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: Alternative Treatments Give Relief to Parkinson’s Patients

The lack of dopamine is the primary reason for the symptoms associated with the Parkinson’s Disease. Since the prescription Levodopa first began being administered in the 1960’s, it has lessened much of the suffering experienced by millions of people throughout the world, and is recognized as the “gold standard” in medical treatment of the disease. However, it can not completely reverse the symptoms, and like all drugs, is more effective in some than others.

There are no interventions that we know for sure slow down the progression of Parkinson’s, but recent research suggests that one potential means to this might be found in modifying nerve cell metabolism. Most cells in our body contain “energy generators” called mitochondria; their function is vital, and the brain in particular uses high amounts of energy. Researchers think that deficiencies in the functioning of mitochondria may play a role in PD, raising the question as to whether changing the energy balance in nerve cells could be protective.

Consequently many have sought hope in alternative treatments. Parkinson’s disease has been a recognized ailment in virtually all cultures since ancient times. Most alternative treatments are harmless, but some herbal remedies may interfere with prescription medication, so be sure to consult your health practitioner for advice. Many of these ancient treatments are becoming popular in the west and are increasingly validated by western medicine.

Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced in India for 5000 years. Parkinson’s symptoms are mentioned in ancient text under the name Kampavata. Ayurvedic medicine is a comprehensive system placing equal emphasis on diet, exercise, meditation, massage and herbs. Here is a detailed list of some alternative treatments for Parkinson’s Disease:

Broad beans– Australian researchers discovered that broad beans are also an extremely effective natural source of L-dopa. The highest concentration of L-dopa is found in the pod so they are most effective when consumed whole.

Herbal Remedies – Coordination and balance difficulties are only some of the problems faced by PWPs; for many, such effects as depression and memory decline may be even more troubling. One substance that seems to have mild benefit for memory in Alzheimer’s disease is ginkgo biloba, a plant extract consisting of a complex mixture of different chemicals. It also seems to protect nerve cells from MPTP, a neurotoxin that leads to Parkinson’s disease.

In efforts to ease the depression that is commonly associated with Parkinson’s, some patients take St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). However, since it has properties similar to medicines such as Prozac or Paxil, it should not be taken alongside other antidepressants because of the risk of serious side effects.

Botulinum toxin A– This is a bacterium that causes food poisoning (botulism) but has proven to be effective in reducing hand, head and voice tremors when in a weak solution.

Dietary Supplementations – One compound that has attracted a lot of attention lately in this connection is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a common nutritional supplement. CoQ10 plays an important role in the mitochondria and is also a potent antioxidant.

Another supplement that likely acts through its effects on energy metabolism and could be useful in Parkinson’s is creatine. This compound increases levels of phosphocreatine, an energy source in the muscle and brain, and in experimental studies it protects against nerve cell injury. The supplement has few reported side effects and is also of interest as a potential therapy for muscle disease as well as other chronic diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Huntington’s chorea.

Glutathione, a compound with multiple effects on nerve cell metabolism as well as a powerful antioxidant, is of particular interest for patients because of studies showing its depletion in the substantia nigra (the site of major nerve cell damage in PD).

Acupuncture– Used for centuries in China to correct energy disturbances in the body. It has become a popular method of treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers the world over. So far there are no placebo controlled studies that show acupuncture can treat the motor control symptoms of the disease, but there is some evidence that it can assist with sleep disturbances. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that it may be effective in increasing feelings of well being and relaxation.

Vitamin Therapy –  There has been much hope that antioxidants could play a role in slowing the progression of the disease. Vitamins C and E can combat the damage caused by so called “free radicals”  and high dietary intake of vitamin E has been linked to lower risk of getting Parkinson’s disease.

Exercise and Massage– While not treating the symptoms directly, yoga or Tai Chi can help improve overall balance. Massage can help reduce some of the discomfort associated with muscle stiffness that is commonly experienced by patients.

If you suffer from Parkinson’s disease and would like to begin an alternative treatment plan, please call our office at (304) 263-4927 to schedule an appointment.


