This Week in Science for Holistic Health – 20Feb2016

This Week in Science for Holistic Health

Copy of This week for science-based holistic health-20feb2016

Welcome to This Week in Science for Holistic Health!

I scour the science news for interesting and relevant research for a holistic approach to health to keep you up-to-date.

This issue:

  • Food and Eating – Nope, it does not seem that pomegranate helps with blood fat/cholesterol.

  • Supplements – If you’re going to supplement with folic acid, make sure you pair it with vit B12

  • Disease Prevention – What do we really know about glutamine and Crohn’s?


Food and Eating

The Reciprocal Interactions between Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota and Effects on Bioaccessibility.

As of late, polyphenols have increasingly interested the scientific community due to their proposed health benefits. Much of this attention has focused on their bioavailability. Polyphenol–gut microbiota interactions should be considered to understand their biological functions. The dichotomy between the biotransformation of polyphenols into their metabolites by gut microbiota and the modulation of gut microbiota composition by polyphenols contributes to positive health outcomes. Although there are many studies on the in vivo bioavailability of polyphenols, the mutual relationship between polyphenols and gut microbiota is not fully understood. This review focuses on the biotransformation of polyphenols by gut microbiota, modulation of gut microbiota by polyphenols, and the effects of these two-way mutual interactions on polyphenol bioavailability, and ultimately, human health.

Food: The Main Course to Wellness and Illness in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Food sits at the intersection between gastrointestinal (GI) physiology and symptoms in patients with the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is now clear that the majority of IBS sufferers associate eating a meal with their GI and non-GI symptoms. This is hardly surprising when one considers that food can affect a variety of physiologic factors (motility, visceral sensation, brain-gut interactions, microbiome, permeability, immune activation, and neuro-endocrine function) relevant to the pathogenesis of IBS. In recent years, clinical research has increasingly focused on diet as a treatment for IBS. There is a relative paucity of data from rigorous, randomized, controlled trials for any dietary intervention in IBS patients. Currently, the largest body of literature has addressed the efficacy of dietary restriction of fermentable oligo, di, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs). In the future, dietary treatments for IBS will move beyond the current focus on elimination to embrace supplementation with “functional” foods. Am J Gastroenterol advance online publication, 9 February 2016; doi:10.1038/ajg.2016.12.

Lipid profile changes after pomegranate consumption: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

BACKGROUND:  Transport of oxidized low-density lipoprotein across the endothelium into the artery wall is considered a fundamental priming step for the atherosclerotic process. Recent studies reported potential therapeutic effects of micronutrients found in natural products, indicating positive applications for controlling the pathogenesis of chronic cardiovascular disease driven by cardiovascular risk factors and oxidative stress. A particular attention has been recently addressed to pomegranate; however findings of clinical studies have been contrasting.

PURPOSE:  To evaluate the effects of pomegranate consumption on plasma lipid concentrations through a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

RESULTS:  A total of 545 individuals were recruited from the 12 RCTs. Fixed-effect meta-analysis of data from 12 RCTs (13 treatment arms) did not show any significant effect of pomegranate consumption on plasma lipid concentrations. The results of meta-regression did not suggest any significant association between duration of supplementation and impact of pomegranate on total cholesterol and HDL-C, while an inverse association was found with changes in triglycerides levels (slope: -1.07; 95% CI: -2.03 to -0.11; p = 0.029). There was no association between the amount of pomegranate juice consumed per day and respective changes in plasma total cholesterol, LDL-C, HDL-C and triglycerides.

CONCLUSION:  The present meta-analysis of RCTs did not suggest any effect of pomegranate consumption on lipid profile in human.


The Role of Probiotics on the Microbiota: Effect on Obesity.

The microbiota and the human host maintain a symbiotic association. Nowadays, metagenomic analyses are providing valuable knowledge on the diversity and functionality of the gut microbiota. However, with regard to the definition of a “healthy microbiota” and the characterization of the dysbiosis linked to obesity, there is still not a clear answer. Despite this fact, attempts have been made to counteract obesity through probiotic supplementation. A literature search of experimental studies relevant to the topic was performed in PubMed database with the keywords “probiotic” and “obesity” and restricted to those with “Lactobacillus” or “Bifidobacterium” in the title. So far, evidence of an antiobesity effect of different lactobacilli and bifidobacteria has been mainly obtained from animal models of dietary-induced obesity. Using these experimental models, a substantial number of studies have reported reductions in weight gain and, in particular, fat tissue mass at different locations following administration of bacteria, as compared with controls. Antiatherogenic and anti-inflammatory effects-including regulation of expression of lipogenic and lipolytic genes in the liver, reduction in liver steatosis, improvement of blood lipid profile and glucose tolerance, decreased endotoxemia, and regulation of inflammatory pathways-are also reported in many of them. The number of human studies focused on probiotic administration for obesity management is still very scarce, and it is too soon to judge their potential efficacy, especially when considering the fact that the actions of probiotics are always strain specific and the individual response varies according to intrinsic factors, the overall composition of diet, and their interactions.

