Lower your Stress Hormone Levels with Nature

Taking a stroll or sitting in a place near nature can have some very positive benefits. The findings from a recent study have established for the first time that communing with nature will significantly lower stress hormone levels.

“Nature pills” which is what the discovery is calling the natural stress relieving remedy of being in nature, has real measurable effect. An experiment was designed that would give the researchers a realistic estimate of an effective dose for relieving stress hormone levels.

Participants were asked to engage in a 10 minute or more nature pill three times a week for a period of 8 weeks. Levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone, were measured using saliva samples which were take before and after a nature pill once every two weeks.

The participants were able to choose the time of day, the duration and the place of their nature experience. The chosen place was defined as any place outside that in the participant’s opinion made them feel like they have interacted with nature.

There were just a few constraints put in place to minimize factors which are known to influence stress. They included taking the nature pill during daylight, no aerobic exercise, and to avoid internet, phone calls, social media, reading and conversations.

By building personal flexibility in their experiment, the research team was able to identify the optimal duration of a participant’s nature pill – no matter where or when the nature pill was taken and under normal circumstances of modern life which can be hectic and unpredictable.

Furthermore, to make allowances for participant’s busy lifestyles and also provide meaningful results, the design was also novel in other aspects. Day to day differences in participant’s stress status were accommodated day to day.

The team did this by collecting four snapshots of cortisol change due to a nature pill. That also allowed them to identify and account for any impact of the ongoing, natural drop in cortisol levels as a day goes on. This resulted in a more reliable estimate of the effective duration.

The results of the data revealed that just a mere twenty minutes of a nature experience was sufficient to significantly reduce levels of cortisol. The results also showed that spending even a little more time immersed in the nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes walking or sitting, caused levels of cortisol dropped at their greatest rate.

The experiment gives healthcare practitioners great results as an evidence based rule of thumb on what to include in a nature pill prescription. The studies results provide the first estimates of how experiences in nature impact our stress levels in the context of a normal day.

The experiment’s approach might be used as a tool for further study in this area. Further studies could assess how gender, age, physical ability, seasonality and culture influence the effectiveness of nature experiences in regards to well being. These additional studies could help healthcare practitioners develop customized nature pill prescriptions as well as deeper insights into city designs and well being programs for the public.

To view the original scientific study click below.

Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers

Prevent Cartilage Damage with Exercise

A new study has given us yet another good reason to exercise! The study found that exercise helps to prevent degradation of cartilage that is due to osteoarthritis.

The study conducted at Queen Mary University of London has shown for the first time how the mechanical forces which are experienced by joint cells during exercise, prevents cartilage degradation. Exercise does this by suppressing the action of inflammatory molecules which lead to osteoarthritis.

The research team demonstrated exercise benefits on tissues which form our joints and how this is down to tiny hair like structures which are called primary cilia found on living cells.

When we exercise joint cartilage such as the knee and hip is squashed. Living cells in the cartilage detect this mechanical distortion which then block inflammatory molecules which are associated with conditions such as arthritis.

The anti inflammatory effect of physical activity is due to the activation of a protein called HDAC6. This protein triggers changes in the proteins that form the primary cilia.

Blocking the HDAC6 with pharmaceutical drugs prevented the anti inflammatory effects due to physical activity. Other drug treatments were able to mimic exercise benefits.

Changes which occurred in the length of the primary cilia which are only a few 1000th of a millimeter, provided a biomarker for the level of inflammation. During inflammation the cilia got longer. However, treatments that prevented the elongation successfully prevented this inflammation.

Additionally, the team’s findings might explain the anti inflammatory effects of normal blood flow in the arteries. This is important for the prevention of arterial disease such aneurysm and atherosclerosis.

The team hopes the findings will help in the development of treatments for diseases such as arthritis. These diseases affect more than 3 million people just in the United Kingdom. The results might lead to whole new therapeutic approaches which are known as mechano medicine in which drugs simulate the effect of mechanical forces to prevent the damaging effects of inflammation and treat arthritic conditions accordingly.

To view the original scientific study click below.

