Thursday, 26 April 2018

Selenium May Extend Life in the Elderly

As life expectancy rises, largely from better living standards driving down deaths at younger ages, practitioners and patients around the world are wondering: what next? Reincarnation or not, you only get one life as you, and anyone who has ever lost someone they love knows that people are irreplaceable, so how can we continue enjoying a rising life expectancy? Many studies on disease prevention and mortality reduction focus on the "middle-aged" (40-something up to 60, or 65), but what about older adults? How do we improve both quality and length of life?

Selenium Reduces Mortality Rates

Source: THOR (CC:2.0)
This year, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging found that higher blood levels of the mineral selenium may be linked with a lower risk of death among adults over the age of 80. A total of 347 men and women, living in the Sirente region of Italy, had blood samples collected and tested for a range of factors that included selenium status. Over ten years, 248 died, and those with low levels of selenium were 29% less likely to survive the study period than volunteers with high levels. This was independent of age and other factors. 

How Does Selenium Work?

The major reason why selenium helps to fight aging and promote longevity is its role as an antioxidant. Other dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin C, must be "recharged" in order to work more than once, otherwise your requirements for these would be much higher. More powerful "master" antioxidants produced by our own bodies have this recharging as one of their responsibilities, which includes glutathione and thioredoxin. These in turn must be recharged by glutathione peroxidase and thioredoxin reductase, two enzymes that need selenium to function. Antioxidants protect cells and tissues against damage; if this damage is significant and unaddressed, it can create vicious cycles of inflammation and destruction.

Selenium can also help to prevent specific diseases. In the 1990s, a large controlled trial found that taking 200 micrograms of selenium over several years reduced the risk of prostate cancer by just over half, and lowered cancer mortality by 41%. It may have also prevented one-third of all cancers in the treated group, as well as halving the risk of colorectal cancer. Selenium can help to restore youthful immune function too, thus reducing the risk of another major cause of death: sepsis, an advanced stage of infection. If you are of an older age, and worried about the flu season or an impending surgery, it is probably worthwhile to supplement with selenium.

As selenium can be toxic in high doses, you must avoid taking more than 400 micrograms each day, and supplementation should be kept to a dose around 100-200 micrograms. Brazil nuts are one of the best food sources of selenium, but garlic, onions, leeks and broccoli florets are sources of a compound known as selenium-methylselenocysteine. This mouthful has less potential to be toxic than other forms of the mineral, and may be the most protective against cancer. All things considered, use of selenium may be one of the best things you can do for your health, particularly if you are older and prone to infections.



Thursday, 7 December 2017

Air Pollution May Contribute to Bone Loss

By now, we know that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths and many more cases of chronic illness around the world. As if the more commonly known list of problems associated with it wasn't enough, we can now add to that an increased risk of bone fractures and loss of bone density.

An analysis of Medicare beneficiaries in the USA set out to determine if air pollution, specifically levels of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), contributed to bone loss and fractures. In the areas they analysed, there were a total of 62 million people, 9.2 million of which were using Medicare. During the study period of 2003 to 2010, 763,630 of the Medicare beneficiaries were admitted to hospital with osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Each 4.18mcg/cubed metre increase in PM2.5 was associated with a 4.1% increased risk of osteoporotic fracture, when variables were controlled for. This may not seem like much, but 4.1% of a thousand people is 41. And for each of them, the risk of death rises by 10-20%, and most - 60% - will not fully regain their independence. They will need an unpaid family member, home carer or aged care centre. The same increase in PM2.5 was linked with a 0.08% drop in femoral neck bone density (the femur is the thigh bone) and a 0.06% drop in radius bone density per year.
A sunrise is much more beautiful when the air is clean.
Source: Sam311 (CC: 3.0).

