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- Parkinson’s disease ‘may start in gut’ Wednesday December 07th, 2016
Scientists in California say they have transformed understanding of Parkinson’s disease.
Their animal experiments, published in the journal Cell, suggest the brain disorder may be caused by bacteria living in the gut.
The findings could eventually lead to new ways of treating the disease, such as drugs to kill gut bugs or probiotics.
Experts said the results opened an “exciting new avenue of study”.
In Parkinson’s disease the brain is progressively damaged, leading to patients experiencing a tremor and difficulty moving.
Researchers used mice genetically programmed to develop Parkinson’s as they produced very high levels of the protein alpha-synuclein, which is associated with damage in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.
But only those animals with bacteria in their stomachs developed symptoms. Sterile mice remained healthy.
Further tests showed transplanting bacteria from Parkinson’s patients to mice led to more symptoms than bacteria taken from healthy people.
Dr Timothy Sampson, one of the researchers at the California Institute of Technology, said: “This was the ‘eureka’ moment, the mice were genetically identical, the only difference was the presence or absence of gut microbiota.
“Now we were quite confident that gut bacteria regulate, and are even required for, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”
The scientists believe the bacteria are releasing chemicals that over-activate parts of the brain, leading to damage.
The bacteria can break down fibre into short-chain fatty acids. It is thought an imbalance in these chemicals triggers the immune cells in the brain to cause damage.
Immune cells in the brain – microglia – may be activated by bacteria in the gut
Dr Sarkis Mazmanian said: “We have discovered for the first time a biological link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease.
“More generally, this research reveals that a neurodegenerative disease may have its origins in the gut and not only in the brain as had been previously thought.
“The discovery that changes in the microbiome may be involved in Parkinson’s disease is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients.”
Parkinson’s is currently incurable.
While the findings need to be confirmed in people, but the researchers hope that drugs that work in the digestive system or even probiotics may become new therapies for the disease.
The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut are hugely important to health, so wiping them out completely is not an option.
Dr Arthur Roach, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, said: “In recent years, evidence has been growing that Parkinson’s may begin in the gut, but the chain of events involved has so far remained a mystery.
“This work opens an exciting new avenue of study on the gut-brain connection in Parkinson’s.
“There are still many questions to answer, but we hope this will trigger more research that will ultimately revolutionise treatment options for Parkinson’s.”
Dr Patrick Lewis, from the University of Reading, said: “This study really does reinforce the idea that examining what goes on in the stomach of people with Parkinson’s could provide really important insights into what happens in disease, and potentially a new area of biology to target in trying to slow down or halt the changes in the brain.”
- ‘Exercise boosts men’s sperm count’ Wednesday December 07th, 2016
Doing at least half an hour of exercise three times a week may boost men’s sperm count, say scientists.
Men who took up running and stuck with it had more “healthy swimmers”, according to the research in the journal Reproduction.
The boost was only temporary, and began to wane within a month if the men stopped their treadmill training.
Experts say it is important to strike the right balance because too much exercise can harm sperm production.
Studies have shown that participation in competitive sports, like cycling, can lower sperm quality.
Keep your testicles cool – avoid tight underwear and hot baths
Avoid sexually transmitted infections
Cut down on alcohol
Get some exercise, but not too much!
All of the 261 men enrolled in the recent trial were healthy and did not have any fertility problems as far as they could tell. They had normal sperm counts and healthy-looking sperm and led fairly sedentary lives.
The men were allocated to one of four programmes:
three sessions a week of high intensity interval training (10 one-minute bursts of very fast running with a short recovery period between each bout)
three sessions a week of moderate exercise (30 minutes on a treadmill)
three sessions a week of intense exercise (about an hour on a treadmill)
Exercise training appeared to boost sperm quantity and quality, with moderate exercise coming top.
Men in all three exercise groups lost weight and saw improvements in their sperm test results compared with the men who did no exercise over the 24-week trial period.
The researchers say at least part of the benefit may come from shedding excess weight – all three exercise groups lost some body fat.
Experts already know obesity can lower a man’s fertility. A third of the men in each study group were overweight.
What is not clear is whether the boost from exercise translates to better fertility. That is something the researchers plan to explore in the lab by checking if training-induced changes affect the fertilising potential of sperm.
Lead researcher Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki said: “Our results show that doing exercise can be a simple, cheap and effective strategy for improving sperm quality in sedentary men.
“However, it’s important to acknowledge that the reason some men can’t have children isn’t just based on their sperm count. Male infertility problems can be complex and changing lifestyles might not solve these cases easily.”
Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield and spokesman for the British Fertility Society, said: “We have a very poor understanding of how physical exercise affects male fertility and sperm quality, but it is a question commonly asked by men wishing to improve their chances of having a child.”
He said there probably was a level of exercise that is optimum for male fertility, but recommended that men check with their GP before embarking on anything too strenuous.
UK guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, every week.
- Is Kratom a Public Health Threat or a Promising Herb in Need of More Research? Wednesday December 07th, 2016
The process to determine the future of kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), an herb native to Southeast Asia that’s generated regulatory controversy over the past few months, entered a new phase last week. On December 1, the comment period closed for the public to respond to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) proposal to classify two constituents of the kratom plant into schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). And while some leaders of the natural products industry supported the DEA’s proposed action against the plant, others urged the agency to reconsider.
Kratom’s Rocky Past
Kratom has made numerous headlines over the past few months, beginning with the DEA’s announcement on August 31 that it intended to classify two psychoactive constituents of kratom (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) into schedule 1. But it’s not the first regulatory speed bump for the plant. In 2014, FDA banned import of the herb into the United States, and the agency has written that there “does not appear to be a history of use or other evidence of safety establishing that kratom will reasonably be expected to be safe as a dietary ingredient.” In particular, FDA expressed concerns that kratom consumption can lead to negative health outcomes, including respiratory depression, hallucinations, nausea, and more.
The DEA pointed to many of the same health risks in its August announcement, calling the plant an “imminent hazard to public safety.” Much of kratom’s popularity stems from its opioid-like effects that some experts say help prescription opioid users wean themselves off their addictions. But as a result of those effects, the DEA says, kratom “has a high potential for abuse.” The agency proposed it would place its two main psychoactive constituents into schedule 1 under the CSA’s temporary scheduling provisions, which would effectively place the whole kratom plant on the same list of banned substances as heroin and LSD.
That move was ultimately delayed following a stream of letters from industry stakeholders and congressional leaders urging the DEA to follow a regular review process allowing for the public to comment. The DEA then announced it would no longer pursue its emergency listing, but would instead open a public comment period ending on December 1.
With the comment period now closed, it’s evident that leaders within the natural products industry are taking very different approaches to the DEA’s proposed action against kratom. To start with those in agreement with the DEA, Dan Fabricant, CEO and executive director of the Natural Products Industry (NPA; Washington, DC), called out kratom as a “threat to public health.”
“Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal, it could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction,” Fabricant said in NPA’s formal comments submitted to the DEA. He added that kratom has never been submitted as a New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) notification to FDA, and that NPA welcomes DEA’s proposal to classify kratom into schedule I as a “necessary and welcome first step.”
But other industry associations, including the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MD) and the American Botanical Council (ABC; Austin, TX), urged the DEA to reconsider its position. For instance, Michael McGuffin, president of AHPA, cautioned that it would be an “abuse of discretion” for the DEA to use its scheduling authority to remove an herbal plant from the existing marketplace just because one or more of its naturally occurring constituents have become subject to scheduling under the “broad standards” of the CSA. Such a move would also have a detrimental effect on research into kratom’s benefits, McGuffin said.
“AHPA believes restrictions on research are contrary to the interests of science and ultimately detrimental to the public interest,” McGuffin said. “AHPA members want to ensure that any process that proposes to classify a naturally occurring constituent of a plant as an illicit substance includes a thorough evaluation of available scientific data and full consideration of potential risks and benefits of consuming the substance.”
Meanwhile, ABC also called on the DEA to not proceed with its “restrictive scheduling” of kratom, and pointed to a recently published article in its HerbalGram exploring the various issues related to the use of kratom. ABC’s comments to the DEA also called attention to the body of evidence supporting kratom’s possible benefits, including its potential to alleviate opioid-withdrawal symptoms. And while further research is necessary to understand both kratom’s potential benefits and safety issues, classifying the plant into schedule 1 would only make such research efforts more difficult, ABC explained.
“ABC realizes that there are compelling scientific data to support kratom’s potential therapeutic use; there is also confusion about its safety profile,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC, in a press announcement. “Our comments to DEA are intended to help ensure that appropriate scientific and medical research on this interesting plant and its biologically active constituents can continue with minimal regulatory hurdles.”
ABC also noted that it supports existing FDA enforcement actions against kratom products on the market that are not in compliance with FDA regulations.
Source: Nutritional Outlook Magazine
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