Mechanical loading inhibits cartilage inflammatory signalling via an HDAC6 and IFT-dependent mechanism regulating primary cilia elongation

High Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Tumor Growth

A new study shows that consuming even a modest amount of high fructose corn syrup on a daily basis accelerates the growth of tumors in the intestines of mouse models. And the findings are independent of obesity. Just 12 ounces of a sugar sweetened beverage daily feeds cancer cells, boosting their growth.

The study team also found the mechanism by which the consumption of sugar laden beverages can directly feed the growth of cancer which suggests the potential of novel therapeutic strategies. There have been more observational studies lately which have raised awareness of the link between consuming sugary beverages, colorectal cancer and obesity.

The thought has been that sugar is harmful mostly because consuming too much can lead to obesity. And obesity increases risks of many types of cancer. However, there has been uncertainty whether a casual and direct link exists between cancer and the consumption of sugar. This was the important question that led to the study conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine.

The team generated a mouse model of early stage cancer of the colon where APC gene is deleted. The APC gene is a gatekeeper in colorectal cancer. Deleting APC is compared to removing the breaks on a car. Without this gene, normal intestinal cells will neither stop nor die which leads to the forming of early stage tumors known as polyps. It is estimated that more than 90% of patients with colorectal cancer have this type of APC mutation.

The team tested the effect consuming sugar sweetened water had on tumor development in the mouse model with the disease. The water contained 25% high fructose corn syrup which is the main sweetener in a variety of sugary drinks people consume. This sweetener consists of glucose and fructose with a 45:55 ratio.

When the team provided the sweetened beverage in a water bottle for the APC model mice to consume at their will, they rapidly gained weight in a months time. To keep the mice from being obese and mimicking a humans daily consumption of a single can of soda, they instead gave the mice a modest amount of the sweetened water orally with a special syringe once a day. When they controlled their consumption, after two months the mice did not become obese, however they did develop tumors that were of higher grade and larger than mice who were treated with regular water.

The study results indicate that when animals have early state of tumors in their intestines, consuming even modest amounts of high fructose corn syrup in the form of liquid can boost tumor progression and growth even independently of obesity.

Further research is needed to translate the discoveries to people, however the findings in the mouse model suggest that constant consumption of sugary beverages can shorten the time for cancer to develop. With humans, it typically takes 20 to 30 years for cancer of the colon to grow from early stage benign tumors to aggressive cancers.

The research team continued their study by investigating the mechanism through which this type of sweetener promoted tumor growth. They found that the APC model mice receiving the modest quantities of high fructose corn syrup had high amounts of fructose in their colons. Sugary beverages increased the levels of glucose and fructose in the colon and blood respectively. The tumors could then efficiently take up both fructose and glucose by different routes.

By using cutting edge technologies to trace the fate of fructose and glucose in tumor tissues, the research team showed that fructose was first chemically changed and the process enabled it to efficiently promote the production of fatty acids which then contribute to tumor growth.

The findings suggested the role of fructose in tumors is to enhance glucose’s role of directing synthesis of fatty acids. This abundance of fatty acids can potentially be used by the cancer cells to form cellular membranes and signaling molecules to influence or grow inflammation.

To see whether fructose metabolism or the increased fatty acid production was responsible for the sugar induced tumor growth, the team modified the APC model mice to lack genes coding for enzymes that are involved in either fatty acid synthesis or fructose metabolism. One group of the mice lacked an enzyme KHK which is involved in the metabolism of fructose. The other group lacked enzyme FASN which is involved in fatty acid synthesis.

The team discovered that mice lacking either of these two genes did not develop large tumors unlike the APC model mice when fed the same small amounts of high fructose corn syrup.

The study showed results that colorectal cancers use high fructose corn syrup as fuel to increase rates of tumor growth. This is the major ingredient in most sugary sodas along with a variety of processed foods.

Fructose is not essential for the growth and survival of normal cells. This suggests that potential therapies targeting fructose metabolism may be worth exploring. And of course avoiding beverages and foods containing high fructose corn syrup as much as possible could significantly reduce the availability of sugar in the colon.

To view the original scientific study click below.

High-fructose corn syrup enhances intestinal tumor growth in mice.

Do Eggs and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?

Sobering news has just come out for those who love their omelets! A new study of nearly 30,000 people has reported that adults who consumed more dietary cholesterol and eggs showed a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.

