This Week in Science for Holistic Health – 26Mar2016


Table of Contents

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.

This issue:

  • Food and Eating – How can we improve nutrition research?

  • Supplements – Vit D in diabetes, kidney disease, COPD, TB, and mortality.

  • Disease Prevention – Foods & Supps for cancer prevention, and to help with therapy.

  • Anatomy & Physiology – Importance of gut microbes in early life.


Food and Eating

The Challenge of Reproducibility and Accuracy in Nutrition Research: Resources and Pitfalls.

Inconsistent and contradictory results from nutrition studies conducted by different investigators continue to emerge, in part because of the inherent variability of natural products, as well as the unknown and therefore uncontrolled variables in study populations and experimental designs. Given these challenges inherent in nutrition research, it is critical for the progress of the field that researchers strive to minimize variability within studies and enhance comparability between studies by optimizing the characterization, control, and reporting of products, reagents, and model systems used, as well as the rigor and reporting of experimental designs, protocols, and data analysis. Here we describe some recent developments relevant to research on plant-derived products used in nutrition research, highlight some resources for optimizing the characterization and reporting of research using these products, and describe some of the pitfalls that may be avoided by adherence to these recommendations.


Defining “nutraceuticals”: neither nutritious nor pharmaceutical.

There are widespread inconsistencies and contradictions in the many published definitions of “nutraceuticals” and “functional foods”, demonstrating wholesale uncertainty about what they actually are. Furthermore, in a 2014 lecture, the inventor of the term “nutraceutical”, confessing that nutraceuticals do not work, said that “the quest to demonstrate whether long-term supplementation [with nutraceuticals] can prevent serious diseases has come to an end”. Definitions of “nutraceuticals” and related terms, still widely used, should therefore be explored systematically. There are no internationally agreed definitions of “nutraceuticals” and “functional foods”, nor similar terms, such as “health foods”, nor terms related to herbal products, which are sometimes referred to as nutraceuticals, compounding the confusion. “Nutraceuticals” and “functional foods” are vague, nondiscriminatory, unhelpful terms; the evidence suggests that they should be abandoned in favour of more precise terms. The term “dietary supplement” is widely used to designate formulations that are also called nutraceuticals, but it would be better restricted to individual compounds used to treat or prevent deficiencies. “Fortified foods“, sometimes called “designer foods“, are foods to which compounds of proven therapeutic or preventive efficacy (e.g. folic acid) have been added. Other terms, such as “food”, “foodstuffs”, “eat”, “drink”, and “nutrition“, are well defined, as are “medicinal products” and “pharmaceutical formulations”. Dietary regimens, such as Mediterranean or nitrate-rich diets or vegetarianism, can affect health. A dietary regimen of this kind can be defined as a programme of food, of a defined kind and/or quantity, prescribed or adopted for the restoration or preservation of health.

Tryptophan supplementation modulates social behavior: A review.

Tryptophan (TRP), the precursor of serotonin (5-HT), is one of the most investigated amino-acids. TRP supplementation can increase 5-HT levels in the brain and for this reason numerous studies have investigated whether administration of TRP can positively influence social behavior that relies on serotonergic function. Here we review the available studies on TRP, to clarify if and under what circumstances TRP supplementation might modulate social behavior. TRP supplementation seems to improve control over social behavior in patients and individuals suffering from disorders or behaviors associated with dysfunctions in serotonergic functioning. In contrast, in healthy humans TRP supplementation seems to promote social behavior. Although more research is needed to disentangle and understand the relations between individual differences, TRP effectivity, 5-HT functioning, social interactions, and context, we conclude TRP can be a promising tool for modulating social behavior.

Vitamin D and Diabetic Complications: True or False Prophet?

Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a condition of increasing prevalence worldwide. Vitamin D has an established role in calcium and bone metabolism; however, more recently associations with vitamin D deficiency and risk of developing diabetes, diabetes complications, and cardiovascular disease have all been acknowledged. The vitamin D receptor is ubiquitously expressed, and experimental, in vitro, and in vivo studies strongly suggest a role in regulating the transcription of multiple genes beyond calcium homeostasis. These include antiproliferative, immunomodulatory, angiogenic, inhibition of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, and neurotrophic factor expression. Observational studies report a strong association between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular and metabolic disorders; however, there remains a paucity of large long-term randomized clinical trials showing a benefit with treatment. An increasing body of literature suggests a possible pathogenetic role of vitamin D in the long-term complications of diabetes and vitamin D deficiency may also exacerbate symptoms of painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy. It remains unknown if supplementation of vitamin D to normal or non-deficient levels alters pathogenetic processes related to diabetic microvascular complications. With the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in patients with diabetes and putative mechanisms linking vitamin D deficiency to diabetic complications, there is a compelling argument for undertaking large well-designed randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation.

