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Air Pollution Now Strongly Linked to Mental Illness

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Worldwide, 93% of children live in areas with air pollution at levels above World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.1 Further, more than 1 in 4 deaths among children under 5 years is related to environmental risks, including air pollution.

When most people think about health risks linked to polluted air, respiratory issues come to mind and, indeed, in 2016 ambient (outside) and household air pollution contributed to respiratory tract infections that led to 543,000 deaths in children under 5.2 However, air pollution takes a toll on the whole body, contributing not only to physical risks but also mental health problems.

A set of studies by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cincinnati, has highlighted the risks to children, in particular, who may see their mental health suffer as a result of polluted air.

Three Studies Link Air Pollution to Mental Health Risks

In the first study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers looked at the association between emergency room visits and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which refers to dust, dirt, soot and smoke particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.3

The WHO report revealed that in low- and middle-income countries, 98% of children under 5 years are exposed to fine particulate matter at levels higher than the WHO air quality guidelines.

The Environmental Health Perspectives study revealed that short-term exposure to air pollution was linked to increased utilization of the Cincinnati Children’s emergency department for psychiatric issues, particularly for adjustment disorder and suicidality.

Further, mental health of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods was most affected by air pollution. Lead study author Cole Brokamp, Ph.D., with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said in a news release:4

“This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and suicidality, in children. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it could lead to new prevention strategies for children experiencing symptoms related to a psychiatric disorder.”

Air Pollution May Cause Brain Inflammation, Anxiety Symptoms

The second study, published in the August 2019 issue of Environmental Research, looked into exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) on brain metabolism and symptoms of generalized anxiety in 12-year-olds.5 Recent exposure to TRAP was associated with generalized anxiety symptoms and increased myo-inositol, a marker of inflammation in the brain.

“This is the first study of children to utilize neuroimaging to link TRAP exposure, metabolite dysregulation in the brain, and generalized anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children,” the researchers concluded. “TRAP may elicit atypical excitatory neurotransmission and glial inflammatory responses leading to increased metabolite levels and subsequent anxiety symptoms.”6

The third study, also published in Environmental Research, found that early-life exposure to TRAP, as well as exposure during childhood, was significantly associated with depression and anxiety symptoms in 12-year-olds.7 A similar association between air pollution and mental health was previously reported among adults, but this study suggests the effects may also occur in children exposed to air pollution.

“Collectively, these studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that exposure to air pollution during early life and childhood may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in adolescence,” Patrick Ryan, Ph.D., a lead author of the Environmental Health Perspectives study, said in a news release. “More research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover underlying mechanisms for these associations.”8

Past research has also found that living in an area with higher levels of air pollution is associated with decreased cognitive function and sleep disturbances.9

“Evidence that exposure to air pollution affects brain structure was found by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of participants in the Framingham Offspring Study, indicating that higher exposure to PM2.5 is associated with a reduction in total brain volume,” according to a Royal College of Physicians report.10

Why Children Are Especially Vulnerable to Air Pollution

When children are exposed to pollutants, they’re even more vulnerable than adults, in part because their bodies (including their lungs and brains) are still developing, putting them at risk from inflammation and other health damage. They also have a longer life expectancy, giving more time for diseases to emerge.

According to WHO, a combination of “behavioral, environmental and physiological factors” makes children particularly susceptible to air pollution, adding:11

“[Children] breathe faster than adults, taking in more air and, with it, more pollutants. Children live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations. They may spend much time outside, playing and engaging in physical activity in potentially polluted air.

Newborn and infant children, meanwhile, spend most of their time indoors, where they are more susceptible to household air pollution, as they are near their mothers while the latter cook with polluting fuels and devices … In the womb, they are vulnerable to their mothers’ exposure to pollutants. Exposure before conception can also impose latent risks on the fetus.”

Exposure to air pollution has also been linked to problems with fetal brain growth.12 The WHO report analyzed studies published within the past 10 years, and used input from dozens of experts, to reveal some of the top health risks air pollution poses to children. Among them:13

Adverse birth outcomes, including low birth weight, premature birth, stillbirth and infants born small for gestational age.

Infant mortality; as pollution levels increase, so does risk of infant mortality.

Neurodevelopment — Exposure to air pollution may lead to lower cognitive test outcomes, negatively affect children’s mental and motor development and may influence the development of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Childhood obesity

Lung function — Prenatal exposure to air pollution is associated with impaired lung development and lung function in childhood.

Acute lower respiratory infection, including pneumonia

Asthma — Exposure to ambient air pollution increases the risk of asthma and exacerbates symptoms of childhood asthma.

Ear infection

Childhood cancers, including retinoblastomas and leukemia

Health problems in adulthood — Evidence suggests that prenatal exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Air Pollution Interferes With Sleep

Research presented at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) 2017 International Conference suggested poor air quality may also disrupt your sleep.14

People in the top quarter of NO2 exposure (nitrogen dioxide, which is traffic-related air pollution) were 60% more likely to have low sleep efficiency over a five-year period compared to those in the lowest quarter. Among those exposed to the highest levels of fine particle pollution, there was a 50% increased likelihood of low sleep efficiency.

The researchers suggested the effect could be related to air pollution’s effects on the “central nervous system and brain areas associated with breathing control and sleep.”15

Sleep, in turn, is intricately linked to mental health, so one way air pollution may contribute to mental health symptoms could be by disturbing sleep. Meanwhile, previous research suggests that children with mood disorders or negative emotional symptoms may be more vulnerable to the harms of air pollution exposure.16

In other words, among people with poorer mental health, air pollution may lead to greater physical risks, including higher heart rate and blood pressure, and lower lung function, compared to those with better mental health.17 Mental illness could therefore potentially determine a population at increased risk of adverse health effects from air pollution.

Agriculture Is a Major Source of Air Pollution

The majority of global airborne particulate pollution — 85% — comes from fuel combustion, with coal being the “world’s most polluting fossil fuel.”18 Even in the U.S., an estimated 200,000 premature deaths are caused by combustion emissions, including that from vehicles and power generation.19

However, research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters demonstrated that in certain densely populated areas, emissions from farming far outweigh other sources of particulate matter air pollution.20 The study found that in Europe, the eastern U.S. and China, agriculture is a significant source of PM2.5.21 Further:22

“In the past 70 years, global ammonia emissions have more than doubled, from 23 Tg/yr to 60 Tg/yr. This increase is entirely attributed to NH3 [ammonia] emissions from agriculture, with N fertilizer use contributing 33% and livestock production 66%. The emissions from livestock production come from animal houses and storage systems, animal manure, and grazing.”

Ammonia is one of the byproducts of fertilizer and animal waste. When the ammonia in the atmosphere reaches industrial areas, it combines with pollution from diesel and petroleum combustion, creating microparticles. Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) workers and neighboring residents alike report higher incidence of asthma, headaches, eye irritation and nausea.

Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine also revealed that markers of lung function were related to how far they lived from CAFOs.23

Protecting Yourself From Polluted Air

Air pollution poses a silent yet insidious threat to human health, one that can be difficult to get away from depending on where you live and work. WHO, in fact, reported that only 8% of people worldwide are breathing air that meets their standards.24

One important step is to fortify your body with anti-inflammatory vegetables and fats, which may help to protect you from some of the damage air pollution causes. Notable standouts include:25

  • Omega-3 fats — They’re anti-inflammatory, and in a study of 29 middle-aged people, taking an animal-based omega-3 fat supplement reduced some of the adverse effects to heart health and lipid levels, including triglycerides, that occurred with exposure to air pollution (olive oil did not have the same effect).26
  • Broccoli sprouts — Broccoli-sprout extract was shown to prevent the allergic nasal response that occurs upon exposure to particles in diesel exhaust, such that the researchers suggested broccoli or broccoli sprouts could have a protective effect on air pollution’s role in allergic disease and asthma.27 A broccoli-sprout beverage even enhanced the detoxification of some airborne pollutants among residents of a highly-polluted region of China.28
  • Vitamins C and E — Among children with asthma, antioxidant supplementation including vitamins C and E helped to buffer the impact of ozone exposure on their small airways.29
  • B vitamins A small-scale human trial found high doses of vitamins B6, B9 and B12 in combination completely offset damage caused by very fine particulate matter in air pollution. Four weeks of high-dose supplementation reduced genetic damage in 10 gene locations by 28% to 76%, protected mitochondrial DNA from the harmful effects of pollution, and even helped repair some of the genetic damage.30

Tending to the quality of your home’s indoor air is also important, since most people spend the majority of their time inside. In fact, not only do Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, but some pollutants may be two to five times more concentrated indoors than out.31 One commonsense measure is to simply open your windows to let fresh air in.

