Archives for July 2011

Dentists Can Identify People With Undiagnosed Diabetes, Columbia Researchers Show

(NEW YORK, NY, July 14, 2011) – In a study, Identification of unrecognized diabetes and pre-diabetes in a dental setting, published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, researchers at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine found that dental visits represented a chance to intervene in the diabetes epidemic by identifying individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes who are unaware of their condition. The study sought to develop and evaluate an identification protocol for high blood sugar levels in dental patients and was supported by a research grant from Colgate-Palmolive. The authors report no potential financial or other conflicts.

“Periodontal disease is an early complication of diabetes, and about 70 percent of U.S. adults see a dentist at least once a year,” says Dr. Ira Lamster, dean of the College of Dental Medicine, and senior author on the paper. “Prior research focused on identification strategies relevant to medical settings. Oral healthcare settings have not been evaluated before, nor have the contributions of oral findings ever been tested prospectively.”

For this study, researchers recruited approximately 600 individuals visiting a dental clinic in Northern Manhattan who were 40-years-old or older (if non-Hispanic white) and 30-years-old or older (if Hispanic or non-white), and had never been told they have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Approximately 530 patients with at least one additional self-reported diabetes risk factor (family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, or overweight/obesity) received a periodontal examination and a fingerstick, point-of-care hemoglobin A1c test. In order for the investigators to assess and compare the performance of several potential identification protocols, patients returned for a fasting plasma glucose test, which indicates whether an individual has diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Researchers found that, in this at-risk dental population, a simple algorithm composed of only two dental parameters (number of missing teeth and percentage of deep periodontal pockets) was effective in identifying patients with unrecognized pre-diabetes or diabetes. The addition of the point-of-care A1c test was of significant value, further improving the performance of this algorithm.

“Early recognition of diabetes has been the focus of efforts from medical and public health colleagues for years, as early treatment of affected individuals can limit the development of many serious complications,” says Dr. Evanthia Lalla, an associate professor at the College of Dental Medicine, and the lead author on the paper. “Relatively simple lifestyle changes in pre-diabetic individuals can prevent progression to frank diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important,” she adds. “Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings.”

 

References

Lalla E, Kunzel C, Burkett S, Cheng B, Lamster IB. Identification of unrecognized diabetes and pre-diabetes in a dental setting. Journal of Dental Research 2011; 90: 855-860.

New Understanding Of Biomarkers Could Lead To Earlier Diagnosis Of Fatal Diseases

Scientists identify molecular differences between disease-indicating proteins and those which exist naturally:

A new research paper sheds light on the way antibodies distinguish between different but closely related ‘biomarkers’ – proteins which reveal information about the condition of the human body. This new understanding could enable pharmaceutical companies to develop new technologies for quickly diagnosing and treating fatal diseases.

All diseases have proteins, or concentrations of proteins, specifically linked to them called biomarkers. Identifying these can prove a powerful diagnostic tool. These biomarkers are detected by immunoassays – a test which mixes a substance (eg blood, urine) with antibodies, which bind to the protein if it is present. The antibodies can then be measured to identify the level of the biomarker, which in turn indicates the presence and extent of an illness.

Antibodies bind with high specificity to one protein molecule or a limited group of molecules (eg hormones), which is why we can use antibodies to test for specific biomarkers. Problems arise when they bind to groups of similar hormones that are associated with normal bodily changes. This leads to false positives and therefore unreliable information.

New research, carried out by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the University of Edinburgh and industrial partners from the UK (Mologic ltd), US (IBM’s Watson Research Center) and the Netherlands (Pepscan Presto BV), changes this. The research shows how different proteins are made up, and therefore how they can be identified reliably.

The highly sought solution is ‘intelligent selection’ of antibody-specific interaction sites on hormones that can differ from similar sites of other hormones by just one molecule.

The research focused on hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone produced during pregnancy. A subunit of hCG – hCGβ – is secreted by some cancers, meaning detection can give early warning of tumors.

hCG is very similar to other reproductive hormones, known as LH and FSH, which are always present in the body. Detecting hCG can be confused with these other hormones, leading to unreliable results.

The immunoassay antibodies bind to a tiny part of the hormone called an epitope. Hormones are made up of thousands of ‘building blocks’, with epitopes making up less than 10 of these blocks. The difference between hormones can be as little as one of these epitope blocks.

The research team took a variety of precise measurements of the hCG hormone, drawing on NPL’s world-leading measurement technology and expertise, which were supported by atomistic computer simulations.

