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The health benefits of antioxidant-rich black pepper and piperine –

Image: The health benefits of antioxidant-rich black pepper and piperine

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Of the many spices that are staples of a perfect pantry, one stands out as the “king of spices.” Black pepper, a condiment made by grinding the dried berries of the flowering plant Piper nigrum, is used in a lot of cuisines to add a mildly spicy flavor to foods. Next to salt, pepper is the most commonly used seasoning for savory dishes, and it complements all other spices perfectly. In fact, black pepper has the ability to enhance the taste, aroma and medicinal properties of whatever spice it is used together with.

Black pepper is also a medicinal spice with a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in Ayurveda. According to studies, black pepper is rich in active compounds that give it plenty of beneficial properties, especially antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Piperine, the chemical responsible for the pungency of black pepper, not only helps relieve ailments like nausea and headaches, it also boosts the absorption of plant compounds from other medicinal plants, such as curcumin from turmeric. Here are some of the amazing things black pepper and piperine can do for you.

The health benefits of black pepper

In Ayurvedic medicine, black pepper is considered a healing spice that improves blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain. It also enhances digestion, stimulates appetite and helps maintain respiratory health and joint health. But Ayurvedic healers value black pepper highly because it is a bioavailability enhancer, and they believe it can help deliver the benefits of other Ayurvedic herbs to different parts of the body. They also use black pepper in various formulations because of its cleansing and antioxidant properties.

Here are the science-backed health benefits of black pepper and piperine: (h/t to

Black pepper can protect cells from free radicals. Environmental factors like pollution and UV radiation trigger the production of highly reactive molecules called free radicals. These chemicals are known to cause cellular damage and induce inflammation, both of which can lead to chronic health conditions. Through the antioxidant activities of piperine, black pepper neutralizes free radicals and helps prevent serious diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Black pepper reduces inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked by numerous studies to many life-threatening diseases. But piperine in black pepper can stop inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as interleukin-6 and metalloproteinase 13. This makes black pepper an effective natural remedy for inflammation-related conditions, such as arthritis, seasonal allergies and asthma.

Black pepper improves brain function. According to animal studies, piperine can decrease the formation of amyloid plaques, which are protein fragments that can damage neurons if they accumulate in the brain. In rat models of Alzheimer’s disease, this activity of piperine has led to improvements in memory. Researchers believe piperine can also be used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Black pepper improves blood sugar control. Piperine in black pepper may also help with diabetes. A recent animal study by Japanese researchers found that piperine can prevent blood sugar spikes after meals. Another study also found that piperine can improve the insulin sensitivity of overweight people after eight weeks of supplementation.

Black pepper helps lower blood cholesterol. Besides lowering blood sugar, black pepper can also help decrease blood cholesterol levels. In particular, studies have found that black pepper can decrease bad LDL cholesterol in rats fed a high-fat diet. When combined with turmeric and red yeast rice, piperine boosts the absorption of their cholesterol-lowering components, thus enhancing their positive effects. (Related: Combine turmeric and black pepper to boost health benefits of curcumin.)

Black pepper is a versatile spice and food ingredient that offers plenty of health benefits. You can use it on its own or combine it with other spices, such as turmeric, garlic or cumin. Add this amazing superfood to your diet to enhance the flavor of your meals and improve your heart, brain and metabolic health.

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Updating the Dietary Guideline Index to reflect age- and gender-specific guidelines may improve assessments of diet quality –

Image: Updating the Dietary Guideline Index to reflect age- and gender-specific guidelines may improve assessments of diet quality

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The dietary guidelines released by government agencies responsible for public health are developed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases in a given population. They are also designed to help people eat a healthier diet. For instance, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans contain a number of key recommendations aimed at improving the overall eating patterns of people in the United States.

In order to assess the success of dietary guidelines, researchers use a measure known as the Dietary Guidelines Index (DGI). This comprehensive food-based index measures diet quality and reflects the adherence of a given population to dietary guidelines. The DGI is continuously updated to reflect any changes made on dietary guidelines based on panel reviews of the latest scientific evidence.

In a recent study, researchers from Australia, Finland and the U.S. sought to improve the DGI currently used in Australia by taking into account the age and sex of a given sample population. To the best of their knowledge, a DGI with consistent scoring across childhood/adolescence (youth) and adulthood has not been validated. The researchers discussed their findings in an article published in the journal Nutrition Research.

American dietary guidelines and Australian dietary guidelines

According to the latest American dietary guidelines, the foods that make up a healthy diet are those that can help a person meet his nutritional needs without exceeding limits. Such foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, protein-rich foods and sources of healthy fats (e.g., seafood, nuts, seeds). The guidelines recommend eating these foods in their natural forms and not as highly processed food products, which have very low nutritional values.

In addition, the American dietary guidelines also suggest that Americans reduce or limit the amount of saturated fats, added sugars, sodium and total calories they consume. Among popular diets in the U.S., the guidelines consider the Mediterranean diet and the vegetarian diet as perfect examples of a healthy eating pattern. (Related: Study in diet trends reveals that a poor diet is WORSE for your health than drinking and smoking.)

Similar to the American dietary guidelines, the updated 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines emphasize the consumption of five specific food groups, namely, vegetables and legumes, fruits, grains, lean meats and poultry (protein sources), and dairy products. One of the guidelines’ primary objectives is to help Australians achieve and maintain a healthy weight by eating nutritious foods and becoming physically active.

According to Warwick Anderson, CEO of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian dietary guidelines were developed to address the rising incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the country. By promoting healthy eating and providing research and evidence-based advice, the experts behind these recommendations hope that they can enable Australians to make better dietary decisions to improve their health.

