New Research in Alzheimer’s Disease

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Folate and B12 may help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Folate and vitamin B12 may be linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, new research shows. Low blood levels of the vitamins and elevated homocysteine levels are associated with the disease, according to British researchers who published the study in 1998 in the Archives of Neurology.

Homocysteine is an amino acid commonly found in high amounts in Alzheimer’s patients. The case-control study involved 164 patients with a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s-type dementia.

Wine may be a brain tonic

A glass and a half of wine daily may help prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, research in the British journal New Scientist shows.

A team of Italian researchers at Milan University found that reservatrol, a chemical found in grapes and wine, triggers a sevenfold increase in the activity and effectiveness of an enzyme that stimulates and regenerates nerve cells.

Reservatrol also helps brain cells grow small extensions through which they may be able to connect with neighboring cells, according to lead researcher Alberto Bertelli, Ph.D., in a Reuters interview. This construction reactivates the ability of the elderly to remember, he says.

Folate facts

Folate is a generic reference to the B-complex vitamin that boasts heart-healthy benefits. The form of folate used in vitamin supplements and fortified foods such as ­cereals is known as folic acid, the most oxidized, stable form of folate, according to the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences whose researchers advise the federal government. Folic acid rarely occurs in foods; fruits and vegetables contain folate, which isn’t as well absorbed by the body as folic acid.

In January of 1998, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration required that more folic acid be added to cereals, enriched breads, flours, rice, grits, and other grain products in hopes of reducing the annual number of cases of birth defects. The recommended daily intake is 400 mg for adults.

Arthritis relief from ­vitamin E

Vitamin E may help ease arthritis pain with its mild analgesic effect, research shows.

In a double-blind, randomized study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, forty-two patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given 600 mg of vitamin E or a placebo twice daily for twelve weeks. Inflammation was not affected by the treatment, but pain was reduced by a small but significant amount

Fish oil

Inflammation-fighter from the sea

These days, the dietary availability of omega-3 fatty acids in the United States is only 20 percent of what it was a century ago. This precipitous plunge is cause for concern. Why? Simply because many cellular chemical signals are dependent on these fatty acids.

Remember these numbers: 3 and 6

One role of omega oils is to control the level of prostaglandins, active hormonelike substances that regulate almost every bodily function, including the work of the heart and kidneys, the constriction of blood vessels, healing and repair, immune function, allergy defense, digestion, inflammation, menstrual cramps, body temperature, and pressure in the eyes, ears, and joints.

There are three important classes of prostaglandins. Each is made from different fatty acids and is influenced almost entirely by our diet.

Those in the first class, Class 1, quell inflammation, and are derived from a fatty acid called dihomogammalinolenic acid (DGLA). This is found in only one substance known to humankind: mother’s milk. However, our body can make its own DGLA from gammalinolenic acid (GLA), a healthy omega-6 fatty acid. In turn, our bodies can make GLA from linoleic acid, which is found in nuts and seeds. Many women’s reproductive problems are triggered or worsened by a single deficiency in GLA or DGLA and the resulting deficiency in Class 1 prostaglandins.

Class 2 prostaglandins promote inflammation. Our bodies make them from meat or vegetable oils that contain omega-6 fatty acids. An overabundance of unhealthy omega-6 oils permeates the typical American diet–in certain vegetable oils such as corn and safflower and in saturated fat.

Class 3 prostaglandins, like those in Class 1, are anti-inflammatory agents. They’re derived exclusively from omega-3 fatty acids, which primarily come from fish oils.

Our body needs all three classes, but it needs them in a proper balance. Too many Class 2 prostaglandins–fueled by an unhealthy diet–may be a key factor in many chronic inflammatory illnesses. For example, in a study conducted in 1970, eight monkeys were placed on a laboratory diet with every essential nutrient and only one fat–corn oil, an oil commonly found in the American diet that is often used to deep-fry fast foods. Within two years, the monkeys all became sick and developed patchy hair loss. Two suffered from severe intestinal inflammation, two began to gnaw obsessively at their own bodies, and four died.

