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24 July 2009

Chocolate powder may slash blood pressure: Study

Consumption of a commercially available cocoa powder, enriched in flavonoids, may decrease blood pressure and boost heart health, suggests a new study with rats.

Rodents fed 300 milligrams per kilogram of body weight experienced a reduction in blood pressure similar to a 50 mg/kg dose of Captopril, a well-known pharmaceutical anti-hypertensive, according to findings published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

“This is important because this drug is known to be a very effective antihypertensive treatment in clinical practice and spontaneously hypertensive rats represent nowadays the best experimental model for essential hypertension in humans,” wrote the researchers, led by Amaya Aleixandre from the Faculty of Medicine at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.

The study used Natraceutical’s CocoanOX and was funded by the company. The cocoa powder is a rich source of flavonoids, with a reported 139 milligrams of polyphenols per gram of cocoa powder, 129 milligrams of which are procyanidins, according to the new report.

The health benefits of antioxidant-rich chocolate have received much recognition in recent years, with positive findings from a number of studies impacting on consumer awareness. Chocolate manufacturers are using high cocoa content (over 70 per cent) as a means of differentiation, and cocoa has also received attention for its potential in functional food applications.

“We have demonstrated the antihypertensive properties of the industrially processed natural flavonoid-enriched cocoa powder named CocoanOX,” wrote the researchers.

“The results obtained suggest that this product could be used as a functional food ingredient with potential therapeutic benefit in the prevention and treatment of hypertension.”

High blood pressure (hypertension),defined as having a systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP) greater than 140 and 90 mmHg, is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a disease that causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.

Study details

The Spain-based researchers tested the effect of a single dose of the cocoa powder, including 50, 100, 300, and 600 mg/kg, on the blood pressure of spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and normotensive rats.

While no effect was observed in the animals with normal blood pressure, the SHR experienced significant reductions following consumption of the cocoa powder. The maximum effect on systolic blood pressure was observed with a dose of 300 mg/kg, with pressure reductions after four hours of 60 mmHg. This result was very similar to the decrease observed following administration of 50 mg/kg Captopril.

The maximum effect on diastolic blood pressure was caused by 100 mg/kg CocoanOX, with a reduction of around 50 mmHg, although the 300 mg/kg-associated reductions were similar.

While the researchers note that the theobromine content of the chocolate may explain the reductions, a lower effect at the highest dose (600 mg/kg) would appear to rule out a role for this compound.

“[…] the blood pressure lowering effect of [theobromine] is in principle dose dependent,” said the researchers. “Different data of this study support therefore that the blood pressure lowering effect exhibited by CocoanOX would be mainly due to the presence of procyanidins.”

“These results suggest that CocoanOX could be used as a functional ingredient with antihypertensive effect, although it would be also necessary to carry out bioavailability and clinical studies to demonstrate its long-term antihypertensive efficiency in humans,” they concluded.

Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Volume 57, Pages 6156-6162, doi: 10.1021/jf804045b
“Antihypertensive Effect of a Polyphenol-Rich Cocoa Powder Industrially Processed To Preserve the Original Flavonoids of the Cocoa Beans”
Authors: E. Cienfuegos-Jovellanos, M. del Mar Quinones, B. Muguerza, L. Moulay, M. Miguel, A. Aleixandre

Olive extract may have obesity, diabetes benefits

An extract from extra-virgin olive oil may stimulate the function of mitochondria in cells, and prevent diseases associated with dysfunction like diabetes and obesity, says a new study.

Results of a cell study indicate that hydroxytyrosol may influence gene expression, which would influence mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the 'power plants' of the cell, generating chemical energy by producing adenosince triphosphate (ATP), the body's 'energy currency'.

“We collaborated with DSM Nutritional Products in Switzerland and investigated effects of hydroxytyrosolthat stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis and promote mitochondrial function in [fat cells],” Dr Jiankang Liu, corresponding author of the study, told NutraIngredients.

“Because mitochondrial loss and dysfunction are closely related with obesity and diabetes, these results suggest that supplement with olive oil and/or hydroxytyrosol may have beneficial effect on preventing obesity and diabetes,” he added.

The results are published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

Med diet benefits

“As is known very well, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower incidence of certain cancers and of cardiovascular disease, which is the most common and serious complication of diabetes,” Dr Liu, from the University of Kentucky and the University School of Life Science in Xi'an, told this website.