This is not the first time that air pollution has been linked to bone fractures, at least in non-smokers. A previous study on almost six hundred men in their 70s found that long-term exposure to higher levels of both PM2.5 and PM10 (10 microns or less in size) was linked to lower total bone mineral density. In others, women living in urban areas had a 29% greater risk of forearm fracture compared to women in rural regions. Some cities in other countries are far more polluted than anywhere in the northeast mid-Atlantic region where the above study was conducted. What their levels of air pollution must be doing to bone health is most likely shocking. The reason why PM pollution has so many harmful effects is because it causes inflammation and oxidative stress, much like smoking.

There are of course more types of pollutants than particulate matter, which may also reduce bone mineral density. These include carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. A study in Taiwan compared data from the country's Environmental Protection Agency and their health insurance research database, to see if there was a relationship between these pollutants and osteoporosis. They divided concentrations of air pollution into quarters for the analysis. Compared to the lowest quarter (Q1) for carbon monoxide, those living in Q2, Q3 and Q4 were at a 5%, 78% and 84% greater risk for osteoporosis respectively. As for nitrogen dioxide, those in Q2, Q3 and Q4 were at 35%, 24% and 60% higher risks compared to Q1.

It may sound terrible, but we have more than just hope. In 2015, half a million solar panels were installed around the world every day, and four wind turbines were installed each hour. With the growth of solar energy, it would be more than half a million now. Twenty-three percent of the world's electricity came from renewables that year, which would be a little higher now, particularly as clean renewables make up the majority of new capacity installed. Although it is only one factor contributing to healthy bones, it's all the more reason to help protect the environment in any way you can - when you reach your 80s, which would you prefer? Looking forward to more years of a great life, or sitting in an institution without much time?

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Vitamin E Deficiency is Disastrous for the Brain

Many would try to tell you that aging is to be celebrated, not feared, but with cognitive decline and clinical pathologies such as dementia being so common among those in their 70s, 80s and beyond, you'd wonder what they're talking about. Unfortunately, a century of dominance by the pharmaceutical industry has kept most people away from real health advice, such as the best ways to prevent neurological aging and correct nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin E and its importance are no exception.

Vitamin E is often added to skincare products.
Source: Lightsnlather (CC:3.0)
A shockingly high 90% of men and 96% of women in the USA have an inadequate intake of vitamin E (I am not too optimistic about Australians either). It is sadly unknown to the general population that vitamin E deficiency also puts us at a higher risk for Alzheimer's Disease; although we fear this illness for valid reasons, we have been told that diet doesn't matter. However, researchers at Oregon State University have found that vitamin E aids the transportation of DHA to the brain. DHA is one of the omega-3 fats found in fish oil, which we also produce from essential fatty acids, and is known to assist in the prevention and even relief from a range of neurological issues.

The liver uses vitamin E to produce substances known as lyso PIs, which not only transport DHA to the brain, but also stay around to help repair brain cell membranes! With vitamin E deficiency, the level of lyso PIs in the brain is 60% lower, setting a course for disaster. Within the term "vitamin E", there are also eight different types: four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols, each with the prefix alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-. Most research has focused on alpha-tocopherol, but research has shown that gamma-tocopherol and beta-tocotrienol are the most important for memory, as well as the total blood tocotrienol levels.

Food sources of vitamin E include hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seed kernels, peanuts and cranberries, but supplementation is often called for in chronic illnesses. Research described by the Linus Pauling Institute describes mixed results with vitamin E supplementation, but this includes many successes. Two of these include significantly slower disease progression and improved survival in patients with Alzheimer's disease, and improved cognitive performance when the supplementation reduced oxidative stress. As the latter only reported benefit when oxidative stress as a whole was lowered, the question is not "does vitamin E work?" but "what other factors should have been addressed when supplementation failed?" They also only regard alpha-tocopherol as "evidence-based" enough, but with the results of the above research, we need a more holistic perspective. Yes, as the LPI writes, vitamin E aids immunity and prevents oxidative stress, but for it to perform at its best we need other nutrients, such as DHA.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Macular Degeneration Is Declining

A loss of independence as one gets older is a common and very valid fear. But when we care for older relatives or work in aged care, it isn't always easy to see the statistical improvements in health and longevity. One of these statistical improvements is a drastic decline in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition which can be very damaging to our personal and loved ones' freedom and independence.