Finding good fats

Two important forms of omega-3 fatty acids come in fatty fish such as salmon (but not lox) and mackerel. These fatty acids are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Other healthy fish, such as flounder, sole, and halibut aren’t high in omega-3s. Symptoms of EPA and DHA deficiency often include allergies, inflammation, and dry skin. Prolonged deficiencies may lead to serious autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

Our bodies can also make EPA from the oil in flaxseed, which is good news for vegetarians. If your diet is high in nuts, seeds, and flaxseed oil but you still suffer from inflammatory disease, consult your nutritionist about eating fish and taking fish oil capsules.

How much should I take?

For general health, try two to three 6-oz. servings of fish per week, or 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil daily in salad dressing. Higher doses may be required to reverse some conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, PMS, asthma, eczema, and seborrhea. These ailments may require 3,000 to 4,000 mg daily of a fish oil formulation containing at least 500 mg of EPA, 310 mg of DHA, and 190 mg of other omega-3 fatty acids. 8

Adapted from The Nutraceutical Revolution (1998) by Richard Firshein, D.O., with permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam.

FIsh oil findings

Omega-3 might make you happier

In a groundbreaking new study, Harvard researchers have found a relationship between fatty acids and mental health.

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids improved symptoms of manic depression in nine out of fourteen patients after four months, compared with three out of fourteen on a placebo. British researchers have found similar improvements in patients with schizophrenia.

Other studies link depression to the amount of fish in the diet. Around the world, depression rates drop as fish consumption rises, research shows. The Japanese, who eat the most fish, are the least depressed. Reason: The omega-3 fat in fish may manipulate brain chemicals in ways that boost mood.

Fish oil may reduce breast cancer risk

Combining a low-fat diet with fish oil supplements may reduce the risk of breast cancer by altering the type of fatty acids in breast tissue, according to a study reported in 1997 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The three-month study involved twenty-five women aged twenty-nine to sixty-two who previously had breast cancer. The women reduced their dietary fat intake to 15 percent of total calories and took ten 1,000-mg capsules of fish oil daily. The results showed that the amount of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats increased relative to the omega-6 fatty acids in plasma and breast adipose tissue. The women also took 800 IU of vitamin E daily because the requirement for the vitamin increases as intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids increases.

Researchers wrote in the study that the fatty acid composition of breast tissue, including tumors, has been shown to depend on dietary intake of fatty acids. North American women, whose diets consist largely of the omega-6 acids found in corn and safflower oil, have a higher risk of breast cancer than Japanese women who consume a diet lower in fat and rich in omega-3 fish oil.

Fish oil may fight heart disease

Fish oil may reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, according to research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

To reap the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids, however, researchers found that individuals must consume 6 to 15 g of fish oil daily–about one to three pounds of fish. Because this is an unrealistic amount of fish to eat in one day, researchers suggest taking supplements.


Protecting the digestive tract

Probiotics produce enzymes that help us ­digest our food. They are even responsible for manu­facturing B ­vitamins in the process of metabolizing ­nutrients. By ­cleaning up the gastrointestinal tract, probiotic supplements reduce symptoms such as bad breath, gas, and diarrhea that stem from digestive problems. They also treat more serious conditions such as vaginal and yeast infections, and even some food allergies. Some research, published in journals such as Immunopharmacology and Immuno­toxicology and the International Journal of Immunotherapy, shows that probiotics may bolster our immune system.

Good and evil in the gut

Most of the microorganisms in our bodies coexist in the intestines, which contain more bacteria than there are cells in the body. Maintaining many diverse types of bacteria is important, so that one particularly noxious strain cannot take control of the gut or one particularly beneficial strain cannot be singled out for damage.