“Olive oil is the principal source of fats in the Mediterranean diet, and hydroxytyrosol is considered to be one of the most potent determinants of its efficacy.

“We hypothesised that the Mediterranean diet or supplementation with HT could stimulate mitochondrial function and prevent diabetes and obesity-related mitochondrial dysfunction, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he added.

Study details

Using mouse-derived fat cells (adipocytes), the researchers tested the effects of different concentrations of hydroxytyrosol (DSM Nutritional Products), ranging from 0.1 to 10 micromoles per litre, on the expression of proteins linked to mitochondrial function.

“In the present study, we showed that hydroxytyrosol over the concentration range of 0.1-10 micromoles per litre stimulated the protein expression of [peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) coactivator 1 alpha (PPARGC1-alpha)] - the central factor for mitochondrial biogenesis,” wrote the researchers.

“We showed that hydroxytyrosol is a nutrient that effectively stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and function,” they added.

“This mitochondrial targeting property may provide a possible mechanism for the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and also suggests that hydroxytyrosol may be used as a therapeutic intervention for preventing […] type-2 diabetes and obesity,” they concluded.

The study was funded by a UC Davis Center for Human and Nutrition Pilot Award and by DSM Nutritional Products.

Omega-3 may prevent blindness in the elderly: Study

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the over-50s, suggests a new study.

Researchers from the National Eye Institute in Bethesda found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids could retard the progression of lesions in a mouse model of AMD. The fatty acids were also associated with an improvement in some lesions.

"The results in these mice are in line with the epidemiological studies of AMD risk reduction by long chain omega-3 fatty acids," wrote the researchers in the American Journal of Pathology.

It is known that omega-3 fatty acids, and particularly DHA, play an important role in the layer of nerve cells in the retina, and studies have already reported that omega-3 may protect against the onset of AMD.

Indeed, a meta-analysis published in the June 2008 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology found that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids and fish may reduce the risk of AMD by up to 38 per cent. Scientists from the University of Melbourne in Australia reported that the benefits were most pronounced against late (more advanced) AMD, while eating fish twice a week was associated with a reduced risk of both early and late AMD.

AMD low-down

AMD is a degenerative retinal disease that causes central vision loss and leaves only peripheral vision. It is the leading cause of legal blindness for people over 55 years of age in the Western world, according to AMD Alliance International.

Despite the fact that approximately 25 to 30 million people worldwide are affected by AMD, awareness of the condition is low, says the Alliance. And as the generation of Baby Boomers gets older, the Alliance expects incidence to be on the rise and triple by 2025.

Looking at mice

The Bethesda-based researchers, led by Dr Chi-Chao Chan, found that mice fed a high omega-3 fatty acid diet displayed a slower development of lesions in their retina, compared to animals fed a low omega-3 diet. Furthermore, some of the mice in the omega-3 group displayed some reversion of the lesions.

Looking at the potential mechanism behind the effects, the researchers noted lower levels of inflammatory molecules, such as prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4, and higher levels of anti-inflammatory molecules, such as prostaglandin D2.

“A diet enriched in EPA and DHA can ameliorate the progression of retinal lesions in their mouse model of AMD,” wrote the researchers.

“This murine model provides a useful tool to evaluate therapies that might delay the development of AMD,” they concluded.

The study was funded by The Intramural Research Program of the National Eye Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Health Assistance Foundation.

23 July 2009

Healing power of aloe vera proves beneficial for teeth and gums, too

CHICAGO (July 17, 2009) - The aloe vera plant has a long history of healing power. Its ability to heal burns and cuts and soothe pain has been documented as far back as the 10th century. Legend has it that Cleopatra used aloe vera to keep her skin soft. The modern use of aloe vera was first recognized the 1930s to heal radiation burns. Since then, it has been a common ingredient in ointments that heal sunburn, minor cuts, skin irritation, and many other ailments. Recently, aloe vera has gained some popularity as an active ingredient in tooth gel. Similar to its use on skin, the aloe vera in tooth gels is used to cleanse and soothe teeth and gums, and is as effective as toothpaste to fight cavities, according to the May/June 2009 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal.

