Probiotics May Relieve Depression

Maylin Rodriguez Paez RN

Probiotics, which are typically known for their effects on the digestive tract, are becoming a hot topic in the field of psychology. Previous research shows a potential role in alleviating anxiety.1

And now, a recent study suggests that probiotics may even help to alleviate depression. The results were published in the journal, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Probiotics Reduce Sad Thoughts

Rumination, which is the repetition of negative thoughts, is a risk factor for depression. Scientists from the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition wanted to investigate if probiotics could play a role in the treatment of the disease.

For the study, 20 individuals without mood disorders were given probiotics for a period of four weeks. Another group of 20 people were given a placebo for the same period of time. Both groups were asked to fill questionnaires which measured their mood.

The probiotics were composed of different species including Bifidobacterium bifidum W23, Bifidobacterium lactis W52, Lactobacillus acidophilus W37, Lactobacillus brevis W63, Lactobacillus casei W56, Lactobacillus salivarius W24, and Lactococcus lactis (W19 and W58). 

Compared to the control group, participants taking the probiotics were less likely to experience ruminative thoughts.2 This is the first study of its kind to show that probiotics have this effect on people.

How Are the Brain and Gut Connected?

The exact mechanism behind the results of this study is unknown. What we do know is that gut bacteria play a key role in the production of neurotransmitters.

For example, it’s estimated that about 90% of the body’s supply of serotonin (a key neurotransmitter implicated in depression) is made in the digestive tract. This phenomenal task is regulated by certain species of gut bacteria whose elimination has been shown to reduce serotonin levels.3

This may potentially explain why certain illnesses such as IBS are connected with depression.

Although this field of research is new, it provides insight into the complex relationships between the gut and brain. In the future, perhaps we’ll see holistic treatments for depression which not only focus on the brain, but on the gut too.

References:

  1. Br J Nutr. 2011 Mar;105(5):755-64. Epub 2010 Oct 26. 
  2. Brain Behav Immun. 2015 Apr 7. 
  3. Cell. 2015 Apr 9;161(2):264-76. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.047.

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Black Tea Lowers Blood Pressure

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

Whether you drink tea socially or for the health benefits, one thing is for sure: you’re probably getting a lot more than what you bargained for.

The custom of drinking tea is a cultural phenomenon that has persisted for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And lucky for us, we benefit in so many ways.

A recent study shows that black tea supports healthy blood pressure levels when taken close to a meal. The results were published in the journal Nutrients.

Black Tea Reduces Blood Pressure and Enhances Arterial Function

Leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant are fermented to create black tea. In the process, a unique combination of flavonoids is produced, which is different from what is found in green tea.

For this study, scientists examined the effect of tea drinking on blood pressure in a group of 19 adults with hypertension. Participants were assigned a placebo or two cups of black tea for eight days, followed by a washout period of 13 days (a period in which no treatment is given). Treatments were then switched between the two groups. Each cup of tea contained 129 mg of flavonoids.

Different tests were administered to measure arterial function including digital volume pulse (measures arterial stiffness) and blood pressure measurements with or without a fatty meal. Blood pressure readings were taken each hour after tea consumption for a period of four hours.

According to the results of the study, tea drinkers showed positive results in arterial function. Arterial stiffness, a risk factor for heart disease, improved. On average scientists saw a decrease of 3 points in blood pressure readings for tea drinkers.

In addition, the tea prevented rises in blood pressure after the fatty meal.1 Though these changes in blood pressure were small, they are significant for individuals who are at risk for developing hypertension or for those being treated for the condition.

The Bottom Line

The results of this study are very easy to apply in real life: just drink more tea. Not only will it perk up your meal, your heart may benefit as well.

References:

  1. Nutrients. 2015 Feb 4;7(2):1037-51.

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The Power of Medicinal Flowers


When you think of flowers, eating them is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

However, a number of them actually offer a rich source of nutrients that can boost your health.

Below, we’ll explore the most compelling health benefits of some of our favorite medicinal flowers.

Who knew?

The Health Benefits of Roses

While not used in most American dishes, rose water is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine and, along with orange flower water is also added to some Middle Eastern dishes.

Rose petals as well as rose hips (an excellent source of vitamin C) are used in jams, syrup, and tea. Other floral teas include jasmine, lavender, hibiscus, orange blossom, and more.

The Health Benefits of Marigolds

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids whose role in the prevention of macular degeneration has recently been acknowledged.1

In addition to spinach (not everyone's favorite), an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin is the marigold (Tagetes erecta).

Remove the petals of this lovely flower after rinsing and add to salads or use as a garnish for soup. Analysis of red, orange, and yellow Indian marigolds found that the orange variety contained the most lutein and had the highest free radical scavenging activity.2

The Health Benefits of Calendula

Similar in appearance to the marigold is the calendula (Calendula officinalis), whose anti-inflammatory properties have been attributed primarily to its triterpenoid content.3

These compounds have demonstrated an antiviral effect in laboratory studies.4

In one study involving cultured cells, an organic calendula flower extract showed anti-HIV activity while protecting uninfected cells.5

The Health Benefits of Osmanthus

The osmanthus flower is best known for its presence in tea, however, it too, has therapeutic effects. 

