SAMe— Anti-aging Compound

SAMe Anti-Aging

Aging is a normal part of life. Mistakenly, however, people think of aging as a pathologic condition. Because of this mindset, people often remedy signs of aging with Botox®, anti-wrinkle crèmes, or facelifts. While it’s a personal choice to improve the way one looks on the outside, aging well begins on the inside. The typical American diet is a major promoter of advanced aging. It triggers hostile free radicals and pro-inflammatory molecules, which damage DNA and pollutes the body’s detoxifying systems.   

DNA, as I’ve mentioned, is not set in stone. The epigenome is a layer of molecules that lay above the genome; the epigenome interfaces with the environment (e.g., air, food, water, and stress) to activate or deactivate genes. Such epigenomic interactions can support health or trigger disease. Many important compounds activate good genes in the body. But as we age these substances become depleted, so it’s helpful to incorporate these bioactive molecules in our diet either through foods or supplements.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a compound that is found throughout the body, and it’s needed for normal biochemical reactions in the body. With age, however, it’s levels decrease rendering several functions deficient.  As its name suggests, SAMe contains methyl groups (organic molecules that consist of three carbons and one hydrogen molecule), which makes it a methyl donor. Methylation is an epigenetic process; it is required for the synthesis of many crucial chemical reactions in the body.  As a methyl donor, SAMe is involved in the synthesis of the nucleic acids, hormones, proteins, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids. As a result, SAMe has a wide-range of functions in the body:

  1. Regulates gene expression and DNA repair
  2. Maintains cellular support, structure, and fluidity
  3. Facilitates metabolic processes
  4. Synthesizes and recycles hormones and neurotransmitters

Besides methylating chemical reactions, SAMe is a potent detoxifier too. It synthesizes glutathione (a powerful fighter against free radical damage in the body). Glutathione is plentiful in the liver, which detoxifies the body from the barrage of toxic attacks on a daily basis. By replenishing glutathione, SAMe also supports the liver’s health. SAMe also enhances another powerful antioxidant—superoxide dismutase. It also produces polyamines, which are compounds involved in supporting the cell cycle and initiating apoptosis (programmed cell death).  SAMe acts as an anti-aging compound. The activity of SAMe in the body has been shown to help slow down the effects of chronic disease and advanced aging in various studies.

Scientists have recognized the effects of SAMe as an antidepressant that is well tolerated and has few side effects. A review of clinical trials shows that Cymbalta fails to treat 23% of patients who are taking the medication for their depression.1 However, patients taking SAMe experienced a significant improvement in their mood.2,3 (Remember SAMe synthesizes cell signaling molecules such as serotonin, which at low levels has been associated with depression.)

SAMe is also helpful in treating chronic, age-related conditions, such as insomnia, neurodegenerative diseases. In people with sleep disorders, SAMe has been shown to boost melatonin (sleep-associated hormone) by converting N-acetylserotonin to melatonin.4 Melatonin is a gero-protector because it has been associated with promoting longevity.4  In neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, SAMe has strong antioxidant activity that helps to improve cognitive function and prevent neurodegeneration.5,6

In integrative medicine, patients’ levels for key health-promoting compounds are evaluated. Patients with low levels of important nutrients such as SAMe will develop chronic health problems because their bodies aren’t equipped to fight the toxic burdens it’s faced with on a daily basis. SAMe supplements will help modify genes to promote wellness and keep biochemical disturbances (e.g., oxidative stress and inflammation) at bay.

References:

1.         Gueorguieva R, Mallinckrodt C, Krystal JH. Trajectories of depression severity in clinical trials of duloxetine: insights into antidepressant and placebo responses. Archives of general psychiatry. 2011;68(12):1227-1237.

2.         Salmaggi P, Bressa G, Nicchia G, Coniglio M, La Greca P, Le Grazie C. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of S-adenosyl-L-methionine in depressed postmenopausal women. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics. 1993;59(1):34-40.

3.         Fava M, Giannelli A, Rapisarda V, Patralia A, Guaraldi GP. Rapidity of onset of the antidepressant effect of parenteral S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Psychiatry research. 1995;56(3):295-297.

4.         Sandrock AW, Leblanc GG, Wong DL, Ciaranello RD. Regulation of Rat Pineal Hydroxyindole‐O‐Methyltransferase: Evidence of S‐Adenosylmethionine‐Mediated Glucocorticoid Control. Journal of neurochemistry. 1980;35(3):536-543.

5.         Bottiglieri T, Godfrey P, Flynn T, Carney M, Toone B, Reynolds E. Cerebrospinal fluid S-adenosylmethionine in depression and dementia: effects of treatment with parenteral and oral S-adenosylmethionine. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 1990;53(12):1096-1098.

6.         Obeid R, Schadt A, Dillmann U, Kostopoulos P, Fassbender K, Herrmann W. Methylation status and neurodegenerative markers in Parkinson disease. Clinical chemistry. 2009;55(10):1852-1860.

 

Foods, Toxins, and ADHD

Young boy reluctant to do homework

Find out what you can do about foods and toxins that worsen ADHD symptoms.

Certain foods and toxins have been associated with worsening ADHD symptoms; there are, however, things you can do to minimize this effect.

Kids can be fidgety, overactive, impulsive, and inattentive. In the age of social media, these behaviors, particularly inattentiveness, can be further amplified by the world of tweeting, Instagramming, and texting. And while some children can buckle down and focus when it matters (e.g., to do homework or to sit for a test), other children can’t. These kids are often restless, disruptive, and unfocused. And their inattentiveness and extremely active behavior affects all aspects of their lives and the people around them. These children have either been diagnosed with ADHD or will be diagnosed.

ADHD is one of the most common types of neurological disorders affecting children in the United States. Children and adolescents with ADHD have trouble focusing and exhibit impulse control and other behavioral issues; unfortunately, as they get older these symptoms persists in adulthood.

