Astragalus polysaccharides induced programmed cell death in lung cancer tumor cells
Xi’an Jiaotong University (China), August 8, 2021
According to news reporting out of Xi’an, People’s Republic of China, research stated, “To investigate the mechanism of astragalus polysaccharides (PAS) in including the apoptosis of lung cancer tumor cells regulating the factor kappa B (NF-kappa b) and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways and the expression of apoptosis-related proteins. Of he 45 specific-pathogen (SPF) mice, 9 were selected as the blank control group (0.3 mL normal saline, 1d/time), and the remaining 36 were modeled as tumor-bearing mice.”
Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from Xi’an Jiaotong University, “After successful modeling, tumor-bearing mice were randomly divided into the model control group (0.3 mL normalsaline, 1d/time), APS low-dose (50 mg/kg APS), APS medium-dose group (100 mg/kg APS), and APS high-dose (200 mg/kg APS). Each group was given continues medication for 20 days. The mRNA and caspase-1 were compered. The mRNA and protein expressions of NF-kappa B p53, and p38 in the model group were significantly higher than those in the control group (P <0.05). The mRNA and protein expressions between the APS medium- and high-dose groups and the model group (P >0.05). The expressions if Bcl-2 and FasL in the model group were significantly higher than those in the blank control group, while the expressions of BAX and capase-9 were significantly lower than those in the blank control group (P <0.05). The expressions levels of Bcl-2 and FasL in the high-dose APS group were significantly lower than those in the model group, while the expression levels of Bcl-2 and capase-9 were significantly higher than those in the model group (P <0.05).”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “Astragalus polysaccharides can induce the apoptosis of lung cancer tumor cells by regarding the NF-kappa B/MAPK signaling pathways and the expressions of apoptosis-related proteins.”
This research has been peer-reviewed.
Does Practicing Gratitude Help Your Immune System?
New research suggests that gratitude plays an indirect role in improving our health.
UCLA, August 9, 2021
Being grateful seems to have a lot of positive effects on our lives. In fact, grateful peoplemay have better sleep, healthier hearts, and fewer aches and pains.
But what is going on in our bodies when we’re grateful, that might help us be healthier? A couple of recent studies aimed to find out.
In the first study, 61 healthy women between the ages of 35 and 50 were randomly assigned to either a six-week online gratitude activity or a writing activity (as a comparison). Once a week, the gratitude group were given a writing prompt that asked them to write about someone they were grateful for (for example, “Think of someone in your life who you feel like you have never fully or properly thanked for something meaningful or important that they did for you”). The control group wrote about neutral topics (“Think about the longest distance that you walked today”).
Before and after the six weeks, the participants reported on how much they tended to offer support or receive support from other people and provided a blood sample, which was used to check for the presence of inflammatory cytokines (interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor-α). Inflammatory cytokines are linked to chronic diseases of aging, like diabetes, atherosclerosis, and even cancer.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that women assigned to the gratitude condition did engage in more supportive care, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude may inspire people to “pay it forward” and help others. But they didn’t find any significant drop in cytokine levels—meaning, no improved immune function. Naomi Eisenberger, director of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab at UCLA and a coauthor on the study, was a little surprised by this.
“You read all the news stories about gratitude and you assume you’re going to see these magical beneficial effects. We didn’t see that,” she said. “The effects were actually harder to see than we thought; they were subtler.”
To get at what might be going on, she and her colleagues looked women’s supportiveness, whether or not they’d participated in the gratitude activity. Here they did see an effect: Women who engaged in more supportive care had lower levels of interleukin 6, suggesting that supportive care (and not gratitude, per se) might improve immune function. Gratitude could affect inflammation, perhaps, but only if it leads to more support for others.
“When people feel grateful, one of the first things they want to do is give back,” she says. “Maybe that doesn’t lead straight to better immune function. But it does lead to more support-giving, and that’s interesting.”
Is gratitude good for our brains?
These findings still left an open question for the researchers: Could experiencing gratitude affect people’s brains in a way that promotes better health? To find out, Eisenberger and her colleagues did a second study looking at how gratitude affected brain centers associated with support-giving and responding to distress, both of which are tied to better health.