The team showed how very subtle, atomic level characteristics define the antibody selectivity in closely related epitopes of different proteins. They identified that specific antibodies are highly selective in immunoassays and can distinguish between hCGβ and closely related LH fragments.

Understanding these structural differences explains the observed selectivity in the full hormones. Armed with this knowledge, scientists can develop intelligent epitope selection to achieve the required assay performance. This means reliable tests can be developed to indentify the presence of different hormones – in this case the presence of hCGβ which indicates cancer, as opposed to LH, which is always present.

The advances described in this research will enable development of further immunoassays to identify other biomarkers from similar groups. Pharmaceutical companies could use this to develop new technologies for diagnostics and clinical disease treatments, for example tests for tumour as part of routine screenings.

Max Ryadnov, Principal Research Scientist at the National Physical Laboratory, says “This work answers one of the big questions in distinguishing biomarkers which are critical for identifying and treating serious diseases. We hope this breakthrough will underpin the development of a range of new diagnostic techniques and treatment.”

Prof Paul Davis, Chief Scientific Officer of Mologic ltd – a UK diagnostic company that initiated the study, said: “It was a great collaborative effort, and it stands as a fine example of what can be achieved when motivated scientists work together openly across boundaries.”

 

Reference

Gregor CR, Cerasoli E, Schouten J, Ravi J, Slootstra J, Horgan A, et al. Antibody Recognition of a Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Epitope (hCG{beta}66-80) Depends on Local Structure Retained in the Free Peptide.  J Biol Chem. 2011; 286 (28): 25016-26.

Mass Psychosis In The US

Has America become a nation of psychotics? You would certainly think so, based on the explosion in the use of antipsychotic medications. In 2008, with over $14 billion in sales, antipsychotics became the single top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the United States, surpassing drugs used to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux.

Read More

 

 

In-Shell Pistachios: The Original ‘Slow Food?’

New research: In-shell pistachio consumption decreases calorie intake:

LOS ANGELES, July 14, 2011 – Two studies published in the current on-line issue of the journal Appetite indicate that consuming in-shell pistachios is a weight-wise approach to healthy snacking, offering unique mindful eating benefits to help curb consumption and decrease calorie intake.

The first study found that participants who consumed in-shell pistachios ate 41-percent fewer calories compared to those who consumed shelled pistachios. The second study revealed that pistachio nut shells can provide important “visual cues” as a reminder of consumption that translate into reduced calorie consumption. Both studies further underscore that in-shell pistachios, which are one of the lowest calorie nuts, are a practical, everyday snack for weight management.

“In-shell pistachios are the original ‘slow food.’ The findings of these studies demonstrate that pistachios, as one of the only in-shell snack nuts, help slow consumption; and further, that the empty shells offer a visual cue, reducing calorie intake,” said behavioral eating expert and study author, James Painter, Ph.D., R.D., Chair of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University. “In fact, the term ‘Pistachio Principle’ has been coined to describe a simple technique that can be used to help fool yourself full.”

In-Shell Pistachio Consumption Curbs Calories by 41-Percent Compared to Shelled Pistachios

The first study published in Appetite involved 140 university students assigned to consume either in-shell pistachios or shelled pistachios during class time. Both groups of students were provided a 16-ounce cup and asked to self-select a portion of pistachios to consume during class. Each student’s cup of pistachios was weighed before consumption began. As students left the classroom, the remaining pistachios were weighed and recorded; total weight and calories from the consumed pistachios was also calculated. Those who chose shelled pistachios consumed an average of 211 calories while those who chose in-shell pistachios consumed an average of 125 calories, a 41-percent decrease in calorie intake.

The second study published examined the potential role of pistachio shells as visual cues of intake. Study subjects included 118 faculty and staff from a Midwestern university, all of whom were provided a pre-weighed 16-ounce bowl filled with four ounces of in-shell pistachios to keep on their desk over the course of two workdays separated by a day of no pistachio consumption. Participants were told they could consume pistachios at their leisure during the day and were also provided a second 16-ounce bowl to discard the pistachio empty shells.

The subjects were randomized using a crossover design to one of two groups. For the first group, the bowls with pistachio shells were not emptied until the end of the day. For the second group, the bowls with pistachio shells were emptied every two hours. Pistachios were added in two-ounce increments if the amount in the bowl had been reduced to approximately half or less of the starting amount.