Toxins and ADHD

As an integrative oncologist, I’ve dedicated much of my career to exploring toxicogenomics—the science of how environmental toxins influence gene expression. Although I am cancer specialist, my practice is structured toward treating the whole person through a combination of allopathic approaches and integrative therapies. And many times toxins play a huge role in diseases. In fact, toxins in the environment and in food have been linked to ADHD:

  • In one study the blood concentration levels of lead, aluminum, and mercury were measured in non-ADHD children who resided near a metal-processing plant.1 These children underwent testing to assess for issues in behavior (hyperactivity) and focus (inattentiveness).  Of the three metals, lead was the only one associated with the development of ADHD-specific symptoms in the children.
  • In a six-week randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, children who consumed foods and beverages that were devoid of sodium benzoate (a preservative) and food-coloring agents were evaluated.2 At weeks 2, 4, and 6, the children were either placed in a group that received either the plain juice (placebo) or juice that contain additives. The researchers reported that a significant increase in hyperactivity was observed among children who consumed drinks that contained artificial colors.

Avoid These Food Triggers

Because hyperactivity and inattentiveness underscore this condition, it is essential to avoid foods that exacerbate these symptoms. During your next run to the grocery store, keep these foods out of your shopping cart:

  • How Sweet It Is…Not: It’s no secret that sugar has kids bouncing off of the walls. In children with an ADHD diagnosis, foods high in sugar only worsen their condition. Sodas and fruit juices contain high amounts of sugar; don’t buy them for your kids. To ensure that your children aren’t overloading on sugars, you should read food labels. Avoid foods that contain ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, molasses, malt syrup, and sucrose.
  • Skip the Food Bling: These attractive extras such as food coloring and preservatives are meant only to look and taste good. But the nutritional value is often lacking. Multicolored cereals, for example, should be avoided. And skip the artificial drinks that have added flavor and artificial color (Opt for 100% fruit juices instead).
  • Food Allergies: Some children have allergies or sensitivities to foods that contain gluten, wheat, corn, and soy that have been associated with hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Discuss testing for food allergies and sensitivity with your child’s pediatrician.

Pay Attention to Helpful Nutrients

Now that you have a mental checklist of what you need to avoid while shopping for your family, here are some healthier options to add to your child’s diet:

  • Omega-3 Fats: These fats are good for your health: boosts immunity, bolsters heart health, and transmits brain signals. Data show children with ADHD tend to have an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Which is no surprise because omega-3 fatty acids are usually lacking in the typical American diet. Increase omega-3 levels by eating cold-water fish such as tuna and salmon. There may, however, be some children who may not like the taste of fish. Studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3 improves ADHD symptoms.3,4
  • Minerals: Not all mineral deficiencies trigger ADHD. For instance, iron deficiency has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems in children with ADHD.5 While stronger studies are warranted, preliminary findings in studies evaluating the effects of zinc and magnesium have shown promising results.6,7  Food sources for these minerals include poultry, lean meat, seafood, nuts, and fortified cereals.
  • Phytonutrients: Phytonutrients have also shown promise in the treatment of ADHD. One such phytonutrient is pycnogenol, an antioxidant from pine bark or grape seeds. Preliminary research suggests Pycnogenol® may reduce symptoms such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, poor concentration, and visual-motor coordination problems in children with ADHD.8
  • B Vitamins: These vitamins help to synthesize neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine and serotonin) that are crucial to brain function. Research shows increasing low levels of B vitamins in children led to improvements in attention span and behavior.9

Yoga and meditation should not be overlooked; while larger-scale studies are warranted, current data on these therapies show encouraging results in improving symptoms of ADHD.10,11

Although there is no cure for ADHD, it’s manageable. Children can grow up to be well adapted, functioning adults. With early interventions such as thorough medical evaluations and treatments as well as a diet that promotes brain health, children can better manage their disease.

References:

1.         Nicolescu R, Petcu C, Cordeanu A, et al. Environmental exposure to lead, but not other neurotoxic metals, relates to core elements of ADHD in Romanian children: Performance and questionnaire data. Environmental Research. 7// 2010;110(5):476-483.

2.         McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet. 2007;370(9598):1560-1567.

3.         Sorgi PJ, Hallowell EM, Hutchins HL, Sears B. Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutr J. 2007;6(16):16.

4.         Richardson AJ, Puri BK. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the effects of supplementation with highly unsaturated fatty acids on ADHD-related symptoms in children with specific learning difficulties. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. 2002;26(2):233-239.

5.         Konofal E, Lecendreux M, Arnulf I, Mouren M-C. Iron deficiency in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine. 2004;158(12):1113-1115.

6.         Akhondzadeh S, Mohammadi M-R, Khademi M. Zinc sulfate as an adjunct to methylphenidate for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: a double blind and randomized trial [ISRCTN64132371]. BMC psychiatry. 2004;4(1):9.

7.         Starobrat-Hermelin B, Kozielec T. The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test. Magnesium research: official organ of the International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium. 1997;10(2):149-156.

8.         Trebatická J, Kopasová S, Hradečná Z, et al. Treatment of ADHD with French maritime pine bark extract, Pycnogenol®. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006/09/01 2006;15(6):329-335.

9.         Mousain-Bosc M, Roche M, Polge A, Pradal-Prat D, Rapin J, Bali JP. Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6. I. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Magnes Res. Mar 2006;19(1):46-52.

10.        Black DS, Milam J, Sussman S. Sitting-Meditation Interventions Among Youth: A Review of Treatment Efficacy. Pediatrics. September 1, 2009 2009;124(3):e532-e541.

11.        Harrison LJ, Manocha R, Rubia K. Sahaja Yoga Meditation as a Family Treatment Programme for Children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry. October 1, 2004 2004;9(4):479-497.