Drawing from the same participants, they used fMRI scans to monitor brain activity while the women were shown names of people they felt grateful for and asked to either think about why they felt grateful to the person or to describe the person’s physical appearance. Occasionally, an image of a threatening face was flashed on the screen to startle participants and induce a threat response.
Participants experiencing gratitude didn’t have more neural activity in the caregiving centers of the brain than the control group. But those who’d reported high levels of support-giving had a healthier response to the threatening imagery (decreased amygdala activity) after focusing on gratitude. In other words, for highly supportive people, feeling momentary gratitude seemed to play a role in soothing their stress response—a possible pathway to better health.
“There seems to be something about people engaging in more support-giving over time that makes them less threat-sensitive when primed with gratitude,” says Eisenberger.
This finding mirrors previous work showing that volunteering or giving to others improves health, says Eisenberger. On the other hand, it contrasts with some people’s views that feeling gratitude in and of itself is key to better health, she adds.
“Our study brings up an interesting question of what contributes to better health: Is it the emotion of gratitude, or is it actually engaging in behaviors that help somebody else?” she says. “I don’t know for sure, but maybe it’s tied to behaviors more than to feelings.”
She also mentions that some of the people in her studies reported having trouble feeling grateful. That could be a barrier when it comes to promoting gratitude for improving health.
“These effects didn’t seem to happen for individuals who were higher in things like depression and stress,” she says. “So, I think for those individuals, a gratitude intervention can sometimes backfire.”
Though Eisenberger believes much more research needs to be done to know for sure, her work shows that the effects of gratitude on health may be more nuanced than past research suggests. It doesn’t mean gratitude doesn’t play a role—after all, it seems to encourage more kind and helpful behavior. But it may only play an indirect role.
“If we’re trying to take care of our own health, maybe the best way to do that is helping take care of others,” says Eisenberger. “One way to getting to helping other people could be through experiences of gratitude. But it’s not necessarily the only way to get there, either
B vitamin intake associated with reductions in homocysteine and risks of stroke and vascular death among stroke patients in clinical trials
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, August 8, 2021
A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials reported on May 11, 2021 in the journal Cureus revealed lower combined risk of stroke, heart attack and vascular death, as well as a reduction in homocysteine levels, in stroke patients who received B vitamins compared to a placebo.*
Homocysteine is an amino acid formed in the body which, when elevated, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and numerous other conditions. Increasing the intake of B vitamins helps lower serum or plasma homocysteine levels by helping it metabolize into downstream products that the body needs.
Researchers at All India Institute of Medical Sciences selected eight trials that included a total of 8,513 stroke patients for their analysis. Trials were limited to those that evaluated homocysteine levels and recurrence of stroke, recurrence of cardiovascular disorders and vascular death (separately or combined) among participants who received a placebo or vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folate.
Analysis of the trials’ results found a significant reduction in average homocysteine levels among B-vitamin-intake participants compared to those that received placebo. When the combined risk of heart attack, stroke and vascular death were examined, there was an 11% lower risk among participants who received the vitamins compared to the placebo. Further analysis revealed a 13% lower risk of stroke and a 17% lower risk of vascular death among vitamin B participants.
“This meta-analysis presented substantial evidence proving the beneficial effect of vitamin B [intake], especially among stroke patients, in lowering homocysteine with no documented side effects,” Neetu Kataria and colleagues concluded. “Vitamin B [intake] effectively reduces homocysteine levels and the risk of stroke and vascular deaths.”
“This treatment is highly recommended in clinical settings, which will become a cost-effective strategy for preventing stroke risk, hence relieving the burden of stroke across the globe by reducing homocysteine levels among stroke patients.”
Inhibitory effect of Garcinia compound garcinol on obesity-exacerbated, colitis-mediated colon carcinogenesis
National Taiwan University, August 6, 2021
According to news reporting out of Taipei, Taiwan, research stated, “Scope Epidemiological studies show a consistent and compelling association between the risk of colorectal cancer development and obesity, but its mechanisms remain poorly understood. Evidence is mounting that colorectal cancer can be prevented by nutritional supplements, such as phytochemicals.”