An age- and gender-specific measure of diet quality

In their study, the international team hypothesized that a DGI that reflects age- and gender-specific guidelines could be a valid measure of diet quality in youth and adulthood. They believe that measuring diet quality over time is important due to its huge impact on health.

They based the DGI on the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines to reflect the current understanding of diet quality in Australia. The current DGI comprises nine indicators with a maximum score of 100 points.

The researchers calculated DGI scores for participants of the Australian Childhood Determinants of Adult Health study, which included a 24-hour food record during youth (ages 10-15 years) and a 127-item food frequency questionnaire during adulthood (ages 26-36 years).

The researchers also evaluated construct validity (distribution of scores, principal components analysis, correlation with nutrient density of intakes) and criterion validity (linear regression with population characteristics).

The researchers reported that the DGI scores they calculated were multi-dimensional in underlying structure and normally distributed. They found a significant association between a lower DGI among youth and smoking, lower academic achievement and lower socioeconomic status.

DGI scores were also negatively correlated with consumption of calories, sugar and fat, but were positively correlated with consumption of fiber, protein and micronutrients. Among adults, low DGI scores were associated with low education, low self-reported health, high waist circumference, insulin resistance and high total and low-density lipoprotein serum cholesterol.

Based on these results, the researchers believe that their proposed DGI is an appropriate measure of diet quality in youth and adulthood because higher scores reflect nutrient-dense, instead of energy-dense, intake and discriminate between population characteristics in a manner consistent with literature.

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Taking aspirin daily to prevent heart disease may do more harm than good, say scientists –

Image: Taking aspirin daily to prevent heart disease may do more harm than good, say scientists

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Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications in the U.S., both as a prescription drug and as an over-the-counter drug. According to the Drug Facts label on medication products, aspirin can be used to relieve minor complaints, such as headaches, pain, swelling and fever.

Aspirin is also prescribed by physicians for other purposes besides pain relief. In fact, low doses of aspirin is believed to help people who are at-risk of, or who already have, heart disease reduce their risk of heart attack and clot-related stroke.

But in 2018, three clinical trials revealed that taking aspirin for exactly those purposes actually does more harm than good. The results showed that taking the medication daily offers very few benefits and even elevates the risk of bleeding, especially in people without heart disease.

An earlier study also reported that the majority of those who use aspirin are older adults who neither have heart disease nor were advised by their physicians to take the drug. But what some of these people have is peptic ulcer disease, and their use of aspirin only increases the risk of their ulcers bleeding.

These findings led the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) to change their guidelines about the use of aspirin in clinical practice. They also highlighted the need for healthcare practitioners to ask their patients about their aspirin use.

The cons of using aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease

Heart attack and stroke usually occur due to blood supply to the heart or the brain being cut off. Atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by the buildup of plaque in the arteries, is the most common cause of this. In atherosclerosis, a combination of cholesterol and immune cells form plaque that stiffens or narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to major organs. The damage to the heart caused by this limited supply of oxygen and nutrients leads to a heart attack.

However, there are times when arterial plaques rupture, causing blood clots to form. These clots further clog the blood vessels and stop blood flow to other parts of the body. Blood clots that affect the blood supply to the heart also causes a heart attack while blood clots that block the flow of blood to the brain causes a stroke. Aspirin is often prescribed to prevent these cardiac-related events because it has the ability to thin the blood, making it less likely to form blood clots.

In a recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported that about a quarter of American adults aged 40 and above are using aspirin every day. These people do not suffer from cardiovascular disease but are taking the medication as a means of disease prevention. (Related: Low-dose aspirin found to increase risk of intracranial hemorrhage.)

Of these 29 million adults, 6.6 million use aspirin without the knowledge or consent of their physicians. Meanwhile, nearly half of American adults aged 70 years or older also take aspirin daily despite having no history of cardiovascular disease or stroke. According to Dr. Christina Wee, senior author of the study, she and her team found this surprising as it is a well-established fact that older people have a higher risk of bleeding from aspirin.

However, it seems that for older Americans, preventing heart-related conditions is worth the risk. Peptic ulcer disease refers to a condition in which ulcers or sores appear in the lining of the small intestine. Aspirin is not prescribed to people with this disease as the medication is highly likely to cause their ulcers to bleed. If left untreated, ulcer bleeding can lead to anemia or severe blood loss, which will require hospitalization or a blood transfusion to treat.

“Our findings show a tremendous need for healthcare practitioners to ask their patients about ongoing aspirin use, and to advise them about the importance of balancing the benefits and harms, especially among older adults and those with prior peptic ulcer disease,” said Dr. Colin O’Brien, the lead author of the study.

As of 2019, the new AHA and ACC guidelines recommend against the use of aspirin among adults aged 70 and above who do not have a history of heart disease or stroke.

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Polysaccharides from ginseng berries demonstrate strong immune-enhancing effects –

Image: Polysaccharides from ginseng berries demonstrate strong immune-enhancing effects

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Ginseng is known worldwide as a medicinal herb that increases longevity. The root of this short, slow-growing plant is its most used part, as the ginseng root is abundant in bioactive compounds called ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are responsible for many of ginseng’s medicinal properties.

According to research, ginsenosides are triterpene glycosides or saponins with numerous biological activities, including anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. But a previous study has found that ginsenosides are concentrated not just in the roots of the ginseng plant, but also in its berries. In fact, ginseng berries contain higher amounts of ginsenosides than ginseng roots.

