Friday, 29 April 2016

Will Gene Therapy Reverse Aging?

A woman in the USA has recently claimed to have cut 20 years off her biological age with the use of gene therapy, according to Nine News. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva, has used her organisation's own research to lengthen the short telomeres in her cells, which would leave her vulnerable to age-related disease if left alone. Telomeres are caps on the ends of our usually X-shaped DNA bunches, known as chromosomes, which usually shorten as the cell divides, contributing to the aging process as a cell cannot divide without this protection. A statement on Bioviva's website claims that tests were taken in March and independently verified by the Brussels-based HEALES. The Biogerontology Research Foundation in the UK claims that her white blood cells have become biologically younger. The first of the therapies she underwent was to protect against age-related muscle loss, the other was to fight stem cell depletion. However, no clear causal link between telomere length and longevity has been established, with the aging process having large inflammatory and hormonal (loss) involvements. Telomere length may be naturally maintained in the human heart, brain, retina, testes and ovaries, which are not invulnerable to aging, showing the presence of other factors. I have heard of "inflammaging" as a new word, but not telomeraging.

But do we really need something as high-tech as gene therapy to fight aging, even if telomere shortening is solely responsible for it? There may be more accessible options, which would not privilege the wealthy so much. A pilot study on 30 men with low-grade prostate cancer found that comprehensive lifestyle changes were associated with a significant increase in telomerase, the enzyme responsible for rebuilding telomeres. After 3 months, raw values of telomerase increased from 8.05 standard arbitrary units to 10.38 units. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (a type of immune cell) had telomerase activity, expressed as natural logarithims, increase from 2 to 2.22. These improvements were significantly associated with reductions in LDL cholesterol and psychological distress, a known enemy of telomere length. I am 22 and already get told that I look 3-5 years younger, partly because I don't let things get to me, instead I shake it off Taylor Swift-style. A general distaste for inflammatory substances helps too, as I'd rather feel good so I can actually do things for the day than feel like garbage after a few minutes of pleasure. Lifestyle interventions such as endurance exercise and meditation have been associated with a slowing or even reversal of telomere shortening, as shown by multiple studies in the link above. As for nutritional and herbal medicines, vitamin D (the "sunshine vitamin", hence the image on the right), astragalus, chlorella, St Mary's Thistle and resveratrol may protect and/or lengthen telomeres. Oestrogen and melatonin are two hormones that may also keep telomeres young. With oestrogen, we have been taught at college to upregulate the pathway that results in the less potent, safer 2-hydroxyoestrone, which suppresses levels of the stronger, harmful 16alpha-hydroxyoestrone. My method of choice is rosemary extract. These methods, which can cost nothing (lifestyle), can be grown by almost anyone (herbal medicines), or are already mass-produced (hormones) are more accessible than probably-expensive, patentable gene therapies. They and other studies as described in the GreenMedInfo link are also not an exhaustive list. What I want is antiaging and longevity solutions that are accessible to everyone and to be a millionaire; not for these to be restricted to the wealthy and to be a billionaire.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Cinnamon and Stem Cells

Researchers in Japan have recently discovered that a polyphenol found in cinnamon is able to improve wound healing by attracting mesenchymal stem cells to damaged tissue. The polyphenol in question is known as cinnamtannin B-1, which increased mobilisation of these cells by activating enzymes surrounding their membranes. Technically, the name for this is "chemotaxis", as much of cellular communication is through the use of chemicals. This study was performed on mice, and analysis of their blood showed that the stem cells were released from bone marrow in response to cinnamtannin B-1, while whole-body imaging showed that stem cells migrated to wounds treated with the polyphenol. 