Installing an attic fan can also help bring fresh air into your home while installing kitchen and bathroom fans that vent to the outside can help remove contaminants from these rooms. The following steps will further help to improve your indoor air quality:

Consider a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) — Since most newer homes are airtight and therefore more energy efficient, air exchange with outdoor air is challenging. Some builders are now installing HRV systems to help prevent condensation and mold growth and improve indoor air quality.32

If you can’t afford an HRV, open your windows and run the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans to vent your indoor air to the outside. You don’t have to do this for more than 15 to 20 minutes each day and should do it summer and winter at times when the temperature outside is closest to your indoor temperature.

Service fuel-burning appliances — Poorly maintained natural gas heaters and stoves, furnaces, hot water heaters, space heaters, water softeners and other fuel-burning appliances may leak carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.33

Keep indoor humidity below 50% — Mold grows in damp and humid environments. Use a dehumidifier and air conditioner to keep your humidity under 50%. Keep the units cleaned so they aren’t a source of pollution.

Don’t smoke indoors — Ask smokers to go outside. Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars contains over 200 known carcinogenic chemicals, endangering your health.

Don’t use scented candles, room fresheners or hazardous cleaning supplies — Candles and air fresheners release dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home. Instead, remove all garbage from your home as often as necessary and keep soiled laundry away from the living areas. Clean with less hazardous supplies, such as white vinegar and baking soda, and add essential oils for a clean scent.34

Test for radon — Radon is a colorless, odorless gas linked to lung cancer. It can be trapped under your home during construction and may leak into your air system over time. Radon testing kits are a quick and cheap way to determine if you are at risk.

Clean air ducts and change filters — The air ducts from your forced air heating and air conditioning units may be a source of pollution in your home. If there is mold growth, a buildup of dust and debris or if the ducts have become home to vermin, it’s time to call a professional and have them cleaned. Change your furnace filters every three months or earlier if they appear to be dirty.

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The Upheaval in Alzheimer's Research and Clinical Development

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It seems that the tipping point has been reached in the Alzheimer’s research and development community, in the sense that it is becoming more widely accepted that new approaches are needed. The failure to produce significant benefits to patients via clearance of amyloid from the brain by immunotherapy has spurred a great deal of theorizing, and several new and promising lines of work. For example, working on restoring age-related declines in drainage of cerebrospinal fluid might remove all metabolic waste from the brain. Alternatively, a focus on neuroinflammation and the role of dysfunctional microglia is suggested, particularly by studies of senolytics showing benefits in mouse models resulting from removal of senescent microglia. The monolithic focus on amyloid is giving way to a period of greater experimentation and diversity in clinical development, and this can only be a good thing when it comes to making progress towards effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

In the last five years, as several large clinical trials testing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease failed, the field came to a stark conclusion: These approaches did nothing to slow down – let alone reverse – the course of the disease once patients already exhibited symptoms of early dementia. The failed trials, along with the dawning realization that the disease unfolds over decades, have put the entire field on a reset-to develop and test interventions that can be used much earlier, to discover new targets beyond misfolded amyloid and tau proteins, and to fund large, interdisciplinary, big data collaborations.

Aging is by far the biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s – if everyone lived to be 85, one in two people would develop dementia. The lion’s share of Alzheimer’s research and drug discovery to date has focused on misfolded amyloid and tau proteins, which aggregate to form plaques (amyloid) and tangles (tau) in the brain. But the body’s attempt to clear the sticky proteins might also be contributing to or causing the neurodegeneration. Drug trials have almost exclusively sought to use antibodies targeted toward these two proteins to try to attack and clear the misfolded forms or mop up soluble forms, or to inhibit enzymes responsible for generating the miscreant peptides.

New areas being explored include the vascular system, epigenetics, neuroprotection, synaptic health, immunity and inflammation, and metabolic dysfunction, among others. Neuroinflammation and proteostasis, or the management of proteins within cells, are trending areas of research. Another booming area of Alzheimer’s research is the development of biomarkers and diagnostic tests to monitor disease presence and progression. Radioactive positron emission tomography (PET) tracers enable physicians to image and measure amyloid and tau proteins in the brains of living patients. Other biomarkers can be measured precisely from collecting cerebral spinal fluid. However, both types of tests are invasive, and PET scans are expensive. “We need a blood test like the one we have for cholesterol that can be done in any doctor’s office quickly and inexpensively.”


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Investigating the Superior DNA Defenses of Tardigrades

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Tardigrades are extremely resilient to radiation induced DNA damage, and here researchers delve into some of the mechanisms involved. Mining other species for potential improvements to our own biochemistry, or the basis for therapies, is an expanding line of work in the life science community. Possible ways to improve mammalian defenses against damage to nuclear DNA are of interest for a range of reasons, not least of which is that it is the present consensus that stochastic mutation to nuclear DNA contributes to both cancer risk and aging itself, as mutations in stem cells or progenitor cells can spread throughout tissues via clonal expansion.

Tardigrades, which are also known as water bears or moss piglets, are small invertebrate animals that are found in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats throughout the Earth. Terrestrial tardigrades require a thin film of water to remain active. In the absence of water, they undergo anhydrobiosis into a dormant dehydrated state from which they can be rehydrated to an active form. In the anhydrobiotic state, tardigrades are resistant to extreme conditions of heat, cold, vacuum, pressure, radiation, and chemical treatments. Remarkably, they have been found to survive exposure to the vacuum and radiation of outer space.

The tardigrade Ramazzottius varieornatus contains a unique nuclear protein termed Dsup, for damage suppressor, which can increase the resistance of human cells to DNA damage under conditions, such as ionizing radiation or hydrogen peroxide treatment, that generate hydroxyl radicals. Here we find that R. varieornatus Dsup is a nucleosome-binding protein that protects chromatin from hydroxyl radicals. Moreover, a Dsup ortholog from the tardigrade Hypsibius exemplaris similarly binds to nucleosomes and protects DNA from hydroxyl radicals.

Strikingly, a conserved region in Dsup proteins exhibits sequence similarity to the nucleosome-binding domain of vertebrate HMGN proteins and is functionally important for nucleosome binding and hydroxyl radical protection. These findings suggest that Dsup promotes the survival of tardigrades under diverse conditions by a direct mechanism that involves binding to nucleosomes and protecting chromosomal DNA from hydroxyl radicals.


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Is Displaced Nuclear DNA a Meaningful Cause of Chronic Inflammation in Aging?

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Sterile inflammation arises without external cause, such as infection or injury, and chronic sterile inflammation is a characteristic of aging. Inflammatory signaling becomes constant and pronounced in tissues, and the immune system is constantly roused to action. Processes, such as regeneration from injury, that depend upon a clear cycle of inflammation that starts, progresses, and resolves are significantly disrupted. It is no exaggeration to say that the downstream consequences of chronic inflammation accelerate the progression of all of the common age-related conditions. It is of great importance in atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative conditions, for example. Like raised blood pressure, chronic inflammation is one of the more important mechanisms acting to convert the low-level molecular damage at the root of aging into the various proximate causes of age-related disease and mortality.