“When leftover pistachio shells remained on the desk throughout the day, calorie consumption of pistachios decreased by 22-percent compared to when nut shells were routinely removed,” said Painter. “Choosing in-shell pistachios instead of shelled nuts is a simple way to decrease calorie consumption without restriction. This is in keeping with existing research showing that when a person has visual cues of ‘leftovers,’ such as pistachio shells, they can see how many or how much they have eaten, helping to control portion size and consumption.”

Pistachios – “The Skinny Nut” – Support Weight Management

This new data reinforcing the mindful eating benefits of in-shell pistachios adds to the existing body of research supporting pistachio’s weight management benefits. According to researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, choosing to snack on pistachios rather than pretzels supports body mass index (BMI) goals. And research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that fat in pistachios may not be completely absorbed by the body, indicating that pistachios may actually contain fewer calories per serving than originally thought.

In addition to the data on pistachios, a recent study by researchers at Harvard University found that consumption of nuts, as well as vegetables, whole grains, fruits and yogurt, was inversely associated with weight gain with nuts exhibiting a (-).57 pound effect on body weight.

Pistachios are one of the lowest calorie nuts with 160 calories per 30 gram serving (approximately 1 ounce). They also offer the most nuts per serving, providing about 49 kernels per 30 gram serving (approximately 1 ounce), when compared to other popular snack nuts – comparatively, almonds have 23 in a serving, walnuts 14 halves and cashews, 18. Pistachios are also a good source of fiber and protein.

About PistachioHealth.com

PistachioHealth.com is the leading online source of information on the health and nutrition benefits of pistachios. The site is offered in nine languages and includes research updates and educational materials for both consumers and health professionals. “Like” PistachioHealth.com on Facebook and follow @pistachiohealth on Twitter. For more information about the health benefits of pistachios, visit: www.PistachioHealth.com.

 

References

Li Z, Song R, Nguyen C, Zerlin A, Karp H, Naowamondhol K, et al . Pistachio nuts reduce triglycerides and body weight by comparison to refined carbohydrate snack in obese subjects on a 12-week weight loss program. J Am Coll Nutr 2010;29 (3): 198-203.

Baer DJ, Gebaur SK, Novotny JA. Measured Energy Value of Pistachios in the Human Diet. Br J Nutr. 2011 Jun 28:1-6. [Epub ahead of print].

Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB.Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med 2011; 364 (25): 2392-404.

 

Dry Onion Skin Has A Use

The brown skin and external layers of the onions are rich in fiber and flavonoids. Photo: SINC.

More than 500,000 tonnes of onion waste are thrown away in the European Union each year. However, scientists say this could have a use as food ingredients. The brown skin and external layers are rich in fibre and flavonoids, while the discarded bulbs contain sulphurous compounds and fructans. All of these substances are beneficial to health.

Production of onion waste has risen over recent years in line with the growing demand for these bulbs. More than 500,000 tonnes of waste are generated in the European Union each year, above all in Spain, Holland and the United Kingdom, where it has become an environmental problem. The waste includes the dry brown skin, the outer layers, roots and stalks, as well as onions that are not big enough to be of commercial use, or onions that are damaged.

“One solution could be to use onion waste as a natural source of ingredients with high functional value, because this vegetable is rich in compounds that provide benefits for human health”, Vanesa Benítez, a researcher at the Department of Agricultural Chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain), tells SINC.

Benítez’s research group worked with scientists from Cranfield University (United Kingdom) to carry out laboratory experiments to identify the substances and possible uses of each part of the onion. The results have been published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.

According to the study, the brown skin could be used as a functional ingredient high in dietary fibre (principally the non-soluble type) and phenolic compounds, such as quercetin and other flavonoids (plant metabolites with medicinal properties). The two outer fleshy layers of the onion also contain fibre and flavonoids.

“Eating fibre reduces the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal complaints, colon cancer, type-2 diabetes and obesity”, the researcher points out.

Phenolic compounds, meanwhile, help to prevent coronary disease and have anti-carcinogenic properties. The high levels of these compounds in the dry skin and the outer layers of the bulbs also give them high antioxidant capacity.

Meanwhile, the researchers suggest using the internal parts and whole onions that are thrown away as a source of fructans and sulphurous compounds. Fructans are prebiotics, in other words they have beneficial health effects as they selectively stimulate the growth and activity of bacteria in the colon.

Sulphurous compounds reduce the accumulation of platelets, improving blood flow and cardiovascular health in general. They also have a positive effect on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory systems in mammals.

“The results show that it would be useful to separate the different parts of onions produced during the industrial process”, explains Benítez. “This would enable them to be used as a source of functional compounds to be added to other foodstuffs”.