Cinnamon sticks. Source: Sam Mugraby,
So how is this relevant to antiaging and longevity? Cinnamtannin B-1 was also able to improve wound healing in a mouse model of diabetes, an all-too common disease that is often described as accelerated aging. Wounds that fail to completely heal are an all-too common complication of diabetes, and unfortunately they frequently lead to gangrene and subsequent amputation. I know someone who has lost a toe to this, and it's not ever going to have an inspirational Oscar Pistorius without the murder ending. As anyone ages (biologically), wound healing ability declines, which is not a good look on anyone, so this study is relevant to everyone.
One important feature of this study is that it measured the effect of cinnamtannin on endogenous stem cells, meaning the stem cells produced by the mice' own bodies, not injected ones. Therefore, cinnamon extract in a herbal formula or cream may help to speed wound healing without requiring a stem cell clinic within affordable distance. Cinnamon extract is stocked in my college's dispensary, so as a widely available herbal medicine, research supporting its use is always relevant and welcome. It is commonly prescribed for blood sugar imbalances, as it may slow absorption of sugar into the blood, so it is already seen as a "diabetes/prediabetes herb". However, because of this study being on a specific substance in cinnamon, perhaps a standardised extract would be most helpful in wound healing. We already have these for ginkgo and St John's Wort, where an extract is formulated to contain a specific amount of one or more phytochemicals. It is possible to select plants that produce higher amounts of certain phytochemicals, and breed them to get the ideal levels. I would like to see trials on human participants, but this study is a good start.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Remembering on ANZAC Day

This is a photo I took this morning of the Dawn Service at Elephant Rock (Currumbin Beach, Queensland, Australia). Although I hate war, I still go to the dawn services because of my great-grandfather, Moreton Howe. He fought at the Battle of the Somme in WWI, and while he did survive, he was sent home after suffering from mustard gas poisoning. Mustard gas is a cytotoxic alkylating agent, which can cause either cell death or an increased risk of cancer or other mutations later one due to its DNA damaging properties. In the book Before My Helpless Sight, a nurse  responsible for treating soldiers with mustard gas burns in WWI comments that they were some of the hardest to treat, unable to be touched, most likely to be screaming in pain (this quote is on Wikipedia). I can see where the title comes from.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Do Wives Become Less Stressed After Losing Their Husbands?

The mainstream media seems to have taken a break from pressuring everyone to marry and reproduce, as a new study has been released suggesting that female widows are less likely to be stressed or frail than married women. These findings are in contrast to previous research suggesting protective effects of marriage, which are often later debunked by Bella DePaulo of Living Single. She has also written extensively on the healthcare discrimination often encountered by single people, which would explain the pro-marriage studies barring methodological flaws or outright prejudice from the authors.

Source: Usbkabel
In this new study, the results showed that while the health of male widows deteriorated, elderly widows were about 23% less likely to be classed as "frail" than married women of a similar age. There was a lower incidence of unintentional weight loss and low physical activity, and a lower incidence of exhaustion. It is most likely due to the fact that while men often gain a caregiver by marriage, women are left in a restrictive role due to the self-sacrifice expected of them. This is also the life I refuse to enter, regardless of how many people want to call me "selfish"; no, my life belongs to me regardless of how much I love someone (I can't love someone who takes my freedom, and I loathe gender roles).  These factors may also be behind research showing lower rates of depression among single women. Single women have also shown lower rates of anxiety, depression, and isolation, and higher rates of job satisfaction than single men. I would say that this is because men are trained from a young age to suppress all emotions and "not need anyone", which ironically makes them less independent because of fewer close relationships. The lesson is: gender roles harm everyone. I would also add the increased likelihood of performing "man's jobs", i.e. physical work, to the health benefits of being a single woman. It was also mentioned that single people are apparently less healthy due to higher alcohol and junk food consumption; from my experience that is completely untrue, at least among women. We can make good decisions for ourselves without being "monitored", thank you very much.

