Friday, April 30, 2010

Restricting calories may boost immunity

I have heard some friends say they will restrict calories so that they can live longer ... they have gotten this information anecdotally. A study today seems to lean in this direction.

Researches say in the Journal of Gerontology, Biological Sciences, that volunteers who followed a low-calorie diet or a very low-calorie diet not only lost weight, but also significantly enhanced their immune response. The study may be the first to demonstrate the interaction between calorie restriction and immune markers among humans, they say.

The lead researcher, Simin Nikbin Meydani, is director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. The study is part of the "Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy" trial.

As people age, their immune response generally declines. Calorie restriction has been shown to boost these immune responses in animals.

For the study, the researchers looked at specific biologic markers. A skin test used called DTH (delayed-type hypersensitivity) is a measure of immune response at the whole body level. The researchers also examined effects of calorie restriction on function of T-cells--a major type of white blood cell--and other factors on the volunteer's immune system.

DTH and T-cell response indicate the strength of cell-mediated immunity. One positive was that DTH and T-cell proliferative response were significantly increased in both calorie-restrained groups. These results show for the first time that short-term calorie restriction for six months in humans improves the function of T-cells, say the researchers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Epigenetics: how foods work to prevent disease

The Experimental Biology 2010 meeting has a lot of interesting research being presented this week. An important area of study is understanding a person's risks from his or her genetic code. Now scientists are predicting with testing what risks are there and what prevention measures could be taken.

Today researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University talked about cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders and other degenerative conditions and say some scientists are moving away from the “nature-versus-nurture” debate and are finding you’re not a creature of either genetics or environment, but both – with enormous implications for a new approach to health.

The scientists say, "The new field of epigenetics is rapidly revealing how people, plants and animals do start with a certain genetic code at conception. But the choice of which genes are expressed, or activated, is strongly affected by environmental influences. The expression of genes can change rapidly over time, they can be influenced by external factors, those changes can be passed along to offspring, and they can literally hold the key to life and death."

In the case of cancer, tumor suppressor genes can cause cancer cells to die by acting as a brake on unrestrained cell growth. But too much of the histone deacetylases (HDAC) enzyme can switch off tumor suppressor genes, even though the underlying DNA sequence of the cell – its genetic structure – has not been changed or mutated.

“We already know some of the things people can do to help prevent cancer with certain dietary or lifestyle approaches,” says researcher Rod Dashwood. “Now we’re hoping to more fully understand the molecular processes going on, including at the epigenetic level. This should open the door for new approaches to disease prevention or treatment through diet, as well as in complementing conventional drug therapies.”

Read the whole story on the OSU web site. To learn more about "predictive health" visit this web site.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Study shows Vitamin D still key for health in aging

The relationship between vitamin D status and physical function in a group of relatively healthy seniors was presented April 25 at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim.

A press release posted on Eurekalert says that "participants with the highest levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D had better physical function. And, although physical function declined over the course of the study, it remained significantly higher among those with the highest vitamin D levels at the beginning of the study compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels.

"The scientists were not surprised to learn that, in general, vitamin D consumption was very low in this group of otherwise healthy seniors. In fact, more than 90 percent of them consumed less vitamin D than currently recommended, and many were relying on dietary supplements."

The study was part of the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study initially designed to assess the associations among body composition, long-term health conditions, and mobility in older adults.

"The researchers say it's impossible to tell from this type of research whether increasing vitamin D intake will actually lead to stronger muscles and preserve physical function. This is partly due to the fact that our bodies can make vitamin D if they get enough sunlight. So, it is possible that the participants with better physical function had higher vitamin D status simply because they were able to go outside more often," the press release notes.

Facinating: Hawking talks about life in the universe

I am impressed with CNN seeking astronomer Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research, to explain further what famed scientist Stephen Hawking was saying in a documentary about intelligent alien life and that it must exist. Go to Discovery Channel to learn more.

Hawking is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time.

Wikipedia information says Hawking has indicated that he is almost certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe and uses a mathematical basis for his assumptions. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like." He believes alien life not only certainly exists in planets but perhaps even in other places, like within stars or even floating in outer space. He also warns that a few of these species might be intelligent and threaten Earth. Contact with such species might be devastating for humanity. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said. He advocated that, rather than try to establish contact, man should try to avoid contact with alien life forms.

Tarter says at CNN that "SETI searches will succeed and that the civilization that's transmitting is using a technology that is older and more advanced than our own. Of course he's right, but there's a lot of room for different opinions about what contact with an advanced technology would mean." Read more.