  • Note reference (1) below which explains that animal studies are not very strong when trying to treat humans for diseases.

What is the safe upper intake level of folic acid for the nervous system? Implications for folic acid fortification policies.

Between 1945 and 1959 it was convincingly documented that folic acid can precipitate or aggravate the neurological and haematological consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency by increasing the demand for vitamin B12. Since then there has been much misunderstanding of the issues, mainly by advocates of folic acid fortification who have been inclined to minimise or even dismiss the risks by misinterpreting the evidence as only a ‘masking’ of the anaemia of pernicious anaemia. Recent studies in the era of fortification are rediscovering the risks to the nervous system, especially cognitive function, of excess folate in the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency. I have reviewed the Reports of four Expert Advisory Committees in Europe and the USA, which suggest that the safe upper tolerable limit (UL) for folic acid is 1 mg in adults. These reports are unsound and there is already evidence of neurological harm from long-term exposure to doses of folic acid between 0.5 and 1 mg in the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency. There is an urgent need to review the safe UL for folic acid and to consider the addition of vitamin B12 to folic acid fortification policies. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition advance online publication, 10 February 2016; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2015.231.

  • As you probably learned in nutrition school – if you’re going to supplement FA or B12, make sure you take FA AND B12.

Vitamin D deficiency and its role in neurological conditions: A review.

This review exposes recent advances on the role of vitamin D, cholecalciferol, a secosteroid, in the central nervous system. In humans, vitamin D arises from cutaneous transformation of 7-dehydrocholesterol under the effect of UVB exposure or from food intake. Vitamin D has an immunomodulatory role through its anti-inflammatory and anti-autoimmune actions. In the nervous system, vitamin D is involved in the regulation of calcium-mediated neuronal excitotoxicity, in the reduction of oxidative stress, and in the induction of synaptic structural proteins, neurotrophic factors and deficient neurotransmitters. Reduced exposure to sunlight and low food intake can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Increasing evidence highlights the impact of vitamin D deficiency as a favoring factor in various central or peripheral neurological diseases, especially multiple sclerosis and several neurodegenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, several clinical trials on vitamin D supplementation stressed the role of vitamin D as a protective and/or prognostic factor in the onset and progress of such neurological conditions.

Selenium and Metabolic Disorders: An Emphasis on Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Selenium (Se) is a micronutrient that maintains biological functions through the action of Se containing proteins known as selenoproteins. Due to the known antioxidant effects of Se, supplements containing Se have been on the rise. While Se supplementation may be beneficial for Se deficient populations, few are at risk for Se deficiency due to the transportation of food from Se-rich regions and the rise of Se-enriched foods. Alarmingly, Se supplementation may have adverse effects in people who already receive an adequate Se supply. Specifically, an increased risk of type 2 diabetes has been reported in individuals with high baseline Se levels. However, this effect was restricted to males, suggesting the relationship between Se and glucose homeostasis may be sexually dimorphic. This review will discuss the current understanding of the interaction between Se and glucose homeostasis, including any sex differences that have been described.

  • Too much Se has been linked to an increased risk of T2DM in men

N-acetylcysteine in COPD: why, how, and when?

Oxidants have long been recognized to have an important role in the pathogenesis of COPD, and in this cigarette smoke has a strong responsibility, because it generates a conspicuous amount of oxidant radicals able to modify the structure of the respiratory tract and to enhance several mechanisms that sustain lung inflammation in COPD. In fact, oxidative stress is highly increased in COPD and natural antioxidant capacities, mainly afforded by reduced glutathione, are often overcome. Thus an exogenous supplementation of antioxidant compounds is mandatory to at least partially counteract the oxidative stress. For this purpose N-acetylcysteine has great potentialities due to its capacity of directly contrasting oxidants with its free thiols, and to the possibility it has of acting as donor of cysteine precursors aimed at glutathione restoration. Many studies in vitro and in vivo have already demonstrated the antioxidant capacity of NAC. Many clinical studies have long been performed to explore the efficacy of NAC in COPD with altern results, especially when the drug was used at very low dosage and/or for a short period of time. More recently, several trials have been conducted to verify the appropriateness of using high-dose NAC in COPD, above all to decrease the exacerbations rate. The results have been encouraging, even if some of the data come from the most widely sized trials that have been conducted in Chinese populations. Although other evidence should be necessary to confirm the results in other populations of patients, high-dose oral NAC nevertheless offers interesting perspectives as add-on therapy for COPD patients.