The main flaw in the study as mentioned by the Telegraph article is the higher educational level and economic status seen in the single women, which would improve health regardless of marriage due to greater knowledge and resources. As for myself, I would prefer a living-apart-together marriage, or at least having separate bedrooms, finances and friends. I do not tolerate power hierarchies in my space, which is likely to make an unwelcome appearance if one of us has a stronger personality and we have to share everything. And the best living arrangement for antiaging and longevity? Whatever is best for you as an individual, but without gender roles as self-care and physical work are required by everyone.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Ashwagandha and Your Relationships

Just recently, an article in BioMed Research International revealed the results of a study finding improvements in sexual function among women taking a concentrated extract of ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera (Life Extension, March 2016).

In this study, 50 women diagnosed with female sexual dysfunction received either 300mg of ashwagandha root extract or placebo twice daily for eight weeks. After these eight weeks, the women receiving ashwagandha experienced improved sexual function scores, which included scores for desire, satisfaction and pain. Improvements in sexual function do not just indicate physical health benefits, but may also improve mental and emotional health because of the positive effect on intimate relationships.

Weedy Withania. Source: Thamizhpparithi Maari
Ashwagandha is a very popular herbal medicine among naturopaths, and it is often the first to run out in the student clinic. This is despite the initial reluctance to teach student naturopaths about this and other Indian herbs as described by one of my teachers, because it wasn't a part of traditional Western herbal medicine. Which was silly, because cultures can and should be shared, and now there is no reluctance surrounding education about other cultures' traditional medicine as long as the herbal medicines used are available to us. Usually, we would prescribe ashwagandha as a tonic for those with debilitated immunity or very poor energy levels, particularly when there is also anaemia as it is an ingredient in FeMax, a popular iron tonic.

The authors of this study wrote that ashwagandha may reduce the effects of chronic stress, which includes immune suppression and lack of energy, by lowering levels of cortisol. This is the main stress hormone, and while it's great short term, or when its levels are in the healthy range and fitting the normal circadian rhythms, chronically elevated cortisol can reduce immunity, cause burnout and interfere with protein synthesis. Herein lies another potential strain on relationships: not feeling like yourself because of chronically elevated cortisol. Additionally, ashwagandha may also "offset androgen deficiency syndrome", which can affect sexual desire (androgen = male hormones). In men, this herb has been found to increase testosterone, which is needed for sexual desire in both men and women, among other aspects of health. Therefore, it could be another important herbal medicine to look at when treating menopausal weight gain and menopausal symptoms that involve declining protein synthesis, as I have described in another post. As we usually prescribe individualised herbal formulae of herbal medicines, a combination of ashwagandha and tribulus may be just the thing for many patients looking for antiaging and longevity solutions.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Vegetarianism Won't Kill You

Recently I found a round of news articles proclaiming that being vegetarian will kill you by increasing the risk of heart disease and cancer, along with the prerequisite fatalistic garbage saying that disease can't be prevented/"we're all going to die anyway". Once again, this is yet more sensationalised nonsense. I have already covered why coffee has health benefits, fermented soy and dairy can be beneficial, and why meat won't kill you either when cooked in a certain way, so now it is time to defend the vegetarian diet, which has benefitted many, just like the Paleo diet.

What this study was actually about was the presence of a genetic variation that has evolved in cultures that have eaten a plant-based diet over hundreds of generations. This includes members of East Asia, India and Africa; a different adaptation allowing for a seafood diet has been found in Greenland. The gene in question allows those who carry it to more efficiently process omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into their downstream substances, which are involved in processes such as brain development and inflammation control. How is this involved in heart disease and cancer risk? While omega-3 fatty acids can be transformed into anti-inflammatory substances, omega-6 fatty acids can be turned into pro-inflammatory products. As I describe in my book, inflammation has been found to be a key driver in the development of heart disease and cancer.