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Diseases/Conditions and Prevention/Treatments

The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.

BACKGROUND: Dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet is rich in foods that are proposed to be inversely associated with obesity. Therefore, DASH might better affect body weight; however, published data are conflicting.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the effect of DASH on body weight and composition in adults.

CONCLUSION: DASH diet is a good choice for weight management particularly for weight reduction in overweight and obese participants.

Dietary Natural Products for Prevention and Treatment of Liver Cancer.

Liver cancer is the most common malignancy of the digestive system with high death rate. Accumulating evidences suggests that many dietary natural products are potential sources for prevention and treatment of liver cancer, such as grapes, black currant, plum, pomegranate, cruciferous vegetables, French beans, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic, turmeric, ginger, soy, rice bran, and some edible macro-fungi. These dietary natural products and their active components could affect the development and progression of liver cancer in various ways, such as inhibiting tumor cell growth and metastasis, protecting against liver carcinogens, immunomodulating and enhancing effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. This review summarizes the potential prevention and treatment activities of dietary natural products and their major bioactive constituents on liver cancer, and discusses possible mechanisms of action.

Anticancer Properties of Capsaicin Against Human Cancer.

There is persuasive epidemiological and experimental evidence that dietary phytochemicals have anticancer activity. Capsaicin is a bioactive phytochemical abundant in red and chili peppers. While the preponderance of the data strongly indicates significant anticancer benefits of capsaicin, more information to highlight molecular mechanisms of its action is required to improve our knowledge to be able to propose a potential therapeutic strategy for use of capsaicin against cancer. Capsaicin has been shown to alter the expression of several genes involved in cancer cell survival, growth arrest, angiogenesis and metastasis. Recently, many research groups, including ours, found that capsaicin targets multiple signaling pathways, oncogenes and tumor-suppressor genes in various types of cancer models. In this review article, we highlight multiple molecular targets responsible for the anticancer mechanism of capsaicin. In addition, we deal with the benefits of combinational use of capsaicin with other dietary or chemotherapeutic compounds, focusing on synergistic anticancer activities.

Celiac disease: Managing a multisystem disorder.


  • Besides gastrointestinal symptoms, celiac disease is associated with a variety of diseases, including dermatitis herpetiformis, malabsorption of several nutrients (potentially leading to osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, and other disorders), and intestinal malignancies.

  • While serologic testing for immunoglobulin A antibodies to tissue transglutaminase can be used as an initial screening test for this condition, the confirmatory tests are invasive, involving upper endoscopy for duodenal biopsy in celiac disease and skin biopsy in dermatitis herpetiformis.

  • The only effective treatment is lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet, and nonadherence is a common cause of refractory disease.

  • Concomitant conditions such as anemia and vitamin deficiency often require nutritional supplements. In addition, patients with dermatitis herpetiformis often require treatment with dapsone.

Dietary proanthocyanidins inhibit UV radiation-induced skin tumor development through functional activation of the immune system.

The incidence of skin cancer is equivalent to the incidence of malignancies in all other organs combined. The main risk factor for this disease is overexposure of the skin to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV irradiation induces inflammation, oxidative stress, DNA damage and suppression of the immune system in the skin, which together contribute to carcinogenesis. The use of dietary phytochemicals shows great promise as a complementary and alternative strategy for skin cancer prevention. Grape seed proanthocyanidins (GSPs) have been tested extensively for their anti-skin cancer effect using in vivo animal models. Supplementation of an AIN76A control diet with GSPs (0.2% and 0.5%, w/w) significantly inhibits UV radiation-induced skin tumor development as well as malignant transformation of papillomas to carcinoma in mice. The inhibition of UVB-induced skin tumor development by GSPs is mediated through inter-related mechanisms of action including: (i) inhibition of inflammation, (ii) rapid repair of damaged DNA, and (iii) stimulation of immune system. Additionally, the chemopreventive effects of GSPs involve DNA repair-dependent functional activation of antigen presenting cells and stimulation of CD8+ effector T cells. These effects of GSPs could be useful in attenuation of the adverse effects of UV radiation and may have health benefits in humans.

Micronutrients in Oncological Intervention.

Nutritional supplements are widely used among patients with cancer who perceive them to be anticancer and antitoxicity agents. Depending on the type of malignancy and the gender 30%–90% of the cancer patients supplement their diets with antioxidant and immuno-stabilizing micronutrients, such as selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin D, often without the knowledge of the treating physician. From the oncological viewpoint, there are justifiable concerns that dietary supplements decrease the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Recent studies, however, have provided increasing evidence that treatment is tolerated better—with an increase in patient compliance and a lower rate of treatment discontinuations—when micronutrients, such as selenium, are added as appropriate to the patient’s medication. Nutritional supplementation tailored to an individual’s background diet, genetics, tumor histology, and treatments may yield benefits in subsets of patients. Clinicians should have an open dialogue with patients about nutritional supplements. Supplement advice needs to be individualized and come from a credible source, and it is best communicated by the physician.