Thus the research community is greatly interested in understanding how and why sterile inflammation arises in later life. Cellular senescence is one sizable area of investigation, as senescent cells accumulate with age, and secrete inflammatory signals. Additionally, visceral fat tissue acts to increase the pace at which senescent cells arise, but also contributes to inflammation via other mechanisms. In the short open access commentary here, the authors discuss a potential mechanism whereby cells in aged tissues start to eject DNA fragments from the cell nucleus, and this can cause reactions that lead to inflammatory signaling. This is probably important in cellular senescence, but may also operate in other cells.

Damaged DNA marching out of aging nucleus

Subclinical but heightened inflammation in the absence of infection is a key feature of aging, and includes senescent cells that secrete cytokines. Yet, what are the intrinsic processes that initiate ‘inflammaging‘, and possibly other forms of sterile inflammation, like autoimmunity? Self-DNA has long been suspected as trigger and target of autoimmunity, as anti-nuclear antibodies, anti-dsDNA (double-stranded DNA) antibodies and plasma DNA are observed in autoimmune patients of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

In studying the initiating events leading to autoimmune arthritis in mice deficient for the lysosomal nuclease DNASE2A, we revealed an unexpected ‘hidden’ source of this inflammatory DNA – the cell’s own nucleus. In healthy cells, damaged and irreparable nuclear DNA fragments are trafficked to the cytosol, enclosed by autophagosomes, and delivered to the lysosomes for degradation by DNASE2A. Lacking DNASE2A, extranuclear DNA accumulates in cells and induces inflammation via innate DNA sensing. Cytosolic DNA sensing is activated when dsDNA binds the DNA sensor enzyme cGAS (cyclic GMP-AMP synthase), converting GTP and ATP into the endogenous second messenger cGAMP, which in turns activates the adaptor protein STING (stimulator of interferon genes) and induces innate immune responses and inflammation. Nuclear DNA as a trigger of immunity could help explain a range of inflammatory conditions.

As cells age, damaged DNA accumulates over time. As an interesting aside, anti-dsDNA antibodies are also found at higher levels in older adults. Could damaged DNA march out of the nucleus of an old cell to set off inflammaging? Indeed, in replicative and oncogene-induced senescent cells, damaged nuclear DNA is exported. Clearing DNA is perhaps the most effective way to eliminate its inflammatory danger. As the only known acidic DNA endonuclease, DNASE2A preferentially degrades dsDNA. It resides with the lysosome, where intracellular and extracellular DNA cargoes converge for degradative digestion. In mice, Dnase2a-deficient cells exhibits the typical senescent phenotype of enlarged cells, slow cell growth, and increased expression of aging markers (senescence-associated β-gal activity, p16 and HP1β expression). Indeed, ectopic expression of DNASE2A substantially reduces cytosolic DNA abundance, innate immune activation and cellular aging phenotype in old cells, thus confirming the protective role of enzymatic DNA degradation in limiting inflammation.

Growing evidence now supports a unifying theory that damaged or irreparable DNA leaves the nucleus to drive aging-related inflammation via innate DNA sensing. Where DNA damage is increased (aging), DNA repair inhibited (ataxia), or nuclear barrier compromised (progeria), DNA load may be not reduced promptly or sufficiently, leading to inflammation. So how far can this DNA theory help to understand the cellular immune mechanisms underlying aging? Each nucleus holds a massive reservoir of endogenous DNA that can trigger local and systemic immunity if there are internal abnormalities such as DNA damage. How nuclear DNA export, trafficking, sensing, and degradation is coordinated to maintain cellular homeostasis is largely unknown. DNA danger coming from within generates exciting questions that probe into the basic life cycle of broken DNA fragments, and suggest ways of treating self-DNA-mediated sterile inflammation (autoimmunity, cancer, neurodegeneration, and chemotherapy) by regulating the abundance of mis-localized DNA.

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Can Wasabi Break Your Heart?

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Wasabi, the popular Japanese condiment served alongside sushi, has an intense, spicy heat that can easily make your eyes water if you eat too much at once. So, imagine the surprise one woman felt when she consumed an entire spoonful at once, after confusing it with avocado.

The woman, a 60-year-old living in Israel, experienced sudden pressure in her chest, which eventually subsided, but when she was still feeling unwell the next day, she went to the emergency room.1 In a case report detailed in BMJ Case Reports, researchers explain that the woman arrived at the emergency department with chest pain,2 where doctors thought she might be having a heart attack.

However, further testing revealed that her heart was misshaped, making it unable to pump blood properly. This is characteristic of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a condition named for a Japanese octopus fishing pot — a takotsubo — which the heart resembles in its misshapen form.3

Another name for the condition is stress-induced cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome, because it often occurs in response to intense physical or emotional stress, such as the loss of a loved one.

Wasabi Leads to Broken Heart Syndrome

The BMJ case report is, to the researchers’ knowledge, the first report of broken heart syndrome triggered by wasabi. Eating a large amount of this spice could easily lead to intense physical symptoms, as even a small amount can cause a painful sensation in your sinuses and burning in your mouth.

The reason wasabi (Wasabia japonica), a member of the Brassicaceae family, commonly called the mustard family, is so hot is due to a defense mechanism of the plant — pests stay away since it’s so unpleasant when consumed. However, most “wasabi” is not actually the Japanese root of the same name but actually a mixture of horseradish, hot mustard and green food coloring.

Still, the shock of consuming so much of this spicy condiment could, indeed, “break” your heart, as occurred in the woman’s case. “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a left ventricular dysfunction that typically occurs after sudden intense emotional or physical stress and mimics myocardial infarction [heart attack],” the researchers explained.4

Stressors that may lead to broken heart syndrome include not only the loss of a loved one but also experiencing a natural disaster, an accident or an attack, among others. Serious illness, such as intracranial hemorrhage and sepsis, as well as pregnancy and sexual intercourse have also been known to trigger this syndrome.5 Other stressors associated with takotsubo cardiomyopathy include:6

Loss of a pet

Severe pain

Domestic violence

Asthma attack

Receiving bad news

Fierce argument

Financial loss

Intense fear

Public speaking

A sudden surprise, such as a surprise party

Broken heart syndrome is much more common in women than men, with 90% of cases occurring among women aged 58 to 75 years, although it can even occur in children.7 Overall, it’s suggested that about 2% of people who have symptoms of acute coronary syndrome actually have takotsubo cardiomyopathy, although this increases to 10% if only women are considered.8

Death of a Pet, Zumba Linked to Broken Heart Syndrome

Any type of extreme physical or emotional stress could theoretically stress your heart to the point that it “breaks.” Aside from consuming a spoonful of wasabi, this could also occur due to an intense workout, such as Zumba.

In a case report of a 38-year-old woman — younger than the typical age for this condition — researchers explained that the woman went to the emergency room due to chest pain that started after an intense two-hour Zumba workout.9 She had no other stressful events that would have been likely triggers. The researchers explained:10

“Our patient did not have one clear trigger for her overt Takotsubo cardiomyopathy other than the Zumba activity. Zumba is considered an activity with excessive sympathetic stimulation leading to catecholamine-induced microvascular spasm or through to direct myocardial toxicity, which is postulated to be behind the pathophysiology of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”

The New England Journal of Medicine also presented a case report of a 61-year-old woman who went to the emergency room with chest pain and was later diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy.11 She indicated that she’d experienced multiple stressors, including the death of her dog.12 When her pet, a 9-year-old Yorkshire terrier, died, “’I was close to inconsolable,’ she told The Washington Post.”13

Release of Stress Hormones and the Brain May Be to Blame

As for why an intensely stressful experience can cause your heart to stop working properly, it likely has to do with the release of stress hormones. This can occur from both positive and negative stressors. According to the Cleveland Clinic:14

A person’s reaction to such events causes a release of stress hormones (catecholamines) that temporarily reduce the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping action, or cause it to contract too forcefully or wildly instead of in a steady pattern … The impact of stress hormones ‘stuns’ the cells of the heart, causing them to malfunction.”