Gene Slows Down Aging

stop aging

The anti-aging market is saturated with all sorts of potions, lotions, and pills. These items are marketed to tap into our concerns (and, for some, fears) of getting older: wrinkles, frown lines, and love handles. But aging concerns are not limited to outward appearances only. Diseases of aging—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases—adversely affect the older adults quality of life.

Which is why many scientists are dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat these conditions. At UCLA, a group scientists have discovered two anti-aging genes: AMPK and Atg1. To study these genes, the scientists worked with the fruit fly, Drosophilia melanogaster. Why study those pesky flies that are drawn to your fruit bowl? Remarkably D. melanogaster shares over 60% of the human genome, this makes the fruit fly a powerful model for studying metabolic processes in the human body. Furthermore, scientists can target specific genes in the fruit fly and turn those genes off and on.

In a UCLA study, researchers identified and activated AMPK and Atg1 in the nervous and gastrointestinal systems. They observed that both genes had the ability to slow systemic aging and induce autophagy (cellular self-digestion) in both systems (i.e., brain and gut). Autophagy is triggered to eliminate old or injured parts of cells. If these cellular components aren’t removed from cells in time, the entire cell will be rendered useless. The build up of damaged cells in tissues interrupts normal cellular processes. For instance, the accumulation of protein plaques is the hallmark sign of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. By inducing the autophagic process, cellular debris that cause age-associated diseases are eliminated.

The activation of intestinal AMPK boosted the fruit flies’ lifespan by about 30%. The fruits flies lifespan is about 6 weeks, but after AMPK activation the flies lived for roughly 8 weeks. AMPK autophagic activity is not only tissue specific but also systemic; the activation of AMPK in one area signals an autophagic ripple effect throughout the rest of the body.

Also, to show causation, not correlation, between autophagy and longevity, the UCLA scientists deactivated the Atg1 gene, which shut off autophagy. Consequently, anti-aging effects were absent in the fruit flies.

Glucose obtained from food is broken down to make cellular energy (ATP). When ATP is low, AMPK acts as an energy sensor and becomes activated. There is another way to activate AMPK: metformin. Metformin comes from an herb called the French lilac. In European folk medicine, the herb dates back to about 300 years for its use as an antidiabetic treatment. In 1955, metformin was first used as an approved antidiabetic drug in Europe. Besides activating the AMPK gene, metformin turns on numerous tumor suppressor genes. So its controls blood sugar, slows down aging, and fights cancer. Metformin also has a favorable safety profile, which is why I recommend this drug to my patients as an antidiabetic and adjuvant chemotherapeutic drug.

AMPK is an essential part of protecting the body from age-related diseases. The UCLA study turned on the AMPK gene in the brain and gut. As it pertains to the development of AMPK-delivered treatment, the brain poses some difficulty because it’s not as accessible as the gut or other organs. The science, however, is not available; it could take years to develop this type of anti-aging treatment. Do worry. I have you covered with plenty of options to promote health and longevity:

Boost your metabolism with physical activity—the higher your resting metabolism, the more calories you’re burning. Start slow and get into a routine. Once you are comfortable, increase your repetitions or length of time you workout.

Drink lots of H2O—The body is made up of over 70% water. Water is required for various cellular activities: for example, water lubricates joints, transports nutrients and oxygen and other substances to cells, and eliminates waste.

Get a Good Night’s Rest—After a sleep deprived night, what do you see when you look in the mirror? Dark circles under your eyes, perhaps. How do you feel? You probably feel agitated, groggy, and fatigued. Get ample rest. You’re body needs it. Adequate and restful sleep maintains a healthy immune system, improves learning and memory, and promotes safety. In fact, sleep deprivation has been estimated to contribute to about 100,000 car accidents each year and results in 1,500 MVA-related deaths.

Eat Right—Eat a diet that is balanced in healthy carbs, fats, and proteins. Consume loads of organic fruits and vegetables. Add herbs and spices to your meals such as turmeric and garlic—both contain nutrients that fight cancer.

Antioxidant Supplements: Are They Good For You?

Natural Antioxidant Supplements

If you have joint pain, then there’s a supplement to help you with your arthritic problem. Maybe you’re concerned about memory, you can find something at your local pharmacy for that too. Suffering from fatigue? No worries because you’re bound to find something to give you an energy boost. No matter what your health woes might be there’s a supplement you can find to help you. And antioxidant supplements are incredibly popular because they fight against harmful free radicals, which are substances that destroy tissue and lead to health problems like heart disease and cancer. But many studies are reporting an opposite effect that antioxidants are harmful to your health.

While the FDA requires manufacturers of supplements to disclose information on the label (e.g., such as a complete list of ingredients, a descriptive name for the supplement, distributor information), manufacturers don’t need FDA approval before they market their supplements. In fact, the safety and efficacy of supplements are strictly the manufacturers’ responsibility, unlike pharmaceutical drugs that must undergo rigorous testing and clinical trials to demonstrate the drug’s safety and effectiveness before they can be marketed to the public.

A Deeper Look at Studies

To complicate matters even further, the body of research on the use of antioxidant supplements is quite overwhelming—with some research in support of or against the use of antioxidants. From news headlines to tweets to the evening news, the coverage of pro- and anti-antioxidant studies has people running to buy supplements one day and dumping their pills the next day. For example, one study explored the effects of beta-carotene in smokers; the study reported that beta-carotene increased lung cancer risk among smokers. It should be noted, however, that a synthetic form of beta-carotene was used in the study. The downside of using synthetic beta-carotene is that it’s not from a natural source. Also, beta-carotene is one of many carotenoids found in plant-based foods. So isolating beta-carotene doesn’t mimic how nutrients in food work together in the body. Besides, fruits and vegetables contain multiple nutrients in which antioxidant activity is one of many functions; nutrients also work to boost immunity, trigger cancer cell death, and detoxify the body.

