September 2, 2014

Curcumin Update: Promising New Vehicle to Cross the Blood/Brain Barrier

Curcumin -- the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric -- is the only botanical whose efficacy has been clearly demonstrated by science. Almost 5,000 peer-reviewed studies now exist to support its beneficial effects. Most of the studies were small, and many involved mice and rats, not humans. There's no question: we need more large-scale, peer-reviewed, clinical studies involving people, and a number of them are underway.

Curcumin has powerful antioxidant properties, so it can fight inflammation. Many diseases are accompanied by inflammation and -- according to some research -- are triggered by it. Curcumin also appears to combat ongoing cellular damage. These dual attributes -- combating inflammation and cellular damage -- could affect virtually all tissues in the body, including those in the brain.

What's especially exciting to me (and millions of others) is curcumin's potential to fight Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and other neurological disorders related to inflammation.

Over a year ago, I set up a Google "curcumin" alert so I'd get the latest news. I usually hear about another promising new study every week. Here are the two most recent:
  • Discovery shows that curcumin blocks the metastasis of colon cancer by a new method.
  • Curcumin supplements may help with depression.
Most human studies of curcumin have focused on people with existing health problems. But one recent study looked at a group of healthy middle-aged people and concluded that a low dose of curcumin "can produce a variety of potentially health-promoting effects" for them.

Why aren't we all popping curcumin pills or eating lots of turmeric-heavy curries?

August 29, 2014

A Stroll Down Memory Lane on Washington's 14th Street

Recently, I resolved to get out for some needed exercise by picking one of DC's neighborhoods for a walking tour every week. Let's start with 14th Street and it's contrast between now and then. I did this walk on Tuesday.

But first some history:

14th Street April 1968

On April 4,1968, civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. His murder sparked unrest that night in Washington, DC. That was Thursday. Over the next few days, violence, looting and arson enveloped the main commercial centers in the African-American neighborhoods. The 14th Street commercial corridor was hit hardest. Most of the smoke you see in the photo on the left is coming from 14th Street.

Washington has always been two cities -- one black, one white. This separation has begun to dissipate somewhat and today's 14th Street is a prime example of that. But that wasn't the case in 1968, when 14th Street was the black community's main street. It suffered the most damage during the 1968 rioting.

Here's a good example of DC's two cities: On Friday, the day after MLK's assassination, my wife and I decided to go ahead with the annual Georgetown house tour we'd signed up for, mainly because it included the Averell Harriman house with its collection of famous impressionist paintings. We saved that for our last house on the tour.

As we headed down N Street toward the Harriman house, tour officials came by to say the tour was shutting down. Everyone was urged to go home as soon as possible because more rioting was underway and President Johnson had called out the National Guard. The federal and district government offices -- and most businesses -- had shut down. Massive traffic gridlock followed as panicked commuters raced home to the suburbs. 

By the end of Friday night, 13,600 federal troops occupied the city. 

August 28, 2014

Loneliness: A Killer

If you’re not careful, loneliness might kill you.

Everyone feels lonely at predictable times, like when a special friend or relative dies. But doctors are quick to point out that it’s the continuing, persistent kind of loneliness that carries very real health risks.

In a 2010 AARP survey, 35% of all responders reported feeling lonely. Of those, nearly half said their loneliness had persisted for at least six years. That’s a lot of time for a harmful condition to unleash its dangerous effects.

Here are just a few of the consequences of persistent loneliness:
  • Studies suggest that loneliness is more dangerous than packing on some extra pounds. Yet Americans spend billions of dollars on diet products and often make little effort to address their loneliness.
  • Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by 14%.
  • Loneliness affects not only our current mental health – think depression. One recent study also suggests it increases the risk for dementia later.
  • Loneliness often brings fragmented sleep, the choppy kind that seriously affects health.
  • Loneliness can increase inflammation throughout the body, which carries its own risks. That inflammation can also exacerbate existing conditions like arthritis and heart disease.
Mother Teresa – the impoverished nun who spent her life helping the poor – described loneliness as the “most terrible poverty.”

August 27, 2014

More Thoughts about Parkinson's and Robin Williams' Suicide

Robin Williams' suicide affected many people. There has been intense media and internet scrutiny... and speculation. These two commentaries resonated with me.

1) Former Time Warner Chairman Jerry Levin Comes out of the Parkinson's Closet
In an interview last week with Deadline Hollywood, Levin disclosed for the first time that he has Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed eight years ago.

What follow are verbatim quotes and paraphrasings of Levin's remarks.

Levin’s “coming out.” The death of Robin Williams led Levin to acknowledge his own PD: 
Basically the reason I really wanted to start talking about it now was, to raise awareness and understanding that there may be a million souls in the U.S. who have Parkinson’s, but there are probably many more who are undiagnosed. There is a lack of research and actually a relative lack of practitioners who are versed in Parkinson’s. Probably one quarter of those who have Parkinson’s are being treated by a specialist. The rest are not. For me, it’s not a question of philanthropy, it’s really a question of awareness. That’s why I think what Robin represents is so critical.  
We see the effects of addiction, we know what clinical depression means, but when you put it together with this debilitating disorder that slowly takes away your ability to function and to express . . . and we haven’t even covered the autonomic impact on your ability to sleep or your ability to swallow. Once the diagnosis is given, there is an enormous psychological shift and you tend to view the world from that prism. It is so hard to distinguish what’s normal anymore, what’s Parkinsonian.
Williams' Parkinson's Diaganosis: Turning to the subject of the Parkinson’s diagnosis and its impact on Williams, Levin notes that one of the telltale signs of Parkinson’s is what’s called the Bland Effect; facial expression begins to dissolve into a lack of emotion, no vibrant expression. It’s almost blank and it’s quite noticeable. Your smile is barely discernible and artificial.

August 26, 2014

Pomegranate for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's?


The continuing saga of pomegranate magic has again lit up the internet over the past few days.

This time, the story focuses on punicaligan -- a polyphenol found mainly in the skin of pomegranate fruits – which scientists at the University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England, think may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinson’s. Their findings were just published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

The report claims that this punicaligan compound could slow down the inexorable progress of AD by inhibiting inflammation in specialized brain cells known as micrologia. That inflammation, when unchecked, enables the continuing destruction of brain cells typical of people with Alzheimner’s… and Parkinson’s, too.

As the buzz reverberates about pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory qualities, Huddersfield scientists have begun a new effort to develop drugs – mimicking the efficacy of punicaligan – that treat neuro-inflammation.

Pomegranante Benefits Not New
Lead researcher Dr. Olumayokun Olajide is quick to tout the benefits of pomegranate. "We do know that regular intake and regular consumption of pomegranate has a lot of health benefits – including prevention of neuro-inflammation related to dementia," he said. 

Olajide -- who became interested in the anti-inflammatory effects of natural products as a med student in his native Nigeria -- says pomegranate has been of interest to Alzheimer's researchers for some time. Previous studies have suggested it can help break down plaque that builds up in the brain and brings on the beginnings of the disease.

There may also be applications for punicalagin compounds to treat conditions that involve general inflammation – not just neuro-inflammation – such as rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer.
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