Our news journalists obtained a quote from the research from National Taiwan University, “Garcinol, a polyisoprenylated benzophenone derivative, is widely present in Garcinia plants. This study investigates the potential role of garcinol supplementation in ameliorating obesity-induced colon cancer development. An animal model to investigate the effect of high-fat-diet (HFD)-induced obesity on promoting colitis-associated colon cancer (AOM (azoxymethane)/DSS (dextran sodium sulfate)-induced) is designed. The results show that HFD can promote colitis-associated colon cancer as compared to an AOM/DSS group without the intervention of obesity, and supplementing with 0.05% garcinol in the diet can significantly ameliorate obesity-promoted colon carcinogenesis. The results also reveals that the microbiota composition of each group is significantly different and clustered. The most representative genera are Alistipes, Romboutsia, and Ruminococcus. The RNA-sequencing results show that the administration of garcinol can regulate genes and improve obesity-promoting colitis-associated colon carcinogenesis.”
According to the news editors, the research concluded: “The study results suggest that garcinol can prevent obesity-promoted colorectal cancer, and these findings provide important niches for the future development of garcinol as functional foods or adjuvant therapeutic agents.”
This research has been peer-reviewed.
How an intense spiritual retreat might change your brain
Imagine spending a week or even a month in a secluded part of the world, away from all distractions, and focusing your mind only on your inner values and beliefs. Every day, you would meditate or pray, walk in the woods, eat the most natural foods, and strive for some type of intense spiritual or mystical experience. If you are religious, you might be engaging in a particular type of prayer exercise and trying to connect with God. If you are not religious, it could be meditating in silence, trying to connect to the fundamental level of the Universe. There are many different types of spiritual retreats, from traditional religious programmes to modern holistic approaches, and they usually involve intensive and immersive practices focusing on taking your mind or consciousness to an extraordinary kind of experience.
If you have ever had an intense spiritual experience, or if you are on a journey to find one, it’s possible that you have taken part in some type of spiritual retreat programme. These programmes, and practices such as meditation or prayer more generally, can have profound effects on the individual. And this means that they can have a profound effect on the brain. The puzzle is to figure out what produces major spiritual or enlightenment experiences, which are much more intense than our everyday experiences and – whether they last a long time or only briefly – can result in a powerful personal transformation.
Insights from the field of neurotheology can help us better understand how intense spiritual experiences affect the brain and might ultimately help people figure out the best ways of having them. Over the past 25 years, I have been involved in a number of neurotheological research projects designed to investigate the nature of spiritual practices and the experiences of enlightenment that arise from them. We have scanned people’s brains as they perform practices from diverse traditions, from various forms of meditation and prayer to speaking in tongues and entering trancestates.
In addition to brain scans, we have also performed survey studies in which we have obtained detailed descriptions of these experiences. The participants come from virtually every spiritual tradition, and their descriptions provide important information about the cognitive and emotional elements of the experiences – data that can be combined with what we have learned from our brain scans.
Based on an analysis of approximately 2,000 descriptions provided in an online survey, we have found that five elements seem to be common across many enlightenment experiences, whether they occur during spiritual retreats, daily meditation or prayer practices, psychedelic experiences, or even spontaneously. Along with our brain data, these elements help to create a picture of what is happening both subjectively during these experiences as well as objectively in the brain:
Enlightenment experiences are commonly considered to be the most intense experiences that a person has ever had. The sense of intensity can be associated with feelings such as love, joy or awe. A 43-year-old male study participant, who had a profoundly affecting dream following a period of meditation, stated:
I, as an un-namable but individual being, was travelling down an infinite rollercoaster like waves of pure white ecstatic light. The ecstasy was overwhelming, and rose and fell in intensity with the waves of light. The light path seemed infinitely long in both directions. The sense of the being and the light was INFINITELY MORE REAL than anything I had ever experienced.
The intensity of these experiences is likely associated with increased activity in the limbic system, the brain’s primary emotional centre. Intensity is exactly what these areas of the brain register for us as they label various thoughts and experiences as being emotionally important.
A sense of oneness or unity
During the experience, the person feels a profound sense of connectedness with the rest of humanity, God or the Universe. We have found evidence that the sense of unity is associated with a decrease of activity in the parietal lobe of the brain. The parietal lobe typically takes sensory information and helps us to create a spatial representation of the self. Thus, a decrease of activity in this area could be related to a loss of the sense of a discrete self, a blurring of the boundary between the self and the rest of the world, and ultimately a feeling of oneness or unity. We have observed such decreases in the parietal lobe in our brain scan research on deep meditation.