In another study, researchers found that antioxidant supplement use is associated with advanced aging. They go even further to say that free radicals promote longevity. The researchers increased the levels of free radicals in nematodes (these round worms have nervous systems that function at the same level as higher functioning organisms), and it resulted in the increased lifespan of the worm. Cell death is triggered to kill damaged, old, or abnormal cells. While free radicals target cells by triggering apoptosis only healthy cells can defend against free radicals, while weaker cells will die. So free radical damage is a selective process that is needed to eliminate weaker cells and allow stronger cells to survive. The findings of this study are intriguing because they turn free radicals, which have had a bad rap for causing tissue damage, into a necessary process for cell survival—allowing only the strong to survive. And the use of antioxidant supplements prevents that process.

Yet antioxidants are an important part of our health because they do help to keep tissues healthy in our present-day environment (refined foods, polluted air and water, cigarette smoke). And surprisingly, free radicals are borne of a process that is required for our survival—the production of cellular energy.

A Closer Look at Free Radicals and Antioxidants

For the most part, people think free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good. Yet this view is too simple and doesn’t describe the entire interaction between these two substances. The free radical–antioxidant relationship requires balance. Free radical attack is also referred to as oxidative stress and is a sequela of a natural process by which our body uses food to produce energy (ATP) by a process aptly named oxidation. Our body needs energy to carry out cellular activity; one of the pathways to produce cellular energy is called oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos). Carbon-carbon bonds of food are broken down to produce ATP—the energy currency needed by every cell in the body. OxPhos takes place in the mitochondria (an intracellular warehouse for energy storage) and uses oxygen to break the bonds between carbon molecules to produce ATP. During the process of OxPhos, some unpaired electrons escape the ATP producing machinery to interact with ambient oxygen, and this leads to the development of free radicals. The free radicals have unpaired electrons, so they act as scavengers stealing electrons from various components of cells like cell membranes or DNA.

Antioxidants are molecules that act as a barrier to protect cells from the oxidizing damage of free radicals. The antioxidants happily give electrons to free radicals and wait for another antioxidant to replace the electron it has given away. The difference between free radicals and antioxidants is that the latter is quite stable even after it loses an electron to free radical molecules. While the body is equipped with its natural stores of free radical fighters, the body can deplete its antioxidant stores easily while defending against poor diet, lack of exercise, and poisons that invade our water and air. Even glutathione, an abundant and potent antioxidant made by the liver, is used up readily because of excessive toxic offenders. Here are just a few examples:

  • Halogenated hydrocarbons (commonly found in non-stick cookware, pesticides, plastics, and herbicides) are toxins that pollute ground water.
  • Cigarette smoke toxins are in the trillions and quickly use up the bodies antioxidant supply.
  • OTC drugs such as Tylenol® damage the liver, which is the organ responsible for making glutathione.
  • Diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods and refined sugars lack the nutritional support; poor diet tips the scale in support of free radical attack.

High-quality, not synthetic, supplements are meant to boost your health. Especially in today’s world where poor diet, over-the-counter drugs, lifestyle choices, and the environment have a significant impact on health. Supplements play a significant role in health. For instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends folic acid supplementation for all women planning or able to have children in order to prevent neural tube defects.

Some antioxidants used in isolation can be harmful because that’s just not how a healthy diet works. Eating a healthy diet that includes plant-based foods and organic lean meats provide a variety of health-promoting nutrients that carry out myriad functions to protect the body. The analysis of studies show that the use of 3 or fewer synthetic antioxidants doesn’t affect health in a positive way; in fact, it may carry some bad side effects. But the use of 5 or more antioxidants is associated with health benefits. Nutrition is a complex process that involves many variables. However, clinical trials that explore nutrients are usually setup in a similar way to drug studies—the cause and effect (or lack of one) is based on a one-on-one relationship, which is hardly the case when it comes to food. Good health depends largely on many nutrients interacting together.

While I’m a proponent of pharmaceutical-grade supplements, I believe supplements are a secondary option to food and should only be used to support not replace a good diet. Nutritional deficiencies begin with taking a look at what is in your cupboard and refrigerator and what is one your plate. Leave processed foods on the shelves at the supermarket. Instead, eat organically produced meat, fruits, and vegetables. This is always a great place to start when it comes to a healthy lifestyle because you’re getting a variety of healthful nutrients that support the body’s natural defense systems to protect against advanced aging and disease.

Shielding Too Much From The Sun

safe sun practices

Based on a poll conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, 42% of people reported that they get sunburned at least one time each year.

Sunburns over the years result in basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are known as nonmelanomas. Melanomas, however, form from intense sun exposure that results in skin blisters. According to the American Cancer Society, over 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States. And although melanomas compose less than 2% of all skin cancers, they are by far the deadliest.

The sun, however, isn’t the villain when it comes to our skin: the imbalance between sun blocking tactics and adequate sun exposure is the true issue. Yes, too much sun exposure isn’t good for you. We’ve all been there at one point in our lives (some more than others) when you notice the redness and pain in a patch of skin. As the days move on the skin-fried area will blister and the skin will begin to peel.

Ouch!

But the skin will heal, eventually. The bigger problem is when continual sunburn gives way to skin cancer.

Skin Cancer is Often Missed

Skin cancer believe it or not is often treatable. Unfortunately, many people miss the telltale signs of skin cancer: discolored skin patch, new mole, scaly areas, pigmented area under fingernail. There are many signs that point toward skin cancer; the American Academy of Dermatology offers an exhaustive list of things you should look out for.

Since a list exists, why aren’t more people noticing these skin changes to catch cancer early on? Well, for one, it’s hard to examine certain places on your body such as your back. So in that instance, it’s a good idea (especially if you’ve been out in the sun a lot) to get someone else to check your back for you. If your family member notices anything while checking your back for any skin patches or pigmented areas, you should bring it up to your doctor for a professional opinion.