 

Reference

Benítez V, Mollá E, Martín-Cabrejas MA, Aguilera Y, López-Andréu FJ, Cools K, Terry LA, Esteban RM. Characterization of industrial onion wastes (Allium cepa L.): dietary fibre and bioactive compounds. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2011; 66 (1): 48-57.

 

Latin American Blueberries Found To Be ‘Extreme Superfruits’

Scientists discover high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants in two species of neotropical blueberries:

One of the treats of summer—fresh, antioxidant-rich blueberries—has new competition for the title of “superfruit.”

But at least the contenders are keeping the title in the family.

Researchers have found that two species of wild blueberries native to the tropical regions of Central and South America—the New World tropics, or Neotropics—contain two to four times more antioxidants than the blueberries sold in U.S. markets.

This finding is the result of an analysis of the compounds contained in neotropical blueberries grown at The New York Botanical Garden.

The study was conducted by Professor Edward Kennelly, a biologist at Lehman College in the Bronx who is an expert in medicinal plants, and Paola Pedraza, Ph.D., a botanist at The New York Botanical Garden whose specialties include South American blueberry species.

“No one had looked at this,” Dr. Pedraza said. “The results are very promising.”

For their study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the scientists examined five species of neotropical blueberries. The two species that had the highest amounts of antioxidants were Cavendishia grandifolia and Anthopterus wardii.

“We consider these two species of neotropical blueberries to be extreme superfruits with great potential to benefit human health,” Dr. Kennelly said.

Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables have been associated with lower incidence of some chronic diseases and may help protect against heart disease, inflammatory ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even cancer.

Of the five neotropical blueberry species used in the study, four came from the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at The New York Botanical Garden. One came from the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Although these blueberries are wild species that are not currently commercially available, the scientists believe that they have the potential to become a popular food item or health supplement if their high antioxidant content becomes better known.

“I think it’s just a matter of time until people start working on making them more available,” Dr. Pedraza said.

More than 600 neotropical species are related to the “highbush” blueberries common to the American market. Several of them, including the two most promising species in Drs. Kennelly and Pedraza’s study, are native to the high-elevation forests of the Andes Mountains, one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world.

The discovery that these blueberries have potential benefits for humans underscores the importance of preserving Earth’s biodiversity, Pedraza said.

“There are so many things out there that could have an impact on our lives,” she said. “That’s why we should be worried about conservation in our country and in other countries because you never know when good things will come to light.”

Scientists Discover New Role For Vitamin C In The Eye — And The Brain

In a surprising finding, vitamin C is found to prolong proper functioning of retinal cells:

Portland, Ore. — Nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C in order to function properly — a surprising discovery that may mean vitamin C is required elsewhere in the brain for its proper functioning, according to a study by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“We found that cells in the retina need to be ‘bathed’ in relatively high doses of vitamin C, inside and out, to function properly,” said Henrique von Gersdorff, Ph.D., a senior scientist at OHSU’s Vollum Institute and a co-author of the study. “Because the retina is part of the central nervous system, this suggests there’s likely an important role for vitamin C throughout our brains, to a degree we had not realized before.”

The brain has special receptors, called GABA-type receptors, that help modulate the rapid communication between cells in the brain. GABA receptors in the brain act as an inhibitory “brake” on excitatory neurons in the brain. The OHSU researchers found that these GABA-type receptors in the retinal cells stopped functioning properly when vitamin C was removed.

Because retinal cells are a kind of very accessible brain cell, it’s likely that GABA receptors elsewhere in the brain also require vitamin C to function properly, von Gersdorff said. And because vitamin C is a major natural antioxidant, it may be that it essentially ‘preserves’ the receptors and cells from premature breakdown, von Gersdorff said.

The function of vitamin C in the brain is not well understood. In fact, when the human body is deprived of vitamin C, the vitamin stays in the brain longer than anyplace else in the body. “Perhaps the brain is the last place you want to lose vitamin C,” von Gersdorff said. The findings also may offer a clue as to why scurvy — which results from a severe lack of vitamin C — acts the way it does, von Gersdorff said. One of the common symptoms of scurvy is depression, and that may come from the lack of vitamin C in the brain.

The findings could have implications for other diseases, like glaucoma and epilepsy. Both conditions are caused by the dysfunction of nerve cells in the retina and brain that become over excited in part because GABA receptors may not be functioning properly.