That being said, having a history of neurological problems, such as seizure disorders and/or a history of mental health problems is thought to raise your risk.15

It’s also recently been suggested that the brain may play a role in takotsubo cardiomyopathy and in people with the condition, regions of the brain linked to emotional processing and control of heartbeat, breathing and digestion may not communicate the way they do in people without broken heart syndrome.16,17

Study author Christian Templin, professor of cardiology at University Hospital Zurich, said in a news release:18

“For the first time, we have identified a correlation between alterations to the functional activity of specific brain regions and TTS [takotsubo cardiomyopathy], which strongly supports the idea that the brain is involved in the underlying mechanism of TTS.

Emotional and physical stress are strongly associated with TTS, and it has been hypothesized that the overstimulation of the autonomic nervous system may lead to TTS events.”

As mentioned, symptoms often mimic those of a heart attack and include:19

Sudden, severe chest pain (angina)

Shortness of breath

Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)


Low blood pressure

Heart failure

Typically, patients with takotsubo cardiomyopathy are treated with medications to lower blood pressure and decrease fluid buildup. Symptoms usually resolve within a matter of days or weeks, with no permanent damage to the heart muscle remaining.

In most cases a typical heart attack occurs due to blockages in the coronary arteries that stop blood flow and cause heart cells to die, leading to irreversible damage. But people with broken heart syndrome often have normal arteries without significant blockages. The symptoms occur due to the emotional stress, so when the stress begins to die down, the heart is able to recover.

Most people who experience broken heart syndrome won’t experience it again, but it does recur in about 10% of cases.20 While most people recover fully, it can be fatal or lead to other complications. As noted in Clinical Autonomic Research:21

The syndrome is usually reversible; nevertheless, during the acute stage, a substantial number of patients develop severe complications such as arrhythmias, heart failure including pulmonary edema and cardiogenic shock, thromboembolism, cardiac arrest, and rupture.”

In Most Cases, Wasabi Is Good for You

Assuming you eat wasabi as most people do — in small quantities at a time — it can be quite good for you. There’s no reason to fear that it could cause extreme stress to your heart, as long as you don’t overdo it. Remember, in most cases, when you eat wasabi, you’re primarily consuming horseradish.

The heat and flavor come from allyl isothiocyanate (ITC), which is formed when the root is grated finely. The ITCs in horseradish and wasabi were found in clinical trials to reduce “colon, lung and stomach cancer cell activity by 28%, 17% and 44%, respectively.”22

Wasabi’s isothiocyanates may also help prevent platelet aggregation,23 which is the clumping together of red blood cells that may lead to blood clots that are risk factors for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Wasabi also has antibacterial activity, including against E. coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus, two of the major causes of foodborne disease outbreaks.24 Other compounds in wasabi may help to fight inflammation as well. This includes 6-(Methylsulfinyl)hexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiplatelet and anticancer effects.25

Because cultivating true wasabi plants is difficult, real wasabi is much harder to find (and more expensive) than wasabi imposters. Still, if you can’t find real wasabi, you can still reap many of the same benefits by eating wasabi made from horseradish — just seek out high-quality versions that do not contain artificial flavors or colors or additives such as genetically engineered corn and soy.

Can Broken Heart Syndrome Be Prevented?

Clearly, not eating a large amount of wasabi at one time is recommended not only to avoid broken heart syndrome, but also to avoid unnecessary discomfort. However, as far as preventing broken heart syndrome goes, there are no guarantees. Because this condition is linked to extreme physical and emotional stress, you can help to avoid it by managing your stress levels on a daily basis.

The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is one of the best options for doing so. Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like mindfulness meditation are also helpful, and applying Buteyko breathing, which involves breathing through your nose, not your mouth, also really helps to calm the mind and get into deep states of relaxation.

Sometimes extreme stress is unavoidable, but managing daily stress is one way to protect your overall health from its ill effects. In any case, if you experience chest pain after a stressful event — even something like eating wasabi — it’s a good idea to get medical help right away to rule out a heart attack or broken heart syndrome.

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Heart of the Matter Documentary

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Contrary to the saturated fat/cholesterol theory, the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are actually insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes and the chronic inflammation associated with these conditions. The damage to interior layers of arteries that invites cholesterol-rich plaque buildup can also be induced by elevated blood sugar, smoking, stress and high blood pressure.

A two-part documentary called “Heart of the Matter,” which ran on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation show ABC Catalyst in 2014, does an excellent job of exposing the cholesterol/saturated fat myths behind the statin fad and the financial links which lurk underneath. In fact, the documentary was so thorough in debunking the myths behind the popularity of statins, that vested interests1 convinced ABC TV to rescind the series.

The credentials of the documentary’s producer, Maryanne Demasi, were impeccable: She has a Ph.D. in neurology, no conflicts of interest and a long history of investigative journalism. But the Australian Heart Foundation, the three largest statin makers (Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Merck Sharp & Dohme) and Medicines Australia, Australia’s drug lobby group, complained2 and all the documentaries were expunged from ABC TV. Luckily they remain online.

Saturated Fat Theory of Heart Disease Began With Ancel Keys

According to the “Heart of the Matter,” American physiologist Ancel Benjamin Keys can be credited with originating and cementing the saturated fat/cholesterol theory of heart disease (though perhaps we should say indicted instead of credited).3

In the 1950s, Keys produced research that showed perfect correlations between cardiovascular disease and the dietary consumption of fat in several prominent Western countries. But there was just one problem with the research. Keys “withheld the data from 16 other countries,” Demasi notes in the documentary.4

Keys was scientifically influential and got a board position at the American Medical Association, which caused wide medical acceptance of the theory that continues today. His research also shaped the ubiquitous USDA food pyramid of years past (now replaced by MyPlate), which emphasized heavy portions of breads, cereals, rice and pasta.5

While Keys’ research was adopted years before the invention of statins, other groups of financial beneficiaries already existed — the sugar and grain industries. Sugar soon became a popular stand-in in low-fat foods to improve taste. In fact the dangers of growing sugar consumption inspired British professor John Yudkin to write a 1972 book, “Pure White and Deadly.” Fat was also replaced with carbohydrates, a move that benefited the grain lobby.

Bad Dietary Advice Resulted From Keys’ Research

Few scientific studies have confirmed Ancel Keys’ broadly adopted but skewed research, and several have reached opposite conclusions, says “Heart of the Matter.” But the tenacity of his theory has resulted in bad dietary advice. Take the case of margarine.

One of the worst examples of switching from saturated fats to something believed to be less conducive to heart disease is the embrace of margarine, according to cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra in the documentary. When you switch to margarine and other “double-bonded” transfats — also called polyunsaturated and omega 6 fats — you are putting your health at risk, he says.

Such fats, which are the basic ingredients in most processed and snack foods, are prone to become rancid, causing oxidation and free radical attacks in the human body. Those chemical reactions produce the inflammation that is the real cause of heart disease, Sinatra says, adding that the damage from omega 6 fats is best combated by consuming omega 3 fats found in salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts.

Beware of Other Unsafe Alternatives

In “Heart of the Matter,” David Sullivan, associate professor and lipid expert with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, cautions against replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates because it contributes to obesity and may even make people hungrier.6

Many marketers of processed and snack foods also add refined sugar and processed fructose to improve taste when they try to advertise themselves as “low-fat,” but these products are in fact the primary drivers of heart disease, as I have pointed out in numerous newsletters.

Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates like fructose and refined grains creates a quick rise in blood glucose and, subsequently, a rise in insulin to compensate for the rise.