Research in rodents has confirmed what Chinese medicine has held for centuries: that osmanthus flowers reduce congestion in the throat.

In a study involving mice, osmanthus was effective at alleviating allergies.6 Next time you are experiencing throat congestion, try a fragrant cup of osmanthus tea.

The Health Benefits of Chamomile

Yellow chamomile flowers are also well known for their use as a tea, particularly in traditional Mexican medicine. Chamomile tea induces sleep and relaxation, and is even given to cranky infants.

Like many medicinal flowers, chamomile has antioxidant effects.7 The flowers have a high polyphenol content, and are particularly rich in apigenin, a flavonoid that has been associated with anticancer effects.8,9 

Apigenin's ability to bind to the benzodiazepine receptor (the same receptor used by traditional anti-anxiety drugs) is likely the mechanism behind chamomile's ability to calm anxiety.10

Not only is chamomile of benefit when drunk as a tea, but the flower has topical benefits, including a traditional use in migraine.11 Evidently chamomile's soothing effects extend to the skin as well, as extracts are used to calm minor skin irritations.

In a study involving rats, topically applied chamomile extract accelerated the healing of second degree burns in comparison with olive oil alone.12

Another study found that the chamomile treatment of ulcers decreased wound healing time by nine days compared to topical medications or to a control group.13

Remember the Bach Flower Remedies?

A discussion of floral therapies inevitably leads to the question of whether the "Bach flower remedies" have any merits.

Although these flower essences, developed by Dr Edward Bach in 1930, have their share of enthusiastic supporters, a systematic review of randomized clinical trials failed to reveal any differences between the remedies and placebos.14

Nevertheless, there have been a few positive studies involving one or more of the therapies, such as the popular "Rescue Remedy,"15 which many people use to calm anxious pets.

Although the evidence in favor of Bach flower remedies is mainly anecdotal, many appear to be, at the least, harmless.

The Bottom Line

Flowers are more than a gift to the senses. Next time a package of edible flowers catches your eye in the produce section of your supermarket, you might want to give them a try.

Added to soup or salad, or as a garnish to the most elegant desserts, flowers add beauty to any table.

References:

  1. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 Feb;132(2):142-9. 
  2. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jul 28;58(14):8259-64. 
  3. Planta Med. 1994 Dec;60(6):516-20. 
  4. Planta Med. 1991 Jun;57(3):250-3. 
  5. Biomed Pharmacother. 1997;51(4):176-80. 
  6. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:304290. 
  7. Gen Physiol Biophys. 2015 Mar 27. 
  8. Pharm Res. 2010 Jun;27(6):962-78. 
  9. Int J Oncol. 2007 Jan;30(1):233-45. 
  10. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1997 Dec;58(4):887-91. 
  11. Med Hypotheses. 2014 Nov;83(5):566-9. 
  12. Nat Prod Res. 2008 Mar 20;22(5):422-7. 
  13. Phytother Res. 2009 Feb;23(2):274-8. 
  14. Swiss Med Wkly. 2010 Aug 24;140:w13079. 
  15. Complement Ther Med. 2014 Aug;22(4):719-23.

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The Health Benefits of Aloe


The use of aloe vera for health and beauty has been documented as far back as the 16th century BCE and most likely has an even longer history.

It grows in many areas of the world, including North Africa, Australia, Latin America, China, Southern Europe, and the United States.

Cleopatra was said to have used aloe gel on her skin as part of her beauty routine—and to this day, aloe is still used as a moisturizer, and for healing abrasions, burns, and acne.

Aloe Treats Different Skin Conditions

The effectiveness of aloe is attested by its popularity as a houseplant that provides immediate first aid for minor burns and cuts. 

An early study involving aloe vera gel, which is obtained by cutting open its spiked leaves, found that it improved the healing of burn wounds by 20 days on average, in comparison with a standard treatment.1

In a different study, patients with burn wounds treated with aloe vera healed an average of six days sooner than those treated with a conventional treatment.

In another investigation, involving patients who underwent dermabrasion of the face, healing occurred 72 hours faster on the side of the face treated with aloe vera in comparison to a standard wound dressing applied to the remaining side.3

A double-blinded trial of 60 psoriasis patients found a significant benefit for a cream containing aloe vera extract in comparison with a placebo. At the end of a 16 week treatment period, 25 out of 30 participants who received aloe vera extract were considered to be healed in comparison to 2 out of the 30 in the control group.4

Aloe Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

In addition to the remarkable effects of topical aloe, the plant's juice, when consumed orally, has also been associated with significant benefits.