Once you notice a change in your skin texture or color, watch it over time, even if your doctor says it’s nothing. Just look at it: if it’s in an area that’s hard for you to see, ask someone else to check it out for you. Keep track of any changes: does it worsen? has it started to ooze? is it bleeding? what do you notice about the shape?

It’s All About the D-light!

The sun feels great on our skin, which is why people flock to beaches and lounge poolside when the summer weather kicks in. Yet, the sun is feared by many because of its ability to burn your skin and trigger normal skin cells to become cancer cells.  For many folks who fear the sun’s damaging effects, they never leave home without slathering loads of sunscreen, carrying umbrellas to block the sun, and wearing both large-brim hats and sunglasses.

The sun has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The problem isn’t the sun but the way people tip the scale toward either extreme. Think of a playground seesaw. If two kids of similar weight each sit on one end of the seesaw, then the seesaw is balanced. Once an adult trades places with one of the kids the seesaw is no longer balanced. That’s what happens when too much sunscreen is slathered on — people block out the sun’s production of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is made when the sun hits the skin. Sunlight triggers a series of reactions in skin to produce vitamin D. So if the sun is blocked by powerful SPFs people become deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D is associated with bone strength; however, the nutrient has many other healthful benefits: enhances immunity, prevents cancer, reduces sunburn, and protects against conditions such as heart disease.

When it comes to sun exposure, too little means vitamin D deficiency and too much spells sunburns and skin cancer risk. Engage in sun safe practices: the goal year-round is to allow your skin to get a limited amount of sun exposure before putting on your sunscreen, so you’re not blocking sunlight completely. For more information, check out the American Cancer Society’s tips on sun protection.

Animal Protein Lowers Stroke Risk

Animal Protein

All roads of chronic disease lead to inflammation. Chronic, low-grade inflammation, not acute inflammation, is involved with the development of many complex medical problems, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. Acute inflammation is a normal physiological response to infection and injury in the body; inflammation is characterized by swelling, redness, heat, and pain all of which are caused by vasodilation, increased blood flow, and immune cells flooding the area in response to tissue damage or an infection. Acute inflammation lasts anywhere from minutes to hours to a few days at the most. However, when inflammation lasts for several days to years, the normal process becomes abnormal. Just think about what happens during an inflammatory response—specialized cells that neutralize and engulf debris and microorganisms migrate into an area of damaged tissue; dilated blood vessels bring heat, swelling, and redness to the area too. After months and years of this type of response damage in the tissues ensue.

What causes chronic inflammation? Well a lot of the toxins in our environment introduce poisons into our body, and those toxins trigger an inflammatory response. Over time, the inflammation becomes chronic and leads to disease. Our diet is another way in which chronic inflammation develops. Foods such as refined grains, sugar, and flour and fast food activate proinflammatory molecules in the body, which cause disease. Cardiovascular disease is a classic example of how chronic inflammation triggers disease in the body. Part of the paradigm of inflammation is increased blood flow. In chronic inflammation, continued vasodilation causes wear and tear to the blood vessel’s inner lining, which is called the endothelium. A loss of integrity in the endothelial layer disrupts many of the normal functions of this vascular layer and results in the following problems:

  • Loss of clotting ability
  • Impaired immune response
  • Impair vascular dilation or constriction

Endothelial dysfunction plays a significant role in cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke because arteries lose the ability to dilate fully. Both a heart attack and a stroke occur because adequate blood is not supplied to the heart or brain, respectively. During a stroke, the arteries supplying a part of the brain are partially or completely blocked, which prevents that area of the brain from receiving oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes of a stroke that area of the brain begins to die. So it’s important to prevent strokes from happening in the first place.

There are many medical recommendations to prevent the risk of a cardiovascular event. A healthy diet and adequate physical activity are two important ways to ensure cardiovascular health. In particular, a meta-analysis published in Neurology concluded that animal protein helps to reduce the risk of stroke. The meta-analysis analyzed the diet and health of over 254,000 study participants who were included in 7 prospective studies and were followed for 14 years. The study adjusted for confounding variables such as elevated cholesterol levels and smoking. The consumption of animal protein resulted in a greater reduction than vegetable protein for stroke risk, which was 29% and 12%, respectively.

While the meta-analysis provides great insights into the importance of protein for health, it’s crucial to recognize that all protein sources—albeit a necessary macronutrient—are not created equally. Animal protein may provide greater protection against strokes; however, it also contains a lot of saturated fat too, which isn’t good for heart health.  When it comes to animal food choices, choose lean animal protein like fish. Fish such as salmon, cod, and mackerel not only provide a good source of protein but also offer omega-3 fats, which is a good anti-inflammatory and pro-heart health nutrient. Free-range chickens are also a good source of animal protein, and they also contain healthy fats like omega-3 too. Opt for grass-fed chicken, beef, pork, and turkey because they are leaner meats, which contain less fat and healthy nutrients.  And don’t make the mistake of eating less vegetables because the provide protein, contain less saturated fat, and pack various bioactive compounds that fight free radical damage and turn off cancer promoter genes. Eat a wide range of vegetables for ample coverage that protects against strokes and other health conditions.

Slather Sunscreen Again and Again

Bottle of Suncreen

In the summer months, we’re all in need of a bit of rest and relaxation. Whether you choose to sit on the grass at your local park or enjoy a Caribbean vacation, there are some things you need to consider while you’re having fun—SPF protection. Sun exposure is a year-round concern. But it is especially dangerous when you’re skin is exposed for prolonged hours to the blazing sunlight during summer months. Our relationship with the sun is a complex one: we need the sun because it’s the best source of vitamin D, yet too much sun exposure leaves telltale signs of skin damage such as wrinkles, sallowness, and age spots. Over time, however, prolonged UV light exposure causes skin cell damage that leads to cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancers, which are based on the cell type that is affected by sun exposure: basal cell skin cancer (common in fair skin people), squamous cell skin cancer (common in dark skin people), and melanoma. Of these types of skin cancer, melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and the most difficult to treat.