In addition to ginsenosides, ginseng berries contain acidic polysaccharides, which also have useful biological activities. In a recent study, South Korean researchers investigated the effects of these polysaccharides on the activation of natural killer (NK) cells and the inhibition of tumors. They discussed their findings in an article published in The American Journal of Chinese Medicine.

Ginseng berries can boost the immune system and prevent tumors

Ginseng root is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for the enhancement of immune system function. However, the effects of ginseng berries on said function remains unknown. To find out if they also have immune-stimulating effects, the researchers isolated a crude polysaccharide (GBPP) from ginseng berries and used gel filtration chromatography to obtain three more fractions: GBPP-I, GBPP-II and GBPP-III.

The researchers reported that GBPP-I consisted mainly of the sugars galactose (46.9 percent) and arabinose (27.5 percent). Treatment with GBPP-I induced murine peritoneal macrophages – a type of white blood cell – to produce more interleukin (IL)-6, IL-12 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-a, which are all pro-inflammatory molecules.

Meanwhile, oral administration of GBPP-I significantly increased the cell toxicity of NK cells in mice with lymphoma, as well as the production of granzyme B. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that play a role in the rejection of tumors and virally infected cells. These cells go out of control in lymphomas. Granzyme B is a cytotoxic protein produced by NK cells that triggers apoptosis in target cells.

The researchers also found that intravenous and oral administration of GBPP-I significantly and dose-dependently inhibited the metastasis of B16-BL6 melanoma cells to the lungs. On the other hand, injection of rabbit anti-asialo GM1, an antibody that depletes NK cells, negated the inhibitory effect of GBPP-I on the metastatic activity of melanoma cells. This suggests that NK cells are involved in GBPP-I’s anti-cancer activity.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that GBPP-I has strong-immune-enhancing activity and can prevent cancer metastasis via the activation of NK cells and other immune-related cells.

The medicinal properties of ginseng berries

According to Japanese and Korean researchers, ginseng berry may be superior to ginseng root in terms of phytonutrient content. Besides having larger amounts of vitamin E, vitamin K, folic acid and potassium than any other part of ginseng, ginseng berries also contain higher levels of ginsenoside Re. Ginsenoside Re is an active compound that contributes to ginseng’s ability to reduce inflammation, lower stress levels and treat cancer.

Here are some of the other benefits of ginseng berries that have been reported by studies:

  • They lower blood sugar levels
  • They improve insulin sensitivity
  • They prevent tumors
  • They reduce the side effects of chemotherapy
  • They protect against oxidative stress
  • They can treat erectile dysfunction
  • They protect against neurodegenerative diseases
  • They improve cognitive performance

Ginseng berries are functional foods that can be used to address a variety of diseases and promote good overall health. In addition, they serve as excellent sources of bioactive compounds, which have the potential to be safer and more effective medicines than conventional drugs. To learn more about ginseng berries and other functional foods, visit

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Moderate sunbathing helps lower mortality risk, suggest researchers –

Image: Moderate sunbathing helps lower mortality risk, suggest researchers

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Sunlight, like red wine, can be good or bad for your health, depending on how much you get. While drinking moderate amounts of red wine can reduce your risk of heart failure and improve your blood pressure, consuming excessive amounts can lead to alcohol dependence, liver damage and weight gain.

In a similar way, moderate sun exposure can provide considerable health benefits. Besides being the best natural source of vitamin D, which your body needs for stronger bones and better calcium absorption, basking in the morning sun can also improve your mood and sleep quality and boost your immunity.

Today, many people may be actively avoiding the sun for fear of developing skin cancer. But according to a recent study by Swedish researchers, this avoidance can actually do more harm than good.

In their paper, which appeared in the Journal of Internal Medicine, they reported that women with active sun exposure habits have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as non-cancer and non-CVD-related deaths.

The researchers also found that while these women’s risk of skin cancer is high, they generally have longer life expectancies than people who don’t get enough sunlight. This suggests that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death.

Getting ample amounts of sunlight promotes longevity

Women who spend more time in the sun tend to have lower mortality rates than women who are rarely exposed to the sun. But the trade-off is, the former has a higher risk of skin cancer. To explore the differences in the main causes of death influenced by sun exposure, the Swedish researchers analyzed data from the Melanoma In Southern Sweden (MISS) cohort study, which was initiated in 1990.

The MISS cohort included 29,518 Swedish women ranging in age from 25 to 64. The researchers assessed the differences in sun exposure among these women as a risk factor for all-cause mortality in a competing risk scenario. Using modern survival statistics, they analyzed detailed information about the women’s sun exposure habits and potential confounding factors. Their study served as a 20-year follow-up for the MISS study.

Their analysis revealed that compared with women who avoided the sun, those who had active sun exposure habits were less likely to develop CVD. These women also had a lower risk of dying due to other diseases besides cancer. With respect to skin cancer, the researchers found that mortality rates were doubled among women who avoided the sun compared with those who had the highest sun exposure. They also found no differences in all?cause or cutaneous malignant melanoma mortality between these women.

When the researchers considered smoking habits, they found that non-smokers who avoided the sun had a life expectancy similar to smokers with the highest sun exposure. This indicates that sun avoidance is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Overall, they reported that the life expectancy of those who avoided the sun was reduced by 0.6 to 2.1 years.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that sun exposure can increase the life expectancy of people by lowering their risk of dying from CVD and other non-cancer diseases. (Related: Homeland security scientist confirms that natural sunlight kills coronavirus.)

How to minimize risks associated with sun exposure

Sun exposure has been linked to various skin conditions, such as premature aging and skin melanomas. These issues are all caused by the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that comes with sunlight. Prolonged exposure to UV rays not only damages skin cells and changes the way the skin looks, it also causes damage to cell DNA, which can trigger the development of skin cancer.