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Diseases/Conditions and Prevention/Treatments

 Management of obesity.

A modern approach to obesity acknowledges the multifactorial determinants of weight gain and the health benefits to be derived from weight loss. Foundational to any weight loss effort is lifestyle change, diet, and increased physical activity. The approach should be a high quality diet to which patients will adhere accompanied by an exercise prescription describing frequency, intensity, type, and time with a minimum of 150 min moderate weekly activity. For patients who struggle with weight loss and who would receive health benefit from weight loss, management of medications that are contributing to weight gain and use of approved medications for chronic weight management along with lifestyle changes are appropriate. Medications approved in the USA or European Union are orlistat, naltrexone/bupropion, and liraglutide; in the USA, lorcaserin and phentermine/topiramate are also available. Surgical management (gastric banding, sleeve gastrectomy, and Roux-en Y gastric bypass) can produce remarkable health improvement and reduce mortality for patients with severe obesity.

Ketogenic diet and other dietary treatments for epilepsy.

BACKGROUND:  The ketogenic diet (KD), being high in fat and low in carbohydrates, has been suggested to reduce seizure frequency. It is currently used mainly for children who continue to have seizures despite treatment with antiepileptic drugs. Recently, there has been interest in less restrictive KDs including the modified Atkins diet (MAD) and the use of these diets has extended into adult practice.

MAIN RESULTS:  We identified seven randomised controlled trials that generated eight publications.All trials applied an intention-to-treat analysis with varied randomisation methods. The seven studies recruited 427 children and adolescents and no adults. We could not conduct a meta-analysis due to the heterogeneity of the studies.Reported rates of seizure freedom reached as high as 55% in a 4 : 1 KD group after three months and reported rates of seizure reduction reached as high as 85% in a 4 : 1 KD group after three months.One trial found no significant difference between the fasting-onset and gradual-onset KD for rates of seizure freedom and reported a greater rate of seizure reduction in the gradual-onset KD group.Studies assessing the efficacy of the MAD reported seizure freedom rates of up to 10% and seizure reduction rates of up to 60%. One study compared the MAD to a 4 : 1 KD, but did not report rates of seizure freedom or seizure reduction.Adverse effects were fairly consistent across different dietary interventions. The most commonly reported adverse effects were gastrointestinal syndromes. It was common that adverse effects were the reason for participants dropping out of trials. Other reasons for drop-out included lack of efficacy and non-acceptance of the diet.Although there was some evidence for greater antiepileptic efficacy for a 4 : 1 KD over lower ratios, the 4 : 1 KD was consistently associated with more adverse effects.No studies assessed the effect of dietary interventions on quality of life, or cognitive or behavioural functioning.

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS:  The randomised controlled trials discussed in this review show promising results for the use of KDs in epilepsy. However, the limited number of studies, small sample sizes and a sole paediatric population resulted in a poor overall quality of evidence.There were adverse effects within all of the studies and for all KD variations, such as short-term gastrointestinal-related disturbances, to longer-term cardiovascular complications. Attrition rates remained a problem with all KDs and across all studies, reasons for this being lack of observed efficacy and dietary tolerance.There was a lack of evidence to support the clinical use of KD in adults with epilepsy, therefore, further research would be of benefit.Other more palatable but related diets, such as the MAD ketogenic diet, may have a similar effect on seizure control as classical KD but this assumption requires more investigation. For people who have medically intractable epilepsy or people who are not suitable for surgical intervention, a KD remains a valid option; however, further research is required.

Glutamine for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease.

BACKGROUND:  Crohn’s disease is a chronic relapsing condition of the alimentary tract with a high morbidity secondary to bowel inflammation. Glutamine plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal mucosa and has been shown to reduce inflammation and disease activity in experimental models of Crohn’s disease.

OBJECTIVES:  To evaluate the efficacy and safety of glutamine supplementation for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease.