Aloe vera tooth gel is intended to perform the same function as toothpaste, which is to eliminate pathogenic oral microflora -- disease-causing bacteria -- in the mouth. The ability of aloe vera tooth gel to successfully perform that function has been a point of contention for some dental professionals. However, research presented in General Dentistry may alleviate that concern. The study compared the germ-fighting ability of an aloe vera tooth gel to two commercially popular toothpastes and revealed that the aloe vera tooth gel was just as effective, and in some cases more effective, than the commercial brands at controlling cavity-causing organisms.

Aloe latex contains anthraquinones, which are chemical compounds that are used in healing and arresting pain because they are anti-inflammatory in nature. But, because aloe vera tooth gel tends to be less harsh on teeth, as it does not contain the abrasive elements typically found in commercial toothpaste, it is a great alternative for people with sensitive teeth or gums. But buyers must beware. Not all aloe vera tooth gel contains the proper form of aloe vera. Products must contain the stabilized gel that is located in the center of the aloe vera plant in order to be effective. Products must also adhere to certain manufacturing standards. Dilip George, MDS, co-author of the study, explains that aloe "must not be treated with excessive heat or filtered during the manufacturing process, as this destroys or reduces the effects of certain essential compounds, such as enzymes and polysaccharides." Dr. George suggests that consumers consult non-profit associations such as the International Aloe Science Council to see what products have received the organization's seal of quality.

Although there are more than 300 species of the plant, only a few have been used for medicinal purposes. "Thankfully, consumers with sensitive teeth or gums have a number of choices when it comes to their oral health, and aloe vera is one of them," says AGD spokesperson Eric Shapria, MS, DDS, MAGD, MA. "If they are interested in a more alternative approach to oral hygiene, they should speak with their dentist to ensure that it meets the standards of organized dentistry, too."

20 July 2009

Statins May Cause Muscle Damage in Some Patients

MONDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) -- Statins, medications widely used to lower cholesterol, may cause structural damage to the muscles of people experiencing muscle aches and weakness, a new study has found.

The damage may occur even when tests for a protein thought to signal injury are normal, and may persist even after statin use is halted, according to the study in the July 7 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The researchers stressed that people not experiencing significant pain had no cause for alarm and should continue taking the medicine.

About 10 to 15 percent of people taking statins report myalgia, or minor muscle aches and weakness, according to the study authors. A smaller number have stronger, persistent pain, called myopathy.

In the study, researchers biopsied leg muscle tissue from 83 patients: 44 were taking statins and had serious and persistent muscle pain; 19 were taking statins and had no myopathy, and 20 had never taken statins or suffered myopathy.

Of the 44 with myopathy, 29 were still taking a statin at the time of the biopsy, while 15 had discontinued their use for at least three weeks.

Biopsies showed that 25 of the 44 with myopathy had muscle damage, defined as injury to 2 percent or more of the muscle fibers.

Yet only one patient showed elevated levels of creatine phosphokinase (CPK), an enzyme expressed inside skeletal muscle cells, said study co-author Dr. Richard Karas, director of preventive cardiology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Elevated levels of CPK in the blood can mean the enzyme is leaking out of the muscle cells, indicating muscle damage.

"This paper is challenging the dogma that if the CPK level is low, it rules out the possibility of muscle damage," Karas said. "You can have microscopic muscle damage and the level of CPK can still be normal."

The researchers also found that most participants showed signs of muscle injury even after they'd stopped taking statins.

"Although in clinical practice, the majority of patients with muscle symptoms improve rapidly after cessation of therapy, our findings support that a subgroup of patients appears to be more susceptible to statin-associated myotoxicity, suffering persistent structural injury," said senior study author Dr. Annette Draeger of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

A study presented in September at the American Physiological Society meeting found that statins may hinder the body's ability to repair muscles. Muscle cells exposed to increasing doses of simvastatin (Zocor) showed less ability to multiply and, therefore, heal and regenerate.

Over the past decade, statins have become the best-selling drug in America, accounting for $14.5 billion in sales in 2008. The drugs, which work in the liver to prevent the formation of cholesterol, are used in the prevention of coronary artery disease.

In the new study, 41 percent of those experiencing myopathy were taking simvastatin (Zocor); 31 percent were taking pravastatin (Pravachol); 17 percent were taking atorvastatin (Lipitor); 7 percent were taking fluvastatin (Lescol), and 3 percent were taking rosuvastatin (Crestor).

The study participants were experiencing pain severe enough to interfere with daily tasks and exercise.

