TGIF: Hops are Healthy for You!

Just in time for football season, there’s good news about beer. According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a compound in hops could protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Hops are what give beer its bitter, malty flavor, but its use isn’t limited to breweries. It also has a long history in herbal medicine, dating back to the 9th century in both Europe and Asia. Hops have been used to treat variety of ailments ranging from improper digestion to leprosy.

Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant, or Humulus lupulus. These plants grow in temperate climates in the northern hemisphere, appearing in North America, Europe, and Asia. Once hops became an important ingredient for beer manufacturers, scientists began looking at what effects it can have on the body. The most common areas of study for hops include anxiety, sleep disorders, menstrual symptoms, and cancer treatment.

Researcher Jianguo Fang and colleagues already knew that oxidative damage plays a role in brain diseases. They speculated that they could thwart or at least delay brain diseases if they could protect brain cells, or neurons.

Fang’s team wanted to study xanthohumol, a compound found in hops, because it has been hailed for its anti-cancer, anti-oxidation, and heart protective properties. It’s also known for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Xanthohumol is a flavonoid, a family of compounds that has antioxidant effects.

In their lab tests on rats, Fang’s team noticed that xanthohumol protected neuronal cells. They said that xanthohumol showed a moderate ability to neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS). When we take in oxygen, it’s metabolized into ROS, which are messenger molecules that can regulate signaling in cell activity — including cell death.

Despite the health benefits of xanthohumol, that’s no excuse to guzzle beer. As is the case with almost everything, moderation is key. Fang said the amount of beer that would need to be consumed to enjoy the benefits of xanthohumol is less than one cup. Fang said certain brews have more xanthohumol than others, especially some dark beers.

Beer isn’t the only place to find xanthohumol. Xanthohumol is also in some soft drinks, such as Julmust and Malta. Fang’s research team is hoping their study paves the way for more research on how xanthohumol can protect human brains from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as other brain disorders.

Last year, Oregon State University researchers reported in the Behavioral Brain Research journal that xanthohumol can boost cognitive function in young mice, but not in older animals.

Another 2014 study found that the antioxidant polyphenols in hops — known as bracts — could fight cavities and gum disease. The research, also published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed that the antioxidant-rich bracts in hops are discarded during the farming process. That leaves a lot of potentially beneficial bracts to be used for dental health.

Beer could also be helpful for staving off rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a study published last year in Arthritis & Rheumatology. Researchers found a link between moderate drinking over the long-term and a reduced risk of RA.

A 2010 study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture reported that beer is a significant source of dietary silicon, which is important for boosting bone mineral density. The year before, scientists reported at an American Association for Cancer conference that xanthohumol is able to block the effects of testosterone, which may help in prostate cancer prevention.

Anecdotal evidence that hops have potential to help with sleep started emerging long ago. In Europe, people began noticing that field workers cultivating the hop plant tended to fall asleep on the job more than usual. The job was no more physically demanding than any other field work, so people began to wonder: are hops sedative? While hops did seem to have a calming effect on people who were exposed to them, early studies found no solid evidence to support the claims.

More recent studies have taken a closer look at hops and their effect on anxiety and sleep disorders, which often go hand in hand. Several scientific studies have found evidence to support the sedative claims that Europeans observed many years ago. While the findings have been mostly favorable, scientists haven’t quite discovered why.


TGIF: Melatonin – A Promising Natural Agent in the Prevention of ALS

A number of years ago, experimental studies suggested melatonin could block key steps in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, primarily by acting as a brain antioxidant and inhibiting the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain (a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease).

In recent years, several clinical studies have gone on to suggest melatonin supplementation (3-9 mg per day) can block the progression of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to full-blown dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in a significant number of human subjects compared to placebo.1-4

A recent animal study goes a step further, suggesting melatonin also blocks key steps in the development of Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), a disease that causes progressive muscle weakness and eventual death due to the failure of respiratory muscles.