Role of vitamin D in diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease.

Approximately 30%-50% of people are recognized to have low levels of vitamin D, and insufficiency and deficiency of vitamin D are recognized as global health problems worldwide. Although the presence of hypovitamin D increases the risk of rickets and fractures, low vitamin D levels are also associated with hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, diabetes mellitus (DM) and chronic kidney disease (CKD) are also related to vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to onset and progression of DM. Although in patients with DM the relationship between vitamin D and insulin secretion, insulin resistance, and β-cell dysfunction are pointed out, evidence regarding vitamin D levels and DM is contradictory, and well controlled studies are needed. In addition, vitamin D influences the renin-angiotensin system, inflammation, and mineral bone disease, which may be associated with the cause and progression CKD. There is increasing evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for DM and CKD; however, it remains uncertain whether vitamin D deficiency also predisposes to death from DM and CKD. Although at this time, supplementation with vitamin D has not been shown to improve glycemic control or prevent incident DM, clinical trials with sufficient sample size, study periods, and optimal doses of vitamin D supplementation are still needed. This review focuses on the mechanism of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency in DM or CKD, and discusses the current evidence regarding supplementation with vitamin D in patients with these diseases.

Vitamin D and Mortality.

In this narrative review, we aim to summarize and discuss the current evidence linking vitamin D and mortality. Low 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentrations are associated with an increased risk of mortality. This has been shown in different cohort studies including general populations, as well as various patient cohorts. Some single-study results and meta-analyses indicate that the shape of the relationship between 25(OH)D and mortality follows a U- or a reverse J-shaped curve. Interassay and laboratory differences are, however, a limitation of most previous surveys, and standardization of 25(OH)D measurements is needed for future investigations. Apart from observational data, it has been documented in meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials that vitamin D3 supplementation is associated with a moderate, yet statistically significant, reduction in mortality. This latter finding must be interpreted in light of some limitations such as incomplete follow-up data, but such a reduction of mortality with vitamin D3 supplementation as the finding of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials strongly argues for the benefits and, importantly, also the safety of vitamin D.

A review of Vitamin D effects on common respiratory diseases: Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and tuberculosis.

Despite the classic role of Vitamin D in skeletal health, new aspects of Vitamin D have been discovered in tissues and organs other than bones. Epidemiological and observational studies demonstrate a link between Vitamin D deficiency and risk of developing respiratory diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and tuberculosis (TB). To review the literature, we searched the terms “Vitamin D” (using the set operator) and “asthma,” “COPD” and “TB” in electronic databases, including PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, and Google Scholar until July 2015. Non-English articles or articles with unavailable full text were excluded. Both in vivo and in vitro studies were included. All the reviewed articles state that Vitamin D deficiency is very common among patients with respiratory diseases. The present data regarding Vitamin D and asthma is still controversial, but data about COPD and TB are more encouraging. The relevant studies have been conducted in different populations therefore it is not particularly possible to compare the data due to genetic variations. In order to point out a role for Vitamin D, large clinical trials with Vitamin D deficient subjects and sufficient Vitamin D supplementation are needed.

More props for Vitamin D #vitD #vitaminD #diabetes #COPD #TB #mortality Click To Tweet

Anatomy & Physiology

Building a Beneficial Microbiome from Birth.

The microbiota has recently been recognized as a driver of health that affects the immune, nervous, and metabolic systems. This influence is partially exerted through the metabolites produced, which may be relevant for optimal infant development and health. The gut microbiota begins developing early in life, and this initial colonization is remarkably important because it may influence long-term microbiota composition and activity. Considering that the microbiome may play a key role in health and disease, maintaining a protective microbiota could be critical in preventing dysbiosis-related diseases such as allergies, autoimmunity disorders, and metabolic syndrome. Breast milk and milk glycans in particular are thought to play a major role in shaping the early-life microbiota and promoting its development, thus affecting health. This review describes some of the effects the microbiota has on the host and discusses the role microbial metabolites play in shaping newborn health and development. We describe the gut microbiota structure and function during early life and the factors that determine its composition and hypothesize about the effects of human milk oligosaccharides and other prebiotic fibers on the neonatal microbiota.

Probiotics in early life: a preventative and treatment approach.