“For example, maybe a vitamin C-rich diet could be neuroprotective for the retina — for people who are especially prone to glaucoma,” von Gersdorff said. “This is speculative and there is much to learn. But this research provides some important insights and will lead to the generation of new hypotheses and potential treatment strategies.”

Scientists and students in von Gerdorff’s lab in OHSU’s Vollum Institute are dedicated to basic neuroscience research. The vitamin C research work was done using goldfish retinas, which have the same overall biological structure as human retinas.

 

Reference

Calero CI, Vickers E, Moraga Cid G, Aguayo LG, von Gersdorff H, Calvo DJ.  Allosteric Modulation of Retinal GABA Receptors by Ascorbic Acid. J Neurosci 2011;31 (26): 9672-82.

Natural Chemical Found In Grapes May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that grape seed polyphenols—a natural antioxidant—may help prevent the development or delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The research, led by Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, The Saunder Family Professor in Neurology, and Professor of Psychiatry and Geriatrics and Adult Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was published online in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is the first study to evaluate the ability of grape-derived polyphenols to prevent the generation of a specific form of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide, a substance in the brain long known to cause the neurotoxicity associated with Alzheimer disease. In partnership with a team at the University of Minnesota led by Karen Hsiao Ashe, MD, PhD, Dr. Pasinetti and his collaborators administered grape seed polyphenolic extracts to mice genetically determined to develop memory deficits and Aβ neurotoxins similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease. They found that the brain content of the Aβ*56, a specific form of Aβ previously implicated in the promotion of Alzheimer’s disease memory loss, was substantially reduced after treatment.

Previous studies suggest that increased consumption of grape-derived polyphenols, whose content, for example, is very high in red wine, may protect against cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s. This new finding, showing a selective decrease in the neurotoxin Aβ*56 following grape-derived polyphenols treatment, corroborates those theories.

“Since naturally occurring polyphenols are also generally commercially available as nutritional supplements and have negligible adverse events even after prolonged periods of treatment, this new finding holds significant promise as a preventive method or treatment, and is being tested in translational studies in Alzheimer’s disease patients,” said Dr. Pasinetti.

The study authors emphasize that in order for grape-derived polyphenols to be effective, scientists need to identify a biomarker of disease that would pinpoint who is at high risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

“It will be critical to identify subjects who are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, so that we can initiate treatments very early and possibly even in asymptomatic patients,” said Dr. Pasinetti. “However, for Alzheimer’s disease patients who have already progressed into the initial stages of the disease, early intervention with this treatment might be beneficial as well. Our study implicating that these neurotoxins such as Aβ*56 in the brain are targeted by grape-derived polyphenols holds significant promise.”

This research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Giulio Pasinetti is a named inventor of a pending patent application filed by Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) related to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. In the event the pending or issued patent is licensed, Dr. Pasinetti would be entitled to a share of any proceeds MSSM receives from the licensee.

 

Reference

Liu P, Kemper LJ, Wang J, Zahs KR, Ashe KH, Pasinetti GM.  Grape Seed Polyphenolic Extract Specifically Decreases Aβ*56 in the Brains of Tg2576 Mice.  J Alzheimers Dis. 2011 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print].

Diesel Fumes Pose Risk to Heart as Well as Lungs, Study Shows

Tiny chemical particles emitted by diesel exhaust fumes could raise the risk of heart attacks, research has shown:

Scientists have found that ultrafine particles produced when diesel burns are harmful to blood vessels and can increase the chances of blood clots forming in arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

The research by the University of Edinburgh measured the impact of diesel exhaust fumes on healthy volunteers at levels that would be found in heavily polluted cities.

Scientists compared how people reacted to the gases found in diesel fumes – such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide – with those caused by the ultrafine chemical particles from exhausts.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, showed that the tiny particles, and not the gases, impaired the function of blood vessels that control how blood is channelled to the body’s organs.

The ‘invisible’ particles – less than a millionth of a metre wide – can be filtered out of exhaust emissions by fitting special particle traps to vehicles. Particle traps are already being fitted retrospectively to public transport vehicles in the US to minimise the potential effects of pollution.

The results are published in the European Heart Journal.

Dr Mark Miller, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: “While many people tend to think of the effects of air pollution in terms of damage to the lungs, there is strong evidence that it has an impact on the heart and blood vessels as well.

“Our research shows that while both gases and particles can affect our blood pressure, it is actually the miniscule chemical particles that are emitted by car exhausts that are really harmful.