Aloe vera juice, when combined with the antidiabetic medication glibenclamide, has been shown to enhance the drug's effectiveness in a group of diabetic patients.5

In another trial, aloe juice taken alone lowered blood glucose and triglycerides in diabetics when taken twice daily for two weeks.6

A later trial of type 2 diabetic patients found a reduction in fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in those given encapsulated aloe gel compared with a placebo group.7

Aloe Eases Gut Ailments

One of aloe juice's more outstanding functions is the healing of ulcerative colitis.

A randomized trial of aloe resulted in clinical remission, improvement and response in 30%, 37% and 47% of ulcerative colitis patients, respectively.8

There is also evidence showing that aloe vera has benefits for irritable bowel syndrome.

Aloe Increases the Absorption of Supplements

For those who drink liquid aloe on a regular basis, taking your vitamins with the juice could help improve their absorption.9

A study involving 18 participants found a significant increase in vitamin C and vitamin E blood levels when taken alongside aloe vera compared to the ingestion of either vitamin alone.

Another trial involving vitamins C and B12 resulted in a similar conclusion.10

Aloe Contains Various Medicinal Compounds

A number of compounds have been identified as responsible for aloe's various benefits. A study published in Oncology Reports noted the aloe compound emodin killed leukemia cells.11

Another aloe compound known as acemannan showed a destructive effect in vitro on Candida albicans, the yeast responsible for vaginal infections.12

Glycosides, saponins, sterols, triterpenoids, anthraquinones and other anti-inflammatory compounds have been identified,13 as well as the antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase14 and superoxide dismutase.15

How to Use Aloe

Note that while aloe juice has long been ingested for its laxative effect, this benefit may be due to aloin, a naturally occurring irritant. This effect can be prevented by consuming liquid aloe that has had its aloin removed.

Topical aloe, however, can be applied straight from the plant.

References:

  1. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1988 Mar;81(3):386-9. 
  2. J Med Assoc Thai. 1995 Aug;78(8):403-9. 
  3. J Dermatol Surg Oncol. 1990 May;16(5):460-7. 
  4. Trop Med Int Health. 1996 Aug;1(4):505-9. 
  5. Phytomedicine. 1996 Nov;3(3):245-8. 
  6. Phytomedicine. 1996 Nov;3(3):241-3. 
  7. Planta Med. 2012 Mar;78(4):311-6. 
  8. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Apr 1;19(7):739-47. 
  9. Phytomedicine. 2005 Nov;12(10):760-5. 
  10. J Diet Suppl. 2010 Jun;7(2):145-53. 
  11. Oncol Rep. 1997 Mar-Apr;4(2):341-3. 
  12. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1997 Feb;19(2):75-82. 
  13. J Ethnopharmacol. 1996 Dec;55(1):69-75. 
  14. Enzyme Protein. 1993;47(2):92-8. 
  15. See comment in PubMed Commons belowEnzyme Protein. 1996;49(4):212-21.

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Coffee Prevents Breast Cancer Recurrence

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

One of the worst fears that plagues a breast cancer survivor is recurrence of the disease. Most recurrences occur within three to five years of initial treatment.

Although the cause of recurrence is unknown, certain factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing the condition — a young age being one of them. 

Fortunately, a new study shows that drinking coffee may actually help to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. The results were published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Drinking Coffee Cut the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence in Half

Researchers reexamined data from a previous study. They sampled 1,090 women, 506 of which were taking tamoxifen, a standard treatment for hormone-related breast cancers.

They looked at food questionnaires, and the women were divided into three different groups based on their coffee intake: moderate (two to four cups), low (less than 1 cup), and high drinkers (5 or more cups daily).

According to the results of the study, the women drinking moderate or high amounts of coffee were half as likely to be re-diagnosed with breast cancer.1

In addition, the tumors were smaller in the coffee drinkers (those drinking at least two cups daily) and were less likely to grow in response to hormones.

To determine the actual mechanism behind coffee’s anti-cancer effects, they added two coffee extracts, caffeic acid and caffeine, to a medium containing breast cancer cells.

Interestingly, they found that caffeic acid and caffeine were able to stop the growth of the tumors. The effect was more pronounced with the addition of tamoxifen.

Coffee Has Anti-Cancer Properties

Previous research indicates that coffee has anti-cancer properties. A study published in 2015 shows that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer2.

In addition, coffee may help to prevent the occurrence of breast, prostate, colon, and liver cancers.3-6

Overall, moderate coffee consumption between 3–5 cups daily seems to offer the most benefits.

References:

  1. Clin Cancer Res. 2015 Apr 15;21(8):1877-87 
  2. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015 Jan 20;107(2). 
  3. Breast Cancer Res. 2011 May 14;13(3):R49. 
  4. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011 Jun 8;103(11):876-84. 
  5. Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Nov;21(11):1949-59. 
  6. Int J Cancer. 2005 Aug 10;116(1):150-4.

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