Serious about veggies: study shows best phytonutrients

This week's Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim has a lot of health information pouring from studies. Some are from industry and some from academia, so be sure to sort through the intent for presenting the findings. The blueberry folks will want you to know about how healthy blueberries are - and I am sure this is true - just make sure you look closely. I think the following info is interesting and helps the consumer understand more specifically what is in certain foods.

The study from Nutrilite says Americans could improve their phytonutrient intake by choosing to eat more concentrated sources of phytonutrients as well as a wider variety of them. Nutrilite points to source of its study: dataset comes from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, surveys that capture what Americans eat daily, supplemental nutrient concentration data from the United States Department of Agriculture and the published literature.

Some results: for 10 of the 14 phytonutrients included in the analysis, a single food type accounted for approximately two-thirds or more of an individual's intake of the specific phytonutrient, regardless of whether that person was a high or low fruit and vegetable consumer. Based on the current study, the top food sources consumed by Americans for some selected phytonutrients were as follows:

Beta-carotene – carrots
Beta-cryptoxanthin – oranges/orange juice
Lutein/zeaxanthin – spinach
Ellagic acid – strawberries
Isothiocyanates – mustard
For each of these phytonutrients, however, there is a more highly concentrated food that could be chosen instead:
Beta-carotene – sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes have nearly double the beta-carotene compared to carrots in a single serving.
Beta-cryptoxanthin – papaya
A serving of fresh papaya has roughly 15 times the beta-cryptoxanthin of an orange.
Lutein/zeaxanthin – kale
By substituting cooked kale for raw spinach, it is possible to triple lutein/zeaxanthin intake.
Ellagic acid – raspberries
Serving per serving, raspberries have roughly three times the ellagic acid compared to strawberries.
Isothiocyanates – watercress
Just one cup of watercress as the basis for a salad has about the same level of isothiocyanates as four teaspoons of mustard.

Find more studies like this for EB 2010 at Eurekalert.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Does happiness grow with more Facebook use?

Now and then I comment on happiness and latest info shared around the net.

I recalled a 2008 Harvard study on happiness and it says on a press release I reviewed just now that you should "thank your friends—and their friends. And while you’re at it, their friends’ friends.... [researchers] found that happiness is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion."

With the news this week that Facebook is expanding social connections with the transformation of the web, where you will be seen and heard everywhere you visit online, I started wondering if this new way of adding connections will expand our happiness!

Right now the reaction to the news from Facebook is mixed - read the Christian Science Monitor and ComputerWorld.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Divert from your real issues: Vatican shifts to stem cells

This headline intrigued me: "Vatican to finance adult stem cell research."

According to AP, "The Vatican has drawn criticism for its opposition to embryonic stem cell research. But the Vatican insists there are scientifically viable alternatives and the efforts of the scientific community should go in that direction. Financing this project is part of those efforts. But while embryonic stem cells are especially prized for their pluripotency — meaning they can morph into any type of cell in the body — adult stem cells are not as pluripotent. For that reason, embryonic stem cells are considered to have more potential for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's.

ABC News covers the story, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sugar and heart disease now linked

Emory University School of Medicine researcher Miriam Vos, MD, made a significant discovery about sugar - it increases the risk of heart disease.

A new study conducted by Emory, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, found that added sugars may increase cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The study analyzed U.S. government nutritional data and blood lipid levels in more than 6,000 adult men and women between 1999 and 2006. Participants were divided into five groups according to the amount of added sugar and caloric sweeteners they consumed daily.

Researchers found that people who consumed more added sugar were more likely to have higher cardiovascular disease risk factors, including higher triglyceride lev­els and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C, or good cholesterol.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcano Facination 2010

There is no doubt that the volcano in Iceland has captured the interest of people around the world. Its impact scientifically, socially and economically is facinating, and it is getting more complicated as the days continue with the eruption still under way today.

First, from scientific perspective, it is facinating and stokes our imaginations. This is a science lesson for everyone - how does a volcano decide to erupt after years of quietude. Go to Joe Palca's interview on NPR to learn from the Iceland scientists monitoring this volcano [there are more nearby].

And, it is beautiful and awesome to watch - images and video.
Air travel is halted and it is evident that we are more interdependent on movement than we pay attention to on a daily bais. The Times Online says airlines are looking for safe passages to use. The Dutch are testing normal flights, sans passengers except for crew.