor diet, people should try to improve that as well. The two are not mutually exclusive."
Watch out for "gerontogens"
June 02 2014. A review published online on May 28, 2014 in Trends in Molecular Medicine discusses the dangers associated with gerontogens: environmental factors that promote physiologic (as opposed to chronologic) aging. "Mammalian aging is complex and incompletely understood," write Jessica A. Sorrentino and her associates at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "Although significant effort has been spent addressing the genetics or, more recently, the pharmacology of aging, the toxicology of aging has been relatively understudied."
"The rate of physiologic, or molecular, aging differs between individuals in part because of exposure to 'gerontogens', i.e., environmental factors that affect aging," explained coauthor Norman Sharpless. "We believe just as an understanding of carcinogens has informed cancer biology, so will an understanding of gerontogens benefit the study of aging. By identifying and avoiding gerontogens, we will be able to influence aging and life expectancy at a public health level."
Potential gerontogens include benzene, arsenic, ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation, chemotherapy, psychological stress and cigarette smoke. Although exposure to some of these factors may be unavoidable, the concept of gerontogen-generated aging leaves room for optimism, because it views physiologic aging as predominantly preventable. (Gerontologist Tom Perls has estimated that the rate of aging is 50% to 75% determined by nongenetic factors.) Dr Sharpless' team plans to further study the effects of gerontogens via a novel mouse model.
The authors predict the development of blood tests to evaluate a number of molecular age biomarkers in order to understand individual differences in the rate of aging and to assess the age-promoting effect of gerontogens. "We believe the comparison of molecular markers of aging to clinical outcomes should begin in earnest," Dr Sharpless affirmed.