Stickin’ it Tue You: Acupuncture Helps Ease Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

The disorder that was to become known as Parkinson’s disease was first described as shaking palsy in 1817 by a London physician named James Parkinson. Parkinson’s disease is now known to be a progressive neurological disorder involving degeneration of neurons in a region of the brain that controls movement. This degeneration creates a shortage of dopamine, which is the immediate cause of the movement dysfunctions that characterize the disease: administration of l-dopa (a precursor to dopamine, which is converted in brain cells to dopamine) has considerable beneficial effects in many patients with Parkinson’s disease.

In most cases, the first symptom of Parkinson’s disease is tremor (trembling or shaking) of a limb, especially when the body is at rest. The tremor often begins on one side of the body, frequently in one hand. As the disease progresses, both sides of the body may be involved and shaking of the head may also occur. Other common symptoms include slow movement, difficulty in initiating movement, rigid limbs, a shuffling gait, a stooped posture, and reduced facial expressions. In about a third of the cases, the disease also causes or is associated with depression, personality changes, dementia, sleep disturbances, speech impairments, and/or sexual difficulties.

Parkinson’s disease is relatively rare overall, but it becomes a common problem of the elderly, affecting about 6% of those over the age of 65. In the United States, about 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are believed to suffer from Parkinson’s disease, with about 50,000 new cases are reported annually. The disorder is more common in men than women. The average age of onset is about 60; rarely occurring before age 40, but increasingly diagnosed with aging.

Causes of Parkinson’s disease are not fully known, but there are genetic factors involved in susceptibility and there may be contributions from a variety of behaviors. For example, it has been suggested recently that people who drink coffee and tea are less likely to suffer from Parkinson’s than those who drink none or little of these caffeinated beverages.

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. Many patients are only mildly affected and need no treatment for several years after the initial diagnosis. When symptoms grow severe, doctors usually prescribe levodopa (l-dopa), which helps replenish the brain’s dopamine. Sometimes doctors prescribe other drugs that affect dopamine levels in the brain (e.g., drugs that inhibit the breakdown of dopamine). In patients who are very severely affected, a kind of brain surgery known as pallidotomy has reportedly been effective in reducing symptoms. Another kind of brain surgery, in which healthy dopamine-producing tissue is transplanted into the brain, is also being tested. Finally, researchers are trying to identify substances that will prevent dopamine-producing brain cells from dying, such as antioxidants, with investigation of coenzyme Q10 as an example.

University of Arizona doctors find acupuncture effective for the treatment of balance and gait disorders in Parkinson’s disease patients. The research team from the surgery and neurology departments measured significant clinical improvements in overall balance, gait speed and stride length. The results were published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers convened to measure objective improvements on balance and gait for Parkinson’s disease patients through the implementation of acupuncture. Balance and gait are the focus of therapeutics for Parkinson’s patients because they are predictors of the risk of falling and the impact on the quality of life. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder affecting movement. Changes include the onset of tremors, slower movements, shuffling, difficulty swallowing, fainting, reduced arm sway, rigidity and changes in speech and gait. There is no known biomedical cure but medications including levodopa, COMT inhibitors, MAO-B inhibitors, dopamine agonists and other medications are used to control symptoms. Surgical interventions include the implantation of deep brain stimulators.

In the study, patients were randomly assigned to an acupuncture group or a control group. The acupuncture group received electroacupuncture. The control group received sham acupuncture to rule out variables including the placebo effect. Patients received one treatment per week for three weeks and each treatment duration lasted a total of 30 minutes.

Objective measurements were taken from various positions and during many types of activities. Balance measurements included assessment of the relationship between the mediolateral center of mass sway with the anteroposterior sway. These measurements were taken with the eyes open, closed and during multitasking. Gait measurements were taken during fast walking, postural transitions and related activities.

The researchers tabulated the results and measured an overall improvement in balance by 31% in the acupuncture group. Gait speed showed a significant increase by 10% and stride length increased by 5% for patients receiving acupuncture. Control group patients showed no improvements.

Balance, gait and stride length were all significantly improved by the application of electroacupuncture. Use of a sham acupuncture control group eliminated the possibility of the placebo effect. As a result, the researchers concluded, “EA (electroacupuncture) is an effective therapy in improving certain aspects of balance and gait disorders in PD (Parkinson’s disease).”

If you are suffering from the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and would like to try a drug-free alternative to experience relief, please contact our office at (304) 263-4927 to schedule an appointment today.