A sense of clarity
People feel as if a veil has been lifted and that they are now seeing and understanding the world in ways they never have before. The sense of clarity, which occurs during the experience but can last long after it too, helps them to feel as if they have gained new insights into themselves and how they are to act within the world. A 37-year-old scientist said this about her experience, which occurred during a time when she had been meditating daily:
Everything in life seemed to click. I had this clarity and it was as if I was looking at life from the inside out. Despite my trepidation, this experience seemed to satisfy my proof-oriented mentality … It was almost as if my intuition from somewhere ‘deeper’ had offered some sort of direct experience that offered up proof.
An area of the brain that might be particularly related to the sense of clarity is called the thalamus, a central structure that connects various parts of the brain to each other and could be very important for establishing our consciousness. Our brain scan studies have found that people who are long-term meditators have altered function in the thalamus, which we think is associated with the sense of clarity that is part of these experiences.
A sense of surrender
Most people describe enlightenment experiences as happening to them rather than as something that they made happen. Even individuals who go through intense meditation or spiritual retreat programmes still find that they are ultimately ‘going along for the ride’ when the experience actually happens. A 48-year-old Catholic woman described it like this:
I surrendered everything, including my faith and my salvation, and only for one reason. I loved God so much that I would truly give up everything to be connected with Him. I said ‘yes’ and, in an instant, God returned everything to me, transformed. From that day forward, a new relationship exists between God and me. It is ever present, no distance, no separation.
Our brain scan studies suggest that a sense of surrender is related to decreased activity in the frontal lobes. Frontal lobe activity normally increases during meditation or prayer because we are purposefully engaged in the practice. However, during the most intense of these experiences, we are likely to see a decrease in activity in conjunction with a loss of the sense of purposeful control.
Transformation as a result of the experience
Various aspects of one’s life can feel changed by the experience, including mental health, physical health, sense of meaning and purpose in life, sense of spirituality and sense of religiousness. It is not fully clear how such transformation occurs during these experiences, but brain scan studies have documented differences in the brains of long-time meditators compared with non-meditators. Of particular interest is increased activity and thickness in the frontal lobes. This might occur partly as a result of the concentration aspect of spiritual retreat programmes and the persistent, intense meditation that is part of them. But the frontal lobes also regulate our emotional responses as well as help us with our overall cognition. As a person uses the frontal lobes more and more, this might help solidify the transformational aspect of enlightenment experiences.
Recognising all of these changes leads us to consider what the best approaches might be for having such transformative experiences. Everyone can engage in a meditation or prayer practice as part of their daily routine, and many religious and spiritual people do. But another approach is to participate in a spiritual retreat programme that can last days or longer.
We studied one such seven-day programme in Pennsylvania based on the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. Our research on this retreat programme, which is typically conducted in silence and consists of extended periods of prayer and meditation, showed a number of differences in participants’ brains after the retreat compared with before it. For one, our study looked at the effects of the retreat programme on serotonin and dopamine, two critical neurotransmitters involved in many of our emotional and cognitive processes. The results suggested that a person’s brain becomes more sensitised to the effects of serotonin and dopamine, which might help us understand how retreat programmes of this nature can improve measures of wellbeing (in this case, decreased self-reported tension and fatigue). Our research also found that, after the retreat, there were changes in how different parts of the brain were functionally connected, particularly the frontal and parietal lobes.
The data from our studies suggest that many spiritual practices and retreats can be beneficial for people by changing the brain and improving various psychological and spiritual measures. So what should you consider if you are thinking about trying a retreat programme? It is important to learn as much as possible about how a programme works to make sure that it is consistent with your goals and beliefs. Are you trying to reduce stress, connect with your religious tradition or find spiritual enlightenment? It can be helpful to talk with the leader of the programme to better assess its goals. Further, our data indicate that it is essential that a person is able to fully engage in the practices and buy into them. For example, one would not expect a Jewish person to find much of an effect from exercises based in the Christian tradition of Saint Ignatius. Hence, each person needs to carefully select the practices or programmes that they engage in, based on their own goals and spiritual background.