Microbial colonization of the infant gut plays a key role in immunological and metabolic pathways impacting human health. Since the maturation of the gut microbiota coincides with early life development, failure to develop a health compatible microbiota composition may result in pathology and disease in later life. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Maternal transfer of microorganisms is possible during pregnancy and lactation, and the mother’s diet and microbiota can influence that of her offspring. Furthermore, pre-term birth, Caesarean section birth, formula feeding, antibiotic use, and malnutrition have been linked to dysbiosis, which in turn is associated with several pathologies such as necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, antibiotic associated diarrhea, colic, and allergies. Thus, early life should represent a preferred stage of life for probiotic interventions. In this context, they could be regarded as a means to ‘program’ the individual for health maintenance, in order to prevent pathologies associated with dysbiosis. In order to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the benefits of probiotic administration, pre-clinical studies have been conducted and found an array of positive results such as improved microbial composition, intestinal maturation, decreased pathogenic load and infections, and improved immune response. Moreover, specific probiotic strains administered during the perinatal period have shown promise in attenuating severity of necrotizing enterocolitis. The mechanisms elucidated suggest that probiotic interventions in early life can be envisaged for disease prevention in both healthy offspring and offspring at risk of chronic disease.

Probiotics and gut microbiota in early life #probiotics #gutmicrobiota #infanthealth Click To Tweet

Regulation of Obesity and Metabolic Complications by Gamma and Delta Tocotrienols.

Tocotrienols (T3s) are a subclass of unsaturated vitamin E that have been extensively studied for their anti-proliferative, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties in numerous cancer studies. Recently, T3s have received increasing attention due to their previously unrecognized property to attenuate obesity and its associated metabolic complications. In this review, we comprehensively evaluated the recent published scientific literature about the influence of T3s on obesity, with a particular emphasis on the signaling pathways involved. T3s have been demonstrated in animal models or human subjects to reduce fat mass, body weight, plasma concentrations of free fatty acid, triglycerides and cholesterol, as well as to improve glucose and insulin tolerance. Their mechanisms of action in adipose tissue mainly include (1) modulation of fat cell adipogenesis and differentiation; (2) modulation of energy sensing; (3) induction of apoptosis in preadipocytes and (4) modulation of inflammation. Studies have also been conducted to investigate the effects of T3s on other targets, e.g., the immune system, liver, muscle, pancreas and bone. Since δT3 and γT3 are regarded as the most active isomers among T3s, their clinical relevance to reduce obesity should be investigated in human trials.

Vitamin E & tocotrienols in obesity #vitaminE #vitE #antioxidant #antiinflammatory Click To Tweet

Complexity of vitamin E metabolism.

Bioavailability of vitamin E is influenced by several factors, most are highlighted in this review. While gender, age and genetic constitution influence vitamin E bioavailability but cannot be modified, life-style and intake of vitamin E can be. Numerous factors must be taken into account however, i.e., when vitamin E is orally administrated, the food matrix may contain competing nutrients. The complex metabolic processes comprise intestinal absorption, vascular transport, hepatic sorting by intracellular binding proteins, such as the significant α-tocopherol-transfer protein, and hepatic metabolism. The coordinated changes involved in the hepatic metabolism of vitamin E provide an effective physiological pathway to protect tissues against the excessive accumulation of, in particular, non-α-tocopherol forms. Metabolism of vitamin E begins with one cycle of CYP4F2/CYP3A4-dependent ω-hydroxylation followed by five cycles of subsequent β-oxidation, and forms the water-soluble end-product carboxyethylhydroxychroman. All known hepatic metabolites can be conjugated and are excreted, depending on the length of their side-chain, either via urine or feces. The physiological handling of vitamin E underlies kinetics which vary between the different vitamin E forms. Here, saturation of the side-chain and also substitution of the chromanol ring system are important. Most of the metabolic reactions and processes that are involved with vitamin E are also shared by other fat soluble vitamins. Influencing interactions with other nutrients such as vitamin K or pharmaceuticals are also covered by this review. All these processes modulate the formation of vitamin E metabolites and their concentrations in tissues and body fluids. Differences in metabolism might be responsible for the discrepancies that have been observed in studies performed in vivo and in vitro using vitamin E as a supplement or nutrient. To evaluate individual vitamin E status, the analytical procedures used for detecting and quantifying vitamin E and its metabolites are crucial. The latest methods in analytics are presented.

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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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What Leesa is reading now:

I love the site, it’s definitely one of my “go-to’s” when it comes to nutrition and health information
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger, MD
Part 1 includes chapters for “How not to die from:” heart/lung/brain, etc. diseases with almost 3,000 scientific references; Part 2 has Dr. Greger’s favourite recipes, kitchen gadgets, brands, etc.. I’m looking forward to reading this!

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Leesa Klich is a science-based holistic nutritionist living 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 MSc in Toxicology and Nutrition, over a decade experience in drug/supplement safety, and is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. For a list of free health resources, click here.

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