The blood sugar rise not only increases the risk of heart disease, the insulin released from these foods makes it harder to lose weight because it encourages fat accumulation, especially abdominal fat. Of course, abdominal fat is one of the major contributors to metabolic syndrome which, in turn, contributes to heart disease.

Many Flaws Are Found in the Saturated Fat Theory

“Heart of the Matter” features several experts who dispute the saturated fat theory based on their own clinical experience. For example, Dr. Rita F. Redberg, a cardiologist who practices in the University of California San Francisco cardiology unit, says, “cholesterol is just a lab number” and only one factor in heart disease along with general lifestyle.

Sinatra says he believed the saturated fat theory, too, until he actually looked carefully at the X-rays of those with heart disease. The angiograms showed both high and low levels of plaque-filled arteries, and therefore were not predictive or helpful in deciphering the cause of heart disease. Cholesterol is only harmful when it’s oxidized, he says.

Dr. Ernest N. Curtis, a cardiology specialist, agrees that saturated fat is not the cause of heart disease and adds that human levels of cholesterol are “preset” and mostly do not come from diet. If cholesterol from food is reduced, the human body tends to compensate by replacing it to keep the same levels, the documentary’s experts agree.

Cholesterol also serves valuable functions in the human body, and elimination should not be a goal, says Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School Public School of Health in “Heart of the Matter.” Rather, it is “the precursor to many of the hormones in our body,” he asserts. Cholesterol also protects cell membranes, digests food and manufactures vitamin D after exposure to the sun.

Problems With the LDL Hypothesis

At the heart of the theory that saturated fat/cholesterol causes heart disease (pun intended) is the high-density lipoprotein hypothesis which designates high-density lipoprotein (HDL) as the “good” cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) as the “bad” cholesterol. But, says “Heart of the Matter,” the lipoproteins neither deposit nor remove cholesterol as the theory holds but, rather, simply “ferry” cholesterol in the body.

It is stress and damage on the artery wall that allows the inflammation and degradation that leads to heart disease, says Curtis. That’s why plaque is usually seen at arterial “branches,” where there is more pulsating pressure as arteries divide. Since veins escape the pressure of returning blood that arteries perform, plaque is not seen in them, he says — unless veins are recruited to serve as arteries through bypass operations. Clearly, such surgery is not a solution to the problem.

More Problems With the LDL Hypothesis

“Heart of the Matter” is not the only source of skepticism about the LDL hypothesis. Here is what Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, a Scottish general practitioner, writes on the theory and its implausibility.7

“For the LDL hypothesis to be correct, it requires that LDL can travel past the lining of the artery, the endothelial cells, and into the artery wall behind. This is considered the starting point for atherosclerotic plaques to form. The problem with this hypothesis is … the only way for LDL to enter any cell, is if the cell manufactures an LDL receptor — which locks onto, and then pulls the LDL molecule inside. There is no other passageway.

There are no gaps between endothelial cells. Endothelial cells are tightly bound to each other by strong protein bridges, known as ‘tight junctions.’ These tight junctions can prevent the passage of single ions — charged atoms — which makes it impossible for an LDL molecule to slip through, as it is many thousands of times bigger than an ion. This, too, is an inarguable fact.”

The Boom of Statins Rests on the Saturated Fat Theory

Needless to say, the boom in statins seen since 1996 — Lipitor was the best-selling drug in the world before its patent expired — has rested on the theory that saturated fat/cholesterol is the cause of CVD. Yet, expert after expert in “Heart of the Matter” not only say that studies show statins only lengthen a life by a few days, but they are shockingly ineffective for all but a few people, despite their hype and popularity.

Statins’ serious side effects have been downplayed by those who drank the saturated fat/cholesterol “Kool-Aid” theory, either because of professional hubris or because they are directly profiting from statins.8 Yet, the side effects of statins are serious and include an increased risk for diabetes, decreased heart function,9depleted CoQ10 and vitamin K2 (which are important nutrients), birth defects,10 an increased risk of cancer,11 and nerve damage.12

Statins Still Popular From an Unproved Theory

When this documentary was produced in 2014, at least 40 million people worldwide were taking statins — today, that number is estimated from a low of 100 million13 to as many as 200 million14 — and what was spent annually on statins during their boom was “more than the GNP of some countries,” the documentary claims — and this was no accident.

Thanks to pressure from the drug industry, official guidelines for what constitutes too-high cholesterol are continually being revised downward to recruit more patients and sell more product, says “Heart of the Matter.”

Yet, the harms from statins far outweigh their benefits. They may reduce your chance of heart attacks, but will not improve your general health, Abramson declares in the film. And, in women and the elderly, the risks are especially high, adds Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California at San Diego.

In fact, both Abramson and Golomb agree the overprescription of statins, especially for those who do not need them, is unethical and even “criminal.” When statins first surfaced they were “hailed as nirvana,” Curtis remembers. Today we know they clearly are not.

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Doctor Warns: Eat Soy and You’ll Look Five Years Older

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By Dr. Mercola

In the early 1990’s, soy and soy products exploded onto the supermarket scene with promises of bountiful health benefits.

This “new miracle food,” soy, was supposed to lower cholesterol, take the heat out of hot flashes, protect against breast and prostate cancer, and offer a filling alternative to earth-loving vegetarians.

The problem with these claims?

Most of them are false.

Sadly, most of what you have been led to believe by the media about soy is simply untrue.

The sudden upsurge in the recommendation of soy as a health food has been nothing more than a clever marketing gimmick to further reduce the cost and nutritional content of your food.

For you vegetarians out there staring at the screen in open-mouthed shock, fear not.

There are plenty of other healthy vegetarian alternatives, which I will discuss later in this article.

What was once considered a minor industrial crop back in 1913 now covers over 72 million acres of farmland.

But first, let’s examine the dangers and side effects of soy protein isolate and GMO foods.

Soy Protein Isolate — What Is It, and How Is It Getting in My Food?

The Soyfoods Association of America has a soy protein “fact sheet” defining soy protein isolate as the following:

“Soy protein isolate is a dry powder food ingredient that has been separated or isolated from the other components of the soybean, making it 90 to 95 percent protein and nearly carbohydrate and fat-free.”

Soy protein isolate can be found in protein bars, meal replacement shakes, bottled fruit drinks, soups and sauces, meat analogs, baked goods, breakfast cereals, and some dietary supplements.

Bodybuilders beware: because many weight gainer powders, bars, and shakes contain this dangerous ingredient and it can cause troubling side effects such as diminished libido and erectile dysfunction — and this is just the start. You’ll find out more about these disturbing health effects later on in this article.

Even if you are not a vegetarian and do not use soymilk or tofu, it is important to become a label reader. There are so many different names for soy additives, and you could be bringing home a genetically modified soy-based product without even realizing it. Dr. Daniel offers a free Special Report, “Where the Soys Are,” on her Web site. It lists the many “aliases” that soy might be hiding under in ingredient lists — words like “boullion,” “natural flavor,” and “textured plant protein.”

Here are a few other names soy tends to hide under:

  • Mono-diglyceride
  • Soya, Soja or Yuba
  • TSF (textured soy flour) or TSP (textured soy protein)
  • TVP (textured vegetable protein)
  • Lecithin
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)

Not all textured vegetable protein is made from soy, but a great deal of it is. Lecithin can be made from soy, eggs, sunflower or corn. Be sure to contact the manufacturer to find out which is in your product if the label doesn’t reveal this information.

GMO — Making Soy Even Worse

One of the worst problems with soy comes from the fact that 90 to 95 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified (GM), and these are used to create soy protein isolate.

Why the genetic tinkering?

Genetically modified soybeans are designed to be “Roundup ready.” That’s right. They are chemically engineered to withstand heavy doses of herbicides without killing the plant! What does this mean for your health and the health of your unborn or yet-to-be-conceived children? Read on.