Melanoma develops in pigment cells called melanocytes. People are at an increased risk for developing melanoma if they’ve had a history of blistering sunburns or had intense sun exposure. While melanoma commonly shows up on chest, back, and extremities, melanomas can also be found under the nail bed, on the palms of the hand, or on the soles of the feet. Melanomas also begin to develop in moles or pigmented skin areas such as birthmarks or freckles.

The diagnosis of melanoma is not an easy task because these skin changes can be easily missed, especially when the focus of your doctor’s visit may be related to something else altogether. With limited time to discuss your most pressing concerns with your physician, it’s likely that a skin exam won’t make it on the roster of things to evaluate during a physical exam. So it’s important that you look at your skin and bring up any changes you notice to your doctor. Some things to look out for include noticeable changes in an existing mole, the development of a new mole, or the formation of an unusual growth or pigmented patch of skin. Is the mole oozing or bleeding? Does your mole itch? Has the growth changed color? Does it have an irregular border? Is your mole asymmetrical in shape?

Despite the characteristic changes of moles and pigmented areas of skin, it is still very difficult to identify the changes, especially if the occur in hard-to-see areas like your scalp or back. For areas that are hard to see, ask a family to help or use a handheld mirror.

With all cancers, it’s better to prevent it from occurring in the first place, then to treat it.  Since melanoma develops due to sun exposure, SPF protection makes sense, right? Well new research says that sunscreen doesn’t completely shield you from UV light damage. This may come as quite a surprise given that SPF protection has been rigorously supported as a preventive measure against skin cancer.

Slather Sunscreen Again and Again

Wait! Before you throw out your SPF, don’t because you still need it. The study identified TP53, which is a tumor suppressor gene that corrects the UV ray damage done to DNA in skin cells. Researchers looked at the protective impact of SPF-50 creams used on mice. In spite of the use of the heavy-duty sunscreen, the mice still developed tumors albeit fewer tumors than the mice who were not given SPF protection.

To protect against skin cancer take the following precautions:

  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
  • Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun (e.g., brim hat, sunglasses)
  • Request a annual mole check
  • Check your skin for new moles, abnormal changes in existing moles, and suspicious lesions
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF ≥ 30 when you’re outdoors (during intense sun exposure reapply SPF every 2 to 3 hours and if you are swimming or sweating a lot reapply it every 1 to 2 hours)

Skin cancer is the most common cancer among Americans, and melanoma is an aggressive cancer that carries a poor prognosis the farther away it migrates from skin to organs and bones in the body. If it’s found early, before metastasis, it is highly treatable. Protect yourself this summer and throughout the year because UV light can damage DNA at any time.

Lyme Light: Understanding the Tick-Borne Bacteria

Deer Tick in Glass Vial

Borrelia is the genus name for the bacterial spirochete that causes Lyme disease. The disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi in the United States; the European relatives of the bacteria are Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. The origin of Lyme disease dates back about 40 years when in the mid-70s children living in Lyme, CT were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is a disease most commonly seen in older adults, although there is a juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) form. However, it’s highly unlikely that a group of children living in the same city would develop cases of JRA. Once the children’s parents brought their story to the attention of researchers, further studies led to the 1982 discovery of the cause of the inflammatory condition in these children—bacteria found in the stomach of a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). These ticks serve as vectors and carry Borrelia burgdorferi in their stomachs until they bite someone and transfer the bacterium to a person. The fifty states have all reported cases of Lyme disease; however, the northeastern part of the U.S. tends to have the most cases.

Interestingly, Oregon State University researchers found ticks fossilized in 15- to 20-million-year-old amber that was located in the Dominican Republic; the ticks were infected with spirochete bacteria that closely resemble Borrelia, which is commonly found in present-day ticks. With this new evidence, it’s clear that ticks have been around well before they were first identified in ‘82. During warmer months, people enjoy spending more time outdoors, which is a good thing as it relates to the health benefits of getting vitamin D from the sun (but don’t spend all day without putting on your SPF), such as improving bone strength, boosting immune function, and even preventing cancer. Unfortunately, spending time outdoors exposes you to a host of other dangers too like tick bites.

It Starts With a Bite
Once you’ve been bitten by a deer tick the bacteria moves into your skin.  Within a few days Lyme disease’s classic bull’s-eye rash develops, which is an expanding pattern of rings forming around the bite mark. However, the rash called erythema migrans doesn’t always develop in everyone and in people with darker skin tones it may be hard to identify the rash. Nonspecific symptoms are also present (e.g., headache, fatigue, muscle and joint stiffness). A rash can be missed, symptoms can be nonspecific, and patients may not even recall getting bit by a tick. After all a tick bite is tiny and difficult to spot. Within days or weeks, the rash will resolve itself and at that time the bacteria continue to spread undetected to cause disease in the heart (arrhythmias, heart failure), nervous system (confusion, Bell’s palsy), and joints (pain, swelling, stiffness, particularly in the knees).

Diagnosing Lyme disease
The classic bull’s-eye rash is helpful in diagnosing Lyme disease. However, when this sign is missing, doctors often rely on history (e.g., the patient was in an area in which Lyme disease is common). If the patient is showing signs of joint pain or heart disease, then running a series of test is required to exclude diseases that may present with similar findings. In the later stages of Lyme disease, the bacteria trigger the production of antibodies to fight off the infection. A lab test is used to confirm Lyme disease; however, it’s reliable within four weeks of a tick bite. Lab testing in patients suspected of Lyme disease is most helpful when (1) there is a 4-week history of a tick bite or (2) there are inexplicable disorders affecting the heart, joint, or nervous system.

Treating Lyme Disease
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. The type of treatment a patient receives is determined by the stage of the disease: earlier stages are usually treated with oral antibiotics, later stages with intravenous drugs. For swelling and joint pain, an anti-inflammatory drug such as Motrin can be used.