“These particles produce highly reactive molecules called free radicals that can injure our blood vessels and lead to vascular disease

“We are now investigating which of the chemicals carried by these particles cause these harmful actions, so that in the future we can try and remove these chemicals, and prevent the health effects of vehicle emissions”

Researchers want environmental health measures that are designed to reduce emissions to be tested to determine whether they reduce the incidence of heart attacks.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is a major heart health issue and that’s why we’re funding this team in Edinburgh to continue their vital research. Their findings suggest that lives could be saved by cutting these harmful nanoparticles out of exhaust – perhaps by taking them out of the fuel, or making manufacturers add gadgets to their vehicles that can trap particles before they escape. The best approach isn’t clear yet.

“For now our advice remains the same – people with heart disease should avoid spending long periods outside in areas where traffic pollution is likely to be high, such as on or near busy roads.”

 

Reference

Mills NL, Miller MR, Lucking AJ, Beveridge J, Flint L, Boere AJ, et al. Combustion-derived nanoparticulate induces the adverse vascular effects of diesel exhaust inhalation. Eur Heart J. 2011 Jul 13. [Epub ahead of print]

Omega-3 Reduces Anxiety and Inflammation in Healthy Students

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study gauging the impact of consuming more fish oil showed a marked reduction both in inflammation and, surprisingly, in anxiety among a cohort of healthy young people.

The findings suggest that if young participants can get such improvements from specific dietary supplements, then the elderly and people at high risk for certain diseases might benefit even more.

The findings by a team of researchers at Ohio State University were just published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. It is the latest from more than three decades of research into links between psychological stress and immunity.

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have long been considered as positive additives to the diet. Earlier research suggested that the compounds might play a role in reducing the level of cytokines in the body, compounds that promote inflammation, and perhaps even reduce depression.

Psychological stress has repeatedly been shown to increase cytokine production so the researchers wondered if increasing omega-3 might mitigate that process, reducing inflammation.

To test their theory, they turned to a familiar group of research subjects – medical students. Some of the earliest work these scientists did showed that stress from important medical school tests lowered students’ immune status.

“We hypothesized that giving some students omega-3 supplements would decrease their production of proinflammatory cytokines, compared to other students who only received a placebo,” explained Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychology and psychiatry.

“We thought the omega-3 would reduce the stress-induced increase in cytokines that normally arose from nervousness over the tests.”

The team assembled a field of 68 first- and second-year medical students who volunteered for the clinical trial. The students were randomly divided into six groups, all of which were interviewed six times during the study. At each visit, blood samples were drawn from the students who also completed a battery of psychological surveys intended to gauge their levels of stress, anxiety or depression. The students also completed questionnaires about their diets during the previous weeks.

Half the students received omega-3 supplements while the other half were given placebo pills.

“The supplement was probably about four or five times the amount of fish oil you’d get from a daily serving of salmon, for example,” explained Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition and co-author in the study.

Part of the study, however, didn’t go according to plans.

Changes in the medical curriculum and the distribution of major tests throughout the year, rather than during a tense three-day period as was done in the past, removed much of the stress that medical students had shown in past studies.

“These students were not anxious. They weren’t really stressed. They were actually sleeping well throughout this period, so we didn’t get the stress effect we had expected,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.

But the psychological surveys clearly showed an important change in anxiety among the students: Those receiving the omega-3 showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety compared to the placebo group.

An analysis of the of the blood samples from the medical students showed similar important results.

“We took measurements of the cytokines in the blood serum, as well as measured the productivity of cells that produced two important cytokines, interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa),” said Ron Glaser, professor of molecular virology, immunology & medical genetics and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

“We saw a 14 percent reduction in the amounts of IL-6 among the students receiving the omega-3.” Since the cytokines foster inflammation, “anything we can do to reduce cytokines is a big plus in dealing with the overall health of people at risk for many diseases,” he said.

While inflammation is a natural immune response that helps the body heal, it also can play a harmful role in a host of diseases ranging from arthritis to heart disease to cancer.

While the study showed the positive impact omega-3 supplements can play in reducing both anxiety and inflammation, the researchers aren’t willing to recommend that the public start adding them to the daily diet.

“It may be too early to recommend a broad use of omega-3 supplements throughout the public, especially considering the cost and the limited supplies of fish needed to supply the oil,” Belury said. “People should just consider increasing their omega-3 through their diet.”

Some of the researchers, however, acknowledged that they take omega-3 supplements.

Also working on the research with Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser and Belury were William Malarkey, professor emeritus of internal medicine, and Rebecca Andridge, an assistant professor of public health.

The study was supported in part by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a part of the National Institutes of Health.