The study conducted by Northwestern Medicine indicates that the current U.S. dietary guideline recommendations for dietary eggs and cholesterol needs to be reevaluated. The recent study looked at data of 29,615 ethnically and racially diverse adults from six prospective cohort studies.

The diet data was collected using a questionnaire for food frequency and by getting diet history. Each participant was asked what they had eaten for the previous month or year. All data was collected with a single visit. The study had up to 31 years of follow up with a median of 17.5 years. During this time 5,400 cardiovascular events and 6,132 all causes of deaths were diagnosed.

The study results found that eating 300 mg of dietary cholesterol a day (the amount found in 2 eggs) was found to be associated with a 17% higher risk of incident cardiovascular disease and 18% higher risk of all causes of death. They found that cholesterol was the main factor independent of saturated fat and other dietary fats.

They also found that eating 3 to 4 eggs in a week was associated with a 6% higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8% higher risk of any cause of death. Overall diet quality, exercise and the type and amount of dietary fat did not change the association between dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease and death.

The study showed that if two people consumed the same diet and the only thing different in the diet was eggs, then they could directly measure the effect eggs have on heart disease. Earlier studies found eating eggs did not raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, those studies had a less diverse sample, a shorter follow up timeline and limited ability to adjust for other parts of someones diet.

The study did have a major limitation of long term eating patterns which were not assessed. The study team had just one snapshot of what each individuals eating pattern looked like. However, they do think they represented a good estimate of a person’s dietary intake although any changes in a person’s diet couldn’t be accounted for.

Based on the new study, people should watch their dietary intake of cholesterol by keeping it low. Reducing foods that are cholesterol rich such as red meat and eggs is the recommendation. However, eggs and red meat are good sources of great nutrients such as iron, choline and amino acids so they don’t need to be banished for good. It would be wise to eat egg whites instead of whole eggs and red meat consumption kept to a minimum.

To view the original scientific study click below.

Associations of Dietary Cholesterol or Egg Consumption With Incident Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality.

Lack of Sleep and Aging Go Hand in Hand

New research from Oxford University has brought scientists closer to understanding the mysterious function of sleep. What the scientists have discovered is how oxidative stress leads to sleep. Oxidative stress is believed to be one of the reasons we age and is also a cause of degenerative diseases.

The study confirms just what scientists have suspected…chronic lack of sleep will shorten life. Professor Gero Miesenbock who led the team, compares oxygen tanks which carry explosion hazard labels to humans who face a similar risk when oxygen we breathe to convert food into energy leads to oxidative stress in cells. He calls this imperfectly contained combustion.

This oxidative stress is believed to be one of the causes of aging and associated degenerative diseases which hinder of later years in life. The new research shows that oxidative stress also activates neurons which control whether we go to sleep.

The research team studied sleep regulation in fruit flies which are the animals that provided the first insight into the circadian clock almost 50 years ago. Each individual fly has a special set of neurons which control sleep. In a previous study the team discovered that the sleep control neurons function like an on off switch. When the neurons are electrically active the fly will be sleeping. When the neurons are silent the fly is awake.

The team decided to look for the signals which will switch the sleep control neurons on. They knew from previous research that a major difference between waking and sleep is how much electrical current will flow through two ion channels which are called Sandman and Shaker. Most of the current will be through Shaker during sleep.

The function of ion channels is to generate and control these electrical impulses through which brain cells will communicate. This made the team of scientists think about turning the question of, why we sleep, into a solvable and concrete problem. The team then sought to discovered what causes the electrical current to go through Shaker.

The answer was found in a component of the Shaker channel. They found that suspended below the electrically conducting portion of Shaker is another component. A small molecule, NADPH, flips back and forth between the chemical states which regulates the Shaker current. In turn, the state of NADPH reflects the degree of oxidative stress the cell has experienced. Sleeplessness leads to oxidative stress and this in turn drives the chemical conversion.

In a demonstration of this mechanism, a flash of light which flipped the chemical state of NADPH put flies to sleep.

Sleep disturbances are very common and sleeping pills are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. These medications carry a variety of side effects and risks including addiction, forgetfulness and confusion. By targeting the mechanism the team has discovered, some of the side effects could be avoided.

To view the original scientific study click below.

Sleep and Aging: Two Side of One Coin?