But there are ways to circumvent these risks without depriving your skin of some much-needed sunlight. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s perfectly safe to get five to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure for your hands, face and arms two to three times a week. This amount is enough to keep your vitamin D levels healthy without causing unwanted skin issues.

It is easy to get sunburned when the sun’s rays are more direct. To avoid this, enjoy the sun in the morning before 10 a.m. and stay indoors until after 4 p.m. But if you really need to be outside or if you’re bound to stay under the sun for more than 15 minutes, protect your skin with a natural sunscreen that has an SPF greater than 15. You can also cover your skin with clothing and use an umbrella to reduce the risks that come with too much UV exposure.

Exposure to moderate amounts of sunlight can provide plenty of benefits. Visit to learn more.

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Vitamin A intake may help lower skin cancer risk –

Image: Study: Vitamin A intake may help lower skin cancer risk

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The vitamin A family consists of a group of fat-soluble nutrients commonly referred to as retinoic acids. These include retinoids such as retinol, a common ingredient in skincare products, retinal, a molecule necessary for vision and retinyl esters, the storage form of retinol.

Well-known for their ability to improve vision, these compounds are also involved in immune function, reproduction and cell communication. Two forms of vitamin A can be obtained in the human diet: preformed vitamin A and provitamin carotenoids.

In a recent study, researchers at Brown University, Harvard Medical School and Inje University in South Korea explored the association between a person’s intake of vitamin A and his risk of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC is the second most common form of human skin cancer and is marked by the abnormal and rapid growth of squamous cells, which make up the outermost layer of the skin.

The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Vitamin A and skin cancer prevention

Retinoids are important for maintaining the maturation and differentiation of epithelial cells, which are the cells found on the surfaces of organs like the skin and blood vessels. Synthetic retinoids are commonly used today for the prevention of skin cancer in high-risk populations, but these chemicals cause adverse effects. (Related: How to effectively treat skin cancer.)

To determine whether dietary vitamin A intake, which doesn’t have side effects, can also protect against skin cancer, the researchers conducted a cohort study involving a total of 48,400 American men and 75,170 American women. These volunteers took part in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2012) and the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2012), respectively. The researchers examined the participants’ intake of vitamin A and carotenoids and assessed their risk of SCC.

Among the participants, a total of 3,978 SCC cases were confirmed by pathological reports. The researchers found that higher total vitamin A was associated with a reduction in SCC risk. Similarly, higher intakes of retinol and some caroteinoids, such as beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, also reduced the participants’ risk of SCC. The researchers noted that the association remained consistent even after sex and other SCC risk factors were taken into account.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that increasing your intake of dietary vitamin A can decrease your risk of incident squamous cell carcinoma.

The role of vitamin A in the human body

Despite being unidentified in ancient times, vitamin A has long been used by healers to remedy vision-related problems. For instance, the Ancient Egyptians prescribed the consumption of liver, a rich source of vitamin A, as a treatment for night blindness. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that the compound in liver responsible for its eye benefits was isolated and named vitamin A.

Today, vitamin A is known as an important component of rhodopsin, the protein found in retinal receptors that absorbs light. It is also known to support vision by helping the conjunctival membranes and cornea function properly. Outside of the eyes, vitamin A also plays a critical role in the formation and maintenance of other organs, such as the heart, kidneys and lungs.

Vitamin A can be found in the form of preformed vitamin A in various foods, such as dairy products, fish, meat and animal organs. Provitamin A, on the other hand, can be derived from edible plants, where they serve as pigments. Carotenoids like alpha- and beta-carotene, which are abundant in fruits like mangoes and oranges and vegetables like carrots and spinach, are the most common dietary provitamin As. These carotenoids are metabolized inside the body into retinal and retinoic acid, the active forms of vitamin A.

Interested in other benefits of vitamin A? Visit to learn more.

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Immune cells ATTACK the aging brain and release a substance that hinders new nerve cell production, report scientists –

Image: Immune cells ATTACK the aging brain and release a substance that hinders new nerve cell production, report scientists

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One of the defining features of the brain that sets it apart from all other organs of the human body (except muscles) is that it is made up of cells that cannot regenerate. The nerve cells in the brain called neurons are terminally differentiated, meaning that, unlike skin cells or blood cells, they cannot reproduce. So instead of relying on these cells to regenerate when they’re damaged, the brain recruits neural stem cells (NSCs) from specialized areas called neurogenic niches to repair these neurons. These NSCs are not only capable of self-renewal, but they are also able to form new cells.

According to research, the brain’s neurogenic niches become less functional with age, but how this happens remains unknown. In a recent study, researchers at Stanford University performed single-cell analysis of old and young neurogenic niches in mice to determine the changes they undergo during aging. They found that the infiltration of a certain type of immune cells into old brains is responsible for the NSCs in neurogenic niches losing their ability to generate new cells. The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the journal Nature.

The role of neural stem cells in the brain

Because of their inability to regenerate, neurons are programmed to last for a lifetime. The human brain harbors neurogenic niches to help maintain tissue homeostasis and repair these neurons in case of injury. Young brains, in particular, have an abundance of neurogenic niches, as the cells that reside in these areas are also involved in brain development. In contrast, old brains have fewer neurogenic niches, and the NSCs in them have been found to be less functional.

In adult mammalian brains, most of the NSCs can be found in a region called ventricular-subventricular zone. These cells generate young neurons that migrate to the olfactory bulb, an important structure located in the forebrain, where they contribute to odor discrimination and odor-reward association. Meanwhile, the NSCs in the hippocampus produce new excitatory neurons for the dentate gyrus, the brain region involved in hippocampal memory formation. These cells, which were previously known as radial astrocytes, play important roles in learning, memory and pattern separation.