GM Soy Can Lead to Hormonal Disruption and Miscarriages

The active ingredient in Roundup herbicide is called glyphosate, which is responsible for the disruption of the delicate hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle.

“It’s an endocrine buster,” says UK pathologist Stanley Ewen, “that interferes with aromatase, which produces estrogen.”

What’s more, glyphosate is toxic to the placenta, which is responsible for delivering vital nutrients from mother to child, and eliminating waste products. Once the placenta has been damaged or destroyed, the result can be miscarriage. In those children born to mothers who have been exposed to even a small amount of glyphosate, serious birth defects can result.

In an excellent summary of glyphosate-related effects by the Pesticide Action Network1, Dr. Andres Carrasco of the Embryology Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine in Buenos Aires, simply and expertly explains the serious risks for unborn children exposed to Roundup-laden GMO soy products.

Amphibian embryos were exposed to a tiny concentration of glyphosate (diluted 5000 fold) and showed the following effects:

“Effects included reduced head size, genetic alterations in the central nervous system, increased death of cells that help form the skull, deformed cartilage, eye defects, and undeveloped kidneys. Carrasco also stated that the glyphosate was not breaking down in the cells, but was accumulating.

The findings lend weight to claims that abnormally high levels of cancer, birth defects, neonatal mortality, lupus, kidney disease, and skin and respiratory problems in populations near Argentina’s soybean fields may be linked to the aerial spraying of Roundup.”

The long-term effects of the human consumption of genetically modified soy and soy-based products are staggering.

In April 2010, researchers at Russia’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Association for Gene Security found that after feeding hamsters GM soy for two years over three generations, by the third generation, most lost the ability to have babies!2  Now, let’s take a close look at some of the health risks to YOU as a result of eating genetically modified soy.

Infertility in Women

Do you want to start a family? Have you had any trouble conceiving, perhaps due to irregular menstrual cycles or endometriosis? Have you ever experienced a miscarriage?

If so, what you’re about to read will shock you.

A Brazilian study published in 20093 looked at the impact of soy on the reproductive system of female rats. Female rats fed GM soy for 15 months showed significant changes in their uterus and reproductive cycles, compared to rats fed organic soy or no soy.

Extrapolating the findings to people, women who eat genetically modified soy products, such as the soy protein isolate in processed vegetarian fare, may be more likely to experience severe hormonal disruptions, including an overabundance of estrogen, a hair-growth stimulating hormone, and damage to the pituitary gland.

According to Dr. Stanley Ewen, the female rats fed GM soy probably had an increase in progesterone4, which could cause an increase in the number of eggs released during each ovulation cycle.

You might think this would lead to an increase in fertility. However, as discussed in an article by Jeffrey Smith, women who consume genetically modified soy products are at increased risk for developing retrograde menstruation (the menstrual cycle backs up into the body instead of outward), causing endometriosis, which can lead to infertility.

The consumption of soy protein isolate and other soy-based products can also lead to abnormally heavy or longer menstrual periods. This is called menorrhagia and, ironically, some commercials have been popping up with a new pill that supposedly offers the “cure” for this “mystery syndrome.”

When in reality the real cure for some women is as simple as removing soy and soy-based products from the diet. The negative effects of soy are not restricted to women, however.

Loss of Libido & Erectile Dysfunction in Men

Guys, do you enjoy protein bars or use a weight-gainer shake? If so, be sure to read the label to see if the products you use contain any soy ingredients. Did you know that celibate monks living in monasteries and leading a vegetarian lifestyle find soy foods quite helpful for dampening libido?5

Another drawback: Soy has also been linked to erectile dysfunction. The two natural drugs found in soy, genistein and daidzein, mimic estrogen so well that they have been known to cause a variety of alarming side effects in men:

  • Breast enlargement (gynecomastia)
  • Decreased facial and body hair growth
  • Decreased libido
  • Mood swings and frequent crying jags
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lowered sperm count

For example, one recent study6 documented a case of gynecomastia in a 60-year-old man as a result of his soy consumption. Another study7 showed that juvenile rats exposed to daidzein showed impaired erectile function at maturity.

Men, if you’ve experienced one or any of these symptoms, soy could be the culprit. Remove it from your diet, but be sure to consult a trusted physician if your symptoms do not improve or get worse as this could be a sign of another serious condition.

The Healthy Aspects of Soy: Fermented vs. Unfermented

In order to back up the claim that soy is a health food, privately funded “researchers” have been quick to point out that Asians, who consume a diet high in soy, have less risk of breast, uterine and prostate cancer. Unfortunately, they leave out two very important points:

The reason Asians have an increased risk for some cancers is the same reason they do not develop others: unfermented soy. The soy marketing and promotion gurus left out this critical piece of information. Would you rather have one cancer over another? Isn’t that like asking whether or not you’d like to be whacked in the head with a two-by-four vs. a wooden stick?

You might be asking yourself what the big difference is between consuming a fermented soy product such as, say, tempeh, vs. tofu or a veggie burger. I’m here to tell you, the difference is night and day.

Unfermented AND fermented soy contains hormonal mimics in the form of isoflavones which can not only disrupt delicate hormone systems in your body, but also act as goitrogens, substances that suppress your thyroid function. When the thyroid is suppressed, a host of health problems result, namely:

  • Anxiety and mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Difficulty conceiving children
  • Digestive problems
  • Food allergies

And so much more. No wonder soy can lead to thyroid, esophagus and stomach cancer! Unfermented soy is also chock full of phytic acid,8 an “antinutrient” responsible for leeching vital nutrients from your body. Phytic acid also blocks the uptake of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc especially.

Now, fermented soy products do provide health benefits.

As I mentioned in my previous article, some examples of healthful fermented soy products are as follows:

  • Tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor.
  • Miso, a fermented soybean paste with a salty, buttery texture (commonly used in miso soup).
  • Natto, fermented soybeans with a sticky texture and strong, cheese-like flavor.
  • Soy sauce, which is traditionally made by fermenting soybeans, salt and enzymes; be wary because many varieties on the market today are made artificially using a chemical process.

For those of you who enjoy tofu, I’m sorry to say it didn’t make this list because tofu is an unfermented soy product.

So, What Are The Health Benefits of Fermented Soy Products?

The claim that soy products can prevent osteoporosis, decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia, and protect you from cancer of the prostate, lung, and liver is actually true, but ONLY if the soy is fermented.


The process of fermenting soy destroys the above-mentioned dangerous substances, thereby making it fit for consumption. Also, fermented soy products, such as those listed above, are a rich source of vitamin K2, a vitamin that works in harmony with vitamin D to keep you healthy. Vitamin K regulates your body’s blood clotting ability and helps prevent cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease. And vitamin D is essential to the function of every system in your body.

Warning to Vegetarians About the Risk of Mineral Deficiency

Since phytic acid or phytates sap the nutrients from your body, if you’re eating a vegetarian diet that has replaced meat with mostly unfermented soy such as veggie burgers containing GMO soy protein isolate, you are at risk for severe mineral deficiency.

In addition to this nutrient loss, many processed veggie burgers and the like are packed with harmful artificial flavorings, particularly MSG and textured vegetable protein products to give them their strong “meat” flavor.

What’s even worse is the process soy has to go through to become soy protein isolate. Acid washing in aluminum tanks, which is designed to remove some of the antinutrients (but the results often vary widely), leeches aluminum into the final product. Aluminum can have adverse effects on brain development9 and cause symptoms such as:

  • Antisocial behavior
  • Learning disabilities
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia10

As I mentioned in a previous article about soy, this makes processed vegetarian fare more palatable, but far from nutritious. Vegetarians have plenty of options for well-rounded, nutritious meals without needing to eat soy or soy-based products.