At birth, the human intestine is sterile. Upon delivery, however, the intestinal tract becomes colonized; its initial dose of bacteria is picked up as a baby passes through its mother’s birth canal and inhales all the microbial inhabitants through its tiny, screaming mouth. A substance that protects against bacterial infection, lactoferrin, is then transferred from mother to child during breast-feeding.

Harmful bacteria can saturate the intestine in severe situations, seeping through the intestinal lining to cause disease or overstimulate the immune system. One bacterium in particular has gotten a lot of bad press as a dangerous one to watch: Helicobacter pylori. In humans and animals alike this pathogen causes ulcers, which can lead to serious disease. Salmonella is another infamous bacterium often found in infected chickens. But perhaps the most feared strain of bacteria is Escherichia coli, which can contaminate red meat.

Probiotics, however, are a group of gut-friendly bacteria. They’re also known as lactic acid bacteria, so-called because when they ferment sugar to make food for themselves, they produce lactic acid. They make up a small subsection of the vast spectrum of microorganisms occupying our intestines.

Here’s your guide to the best and brightest of the probiotic team:

Lactobacillus acidophilus: The best-known and most extensively researched of all healthy bacteria, this strain is so common in probiotic supplements that other types of microorganisms are often described by this name. It’s the most abundant bacterium in the small intestine and probably the most effective. It inhibits the actions of pathogenic bacteria and produces its own natural antibiotics, such as lactocidin and acidophilin, to blast harmful organisms out of the digestive system.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus: A hardy, ever-abundant little microorganism, L. rhamnosus resists the caustic bile salts sloshing through the gut and adheres to the intestinal lining. As it colonizes, L. rhamnosus protects the intestinal tract from the invasion of harmful bacteria. Studies suggest that this bacterium decreases the severity of symptoms such as intestinal inflammation and sensitivity due to food allergy and eczema. It also produces the enzyme lactase, and may thus reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance such as gas, bloating, and bad breath.

Lactobacillus casei: A close relative of L. acidophilus, this bacteria’s greatest claim to fame is that it activates white blood cells and secretes a substance called peptidoglycan, that enhances our immune systems.

Lactobacillus bulgaricus: L. bulgaricus moves around in the intestinal tract and plays a key supportive role in the bacterial drama unfolding in the gut. It’s most famous as one of the two main active cultures in yogurt. The main dangerous bacteria it fights are Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Shigella, and H. pylori.

Streptococcus thermophilus: Another strain found in yogurt, this bacteria is also thought to alleviate lactose intolerance problems because it produces lactase.

Bifidobacterium bifidum: Bifidobacteria are among the most populous lactic-acid bacteria in the human intestinal tract. B. bifidum in particular prefers the mucous membranes of the large intestines and vaginal tract. This strain of bacteria staunchly protects the gut from harmful invading organisms by crowding them out and depriving them of the nutrients they need to survive. Another of its sly tactics: producing both lactic and acetic acid, which lower the intestinal pH and keep pathogens from growing.

Bifidobacterium longum: Concentrated primarily in the large intestine, it acts much like B. bifidum, its bacterial cousin, by lowering gut pH to kill harmful organisms, crowding out the ones that do live and ultimately reducing the frequency of gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and nausea during antibiotic use.

Enterococcus faecium: For those prone to the diarrhea-causing diseases common in developing nations, this is a wonder probiotic. It’s effective against viral, bacterial, and fungal microorganisms. While some claim that this is a controversial bacterium that may produce harmful enterotoxins, these statements haven’t been substantiated. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has researched E. faecium extensively for use in Bangladesh, where diarrhea is a serious health threat.

DDS-1: Once called the superstrain of all probiotics, this powerful form of L. acidophilus was developed in a laboratory for the express purpose of being the ultimate in healthy bacteria. Although we now know a lone superstrain ­cannot be enough, DDS-1 is still useful in conjunction with other probiotics. One study found that consuming milk products containing DDS-1 led to a 16 to 41 percent reduction of cancer proliferation in animals.

