Within recent years, there has been increasing evidence to suggest gut bacteria plays a powerful role in many aspects of health. The microbiome, or microbial communities within our intestinal tract, have been a suspected agent behind many chronic conditions. Now, one study indicates gut flora may impact mental health, too.
Depression & Gut Bacteria
A recent study published in Nature Microbiology shows that individuals with depression had low levels of two types of “good” gut bacteria, Coprococcus and Dialister. The finding was consistent regardless of whether or not the subjects were taking antidepressants.
Interestingly, subjects who claimed to have a high mental quality of life were found to have plentiful levels of Coprococcus. The gut flora Faecalibacterium was also common among the same group.
While the study findings don’t outright prove that insufficient gut flora leads to mood disorders, they do strongly suggest a correlation. Moreover, it’s possible that the effect works in the opposite way, with mental health problems contributing to microbiome issues. The researchers further discovered that gut microbes can actually communicate with the body’s nervous system via neurotransmitters which support mental health.
The lead researcher said that many gut bacteria can produce neurotransmitters or precursors for critical substances like serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a role in regulating mood. Imbalances in these can also contribute to depression.
Based on this fascinating link, it’s possible that taking probiotics will one day become a prescriptive aspect of treating the effects of depression and perhaps boosting overall mood even in individuals without mental illness. In the meantime, discussing the option of probiotics as a means to promote disease prevention and overall health isn’t a bad idea anyhow. Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle tactics for boosting gut flora, such as incorporating probiotic-rich foods with live bacteria such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir into your diet. They may also suggest Vitamin A as a potential source to help as well.
Systemic lupus erythematosus or simply “lupus” is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect almost every organ and tissue in the body. Most people are aware of chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and a characteristic facial skin rash that occurs in people with lupus. However, the disease can affect the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, heart, eyes, lymph nodes, and brain. About half of all people with lupus will develop problems in their kidneys related to the disease. The most common kidney problem caused by lupus is a condition known as lupus nephritis.
Lupus nephritis may not cause any outward symptoms, though some patients report foamy urine. Physicians usually detect lupus nephritis during routine urinalysis. Lupus nephritis causes the kidneys to leak substantial amounts of protein in the urine. Over time, this protein loss can cause swelling in the hands, ankles, and feet, and may interfere with kidney function.
The main way in which lupus nephritis is treated is by using strong immunosuppressants such as glucocorticoids (“steroids”; prednisone), cyclophosphamide or mycophenolate mofetil. These immunosuppressing drugs can cause a number of serious and perhaps permanent side effects. Making matters worse, some people with lupus continue to have worsening lupus nephritis even after using these immunosuppressive drugs. In these cases, there is very little that can be done to treat the disease.
In order to help this group of individuals for whom regular treatments did not stop lupus nephritis from progressing, researchers conducted a clinical trial to test the effect of stem cells on this illness. Researchers collected allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord tissue. They then infused the stem cells in 81 patients with lupus nephritis and followed them for 12 months. Amazingly, 60.5% of patients enjoyed remission of their kidney disease by the 12-month visit. Kidney function (glomerular filtration rate; GFR) significantly improved in patients treated with mesenchymal stem cells. Likewise, total lupus disease activity (not just lupus nephritis) improved significantly 12 months after treatment. These improvements were so profound that patients were able to reduce their doses of prednisone and other immune-suppressing drugs. Importantly, the stem cells did not cause any apparent adverse effects.
If this work can be confirmed in subsequent clinical trials, it is exciting news for patients with lupus, especially those with lupus nephritis. This work suggests that stem cells may be able to reduce the doses of immunosuppressants currently used to treat lupus nephritis, and it may even stop the progression of this terrible illness in some patients. We eagerly await additional clinical research in this area.
Reference: Gu F et al. (2014). Allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for lupus nephritis patients refractory to conventional therapy. Clinical Rheumatology. 2014 Nov;33(11):1611-9.
Nowadays, you wouldn’t have to look very far to find advertisements for products containing hemp seed extract, or CBD oil. But how is this popular new solution made, and does it deliver on its promises to ease pain? Let’s explore what the compound consists of and how it may aid in pain management, below.
What is CBD Oil?
Cannabidiol, better known by the acronym “CBD,” is one of 104 chemical compounds derived from the hemp or cannabis plants. Typically, CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, then added to a carrier oil to form “CBD oil.” Because there are a number of different processes used to produce CBD oil, it can be found in varying strengths. As such, it’s advisable to consult with your physician before use.
Does It Help with Pain?
According to research published in 2017, adults suffering from chronic pain experienced “a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms” when treated with CBD. In a separate study, CBD was proven to reduce pain and inflammation. Although the findings are fairly recent, experts believe cannabis has been used as a pain reliever for thousands of years.
The pain-relieving effect is believed to work as follows: The body has a system referred to the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, which regulates functions such as pain and immune system responses. It produces endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters which bind to the nervous system’s cannabinoid receptors. Research demonstrates that CBD may influence endocannabinoid receptor activity, thereby alleviating inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.