Simulation of AMD.
A cohort study in a Wisconsin town, published on the 16th of November 2017, set out to determine whether or not the risk for AMD had continued to decline among successive generations. Data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study and Beaver Dam Offspring Study, including a total of 4,819 participants, was analysed to compare the 5-year risk of developing AMD across several generations. All of this was adjusted for age and sex, as the risk of AMD rises as one gets older. The generation with the highest prevalence of AMD was the Greatest Generation, born from 1901 to 1924, at 8.8%. The Silent Generation, born from 1925 to 1945, had a 3% prevalence of AMD. There was an AMD rate of 1% among Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964. They and later generations are often criticised for being youth-obsessed, despite the fact that it is obviously reducing their risk of age-related diseases. The generation with the lowest risk is Generation X, who were born between 1965 and 1984, and had an AMD prevalence of only 0.3%. Each generation had a 60% lower risk of developing the condition, after adjustment for age, sex, smoking status, education, exercise, cholesterol, CRP (an inflammatory marker), and use of multivitamins, statins and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

This decline in AMD risk is consistent with study results seen in Europe, and the drop in cardiovascular deaths and dementia. Although conventional medicine use and conservative lifestyle interventions did not have significant effects on AMD, perhaps these improvements are due to greater awareness of natural health and functional foods. In a laboratory study on turmeric extract, the medicinal spice was found to have a dose-dependent protective effect on retinal cells against blue light irradiation. It was able to significantly reduce oxidative damage and the expression of genes involved in apoptosis, which is the process of "cell suicide" initiated in normal cells when they become too damaged. Overall, the results of this cohort study, along with all the research on how to prevent AMD, mean that we have one more reason to embrace a longer life expectancy.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Smoking Alters the Expression of Your DNA

For decades, society has been aware of the dangers of smoking, and more people are quitting the toxic habit every year. For those who haven't already, here's one more reason to quit, and one reason why it causes cancer: smoking can change the expression of certain genes, affecting both you and your children (if you want to have them).

It's a new day.
Epigenetics refers to how a wide range of factors "change" genes by affecting their expression, but without altering the basic code. They are either substances or triggers for the production of substances that attach to genes, turning them on or off. Sometimes, they can even affect future generations, despite these children having no contact with the original expression-altering factor. Negative factors shorten life, speed aging and promote disease, while positive triggers do the opposite. This is now known to be one reason why smoking is so damaging to the body, causing problems including lung cancer; stroke; cardiovascular disease; infertility and diabetic neuropathy. Cigarettes contain over 700 mostly dangerous chemicals, and half of all smokers die as a result of their habit. Second hand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease by 30%, so smokers are not just hurting themselves.

For this study, researchers exposed lung cells to a quantity of cigarette smoke equal to someone smoking one or two packs a day. They found a 2-4 times higher than normal level of an enzyme that suppresses or damages gene expression after three months - and if the genes with suppressed expression were genes that prevented cancer, the consequences could be catastrophic. Surely enough, within the first year to 15 months, researchers found that some of the hundreds of suppressed genes were anti-cancer genes. However, if you do quit smoking, your risk of heart disease halves after one year, among other life-extending benefits.