  • Beans are an inexpensive, protein-rich food that can be eaten alone, added to salads or served as a side dish. Be sure to purchase organic dried beans and cook them at home to avoid the adverse health effects of eating canned food. Ideally, it is also best to soak them for at least 12 hours before cooking them.
  • Nuts are also an excellent source of protein. For optimal health benefits, reach for organic nuts such as almonds or walnuts, instead of overly processed mixed nuts.
  • Quinoa is a gluten free grain that can be enjoyed as a cereal, side dish or added to homemade vegetable stews as a thickener.
  • Flaxseed, which is rich in essential omega-3 fats like ALA, is an excellent source of protein. Add it to salads or sprinkle it over yogurt to infuse your meal with vital nutrients. However, it is important to grind flax seeds just prior to eating them because100 percent of commercially ground flaxseeds are rancid. Hemp seeds11 are also an excellent source of protein.

Hope for the Lactose Intolerant

If you suffer from lactose intolerance and have been replacing milk with soy, you have three more healthful options: Almond milk, and now hemp milk. All are nutritious alternatives to soy, and almond milk has a richer, heartier flavor. Hemp milk12 is a very creamy, high-protein alternative to soymilk, and it’s easy to blend your own by whizzing up hemp seeds and water in a high-speed blender.

Babies — Birth Control in a Bottle

As stated in a number of previous articles, soy formula is one of the most dangerous foods you can feed your baby!

“In 1998, investigators reported that the daily exposure of infants to isoflavones in soy infant formula is 6 to11 times higher on a body-weight basis than the dose that has hormonal effects in adults consuming soy foods. Circulating concentrations of isoflavones in infants fed soy-based formula were 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than plasma estradiol concentrations in infants on cow’s milk formula.”

What does this mean? Feeding your infant soy-based formula can cause a host of health problems including:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Food allergies and digestive distress
  • Early puberty and fertility problems (including the inability to menstruate)
  • Asthma
  • Precocious puberty for girls and gynecomastia (man boobs) for boys
  • Thyroid disease
  • Cancer

As I concluded in my article on infant formula, babies who are fed exclusively from the breast from birth to six months enjoy health benefits such as:

  • Lower risk of respiratory tract and middle ear infections
  • Lower risk of eczema
  • Lower risk of obesity
  • Added protection against heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and allergies
  • Improved brain function and immune system function

Soy formula is also laden with toxic chemicals such as aluminum and manganese, which can cause both physical and mental health problems, learning disabilities, brain damage, and behavioral problems. If, for some reason, you are unable to breastfeed or have adopted a baby, look into these recipes for homemade infant formula.

School Lunch — Children’s Nutrition Left Behind

In order to comply with new US Government standards, soy products are now being used to replace whole, nutritious foods in school lunches. Due to the decreased fat content of soy, it is touted as a healthful alternative to the meat and dairy of yesterday’s hot meal.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Soy added to your child’s hot lunch depletes the necessary nutrients needed for healthy growth and has been linked to learning disabilities. I encourage you to watch this sobering video to learn more about the dangers in your child’s school lunch. Do your children a favor and send them to school with a healthy, home-packed meal.

Senior Citizens — Aging Less Gracefully

According to a study done by Dr. Lon White13 of the Hawaii Center for Health Research, senior citizens who consumed a lot of tofu in mid-life were more likely to experience accelerated brain aging and a more pronounced loss of cognitive function.

“What’s more,” said Dr. White, “those who ate a lot of tofu, by the time they were 75 or 80, looked five years older.”

If you’re heading toward your golden years and are looking to avoid soy protein, become a label reader. Meal replacement drinks like Ensure are filled with soy protein and are best avoided. As you can see, unfermented soy is anything but a health food.

Do your own research, try eliminating it from your family’s diet and judge the results for yourself. Remember, an educated consumer is an armed consumer. Big companies can only produce and sell these harmful products as long as you’re buying them.

Vote with your wallet by spending your money on healthier alternatives!

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An Interview with Amutha Boominathan of the SENS Research Foundation

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Amutha Boominathan leads the mitochondrial research program at the SENS Research Foundation, focused on achieving allotopic expression of mitochondrial genes. This is the process of placing mitochondrial genes into the nuclear genome, suitably altered so that the proteins produced are transported back to mitochondria where they are needed. Every cell contains a herd of hundreds of mitochondria, the descendants of ancient symbiotic bacteria that contain a remnant circular genome. Mitochondria are responsible for packaging chemical energy store molecules, but are also deeply integrated into many other cellular processes.

Thirteen mitochondrial genes remain in the mitochondrial DNA, the source of proteins vital to the correct operation of these organelles, but far more vulnerable to damage and mutation than nuclear DNA. That damage and mutation is one of the root causes of aging, leading to dysfunctional cells that pump harmful oxidative molecules into the surrounding tissue. Adding backup genes to the cell nucleus should work around this issue by allowing mitochondria with damaged DNA to continue functioning, as they will still receive the necessary proteins.

Your research group started developing an improved method for allotopic expression of mitochondrial DNA in 2015 that has already shown very promising results?

The major hurdle that we have overcome is, at least, showing protein products for all the 13 genes. We made some fundamental changes to all 13 genes with a uniform approach, but that approach may not work equally well for all of them. We may have to engineer each one of them for specific properties. So, all of these 13 genes differ with respect to their length, their hydrophobicity, and the complexes that they target. The main hurdle is actually the hydrophobicity factor. These 13 proteins are normally synthesized within the mitochondrial matrix, and they are inserted into their complexes. But, in allotopic expression, they are synthesized in the cytosol and have to traverse two membranes and then go to the right location. We will have to engineer them one after the other or modify them in such a way that it recognizes the right pathway. So, like I said, we are causing global changes to all 13 genes, and we will cause specific changes to each one of them to make it functional as a whole. The first step is to at least see a product, and that’s what we’ve overcome now.

What have been the criteria for selecting mitochondrial DNA genes to work on for allotopic expression?

One of the other hurdles is proving that your technology actually works, and for that, you need model systems. The reason we were able to show that ATP8 really works is because we were able to get a patient cell line with a severe mutation that’s null for the ATP8 protein. Usually, in humans, mutations to mitochondrial genes manifest in various levels, but it is unusual that the protein is completely absent in the patient. It’s a rare event. But mitochondrial DNA exists in heteroplasmy. There are wild type and mutant levels, both present continuously, and it’s the tipping factor that causes a disease phenotype to ensue. The one reason we were able to really convincingly show ATP8 works is because we were able to get the null cell line and show that the exogenous protein goes into the right location and regains many of the functions that were absent before. Basically, you have the cell line available, which is really rare. So, let’s make use of it.

What do you think will be a realistic timeframe for therapies targeting mitochondrial DNA mutations to reach humans?

They are actually already doing that but with the recoded version. That means we already have a precedent. All we have to show is that our version of it is better and that ours has a better immune profile. That’s also why we want to do it in animal models, so we can actually show how it’s better. I don’t know about the timeframe; that’s a very difficult question. If the animal studies go well, I want to say five years. Not five years before it reaches people, but five years to establish enough proof of principle that we can start to develop this for people.

In your view, what does aging research need most right now to ensure it can make the most significant leaps that the field is capable of in the coming 10 years?

I think you need good biomarkers. That’s lacking in the field. Everybody wants to have a quick fix. They have all these different areas that they think are very important to aging, but I don’t think that’s the way it is. I think it’s more like a general breakdown of everything with time. So you need better markers, and maybe even a better mindset where it’s okay to be healthy in old age. People shouldn’t be resigned to the fact that they will age with time and that they are going to die. Maybe a little more public education is needed to accept that it’s okay to want and to have a healthy lifespan.


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An Interview with Justin Rebo of BioAge

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BioAge is one of a growing number of companies using machine learning methods to reduce cost and speed up discovery of drug targets, development of small molecule drugs, or peptides, or other aspects of traditional medical development than have been painfully costly, inefficient, and slow. Faster, cheaper processes in medical development are a benefit to humanity, and right now the novelty of this sort of work gives it a high profile in the entrepreneurial and investment communities. Faster and cheaper isn’t a substitute for choosing the right strategy for the development of therapies to treat aging, however.