Ultimately, each person has to try particular practices or programmes and see how they respond. Hopefully, finding the right fit will lead to intense spiritual experiences that comprise the elements described above – including newfound feelings of oneness, clarity and surrender – and that make lasting positive changes to the brain and to one’s whole being.
Why house dust is making people fat and sick
Duke University, August 8, 2021
Strange as it seems, being an indifferent housekeeper could be right up there on the list of risk factors that promote health problems and obesity. Recent studies suggest that endocrine-disrupting chemicals lurking in ordinary household dust may disturb metabolic health and trigger the accumulation of body fat, especially in children.
Read on to discover the truth about how chemical residues in household dust can contribute to weight gain and serious health problems.
House dust attracts, holds and redistributes contaminants
“House dust” is composed of a blend of shed skin cells, hair, bacteria and dust mites, along with a sprinkling of the body parts of dead insects. Particles of pollen and soil, fibers from clothing and microscopic specks of plastic and dye are also found in this environmental mix.
As unwholesome as this mixture is, the real danger of house dust may be its content of pollutants and carcinogenic compounds, all of which can function as endocrine disruptors.
No matter how zealously one housecleans, dust can become entrenched in carpets and accumulate in crevices, leading over the years to a harmful buildup – even in the tidiest of homes. Even more troubling, dust that has been in place for many years can hold residues of substances that have been banned, such as DDT and PCBs.
Warning: Household dust contains dangerous phthalates from flame retardants and plasticizers
According to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, phthalates are the most common harmful contaminants found in dust, with DEHP – a phthalate plasticizer found in plastic food containers, cosmetics and vinyl flooring – topping the list.
According to recent studies, DEHP can disrupt hormone function and reduce sperm motility in men.
Dust is also a major source of human exposure to PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ether. Found in flame retardants and fabric protectants, PBDEs are known endocrine disruptors. Although PBDEs have been banned, they still exist in the environment – and in household dust.
And now, for a shocking fact: According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental agency, the concentrations in house dust of some phthalates and flame retardants actually exceed soil-screening health risk thresholds set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Toxic compounds in dust can be inhaled, absorbed through skin or ingested through the mouth – as can occur when eating with dusty hands.
Warning: Exposure to contaminants in dust can trigger weight gain
In a study conducted by researchers at Duke University and published in Environmental Science and Technology, precursor fat cells – or adipocytes – were exposed to household dust containing endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The result? The team found that extracts from seven of the eleven house dust samples caused precursor adipocytes to mature and accumulate more fat – while nine of the samples caused the cells to proliferate and increase in number.
The team found that the flame retardant TBPDP, the plasticizer DBP and the pesticide pyraclostrobin had the greatest effects on fat accumulation.
Lead author Dr. Heather Stapleton remarked that the findings raised concerns for human health, especially because the fat-producing tendency of the dust occurred at concentrations below EPA estimated child exposure levels. Disturbingly, as little as 3 micrograms of dust triggered fat-producing effects – well below the 50-milligrams of house dust that children could be consuming daily.
Researchers say: Pollutants in dust are linked to leukemia
Some compounds found in dust, including PBDEs, PCBS and PAHs – or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – are suspected leukemia risk factors. According to the Environmental Working Group, PBDEs, in particular, have been linked in animal studies to thyroid hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, hearing deficits, decreased sperm count and even cancer.
Todd P. Whitehead, an environmental scientist at the University of California, studied dust in California homes as part of his work with the California Childhood Leukemia Study. The research showed that homes of children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, tended to have higher levels of PAHs, PBDEs and PCBs.
Whitehead called the findings the “strongest type of evidence” to suggest that these compounds are risk factors for childhood leukemia.
In addition, Professor Marsha Wills-Karp, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reports there is accumulating evidence that exposure to contaminants in dust might lead to diseases such as obesity, asthma and autism.
How can I reduce my exposure to contaminated household dust?
To reduce exposure to – and ingestion of – dust, natural health experts recommend frequent hand washing, and the use of a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air filter.
Avoid using feather dusters, which only redistribute dust, and clean with a damp rag. And, whenever possible or practical, opt for wood or tile floors over carpet. Experts report that normal vacuuming only removes about 10 percent of entrapped dust from carpets.
Other actions you can take include changing bedding once a week, removing all clutter from floors, and storing contents of closets in garment bags or boxes.