MAIN RESULTS:  Two small RCTs (total 42 patients) met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. One study (18 patients) compared four weeks of treatment with a glutamine-enriched polymeric diet (42% amino acid composition) to a standard polymeric diet (4% amino acid composition) with low glutamine content in paediatric patients (< 18 years of age) with active Crohn’s disease. The other study (24 patients) compared glutamine-supplemented total parenteral nutrition to non-supplemented total parenteral nutrition in adult patients (> 18 years of age) with acute exacerbation of inflammatory bowel disease. The paediatric study was rated as low risk of bias. The study in adult patients was rated as unclear risk of bias for blinding and low risk of bias for all other items. It was not possible to pool data for meta-analysis because of significant differences in study populations, nature of interventions, and the way outcomes were assessed. Data from one study showed no statistically significant difference in clinical remission rates at four weeks. Forty-four per cent (4/9) of patients who received a glutamine-enriched polymeric diet achieved remission compared to 56% (5/9) of patients who received a standard low-glutamine polymeric diet (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.31 to 2.04). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of evidence for this outcome was low due to serious imprecision (9 events). In both included studies, no statistically significant changes in intestinal permeability were found between patients who received glutamine supplementation and those who did not. Neither study reported on clinical response, quality of life or growth in children. Adverse event data were not well documented. There were no serious adverse events in the paediatric study. The study in adult patients reported three central catheter infections with positive blood cultures in the glutamine group compared to none in the control group (RR 7.00, 95% CI 0.40 to 122.44).

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS:  Currently there is insufficient evidence to allow firm conclusions regarding the efficacy and safety of glutamine for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease. Data from two small studies suggest that glutamine supplementation may not be beneficial in active Crohn’s disease but these results need to be interpreted with caution as they are based on small numbers of patients. This review highlights the need for adequately powered randomised controlled trials to investigate the efficacy and safety of glutamine for induction of remission in Crohn’s disease.

  • So, it looks like glutamine *may* help with Crohn’s, but we don’t have a lot of evidence just yet.
  • Also, this review of glutamine has found a minor reduction in symptoms of Crohn’s disease with glutamine.

Potential Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer.

Considerable circumstantial evidence has accrued from both experimental animal and human clinical studies that support a role for omega-3 fatty acids (FA) in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). Direct evidence from animal studies has shown that omega-3 FA inhibit ultraviolet radiation (UVR) induced carcinogenic expression. In contrast, increasing levels of dietary omega-6 FA increase UVR carcinogenic expression, with respect to a shorter tumor latent period and increased tumor multiplicity. Both omega-6 and omega-3 FA are essential FA, necessary for normal growth and maintenance of health and although these two classes of FA exhibit only minor structural differences, these differences cause them to act significantly differently in the body. Omega-6 and omega-3 FA, metabolized through the lipoxygenase (LOX) and cyclooxygenase (COX) pathways, lead to differential metabolites that are influential in inflammatory and immune responses involved in carcinogenesis. Clinical studies have shown that omega-3 FA ingestion protects against UVR-induced genotoxicity, raises the UVR-mediated erythema threshold, reduces the level of pro-inflammatory and immunosuppressive prostaglandin E2 (PGE₂) in UVR-irradiated human skin, and appears to protect human skin from UVR-induced immune-suppression. Thus, there is considerable evidence that omega-3 FA supplementation might be beneficial in reducing the occurrence of NMSC, especially in those individuals who are at highest risk.

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Inclusion Criteria for This Week in Science for Holistic Health posts:

  • Studies must be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal or highly credible website (e.g. within the last few weeks,
  • Articles must be relevant to a holistic approach to health (specifically nutrition & lifestyle factors),
  • Studies were done on people unless noted otherwise (animal and tissue studies have unknown relevance to people),
  • I also include new science-based books that look interesting (’cause I LOVE reading!).
  • None of the above applies if it’s a response to something in the media. 😉
  • P.S. – The titles are hyperlinked to the actual studies, so feel free to “geek out”. 🙂

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Leesa Klich lives at the intersection of science and holistic health (it’s really, really interesting here!) 🙂 At NutritionInteractions she helps holistic-minded people taking medications maximize the benefits of good nutrition. She also helps holistic health professionals find and understand science-based health information. She has a Master of Science degree in Toxicology and Nutrition and is currently studying to be a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. For a list of free health resources, click here.

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(1) Compound Interest – Rough Guide to Types of Scientific Evidence


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