Because Lyme bacteria can lead to disorders of the heart, joint, and nervous system, it’s important that you recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease, especially if you’ve been camping, hiking, or walking in woody, grassy areas. Borrelia burgdorferi, it appears with the latest research, has been around for many more years than what was previously thought. Recognize the symptoms of this tenacious microbe so you can bring concerns of Lyme infection to your physician sooner rather than later.

Getting “D” Good Stuff

Smiling Woman Facing the Sun

Vitamin D is necessary for our survival. Thankfully, the body can manufacture its own vitamin D with some help from the sun, of course. When we expose our skin to the sun, the UV light that touches our skin ignites a cascade of reactions that allow the body to make vitamin D. The downside of the body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D is that most people live in places that get very little sunshine for several months out of the year. In particular, winter months not only see less daylight but people also spend very little time outdoors.

A limited number of food sources naturally contain vitamin D like animal liver. Because of this some foods, such as dairy products, are fortified with vitamin D to widen the dietary options. Relying on food is not enough, especially if you know you’re not getting that much exposure to the sun. To understand why vitamin D is crucial for good health, let’s take a look at what it does:

  1. Strengthens bones
  2. Enhances the absorbability of other important nutrients (e.g., calcium and phosphorus), which aid in maintain strong bones
  3. Protects the cardiovascular system
  4. Improves brain activity
  5. Boosts immune function
  6. Prevents cancer

With a list such as this, it’s no wonder why sun exposure makes us feel good. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in vitamin D for various reasons:

  • Sunscreen use – yes, blocking harmful UV light protects against skin cancer; however, it also blocks your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D. Thirty minutes a day of sunlight at least two times a week is adequate for building up vitamin D levels. (Be sure to use sunscreen for the remainder of the day.)
  • Diet – a processed food diet filled with unhealthy carbs won’t provide you with anything but calories
  • Age – older adults have low levels of vitamin D because the body’s ability to make it declines with age
  • Skin tone – melanin, a substance that gives skin its pigment, is a natural sunscreen; this is mainly why African Americans with darker skin tones will have low vitamin D levels
  • Location – where you live can influence your ability to make vitamin D: people who live in northern latitudes can’t produce adequate amounts of vitamin D for most of the year because of limited daylight during winter months. Vitamin D can be stored during summer months for use during the winter. However, because many factors affect vitamin D absorbability, most people exhaust their vitamin D reserves if they rely on sun exposure alone.

Vitamin D does many good things for the body, but many factors limit its production too. Low vitamin D levels are particularly dangerous because it increases the likelihood of heart disease and cancer. It’s also been shown to increase the development of breast and prostate cancers and metastasis (the spread of cancer). The low vitamin D–cancer association stems from a host of mechanisms—one being the vitamin’s inability to activate natural killer (NK) cells, which are immune cells. NK cells block microbial and cancer cells by stifling their growth and spread throughout the body. Healthy vitamin D levels promote cancer cell death by increasing NK cell activity.

Vitamin D is crucial for good health on a number of levels. It’s likely, however, that you’re not getting enough vitamin D by relying on diet and sun exposure. While foods such as cereals and milk are fortified with vitamin D, other dietary sources are quite limited (e.g., eggs, mackerel, salmon, tuna). Food, however, is not enough: which is why I recommend vitamin D supplements to my patients. As a matter of fact, I don’t absorb vitamin D as well and take it as a supplement to maintain my vitamin D levels at a healthy range. Before you start taking vitamin D supplements, visit you doctor and ask to have your levels checked. If you’re deficient, speak with you doctor about a high-quality grade brand of vitamin D. Because most people have desk jobs or work indoors, it’s important not to eat your lunch at your desk or in the office kitchen, whenever possible. Go outside, enjoy your lunch, and soak up some sun. It’s the key to strong bones, a robust immune system, and heart health.

Sea Cucumbers: Marine Bottom Dwellers With Anticancer Effects

Holding a Sea Cucumber

In integrative medicine, wellness requires a comprehensive approach toward disease prevention and treatment, which includes the consumption of bioactive nutrients through foods and pharmaceutical-grade supplements. Nutrigenomics combines nutrition and genetics to obtain optimal health through food. The bioactive molecules contained in nutrient-rich foods alter the genome in ways that promote health. Nutrient-dense marine animals called sea cucumbers, marine invertebrates that inhabit the deep seas, have been an anti-disease food for centuries in the East. Traditionally, sea cucumbers have been used in Asian and Middle Eastern folk medicine. Sea cucumbers, which are also called “vacuum cleaners of the sea,” “trepang,” or “bêche-de-mer,” are marine invertebrates that have been a food source of many Eastern cultures, particularly in China, Korea, Indonesia, and Japan.1

Dr Gaynor Holding a Sea Cucumber So what are sea cucumbers? From its name, it would be natural to guess that it belongs to the plant kingdom. Quite the contrary, sea cucumbers are kin to sea urchins and starfish, which are sea animals that belong to the phylum Echinodermata and class Holothuroidea. Sea cucumbers are aptly named because many of its members are shaped like a garden-variety cucumber. Over 1300 types of sea cucumbers have been identified, and they have diverse shapes, sizes, and colors. The echinoderms possess a tough exterior and a soft, gelatinous interior. This sea animal lives in the deep sea and is a treasure chest of many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The bioactive compounds in sea cucumbers make it a potent therapeutic food source. Sea cucumbers have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-angiogenic properties. It’s a blood thinner, so it’s also a cardioprotective agent.