Immune cells affect neurogenic niches during brain aging

To understand how the neurogenic niche is altered by brain aging, the Stanford researchers analyzed 14,685 single-cell transcriptomes — the sum total of RNA molecules expressed from the genes of an organism — from the subventricular zone of three-month-old mice and 28- or 29-month-old mice. Their analysis revealed that in old neurogenic niches, the number of activated NSCs is significantly reduced while endothelial cells and microglia — the resident immune cells in the brain — undergo significant changes.

But the most notable discovery the researchers made was the presence of T cells — a type of immune cells responsible for killing infected cells and producing pro-inflammatory molecules — in old neurogenic niches. While also present in young neurogenic niches, the population of these white blood cells is about 16-fold smaller than the population found in old neurogenic niches. The researchers also noted that when killer T cells were nestled next to NSCs in old neurogenic niches, the NSCs showed a reduced ability to proliferate.

Upon further investigation, the researchers found that the T cells in old neurogenic niches were clonally expanded, meaning they were copies of a parent T cell that has a high affinity to, and high specificity for, certain antigens. These T cells were generally distinct from the T cells present in the blood of old mice. The researchers also found that the T cells in old neurogenic niches expressed interferon-y, a pro-inflammatory molecule that also directs the growth, maturation and differentiation of various cell types.

The NSCs in old neurogenic niches that were highly responsive to interferons showed decreased proliferative ability, suggesting that these interferon-y-producing T cells are responsible for the reduced function of neurogenic niches in aging brains. Moreover, the fact that these T cells have undergone clonal expansion suggests that their presence in the brain was due to an immune-related response to (currently) unidentified brain-based antigens.

The Stanford researchers are now working to determine what these antigens are to fully understand the mechanism that disrupts the formation of new neurons in aging brains.

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Curcumin extract with high bioavailability can help improve neurocognitive function and mood among the elderly: Study –

Image: Curcumin extract with high bioavailability can help improve neurocognitive function and mood among the elderly: Study

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Curcumin is a flavonoid known for being a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It is the active component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), a medicinal herb and spice widely used to make Indian curry.

Due to its numerous health benefits, curcumin can now be found in various health supplements. Curcumin supplements are believed to help with the management of various symptoms, such as those of anxiety, depression and other chronic conditions like osteoarthritis.

In a recent study, researchers at Swinburne University in Australia investigated the effects of a highly bioavailable curcumin extract on the working memory, fatigue and stress levels of older adults. The supplement, which contained 80 mg of curcumin, was taken by the participants daily for a period of 12 weeks.

The researchers reported their findings in an article published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition. (Related: Evidence-backed reasons to begin supplementing with curcumin.)

The effects of curcumin on mood and cognitive function

In their previous study, the researchers assessed the benefits offered by the same curcumin supplement — administered for four weeks — in Australian adults aged 50 to 80. Curcumin isolated from the root of turmeric has poor bioavailability, meaning it is not easily absorbed by the body. In order to improve its absorbability, curcumin is usually combined with piperine from black pepper.

In contrast, the highly available curcumin extract used in both studies was made with patented technology that enables uptake of free curcumin into the bloodstream and target tissues. The technology also allows free curcumin to pass through the blood-brain barrier — a semi-permeable border made up of cells that protects the brain from harmful substances in the blood. As a result, curcumin was able to exert a direct influence on certain areas of the brain.

After four weeks of supplementation, the researchers reported that curcumin improved the working memory of the participants and reduced their fatigue and stress reactivity. To determine if supplementation for an extended period also offered the same benefits, they conducted a follow-up study using the same supplement and a matching placebo. This time, they administered the curcumin supplement to eighty participants daily for 12 weeks.

The researchers assessed outcomes on the fourth and 12th week of supplementation. The outcome measure they considered was cognitive performance with special focus on memory processes relevant to hippocampal function. They also asked the participants to undergo neuroimaging and measured their mood, cardiovascular function and blood biomarkers.

The researchers reported that, compared with the placebo, the participants that received curcumin showed a number of improvements. These included better working memory performance after 12 weeks, as determined by Serial Threes, Serial Sevens and their performance on a virtual Morris Water Maze. Curcumin also improved their performance on a pattern separation task, which measured how well they could transform highly similar sensory inputs into distinct, dissimilar representations. Pattern separation is believed to be used in episodic memory.

The researchers also reported that curcumin significantly lowered the fatigue scores of older adults, as evidenced by their Profile of Mood States (POMS) scores on the fourth and 12th week of supplementation. On the other hand, curcumin was only able to reduce their tension, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance on the fourth week. Blood biomarker levels did not differ between the curcumin and the placebo group.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that taking highly bioavailable curcumin supplements can improve aspects of mood and working memory in healthy older adults. They also noted that “[the] pattern of results is consistent with improvements in hippocampal function and may hold promise for alleviating cognitive decline in some populations.”

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Flavonoids from fruit can help protect you from viper venom –

Image: Flavonoids from fruit can help protect you from viper venom

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Flavonoids are active compounds produced by plants as part of their natural defense against microbial pathogens. In edible plants like vegetables, flavonoids serve as both pigments and regulators of their growth. Meanwhile in fruits and flowers, these useful compounds provide them with aroma and color. They also attract pollinators, eventually assisting in fruit dispersion, as well as seed and spore germination.