For example, CBD has been shown to minimize pain from surgical incisions, alleviate sciatic nerve pain, and reduce inflammation. It has also been used to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
What Are Its Additional Benefits?
Despite having been used for millennia, the research surrounding the potential benefits of the powerful plant derivative is ongoing. Possible applications may include treatment for anxiety, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and seizures, and smoking cessation. Additionally, it is suspected CBD oil may hold promise for treating drug withdrawal, and in the future, conditions such as acne, diabetes, and cancer.
Currently, the legality of CBD oil varies by state, but the FDA has already approved CBD as a treatment for certain types of epilepsy. Thus, it’s possible that the compound could have a significant impact on treatment plans for chronic conditions in the future.
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Mesenchymal stem cells have two unique and powerful properties that make them the focus of intense scientific research. First, mesenchymal stem cells can escape recognition by the immune system. In other words, when mesenchymal stem cells are infused into the body, the immune system does not recognize them as foreign and does not react to them. If the immune system did respond to the stem cells, it would cause an aggressive and potentially deadly allergic or immunologic response. Second, mesenchymal stem cells have the power to inhibit the immune system. This means mesenchymal stem cells could be used to treat immunological and autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Multiple Sclerosis, and Crohn’s Disease, among others. In essence, mesenchymal stem cells can affect the immune system without triggering an inflammatory response making them an ideal treatment for these diseases.
For some time, mesenchymal stem cells extracted from bone marrow were thought to be the only type of mesenchymal stem cells capable of beneficially affecting the immune system. This fact is not necessarily bad, but it does mean that mesenchymal stem cell donors must undergo a bone marrow procedure, which can be painful and expensive. It would be far better if doctors could use mesenchymal stem cells taken from easier-to-get tissues such as fat (adipose), umbilical cord blood, or Wharton’s jelly (umbilical cord tissue). Most people have adequate amounts of fat just under the skin, and umbilical cord blood and tissue are thrown away as medical waste every day.
Fortunately for patients, Dr. Yoo and colleagues showed that mesenchymal stem cells taken from fat tissue, umbilical cord blood, and Wharton’s jelly exhibit the same immunomodulatory properties as mesenchymal stem cells taken from bone marrow. The researchers showed that these types of mesenchymal stem cells were able to suppress T-cell proliferation as effectively as those cells taken from bone marrow. T-cell proliferation, it should be pointed out, is a key step in autoimmune inflammation that occurs in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and others.
In short, mesenchymal stem cells taken from easier-to-get tissues were just as effective at suppressing inflammation (in vitro) as those taken from bone marrow. These results will need to be confirmed in clinical studies; however, this approach will be much more convenient and less expensive for patients and donors if they can use mesenchymal stem cells taken from fat or umbilical cord rather than bone marrow and yet reap the same benefits.
Reference: Yoo KH et al. (2009). Comparison of immunomodulatory properties of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult human tissues. Cell Immunology. 2009;259(2):150-6.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss and affects more than 10 million people across the U.S., which is more than both glaucoma and cataracts combined. The condition is characterized by the deterioration of the central retina, or macula, which focuses on central vision. This important area of the eye enables reading, driving, recognizing faces and colors, and allows us to see objects in detail.
Although AMD is currently incurable, there are ways you can limit your risks, and if diagnosed, potentially control its progression. Discover more about the condition and key prevention strategies below.
What Causes AMD?
While the specific mechanisms behind AMD are still not conclusively known, experts are on the verge of making groundbreaking discoveries in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. In particular, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are exploring gene therapies as a prevention strategy, and have discovered that subtle gene alterations are responsible for 75% of a person’s risk for developing AMD. They have also pinpointed a daily regimen of vitamins and minerals which delays the onset of the more advanced phases of the condition by 25%.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk?
Although the definitive cause for AMD has yet to be discovered, there are known factors which are known to increase risk. For this reason, the following lifestyle modifications may be your best line of defense for preventing AMD:
- Quit or Avoid Smoking: Research indicates that smoking doubles the risk of AMD, so if you haven’t already quit, make a plan to do so.
- Control Your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure has body-wide implications, but in the delicate blood vessels in your eyes, its effects are especially pronounced. It is therefore essential for anyone experiencing hypertension to work closely with their doctors on controlling their blood pressure levels.
- Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to protect against AMD. In particular, sedentary individuals were four times more likely to get AMD than those who exercised lightly at least 10 hours per week or moderately for 8 hours each week.
- Eat a Well-Balanced Diet: Based on the NIH’s AERDS study, experts believe high doses of critical nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc can slow the progression of both AMD and cataracts. This suggests nutrition may play a pivotal role in maintaining eye health with age, especially for at-risk populations including those with a family history of AMD.
- Consider Supplements: While diet should be your primary source for vitamins and minerals, even healthy eating patterns leave nutritional gaps. Moreover, participants in the aforementioned AERDS study who benefited from increased vitamin intake were given high doses which would be impossible to obtain through diet alone. If you have been diagnosed with early-stage AMD or face an elevated risk for the disease, consider discussing your supplement options with your doctor.