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Let nature healis one of the principles of naturopathic medicine.It is the instinct of the human body to want to heal, yet often we create barriers by eating unhealthy foods or developing unhealthy habits. Removing obstacles to healing and recovery is an important component of naturopathic medicine. As well, supporting the creation of a healthy internal environment is beneficial to augmenting the healing process. The concept "Let your food be your medicine and medicine be your food" is part of the foundation of naturopathic medicine. Quite often functional nourishing foods are used to stimulate the healing power of nature and an additional benefit is that these foods frequently counteract the effects of aging, as well. Many medical conditions can be treated as effectively with foods and nutritional supplements as they can by pharmaceutical means, but with fewer complications and side effects. In this column, we share some of the latest scientific data reaffirming the validity of food as medicine.
Anti-Aging Powers of Broccoli Enzyme
Scientists at St. Louis' Washington University School of Medicine have shown in a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism that giving healthy mice a natural compound called NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) compensated for the loss of efficiency in the energy supply chain, which is a key driver in the aging process. A great deal of human health depends on how well the body is able to manufacture and use energy. The ability of cells to produce energy declines gradually with age. That loss of energy production leads to typical signs of aging usually including loss of insulin sensitivity, gradual weight gain, and a decline in physical activity
As it ages, the body loses the ability to make NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is a key element for energy production. Past work done by Shin-ichiro Imai, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine and developmental biology, together with co-senior author Jun Yoshino, MD, PhD, assistant medicine professor, showed that the levels of NAD decrease in many tissues as mice age. Past research also showed that NAD is not effective when given directly to mice, so the researchers searched for an indirect method to boost the levels. In order to do so, they just had to look one step earlier in the NAD supply chain to this NMN compound.
Imai stated that giving NMN has produced a way to slow the decline seen in aging mice and that older mice were shown to have the energy and metabolism levels of younger mice. Since human cells depend on the same process of energy production, there is hope that this will be translated into a method that can aid people in remaining healthier as they age. Imai has been working since earlier this year with other researchers at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo as they conduct a clinical trial that tests NMN safety in healthy people. That new study shows that dissolving NMN in drinking water and giving it to mice makes it appear in the bloodstream in fewer than three minutes and that NMN in the blood quickly converts to NAD in a number of tissues.
Three groups comprised of healthy male mice were fed regular chow diets. Beginning at five months old, one group was given drinking water with a high dose supplemented NMN, a second group was given just a low dose, and a third group serving as a control received no NMN. The researchers made comparisons every three months until 17 months of age. The NMN had no effect in the young mice, apparently because they were still making their own NMN. However, benefits seen exclusively in older mice were in liver function, skeletal muscle, bone density, eye functions including better functioning of the retina and tear production, immune function, improved insulin sensitivity, gaining less weight, and higher physical activity levels.
Imai also said they monitored the healthy mice for any potential increase in cancer development as a result of administering NMN, and they did not see any differences in cancer rates among the groups.
Except for this clinical trial, NMN for consumption by humans is not available commercially. However, NMN is also found naturally in some foods including broccoli, cabbage, avocado, cucumber, and edamame beans, which are immature soybeans in the pod.
Mills KF, Yoshida S, Stein LR et al. Long-term administration of nicotinamide mononucleotide mitigates age-associated physiological decline in mice. Cell Metabolism. Oct. 27, 2016.
Stromsdorfer KL, Yamaguchi S, Yoon MJ, et al. NAMPT-mediated NAD+ biosynthesis in adipocytes regulates adipose tissue function and multi-organ insulin sensitivity in mice. Cell Reports. Aug. 4, 2016.
Herbs and Spices for Heart Health
Flavorful additions that accent vegetables, fish, and meats, herbs and spices may also help improve blood biomarkers related to heart health. Sheila G. West, PhD, from the Pennsylvania State University (Pennsylvania, USA), and colleagues prepared meals for six men, ages 30 to 65 years, who were overweight but otherwise healthy. The meals, consumed on two separate days, were identical – chicken, bread, and a dessert item – but the test meal also included the addition of two tablespoons of a high-antioxidant spice blend. The spices included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric, ginger, and black pepper. The team monitored blood markers for three hours after each meal. Antioxidant activity in the blood rose 13% after the subjects ate the test meal (with spices); as well, postprandial insulin decreased by 21% and triglycerides by 31%, post test-meal. The study authors report: "Spices and herbs are rich in compounds that may reduce inflammation and improve blood factors associated with increased [cardiovascular disease] risk."
West, Sheila G., Skulas-Ray, Ann C. Spices and Herbs May Improve Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Nutrition Today. September/October 2014;49(5): p S8-S9.
Anti-Aging Secret of Pomegranates Revealed
Until recently, the scientific evidence that pomegranates are truly the superfood that we've all been led to believe has been unsubstantial. To add to this, some questionable marketing tactics have raised doubts as well. A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the life science company Amazentis decided to investigate the fruit more closely and discovered that there is a molecule within pomegranates that is transformed by microbes in the gut, allowing muscle cells to protect themselves against one of the major causes of aging.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells, containing inner compartments that are no longer capable of carrying out their vital function as they age. The dysfunctional mitochondria accumulate within the cell since the cells are unable to recycle them. This affects the health of many tissues, including muscles, which become gradually weaker with time. This buildup of mitochondria is also believed to be a potential cause in other diseases of aging, such as Parkinson's disease.
The researchers identified a molecule, urolithin A, that was able to reboot the cell's ability to recycle the components of the dysfunctional mitochondria on its own. "It's the only known molecule that can relaunch the mitochondrial clean-up process, otherwise known as mitophagy," said Patrick Aebischer, co-author of the study. "It's a completely natural substance, and its effect is powerful and measurable."
The researchers at first tested their hypothesis on the nematode C. elegans (worms). This is a common approach for aging testing, as after just 8-10 days it's already considered elderly. They found that the lifespan of worms exposed to urolithin A increased by more than 45% as compared to the control group. When they then tested the molecule on rodents, they found a large reduction in the number of mitochondria, which indicated that a hearty cellular recycling process was occurring. They also found that the older mice (around two years old), showed 42% more endurance when running than mice of the same age that were in the control group.
It should be noted that the fruit itself does not contain the miracle molecule but rather its precursor. That molecule is converted into urolithin A by microbes that are present in the intestine. Therefore, there can be a wide range of urolithin A produced, depending on the species of animal, as well as the flora present in the gut microbiome. In some cases, none at all will be produced, so the pomegranate juice would be ineffective. For these cases, however, the researchers are already working on developing a solution. They founded a start-up company, Amazentis, which has come up with a method to deliver finely calibrated doses of urolithin A, and they're currently conducting their first clinical trials testing humans.
Ryu D, Mouchiroud L, Andreux PA, et al. Urolithin A induces mitophagy and prolongs lifespan in C. elegans and increases muscle function in rodents. Nature Medicine, July 2016 DOI
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