According to numerous studies, flavonoids pose a threat to bacteria, fungi and viruses, but they offer only benefits to animal and human cells. Today, flavonoids are extracted from plants to be used in nutraceuticals, medicines and even cosmetics. Some of the most notable health-promoting properties of flavonoids include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, anti-cancer and cardioprotective properties.

But in a recent study, researchers the Institute Butantan in Brazil found that flavonoids can also be used to treat poisonous snakebites. Specifically, they identified the flavonoid rutin, which is present in apples and buckwheat, as a promising treatment for envenomation by the lancehead pit viper (Bothrops jararaca). The venom from this viper is known to cause blood clotting problems, which can lead to fatal embolism.

The researchers discussed their findings in an article published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Get to know rutin, a compound that strengthens blood vessels

The chemical rutin is usually found in popular fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, bell peppers, chili peppers, blackberries, grapes, figs and black and green tea. In plants, rutin not only functions as part of their defense mechanisms, but it also helps filter ultraviolet rays and fixes nitrogen. Research has found that rutin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.

Despite the lack of guidelines for the use of rutin, it is a common medicinal component. Rutin is listed as an ingredient in more than 130 registered medicinal preparations. Among the many benefits offered by rutin, it is best known for boosting cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation, preventing blood clots and lowering blood cholesterol. Rutin also strengthens and increases the flexibility of blood vessels, thus improving overall health.

Another health benefit linked to rutin is pain relief, which scientists attribute to its ability to reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress.

Rutin can prevent thrombosis caused by B. jararaca snakebite

The lancehead pit viper is a highly venomous species endemic to South America. It is responsible for about 70 percent of snakebites reported in Sao Paolo. Although antivenoms are known to counteract the main effects of snakebites, they cannot treat secondary complications. In the case of B. jararaca envenomation, the victim becomes at risk of developing embolisms or suffering from a stroke due to the activity of the viper’s venom.

Inside the body, the venom produced by B. jararaca increases the activity of a protein known as platelet tissue factor. This protein is involved in blood clotting and is known to activate the formation of thrombin, an enzyme that can either promote or suppress coagulation. In the presence of a cut or wound, the affected tissue normally recruits platelet tissue factor to initiate the clotting process and stop the bleeding.

However, B. jararaca‘s venom activates platelet tissue factor even in the absence of tissue or blood vessel injury. This triggers the formation of blood clots, which can turn into embolisms that can clog blood vessels and lead to tissue necrosis or even stroke.

But in their study, the Brazilian researchers found that the flavonoid rubin can stop blood clotting induced by B. jararaca venom by stopping the activity of the enzyme protein disulfide isomerase (PDI). PDI is produced by platelets and damaged epithelial cells in order to activate platelet tissue factor and initiate the blood clotting process.

Because of this activity, the researchers believe that rubin from common plant-based foods is a promising natural medicine that can prevent secondary complications of snakebites, such as thrombosis.

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Lead in the water? It might be due to manganese –

Image: Lead in the water? It might be due to manganese

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Lead in the water is one of the most common reasons of heavy metal poisoning in children. This toxic substance ends up in drinking water when plumbing materials, such as old pipes, faucets and fixtures that contain lead corrode. Corrosion, or the wearing away of metal, can be caused by many factors, such as high water acidity, water temperature and the types and amounts of minerals present in the water.

One mineral, in particular, greatly influences the availability of lead in water that runs through lead pipes: manganese. According to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), this naturally occurring mineral serves as a catalyst for the conversion of lead carbonate into lead dioxide, a water-insoluble form of lead that can adversely affect the blood, bone marrow, nervous system and kidneys. This conversion occurs in the presence of chlorine, a known disinfectant commonly added to public water supplies.

The recent study detailing this event was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Manganese, a harmless mineral that contributes to a health risk

Manganese is a ubiquritous element that can be found in compounds in the soil, in small particles in water and in dust particles in the air. It also exists as a trace element in a variety of plant-based foods, such as nuts, legumes, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

As an essential nutrient, manganese is needed by the body as a cofactor (catalyst) for various enzymes, which are involved in the metabolism of glucose, carbohydrates, cholesterol and amino acids; antioxidant activity; bone formation, reproduction; and immune response. It also plays a role in blood clotting.

As it turns out, however, the presence of manganese in the environment, particularly in water, is not as beneficial to human health as its presence in dietary sources. According to WUSTL researchers, manganese accelerates the chemical reaction that increases the concentration of lead dioxide in water from lead pipes.

Lead dioxide does not occur naturally in nature. This is due to the lack of a strong oxidizing agent in the environment, says Daniel Giammar, a professor of environmental engineering at WUSTL and senior author of the study. But the addition of disinfectants — which happen to be good oxidizing agents — like chlorine allows lead oxide to exist in water. (Related: Natural remedies for lead poisoning: Cilantro, also known as coriander, naturally protects the liver and lowers lead concentration.)

Lead dioxide is produced when chlorine reacts with lead carbonate, the compound that forms the scales usually seen on lead pipes. Lead dioxide forms a dark-brown solid that does not dissolve in water alone. However, chemical reaction that produced lead dioxide occurs at a very slow rate.

Upon studying real-world water systems, Giammar and this team noticed that some pipes end up with lead dioxide on their inner surfaces, while others do not. They began to suspect that something else is dictating the availability of lead dioxide in these pipes.

Through lab experiments mimicking real-world water pipes, the researchers found that the amount of manganese in water is what influences the formation of lead dioxide. When manganese comes into contact with chlorine, they form manganese oxide. This product then speeds up the conversion of lead carbonate into lead dioxide by two orders of magnitude.

“The chlorine is still the reactant that’s driving the lead conversion, but the manganese oxide acts as a catalyst to make it faster,” Giammar said.