After screening more than a thousand FDA-approved drugs several years ago, a research team determined melatonin is a powerful antioxidant which blocks the release of enzymes that activate programmed cell death (apoptosis) of nerve cells involved in the development of ALS. They later followed up using a transgenic mouse model of ALS, demonstrating that melatonin injections delayed symptom onset and reduced mortality from ALS in mice. In this model, mice were bred to carry the gene that encourages the development of Lou Gehrig’s disease.5

Melatonin and ALS Inhibition

The researchers involved in the recent animal study stated: “We demonstrate that melatonin significantly delayed disease onset, neurological deterioration and mortality in ALS mice.” More specifically, melatonin was shown to inhibit nerve degeneration and nerve cell death of the motor nerves involved in ALS.

These nerves are the motor nerves in the ventral horn of the spinal cord, which supply life-force energy to the muscles of the body, including respiratory muscles. When these nerve cells die, muscles become paralyzed and unable to function.

Melatonin was shown to block nerve cell death in the ventral horn motor nerves by inhibiting several key pathways within these nerve cells that otherwise cause nerve cell death in ALS. These pathways include inhibiting the Rip2/caspase-1 pathway, blocking the release of mitochondrial cytochrome c, and reducing the over expression and activation of caspase-3. The researchers went on to state: “Moreover, for the first time, we determined that disease progression was associated with the loss of both melatonin and the melatonin receptor 1A (MT1) in the spinal cord of ALS mice.”

One of the researchers, Dr. Robert Friedlander, explained that the research team saw similar results in a Huntington’s disease animal model in an earlier project, whereby melatonin injections inhibited the same nerve cell death pathways when injected into animals bred to be genetically predisposed to Huntington’s disease.5

Aging and Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone synthesized in the pineal gland in the brain. Upon darkness, it is released, which helps to induce sleep and increase depth and quality of sleep. Melatonin is also a powerful brain antioxidant and immune modulator, and also demonstrates some impressive anti-cancer properties, especially with respect to breast and prostate cancer.

As we age, melatonin secretion drops off markedly, which explains many cases of insomnia and sleep disturbances that arise by age 40. Some research now suggests the age-related decline in melatonin also makes us more susceptible to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, immune-system weakness, and breast and prostate cancer.6

Emerging research also suggests the decline in melatonin may trigger the development of ALS and possibly Huntington’s disease in those who are genetically predisposed to these neurodegenerative conditions. Although speculative at this point, impressive animal model studies have elucidated the pathways and mechanisms through which melatonin may be protective in preventing the onset of these neurological conditions or slowing their progression.5

Melatonin research continues to show its impressive biological effects in preserving health and preventing a number of diseases and health challenges. For the sake of general wellness, sleep quality, immune system support and prevention of various degenerative diseases, many health experts recommend taking a melatonin supplement after 40 years of age. This practice compensates for the decline in melatonin synthesis and secretion by the pineal gland as we age, helping to ensure more optimal brain and body levels of this important protective compound.


Wellness Wednesday: Eating Walnuts Can Improve Cognitive Function

“It isn’t every day that research results in such simple advice: Eating a handful of walnuts daily as a snack, or as part of a meal, can help improve your cognitive health.”   Dr. Lenore Arab.

Adding walnuts to your diet may help boost your memory according to a new Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report. Researchers found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function. The antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neuro-degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

Diets containing two percent, six percent, or nine percent walnuts, when given to old rats, were found to reverse several parameters of brain aging, as well as age-related motor and cognitive deficits, says James Joseph, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston. The study adds to a growing body of research surrounding walnuts’ positive effect on reducing cognitive impairment and overall brain health, which includes the possible beneficial effects of slowing or preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mouse models. Experts say that there are numerous possible active ingredients in walnuts that may be contributing factors in protecting cognitive functions.