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS): These are not bacteria, but they promote the growth and activity of friendly bacteria in the gut. A naturally occurring compound found in fruits and ­vegetables, FOS pass through us easily, inhibiting the growth of pathogens and enhancing the growth of healthy organisms such as bifidobacteria. 8

Adapted from The Nutraceutical Revolution (1998) by Richard Firshein, D.O., with permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam

Probiotics for babies

Babies fed formula supplemented with beneficial bacteria have less diarrhea and diaper rash, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

The six-month study tested more than 140 healthy children, ages four to eighteen months. Those taking a formula containing 100 million to 1 billion bacteria per gram fared the best, experiencing fewer bowel movements, fewer loose and watery stools, and less constipation than those on regular formula.

Other studies show bacterial supplements can help treat diarrhea in children, according to the Medical Tribune News Service.

As yet, infant formulas containing high doses of bacteria are not available in the United States.

The whole truth about whole grain

Whole grains, or grains that retain their natural bran and germ, play a key role in a heart-healthy, anti-cancer diet. Refined grains have been stripped of their bran and germ and, consequently, much of their fiber and other nutrients.

See if you can pick the whole-grain products from the six popular products below.

Cream of rice (hot cereal). Ingredient: granulated rice.

Multi-grain Cheerios Plus. Ingredients: whole-grain corn, whole-grain oats, whole-grain barley.
Quaker Instant Oatmeal. Ingredient: whole-grain oats.
Wheatsworth Stone Ground Wheat Crackers. Ingredient: enriched wheat flour.
Kellog’s Crispix. Ingredients: milled corn, rice.
Arnold’s Real Jewish Rye Bread. Ingredients: enriched wheat flour, malted barley flour.

Answer: Only À and à (Multi-grain Cheerios Plus and Quaker Instant Oatmeal) are whole-grain products. The rest contain chiefly refined grains.

Here are a few tips for finding whole grains:

• Look for the word whole before wheat.

• Oats are always whole, no matter how they’re sliced (fine cut, coarse cut, instant, or regular).

• Don’t be fooled by the following terms: enriched, unbleached, bromated, stone ground, granulated, 100 percent wheat, rye, pumpernickel, multi-grain, seven-grain, semolina, or organic. The products they’re describing may contain little or no whole grains.

• Brown rice and wild rice are whole grains; white rice is refined.

• The best way to know if the product contains whole grains is to read the label. If the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour, oats, brown rice, or whole-rye flour, you’re getting whole grains. 8

Reprinted with permission from The University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, Health Letter Associates, January 1999. For information, call (800) 829-9170.

A handful of heart tips

Hard water may protect women’s hearts

Magnesium and calcium, two minerals that determine water hardness, may protect women from heart disease, a recent Swedish study in the January issue of Epidemiology shows.

According to a Reuters news report, researchers compared data collected from more than 1,500 death records to the magnesium and calcium levels in water from sixteen municipalities in Sweden. The researchers concluded that higher levels of magnesium and calcium appeared to protect women’s hearts.

A pair of Bs for heart disease

Folate and vitamin B6 may help prevent coronary heart disease in women, according to a 1998 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The fourteen-year-long study examined the intakes of more than 80,000 women with no previous history of heart problems. Risk of heart disease decreased among women who regularly took a multi-vitamin, a major source of folate and vitamin B6. The researchers recommend at least 400 mg of folate daily (the current recommended daily allowance) and at least 3 mg daily of B6.

“Nutrition supplement: vitamins, minerals, and more” is a bimonthly supplement written by Sarah Kelch and the Herbs for Health staff and excerpted from other alternative health publications. Design by Bren Frisch; edited by Erika Lenz.

Nutrition supplement” is intended as an educational service, not a source of medical advice or a guide for self-medication. Please consult a qualified health-care professional for treatment of any serious health problems.

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