Vegetarian meal from Telugu cuisine
Vegetarian meal from Telugu cuisine. Source: PriyaBooks
The good news is that people with this gene can lower their risk of these diseases by increasing their dietary ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fats. The bad news is that in most people's diets, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is too low, often ten or more times lower than it should be. A healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is 1:2-3. Red meat is high in omega-6 fats, while fish is higher in omega-3 fats; hemp seed, flax and to a lesser extent, soy, are higher in omega-3 fats, while corn and sunflower oil are much higher in omega-6 fats. Staying closer to your ethnicity's traditional diet, as opposed to the "Western" corporate, cultureless garbage (that's you McDonalds) is also recommended. Of course, it's great to eat foods from other cultures (particularly the anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense ones), but respect your genetics: I wouldn't recommend eating mostly Krishna or Jainism-approved food if you are Inuit, and dairy is off-limits for some other ethnicities, for example. My German genes allow me to eat grains (gluten free only for me) and cheese, as the Swiss children documented by Weston Price did, but it isn't right for everyone.

Overall, this research only vindicates the work of Weston A. Price, but without the vegetarian-bashing. So is the vegetarian diet incompatible with antiaging and longevity? No, the "perfect diet" is individual and varied, not for mainstream media outlets or a government to decide.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Recent Recognition of the Importance of Testosterone

It's not just the Life Extension Foundation that recognises the need for women to keep their testosterone levels healthy! I found this in a mainstream newspaper published in Queensland, which reaffirms the importance of testosterone for a woman's physical and mental health, particularly how it relates to antiaging and longevity.

Friday, 15 April 2016

New Gluten-Free Beer Available in Germany

Image of entrance to Oktoberfest
Coming soon to Oktoberfest? Source: Usien.
Thanks to Australian scientists and farmers, German consumers now have access to gluten-free beer made from a new strain of barley, a breakthrough for manufacturers seeking alternatives to rice and sorghum. Approximately 70 tonnes of the new Kebari strain of barley have been sold to Germany’s largest brewer, Radeberger. Kebari barley is non-GMO, instead, it is the product of decades of breeding out gluten by cross-breeding low-gluten varieties of barley. Production of this new strain will be strictly controlled in Australia, in order to prevent any cross-contamination which could have negative effects on the health of coeliac or gluten sensitive consumers. Kebari barley only contains tiny amounts of gluten, but at 5 parts per million it is well below the WHO qualification of 20ppm. European beer drinkers have embraced gluten-free varieties more than other regions, with most growth in the sector coming from those who do not suffer from coeliac disease, although diagnosis of the condition has increased. Coeliac disease is largely genetic, with an estimated prevalence of 0.5-1% globally, and features an immune reaction to gluten that usually involves intestinal damage, rarely only symptoms involving other organs, or both. The majority of patients with coeliac disease will have damage to the small intestinal villi, which negatively affects nutrient absorption. Therefore, the need for gluten-free options, or foods with a gluten content low enough to not trigger a reaction, must be taken seriously as untreated coeliac disease can lead to increased risk of disease and higher mortality rates. Additionally, patients with certain other diseases, such as hepatitis B, may have a higher prevalence of coeliac disease, whether it is a cause or effect of these other conditions.

But what about those who have no reason to suspect coeliac disease, and are just eliminating gluten to maintain general health? Are they simply following a “fad” that will pass eventually and give way to another dietary “no-no”? There is a theory, in fact, that gluten may be bad for everyone. Some say that gluten is indigestible in humans, and that gluten sensitivity, where there is no damage to the intestines, may affect millions more than the 18 million already known. This is harder to diagnose, as patients could have anything from a list of around 100 symptoms, with varying degrees of similarity to coeliac disease. Some autoimmune diseases may be triggered by gluten intake, as similar antigens to those made by our bodies may “confuse” the immune system. Gluten has also been implicated in a range of neurological issues, particularly neuropathy and ataxia. For example, there has been an association made between gluten and schizophrenia, and there has also been evidence linking gluten to cerebellar degeneration in ataxia of “unknown cause”. Ataxia is the best description of my symptoms. In addition to gluten, the lectins, opioid-like compounds and high levels of aspartate and glutamate found in wheat may also cause damage, particularly to the nervous system. The lectins in wheat can cause intestinal damage and inflammation. Gliadomorphin, an opioid found in wheat, can activate brain opioid receptors and thus damage neurological function. Aspartate and glutamate are “non-essential” amino acids which stimulate the nervous system and can kill neurons by over-stimulation (excitotoxicity). Therefore, wheat may be the worst out of the several grains that contain gluten. While it has not been concluded that gluten is harmful to most, or all, people, mounting evidence that it can cause harm, along with the value of personal choice, mean that the production of gluten-free beer may benefit many of those who choose to consume alcohol (in moderation, of course).