How powerful are external, modifiable factors on our genes? Well, research has found that even the smallest diet changes are able to change gene expression. In this case, the genes affected by these changes affect circadian rhythm; a well-balanced circadian rhythm helps to guard against inflammation, cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Perhaps it is controversial, but even the genetic disorder Huntington's Disease may be at least somewhat controllable by natural epigenetic means. Oxidative stress plays a large role in disease progression, and the resulting loss of glutathione causes a shortage of the amino acid methionine, which is required for the methylation function that suppresses the abnormal gene. Genes are not destiny, and we are only just discovering how much this is the case.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Dancing as an Anti-Aging Therapy

Two common beliefs around health and aging are that 1) we cannot reverse the physical decline that is "supposed" to come with living longer and 2) any form of therapy, or anything with health benefits, must be unpleasant. However, a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrates the opposite to be true in both cases.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and based in Germany. Volunteers with an average age of 68 were assigned to 18 months of dance lessons or endurance and flexibility training. As expected, both groups showed an increased volume of the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, learning and balance. This area of the brain can be particularly vulnerable to age-related decline, even more so in the case of Alzheimer's disease. Even though it has been established that exercise can slow and reverse age-related neurological decline, whether or not certain types of exercise are better than others has still been unclear. Because of this, the endurance and flexibility group were given routines consisting of repetitive movements, such as cycling, and the dance group had something new each week.

Source: Abro22 (CC:4.0)
Volunteers in the dance group were instructed in a range of genres, such as line dancing and Latin American dance. Steps, formations and music were changed every second week. They were constantly learning, and had to recall dance choreographies under the pressure of time and without any help from the teacher. Only dancing caused noticeable improvements in balance, and some areas of the hippocampus only regenerated in the dancers. The superior results are most likely caused by the combination of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

This is not the first time that dancing has been shown to exert anti-aging effects. Another study of 34 people with an average age of 80 aimed to test the effects of dancing on walking speed and pain in the knees and hips. Participants were assigned to either two 45-minutes dance lessons a week, or a control group. After 12 weeks, those who danced had less pain and were able to walk faster, which has significant implications for health and longevity. As the researchers stated, even walking just a little faster can help with crossing the road or walking to different rooms, keeping people independent and maintaining self-esteem. Longevity is for everyone, and does not need to be unpleasant or expensive.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Going Organic Benefits Everyone

Usually when we start eating organic food, it's for our own health, and often also the health of a future baby. However, adoption of an organic diet can benefit people we don't even know, such as those working in the agricultural industry.

Source: Walter Baxter (CC: 2.0)
As part of the Agricultural Health Study, researchers tested 1,234 men who worked with pesticides on farms or other environments. They all filled out extensive surveys on what pesticides they had used throughout their working lives, and how frequently. A total of 48 pesticides, including the now-illegal DDT, were included on the list. Researches also collected cheek swabs, containing old cells, from the inside of their mouths in order to analyse these for telomere length. The more often the men used pesticides, the shorter their telomeres were. Some pesticides were more strongly associated with telomere shortening than others, including DDT, alachlor (sold under names such as Crop Star), permethrin (known as Nix, among others) and toxaphene.

Telomeres are an important marker for aging, as they shorten with each division without the aid of telomerase, and if they get too small the cell can no longer replace itself and the tissue deteriorates.
Some people think that longer telomeres mean a greater cancer risk, but this is an excessively reductionistic idea, as the worst seven pesticides for telomere shortening are linked with the greatest cancer risk. For example, alachlor is linked with a higher risk of lymphatic cancer, and chlorpyrifos is linked with a greater brain cancer risk. Even children of farming families can have higher risks of developing cancer!

Increasing adoption of an organic diet may shift the availability of agricultural work to safer jobs, or change the nature of the work to something that won't poison business owners and employees. While chronic illnesses are the result of years of personal or familial exposure, it doesn't always take long to begin clearing pesticides from the body. In a small study of thirteen people, just one week of eating an at least 80% organic diet resulted in an 89% reduction in the level of urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites. Of course, some types of pesticides and other chemicals may take longer to be cleared from the body, but this does show how rapidly things can start to improve. Overall, going organic is the right choice for the health of humanity and the world, not just the individual, but it will take a major shift for everyone to reap the full benefits.