After all, every therapy for aging prior to the development of senolytics to clear senescent cells was fairly marginal in its benefits. Many of the therapies presently under development in the longevity industry alongside the targeted destruction of senescent cells will also be marginal, because, unlike senolytics, they fail to meaningfully reverse a cause of aging. Producing marginal therapies at an accelerated rate is not a success story. Better infrastructure will only efficiently help the end goal of greatly extended healthy life span when coupled to a program of research and development that aims to repair the molecular damage that lies at the root of aging.

I was wondering if you could briefly explain how BioAge verifies whether the aging targets they identify are valid?

BioAge begins with human data. We find human cohorts that have banked blood samples from decades ago, coupled with electronic health records that have followed those people ever since, in some cases, until their deaths. We send these blood samples for deep omics profiling: proteomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, stuff like that. From that, we can find what’s in the blood, for instance, the transcription profiles of the blood cells and soluble protein metabolites, which is correlated with age-related diseases and mortality. That’s only part of the picture, of course, because that doesn’t tell you what’s causal, it only tells you what’s correlational. So, from there, we adopt a systems biology approach where we connect the results to whatever datasets we can find out in the world or among those we generate ourselves, which gives us a few extra clues. However, ultimately, the only way we can really verify if a target is valid is by testing it experimentally, and so that’s what we do. After we pull everything together data-wise, that only gives us so much. We really need to test these targets in animal models as well as cell models, but we prefer to test in vivo.

Since research budgets are limited, what is your view on how these budgets should be allocated across these differing priorities, i.e. should the identification of biomarkers for more diseases or the development of interventions take precedence if we need to choose, and why?

That’s how BioAge started: the whole point was to generate biomarkers. At the same time, these so-called biomarkers are often themselves druggable targets. Part of the evolution of BioAge as a company is that first we find these biomarkers, and then we turn them into drugs. In terms of how society should allocate resources (biomarker research versus the development of interventions), we personally don’t have to consider that as much, seeing as we’re doing both in-house. I can’t really say what anyone else should do, but I think we found something that works for us.

Aubrey de Grey’s idea is that if we develop a therapy for one subtype of causative damage of aging, it will be much easier to extend that therapy to similar types of damage. Since BioAge is working on using computational approaches to find the molecular pathways that drive aging, I was wondering if you are using a similar type of clustering approach to facilitate faster intervention development?

To some extent, because I love Aubrey’s integrated approach. For me, personally, his ‘seven deadly things‘ talk was kind of my introduction into the field back in 2004/2005. But BioAge, at least initially, takes an opposite approach in the sense that we don’t cluster things. We look for mortality as our first differentiating factor. Any target that we look at as something that we might want to pursue must be associated with mortality, and mortality is really as broad as it gets. That being said, once we’ve screened for mortality, we then examine what specific disease indications would make the most sense. I can’t really get into detail about what those are. But I like the way we look broadly at the data first, in a kind of “hypothesis-free” sense, with an open mind, letting the data speak for itself.


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Lipid Metabolism in Aging and Age-Related Disease

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Lipids are everywhere in our biochemistry. Where they are present in cell structures and molecular mechanisms that are important to any specific age-related disease, or are among the underlying root causes of aging, it will tend to be the case that differences between species (and possibly individuals) can lead to changes in the pace of aging and disease. For example, lipid composition determines resistance to oxidative damage to cell membranes. A range of evidence supports the membrane pacemaker hypothesis of aging, in that longer-lived species tend to have more resilient cell membranes, based on their lipid composition.

Today’s open access paper uses lipids as an anchoring point for a wide-ranging discussion on aging, biomarkers of aging, and the differences in aging between species. The authors are, I feel, justifiably pessimistic about the prospects for the eventual production of therapies based on most of the means to slow aging demonstrated in short-lived laboratory species. There are indeed radical differences between the biochemistry of short-lived species and long-lived species such as our own. Yet even when mechanisms are in fact proven to be much the same in all of worms, flies, mice, and humans, as is the case for calorie restriction and its upregulation of cellular maintenance processes, we cannot expect that therapies will automatically be effective enough to justify development. The practice of calorie restriction extends life in mice by up to 40%, but while it improves health in humans, it certainly doesn’t significantly extend human life span in the same way.

The role of lipid metabolism in aging, lifespan regulation, and age-related disease

Due to the sheer amount of time and cost required to validate a study in humans, the bulk of our aging and lifespan data come from shorter-lived yeast, worms, flies, and rodents. With the exception of research showing that caloric restriction improves health and survival in rhesus monkeys, little aging work has been done in longer-lived organisms. The bulk of our understanding regarding aging comes from genetic experiments in model organisms, and we do not yet know how similar or dissimilar human aging is. Rather than screen every lifespan-extending intervention in humans to better understand how human aging works, another approach would be to utilize aging biomarkers.

Biomarkers that strongly correlate with aging, lifespan, and healthspan can teach us about which processes are involved in human aging. Ideally, a robust and practical biomarker would be one that incurs a low monetary cost and can be measured safely, repeatedly, and easily. Blood draws are especially appealing because they are inexpensive, simple, low risk, and can be taken as needed throughout a patient’s lifetime. While several biomarker studies have focused on protein-based markers, the advancement of metabolomic techniques has made it feasible to look closely into a large array of metabolites. Metabolomic lipids and lipid-related proteins represent a large, rich source of potential biomarkers that are easily measured in the blood. Compounds in lipid metabolism can take many forms, such as phospholipids, triglycerides, waxes, steroids, and fatty acids. They also play diverse physiological roles, such as forming cell membranes and exerting powerful cell signaling effects. Lipids are perhaps the most well-known for the paramount roles they play in both the storage and mobilization of energy.

Although lipids have been traditionally treated as detrimental and as simply associated with age-related diseases, numerous studies have shown that lipid metabolism potently regulates aging and lifespan. For example, researchers assessed the plasma lipidomic profiles of 11 different mammalian species with longevities varying from 3.5 to 120 years. They found that a lipidomic profile could accurately predict an animal’s lifespan and that, in particular, plasma long-chain free fatty acids, peroxidizability index, and lipid peroxidation-derived product content are inversely correlated with longevity. Evidence from animals with extreme longevity also links lipid metabolism to aging. The ocean quahog clam Arctica islandica, an exceptionally long-lived animal that can survive for more than 500 years, exhibits a unique resistance to lipid peroxidation in mitochondrial membranes. Naked mole rats, which enjoy remarkably long lifespans and healthspans for rodents, have a unique membrane phospholipid composition that has been theorized to contribute to their exceptional longevity.

A plethora of dietary, pharmacological, genetic, and surgical lipid-related interventions extend lifespan in nematodes, fruit flies, mice, and rats. For example, the impairment of genes involved in ceramide and sphingolipid synthesis extends lifespan in both worms and flies. The overexpression of fatty acid amide hydrolase or lysosomal lipase prolongs life in Caenorhabditis elegans, while the overexpression of diacylglycerol lipase enhances longevity in both C. elegans and Drosophila melanogaster. The surgical removal of adipose tissue extends lifespan in rats, and increased expression of apolipoprotein D enhances survival in both flies and mice. Mouse lifespan can be additionally extended by the genetic deletion of diacylglycerol acyltransferase 1, treatment with the steroid 17-α-estradiol, or a ketogenic diet.

In humans, blood triglyceride levels tend to increase, while blood lysophosphatidylcholine levels tend to decrease with age. Specific sphingolipid and phospholipid blood profiles have also been shown to change with age and are associated with exceptional human longevity. These data suggest that lipid-related interventions may improve human healthspan and that blood lipids likely represent a rich source of human aging biomarkers.

Have a look at Nitric Oxide and Cardio health.

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