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Finally! Medical Cannabis Legalised in Victoria

For the first time in decades, some people and their families in Australia will be the first to legally have access to medical cannabis. Laws passed in February of this year paved the way for legal, and therefore, safe access (due to the risk of spiking with other, harmful and more addictive drugs by greedy dealers) to medicinal cannabis products, with the state of Victoria being the first to reap the benefits.

Thankfully, children with severe epilepsy, which can kill or cause severe, permanent disability, will be the first to be allowed access in early 2017. The newly-legal herbal medicine will be rolled out gradually, in a range of forms such as tinctures, capsules, sprays and oils, beginning with a small, strictly monitored cultivation trial. While this is still very restrictive, as they say, freedom begets more freedom, and there are already plans for further liberalisation.

Perhaps the most famous case of this herbal medicine transforming the life of a child with epilepsy is that of Charlotte Figi. Before a low-THC, (and therefore non-psychoactive) high-CBD hemp oil, she was having seizures around twice in one hour, and was in hospice, basically a vegetable. Now 9, although she still cannot speak, Charlotte is able to walk, ride a bicycle and go to school, and only suffers two seizures a month on average. Her story has helped to change laws allowing access to similar high CBD strains in 17 US states, but not before triggering a rush of medical refugees to Colorado, where use of cannabis and hemp is much more liberal. I do not consider use of the term "refugee" to be diminishing the experience of those fleeing Syria or Iraq, as these children with epilepsy are also fighting for their own lives, and a life where they can actually do things and progress as opposed to remaining a vegetable.

While I support the use of scientific research, no one should be waiting for "more research" before this is available for anyone of any age or health status. Evidence-based practice is a combination of the best scientific evidence available, the patient's desires and the practitioner's experience. This includes "anecdotal evidence", and if something is producing such dramatic results without toxic side effects, because it is a natural medicine that is used for millennia and fits well into the body's own endocannabinoid system, it should be allowed. People are able to make good decisions for themselves without someone hovering over them, even though we often need professional assistance or a second opinion. I have found a small, older study showing that 7 of 8 epileptic participants received a significant benefit from taking cannabidiol (CBD), along with two surveys on hemp extracts for epilepsy that yielded positive responses in the vast majority of cases...and while I would not consider this to be enough in most cases, I am suspending that for a herbal extract with such dramatic anecdotal reports. Pharmaceutical anticonvulsants do have toxic, disabling side effects, and I will not insist upon their use to those who do not want them because a natural alternative has appeared. I do remember a teacher saying that, in a pinch, kava would be an "okay" substitute, but there are no other herbal medicines able to act on epilepsy in such a manner as cannabis or hemp. I am very happy for these Victorian children, and I wish everyone who is able to access natural cannabis/hemp all the best, and as little "moral"/pro-pharmaceutical handwringing as possible.

[Image of the Island Archway on The Great Ocean Road, Victoria: David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Menopausal Weight Gain Saga

Recently in the student clinic (8 weeks to go before I finish college!) I have been seeing a patient who I referred (to myself, this is a requirement) who has been complaining of what appears to be menopause-related weight gain. Unfortunately, the menopause/female reproductive health lectures in the theory subjects do not specifically address weight gain and basically ignore it, which makes actually treating it difficult, especially when there are no other menopause symptoms and your patient already exercises plenty.