The authors note that the sample size was too small to determine if one drug was associated with increased complaints of muscle pain or damage.

American Heart Association spokesman Dr. Roger Blumenthal said studies such as this may help doctors learn why some people develop statin-related side effects while others don't.

In the study, the researchers noted that expression of ryanodine receptor 3 was heightened in those with structural muscle damage, offering a clue to the genetic underpinnings for those who suffer statin-related side effects.

"It's a very interesting study," said Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center in Baltimore. "This whole issue of why about one in 50 people on statins gets recurrent or severe muscle pain is very frustrating for physicians."

Known risk factors for muscle pain include old age, high doses of statins, exercising vigorously while on statins and certain medications, including warfarin (Coumadin), cancer drugs, oral medications for fungal disorders and certain antibiotics, which interfere with the removal of statins from the body.

In 2001, cerivastatin (Baycol) was withdrawn from the market because of a high incidence in rhabdomyolysis, a widespread breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.

Vitamin D, curcumin may help clear amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer's disease

UCLA scientists and colleagues from UC Riverside and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute have found that a form of vitamin D, together with a chemical found in turmeric spice called curcumin, may help stimulate the immune system to clear the brain of amyloid beta, which forms the plaques considered the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

The early research findings, which appear in the July issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, may lead to new approaches in preventing and treating Alzheimer's by utilizing the property of vitamin D3 -- a form of vitamin D -- both alone and together with natural or synthetic curcumin to boost the immune system in protecting the brain against amyloid beta.

Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient for bone and immune system health; its main source is sunshine, and it is synthesized through the skin. Deficiencies may occur during winter months or in those who spend a lot of time indoors, such as Alzheimer's patients.

"We hope that vitamin D3 and curcumin, both naturally occurring nutrients, may offer new preventive and treatment possibilities for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Milan Fiala, study author and a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Using blood samples from nine Alzheimer's patients, one patient with mild cognitive impairment and three healthy control subjects, scientists isolated monocyte cells, which transform into macrophages that act as the immune system's clean-up crew, traveling through the brain and body and gobbling up waste products, including amyloid beta. Researchers incubated the macrophages with amyloid beta, vitamin D3 and natural or synthetic curcumin.

The synthetic curcuminoid compounds were developed in the laboratory of John Cashman at the Human BioMolecular Research Institute, (, a nonprofit institute dedicated to research on diseases of the human brain.Researchers found that naturally occurring curcumin was not readily absorbed, that it tended to break down quickly before it could be utilized and that its potency level was low, making it less effective than the new synthetic curcuminoids.

"We think some of the novel synthetic compounds will get around the shortcomings of curcumin and improve the therapeutic efficacy," Cashman said.

The team discovered that curcuminoids enhanced the surface binding of amyloid beta to macrophages and that vitamin D strongly stimulated the uptake and absorption of amyloid beta in macrophages in a majority of patients.

Previous research by the team demonstrated that the immune genes MGAT III and TLR-3 are associated with the immune system's ability to better ingest amyloid beta. In this earlier work, Fiala noted, it was shown that there are two types of Alzheimer's patients: Type 1 patients, who respond positively to curcuminoids, and Type II patients, who do not.

"Since vitamin D and curcumin work differently with the immune system, we may find that a combination of the two or each used alone may be more effective -- depending on the individual patient," he said.

Fiala noted that this is early laboratory research and that no dosage of vitamin D or curcumin can be recommended at this point. Larger vitamin D and curcumin studies with more patients are planned.

The study was funded by the Human BioMolecular Research Institute, the Alzheimer's Association and MP Biomedicals LLC, a global life sciences and diagnostics company dedicated to Alzheimer's disease research. Fiala is a consultant for MP Biomedicals and also served in the company's speakers bureau.

Additional study authors include Ava Masoumi, Ben Goldenson, Hripsime Avagyan, Justin Zaghi, Michelle Mahanian, Martin Hewison, Araceli Espinosa-Jeffrey and Phillip T. Liu, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Senait Ghirami, Ken Abel, Xuying Zheng and John Cashman, of the Human BioMolecular Research Institute; and Mathew Mizwicki, of the department of biochemistry at UC Riverside.

The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, ( founded in 1951, is the youngest medical school to be ranked among the top 11 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members, including recipients of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal of Science.