Sea cucumbers are found throughout the world and have been used medicinally in Asian countries for years. However, they have been harvested to the point of extinction in Asia, as well as other parts of the world. In the US, the Florida Marine Life Association (FMLA) recognizes the surge in sea cucumber harvesting threatens to bring these sea creatures to extinction in the Keys. The FMLA is working with the state’s wildlife officials to develop regulations.  Asian demand drives the sale of sea cucumbers: the invertebrates boast an impressive array of health-promoting compounds, but they are especially coveted for their erotogenic effects. The Asian market’s high demand for sea cucumbers is driven mainly because of its libido-enhancing effects. The use of sea cucumbers as an aphrodisiac, among other things, has spurred the harvesting and exporting of sea cucumbers for substantial amounts of money. In the NYT article, fisherman in Dzilam de Bravo, Mexico, harvest sea cucumbers on the black market and can make upwards of $700 a day; the sea creatures, considered a luxury in China, can sell for $300 a pound. These bottom dwellers are a hot commodity in the East and command top dollar.

Keys Marine Lab SignRecently, I visited the Florida Keys Marine Laboratory to research the sea cucumber’s anticancer properties. As an integrative oncologist, I’ve been intrigued by the effects of nutritive compounds in foods on cancer. Many foods have bested cancer angiogenesis, a characteristic of cancer cells that makes it difficult to treat. Normally if you cut yourself or undergo a surgical procedure, blood vessels in the body will regenerate through a process called angiogenesis. However, cancer cells also have the ability to produce abnormal blood vessels. Under a microscope, the blood vessels in cancer angiogenesis are dysmorphic.  For years, I’ve used many anti-angiogenic compounds in my patients, such as resveratrol, coconuts and coconut milk powder, honokiol, magnolia, and milk thistle.

The following studies demonstrate the sea cucumbers impressive anticancer effects:

Apotosis: Normal cells undergo a set number of replicative cycles in which it divides and grows. If cells become damaged or old, mechanisms are in place to trigger cell death (apoptosis). This measure ensures that only healthy cells are propagated, which helps to maintain good gene expression. Cancer cells lack apoptotic capacity, which allows it to grow uncontrollably in the body.

  • A compound in sea cucumbers called frondoside A has been shown to have a cancercidal effects over a wide-spectrum of cancer types; the compound has cytotoxic effects on myriad cancers, such as breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer.2-4

Angiogenesis: In cancer, angiogenesis is a pathological process that allows cancer cells to metastasize (spread to distant tissues).

  • Frondoside A blocks angiogenesis and lymph node invasion by cancer cells.3
  • Another compound found in sea cucumbers called philinopside E (PE) targets cancer angiogenesis by blocking the vascular endothelial growth factor pathway, an important process used by tumors to activate blood vessel formation.5,6

A Sea Cucumber at Keys Marine Lab

Immune system surveillance: Cancer cells have excellent cloaking abilities that help them to avoid detection by the immune system. Normal cells exhibit proteins on their surface that acts as a sign that cues the immune system about whether it’s a healthy or diseased cell. If it’s the latter, immune cells attack and destroy the sick cell. Unfortunately, cancer cells lack these surface molecules and can avoid detection. Cancer cells have many tricks to avoid being detected by immune killer cells; they can also make special proteins that turn off immune activity around the tumor, which offers localized immune protection.

 

  • Frondoside A is a powerful immune modulator. A lab study shows that it can trigger lysosomal activity in macrophages (cells that engulf and destroy damaged cells).4

It appears that the sea cucumbers aren’t the only echinoderm with anticancer properties. A natural compound, sulfoquinovosylmonoacylglycerol (SQMG), extracted from sea urchins and chemically synthesized into sulfolipids was reported to block the growth of solid lung tumors in mice.7

Dr Gaynor Holding a Sea UrchinSea Urchin in Palm of HandA Sea Urchin at Keys Marine Lab

Scientists have been studying the ever-growing number of compounds in marine animals (and plants) that may protect against cancer. The exploration into the medicinal applications of marine life remains widely untapped. Sea cucumber extracts, however, are a promising remedy in the fight against cancer—which makes regulating sea cucumber harvesting an important endeavor.

Depending on the type sea cucumber used and the way it’s prepared, it may have a rubbery or crunchy texture and is often described as bland tasting.  For those of you who don’t plan on adding sea cucumbers to your meals anytime soon, don’t worry. You can get the anticancer benefits of sea cucumbers as high-quality supplements.

 

References:

1. Bordbar S, Anwar F, Saari N. High-value components and bioactives from sea cucumbers for functional foods—A review. Marine drugs. 2011;9(10):1761-1805.

2. Li Y-X, Himaya S, Kim S-K. Triterpenoids of Marine Origin as Anti-Cancer Agents. Molecules. 2013;18(7):7886-7909.

3. Attoub S, Arafat K, Gélaude A, et al. Frondoside a suppressive effects on lung cancer survival, tumor growth, angiogenesis, invasion, and metastasis. PloS one. 2013;8(1):e53087.

4. Aminin D, Agafonova I, Kalinin V, et al. Immunomodulatory properties of frondoside A, a major triterpene glycoside from the North Atlantic commercially harvested sea cucumber Cucumaria frondosa. Journal of medicinal food. 2008;11(3):443-453.

5. Tian F, Zhu C-h, Zhang X-w, et al. Philinopside E, a new sulfated saponin from sea cucumber, blocks the interaction between kinase insert domain-containing receptor (KDR) and αvβ3 integrin via binding to the extracellular domain of KDR. Molecular pharmacology. 2007;72(3):545-552.

6. Tian F, Zhang X, Tong Y, et al. Research Paper PE, a New Sulfated Saponin from Sea Cucumber, Exhibits Anti-Angiogenic and Anti-Tumor Activities In Vitro and In Vivo. Cancer biology & therapy. 2005;4(8):874-882.

7. Sahara H, Hanashima S, Yamazaki T, et al. Anti‐tumor Effect of Chemically Synthesized Sulfolipids Based on Sea Urchin’s Natural Sulfonoquinovosylmonoacylglycerols. Cancer Science. 2002;93(1):85-92.