So what did I do? First I suggested shatavari (Asparagus racemosa), alongside black cohosh (Cimicfuga racemosa). Black cohosh was accepted by the substitute supervisor (SS), but shatavari was not. Black cohosh is a selective modulator of oestrogen receptors, able to protect bone mass but not stimulate growth of the uterus or breasts, so it is a safe alternative to oestrogen replacement. Shatavari apparently only works if a woman still has some eggs left, good for perimenopausal but not postmenopausal women. I eventually replaced this with rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa) extract, as this is an adrenal tonic and the adrenal glands are responsible for almost all of a postmenopausal woman's sex hormones.

Tribulus terrestris
Tribulus terrestris. Source: JM Garg
First, however, I suggested tribulus (Tribulus terrestris) extract as a substitute. SS was not happy, as tribulus can increase testosterone levels because of the fact that it raises DHEA, which can convert to either male or female hormones. However, I may have been right to suggest something which can raise both oestrogen and testosterone. In one study on 75 women who previously had to have their ovaries removed, those who received 300ug patches of testosterone "unequivocally" showed significant improvement in sexual function, mood and general wellbeing. This demonstrates that women do lose significant amounts of testosterone after menopause, and that replacing it does have a positive effect. In another, obese women who were given low doses of synthetic testosterone lost more body fat, including abdominal fat, and gained more muscle mass than the placebo group women. After nine months, the women taking "testosterone" lost twice the amount of body fat and gained six pounds of muscle compared to the placebo group; both groups were on a low-kilojoule diet and did not change their exercise habits. SS may be of the older idea that testosterone is not important for women, and does not count menopause/aging as a disease. I will be quite happy if or when aging officially is a disease; it just wasn't something that negatively affected society when women and AFABs like me were able to be forced into motherhood to "replace" the older generation. [My one complaint about that article's argument is that it counts natural medicine as separate from "evidence based" medicine; we are evidence-based, and people prefer us because natural medicines are safer and more effective than our pharmaceutical counterparts.] 

I had also advised this patient to eat regularly, and I learnt today that caloric restriction of at least 50% can increase sex hormone binding globulin, which may be contributing to her weight gain. Depending on her results, this saga may continue as the treatment of menopausal weight gain is considerably overlooked for something that so many people want to address.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Switzerland Plans To Give Some Natural Therapies Equal Status

Recently, Switzerland's Interior Ministry has announced plans to give five disciplines of natural therapies equal status by May 2017 when it comes to health insurance. Homeopathy, holistic medicine, herbal medicine, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are the deservingly lucky five, which includes practitioners like myself, as naturopathy is a holistic form of medicine which involves herbal medicine and sometimes homeopathy.

Rima Karaki, though this is something I also say.
Of course, I find this to be fantastic news! I want equality; I want to be respected; I want to be taken seriously - both my degree and physical autonomy, as well as that of my patients and the specialty of antiaging and longevity. Herbal medicine has worked for me and so has homeopathy, no individual or group is able to erase these facts. Those of a more belittling nature (I do not even speak to these types - either there is mutual respect or the conversation is over) rejected these therapies in 2005 with the excuse of "no scientific proof" (that we bothered to read). However, scientific research in natural therapies has increased dramatically since then, taking off soon after those statements, and in 2009 two-thirds of Swiss people backed their inclusion on the constitutional list of paid health services. As a result of the vote, all five of these therapies have been covered by the compulsory basic health insurance as a trial from 2012-2017. In a statement released on Tuesday, the ministry said that it was "impossible" to prove that these are or are not effective in their entirety (like pharmaceutical medicine, which is obvious if you actually listen to people instead of treating them like children), therefore they will be treated the same as other medical disciplines. There is a consultation process open until June 2016, but things are looking positive for the professional and bodily autonomy of myself and countless others. Hopefully Australia will soon follow, but if this goes ahead and if Switzerland had beaches and warmer weather, I'd definitely move there. It would be a great step forward for everyone, including my discipline of naturopathy and the specialty of antiaging and longevity.