The team is excited to learn more about what other chemical reactions affect the rates of lead conversion and its availability in water. Understanding these, they believe, will have real implications on public health and the safety of water supply.

Long-term exposure to lead dioxide has serious consequences to human health. It can result in abdominal cramps, anemia, encephalopathy, kidney impairment and peripheral nerve disease. Lead dioxide also negatively affects reproduction and infant development.

Learn more about the dangers of lead at

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Naturally occurring molecule shows potential to treat patients with Parkinson’s –

Image: Naturally occurring molecule shows potential to treat patients with Parkinson’s

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According to the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) published in 2019, neurodegenerative diseases, which affect the structure and function of the central nervous system (CNS), are the largest cause of disability globally. Parkinson’s disease, the most common of these diseases next to Alzheimer’s, is a progressive movement disorder that remains without a cure.

But in a recent study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania reported a breakthrough: They found that N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a natural supplement widely used to boost antioxidant levels, has a positive effect on the dopaminergic system of Parkinson’s patients. Specifically, the amino acid increased dopamine levels and activity, both of which are considerably reduced by Parkinson’s disease.

Facts about Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder marked by barely noticeable tremors, stiffness or muscle rigidity and slowed movements at its onset. However, these symptoms gradually progress and worsen over time, leaving patients with balance and cognitive problems, as well as impaired motor function. In the U.S., about 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year, most of whom are males older than 50. Around four percent, however, are diagnosed before they reach that age.

Scientists have yet to uncover the real cause of Parkinson’s disease, although several factors are now known to contribute to its development. These include age, specific genetic mutations and exposure to certain toxins in the environment. Studies show that Parkinson’s results from the degeneration of certain nerve cells or brain neurons. These neurons produce a chemical messenger known as dopamine.

Dopamine is used by the body to send signals to the brain. These signals help control body movements as well as emotional responses. Dopamine is also said to influence concentration, learning, memory, sleep and even mood. Healthy levels of dopamine promote a person’s physical and mental well-being while low levels increase a person’s likelihood of developing medical conditions, such as depression and Parkinson’s.

An amino acid can help Parkinson’s patients

For their study, the researchers worked with 42 Parkinson’s patients, who they divided into two groups. The first group received oral (500 mg twice a day) and intravenous (50 mg/kg once a week) doses of NAC — the supplement form of the amino acid L-cysteine — for three months together with their Parkinson’s treatment. The second group, meanwhile, received only their standard treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers used the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) to assess the patients’ symptoms, including cognitive and motor functions. They also used a special brain scanning procedure, which can measure dopamine transporter binding, to determine the amount of neuron recovery in the basal ganglia — the brain area most affected by Parkinson’s disease. Evaluations took place before and after NAC treatment.

NAC is a natural product used by many to increase their glutathione levels. Glutathione is a well-known antioxidant produced by the body to combat oxidative stress. Previous studies have shown that aging, poor diet or chronic disease reduce glutathione production, contributing to oxidative stress. This is partly responsible for the destruction of dopamine-producing neurons. The loss of these neurons in the brain is what triggers the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

After three months of supplementation, the researchers found that NAC significantly improved symptoms of Parkinson’s. NAC also improved the patients’ mental and physical abilities, based on clinical evaluations. Compared with the other group, the NAC group showed significantly increased dopamine transporter binding in the caudate nucleus — the brain structure involved in memory storage and processing — and putamen, the structure involved in movement regulation. This means that NAC treatment increased dopamine production and activity in relevant brain regions.

“The results suggest NAC may positively affect the dopaminergic system in patients with PD [Parkinson’s disease], with corresponding positive clinical effects,” the researchers reported in their study.

NAC offers other benefits besides restoring glutathione levels and improving brain function. Learn more at

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Researchers find a new method of using bone marrow stem cells to reverse multiple sclerosis (MS) in animal subjects –

Image: Researchers find a new method of using bone marrow stem cells to reverse multiple sclerosis (MS) in animal subjects

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Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, is a type of treatment that harnesses the power of stem cells to promote the repair of diseased, dysfunctional or damaged tissue. Stem cells, which serve as the body’s raw materials, are the earliest form of all cells in the human body.

Prior to their maturation into specialized units (i.e., kidney cells, nerve cells, etc.), stem cells have an unlimited capacity for self-renewal, which makes them promising solutions to health conditions that require extensive healing. Besides cancer, other diseases for which stem cell therapy is used are autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative diseases.

In a recent study, researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, Shanghai Jia Tong University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona developed a cell-free therapy that makes use of exosomes produced by stem cells for the treatment of autoimmune and central nervous system (CNS) disorders.

They reported that this nanotherapeutic product was able to reduce symptoms in a mouse model of autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a type of inflammatory disease characterized by immune cells attacking healthy cells and tissue in the brain or spinal cord. The researchers discussed their findings in an article published in the journal ACS Nano.

What are autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases?

Autoimmune diseases refer to conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks organs or tissue because it fails to recognize them as parts of the body. Areas commonly affected by autoimmune attacks include the blood vessels, connective tissues, endocrine glands (e.g., thyroid or pancreas), joints, muscles, red blood cells or the skin. While the exact cause of immune malfunctioning is still unknown, there is evidence suggesting that some people are genetically predisposed to develop certain autoimmune disorders, such as Type 1 diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, Graves disease or ulcerative colitis.

Neurodegenerative diseases, on the other hand, arise from the progressive degeneration of cells that belong to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Unlike other cells in the body, nerve cells or neurons are incapable of reproducing or replacing themselves. Hence the loss of these cells has serious consequences, especially for the brain. Depending on the types of neurons affected, neurodegenerative diseases can lead to problems with either movement (ataxia) or cognition (dementia).