Dr. Lenore Arab from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests, including those for memory, concentration, and information processing speed. He found that cognitive function was consistently greater in adult participants who consumed walnuts, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. The finding is important as the aging of the baby boomer generation brings concerns of escalating diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The increase in diagnoses can be linked to molecules, known as free radicals, which can harm brain cells and brain function. The present research extends these findings and shows that the antioxidant properties in walnuts wage war against the the free radicals, lessening the damage. Walnuts have a high antioxidant content (3.7 mmol/ounce), and they are the only nut that contains a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain-health benefits. These antioxidants may actually block the signals produced by free radicals that can later produce compounds that would increase inflammation. Findings from the studies by Joseph and his colleague Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD, show for the first time that shorter chain fatty acids found in plants, such as walnuts, may have beneficial effects on cognition similar to those from long chain fatty acids derived from animal sources, which have been reported previously.

A six percent diet is equivalent to a person eating 1 ounce of walnuts each day, which is the recommended amount to reduce harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, while a nine percent diet is equivalent to people eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day. “Importantly,” Joseph says, “this information, coupled with our previous studies, shows that the addition of walnuts, berries, and grape juice to the diet may increase ‘health span’ in aging and provide a ‘longevity dividend’ or economic benefit for slowing the aging process by reducing the incidence and delaying the onset of debilitating degenerative disease.”

If walnuts don’t do it for you, other nuts can give you some pretty great health benefits, too. Dieters who ate pistachios daily brought down both their BMIs and their triglycerides more than those who ate an identical number of calories from pretzels, according to a recent UCLA study. Hazelnuts contain arginine, an amino acid that may lower blood pressure. An ounce of almonds has as many heart-healthy polyphenols as a cup of green tea and 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli combined, and they also may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.


State of Our Health in the US


How do we measure up with the rest of the world on matters of health?

The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) published in August 2013 the first ever report comparing the State of Health in the US to that of 34 countries on measures of diseases, injuries and risk factors associated with pre-matured mortality, years lived with disability, and disability adjusted life years.

Although it was not surprising to find in this report that chronic disease epidemics continue to spread across the world, but that US is doing much worse than many other countries with similar economic strength. This can be attributed to an aging population, however, a significant amount of data supports key findings of unhealthy lifestyles, diet and environment exposures that constitute the American way of life today are major influencers.

Among many interesting facts presented in this report are these:

• The diseases and injuries with the largest number of premature mortality in 2010 were ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and road injury.
(ALL of these are largely preventable diseases)

• Age-standardized premature mortality rates increased for Alzheimer disease, drug use disorders, chronic kidney disease, kidney cancer, and falls.
(MANY of these are preventable conditions)

• The diseases with the largest number of years lived with disability in 2010 were low back pain, major depressive disorder, other musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety disorders.
(SOME of these are preventable conditions)

• The leading risk factors relating to disability adjusted life years were dietary risks, tobacco smoking, high body mass index, high blood pressure, high fasting plasma glucose (Type II Diabetes), physical inactivity, and alcohol use.
(MOST of these are preventable risks)

So how can we use this information?

By changing our one-size-fits all method of health care to a more patient specific.

“How much better could we do if each patient received a comprehensive individualized functional medicine work-up and therapeutic intervention instead of a prescription? Performing an in-depth examination of the patient’s underlying dysfunctions, identifying the antecedents, triggers, and mediators of disease (including the contributions of environmental and lifestyle risks), and working to eliminate obstacles to healing within the context of a highly effective therapeutic partnership between patient and clinician is what functional medicine practitioners are known for—and that approach may well be the key to reversing and preventing not only diabetes but many other elements of the chronic disease epidemic as well.”Institute of Functional Medicine

Because of its focus on acute care, our current medical model often fails at confronting both the causes of and solutions for the chronic disease epidemic, and must be replaced with a model of comprehensive care and prevention that is systems-based, integrative, patient-centered, and much more effective.

For more information about Functional Medicine, visit our website: Chambers Chiropractic & Acupuncture.


US Burden of Disease Collaborators. The state of US health, 1990-2010. Burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. JAMA. 2013;310(6):591-608.