Cell-free nanotherapeutics for autoimmune and CNS disorders

According to Weian Zhao, an associate professor at UCI and senior author of the study, stem cell therapies for autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases often produce mixed results in clinical trials, partly due to a lack of understanding on the part of researchers about how these treatments are supposed to work.

Previously, stem cells harvested from the bone marrow of an individual and cultured in labs are directly injected into the veins as part of the therapy. Prior to injection, these cells, called mesenchymal cells (MSCs), are first activated with the immune protein, interferon-gamma (IFN-y), to ensure their efficacy and prevent stem cell differentiation.

However, these injected cells often fail to reach their target sites because they get trapped in filter organs. To circumvent this, Zhao and his team decided to extract nano-sized particles called exosomes from MSCs and inject them instead of whole cells into mice with EAE — a disease that closely resembles multiple sclerosis. (Related: Natural strategies to beat multiple sclerosis.)

These exosomes — extracellular vesicles secreted by cells — are not only able to pass through the blood-spinal cord barrier easily, they are also loaded with anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective RNAs and proteins, which the researchers hoped would be enough to address the symptoms of EAE. They reported that besides reducing the mean clinical scores of mice with EAE, the exosomes also decreased nerve damage by reducing inflammation and restored normal function to the animals’ immune systems.

“These results,” said the researchers in their report, “not only shed light on stem cell therapeutic mechanisms but also provide evidence that MSC-derived exosomes can potentially serve as cell-free therapies in creating a tolerogenic immune response to treat autoimmune and central nervous system disorders.”

Learn more about autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases at

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Study finds drug-resistant superbug Candida auris can spread through skin shedding –

Image: Shed and spread: Study finds drug-resistant superbug Candida auris can spread through skin shedding

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been warning the public about an emerging and potentially deadly superbug for years. Candida auris, a pathogenic fungus that belongs to the same family that causes candidiasis, has recently been causing severe illness in hospitalized patients in many countries, including the United States.

According to the CDC, C. auris is now considered a global health threat, and U.S. case counts are slowly but steadily increasing. On its website, the agency lists the fungus’s resistance to multiple anti-fungal drugs, its difficulty to identify with standard laboratory methods and its ability to cause outbreaks, particularly in healthcare settings, as the three main reasons why it poses a serious threat to public health.

At the annual conference of the American Society for Microbiology held in June 2019, Joseph Sexton, a microbiologist working for the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch, presented his team’s latest findings about C. auris. He reported that the fungus not only colonizes the skin of infected patients, but it also persists on surfaces. This finding sheds light on how the superbug has been causing nosocomial infections and why caseloads have been increasing.

“Our findings emphasize the importance of environmental cleaning and disinfection, including of high-touch surfaces like bed rails,” Sexton said.

What you should know about C. auris

Many people are familiar with the Candida species C. albicans, the most common culprit behind vaginal yeast infections and oral candidiasis (thrush). But while C. albicans can be easily controlled by over-the-counter or prescription drugs, these treatments typically don’t work against C. auris. The fungus is also hardy and highly transmittable, which is why it has earned the label “superbug.”

C. auris, like many of its cousins, can live on the skin of healthy humans without causing an infection or symptoms. However, for those who are vulnerable, such as hospitalized or immunocompromised patients, C. auris can be a deadly pathogen that causes severe illness. Common symptoms of infection include fever and chills, which can be easily mistaken as signs of other illnesses; hence the CDC recommends specific lab tests and identification procedures to confirm C. auris infection.

The CDC has been tracking the location and number of C. auris cases across the U.S. since 2018. Between 2018 and 2019, the caseload has more than doubled from 257 to 654. So far, C. auris infections have been confined in healthcare settings, particularly in hospitals and nursing homes. The fungus targets patients with weakened immune systems by infecting open wounds, their blood, brains, heart and ears.

According to the CDC’s records, the superbug has killed more than a third of patients with confirmed infections. As of April 14, case counts in the U.S. have reached 1,060. Sexton says that while cases are fewer in comparison to other outbreaks, C. auris still “presents a health concern because of its ability to cause large and persistent outbreaks.”

C. auris remains on surfaces that come into contact with infected patients

Sexton and his team’s study on C. auris was conducted in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Public Health. As per the CDC, Chicago is one the places in the U.S. with the most number of C. auris cases, along with New York City and New Jersey. The researchers collected 100 samples from a nursing facility in the area that, at the time, was going through a C. auris outbreak.

After analyzing samples from 28 of the 69 residents of that nursing home, the researchers found that those with high levels of the fungus on their skin also had high levels of it on their beds. All culture-positive bed samples belonged to those who tested 100 percent positive for C. auris, suggesting that infected patients shed the fungus through their skin. Even the beds used previously by infected patients also tested positive for the pathogenic fungus.

“These findings supported our hypothesis that patients are actively shedding C. auris cells into their environment,” said Sexton. “There was a clear relationship between the amount of C. auris on skin and the nearby environment.” (Related: Beat Candida and balance your gut health with these 20 anti-fungal foods.)

The researchers also found evidence that, apart from their beds, infected patients also left the fungus on windowsills, which they used as shelves. The fungus, they noted, was able to survive even on IV poles and medical equipment for weeks.

These findings emphasize the need for better and thorough decontamination procedures, especially in healthcare settings where C. auris infection is prevalent. To contain C. auris outbreaks and prevent further spreading of the superbug, infection control workers need to be more comprehensive in their cleaning procedures.

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