Science Digest – January 15, 2021

Hello, Premium Members!

Our team had a blast pulling this issue together because it covers so many different topics that we think you’re going to find really interesting. Read on to learn how…

Moderate fever may protect against acute respiratory distress syndrome in COVID-19.
Omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate olfactory losses.
Drinking oolong tea promotes weight loss.

And lots more!

Coming soon…
A brand-new article about brain-derived neurotrophic factor, better known as BDNF.
BDNF is a protein that plays important roles in brain health. Expect to be amazed!

We’ve got another Crowdcast live Q&A coming up Saturday, February 6th, at 9:30 am PDT. The code for this event is genetics. Remember, you can always access the most recent event code and Q&A calendar by visiting your dashboard at

Enjoy reading!

Rhonda and team

Science Digest – January 15, 2021
Moderate fever may protect against acute respiratory distress syndrome in COVID-19.

The primary cause of death from COVID-19 is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe form of acute lung injury characterized by rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and a low blood oxygen level. The authors of a recent report posit that moderate fever protects against ARDS in COVID-19.

The body’s fever response is a hallmark of infection and inflammation. An increase in core body temperature of a few degrees (no higher than ~102°F) is generally recognized as safe and improves survival from and resolution of many infections. For example, evidence indicates that people who take medications to reduce fever associated with influenza are 5 percent more likely to die. Conversely, extremely high fever in the setting of systemic inflammation is harmful. Notably, the fever response is diminished in older adults.

Fundamental to the fever response is a short-term accumulation of heat shock proteins (HSP), a class of proteins that play important roles in providing protection from lung injury. HSPs increase markedly with fever but require a “cool-down” period to maintain their effectiveness. In COVID-19 illness, the increase in HSPs is transient, lasting only about two hours after the onset of fever.

The authors of the review hypothesized that allowing patients with COVID-19 to experience brief (two hour) periods of fever, followed by administration of medications to reduce fever would maintain the highest levels of protective HSPs. They cautioned that their hypothesis must be tested in large, randomized clinical trials, however.

The authors also suggested that strategies that promote HSP activation may provide protection against COVID-19. They noted that sauna use, in particular, induces long-term activation of HSPs and is associated with reduced risk of developing certain chronic or acute respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia. Findings from large epidemiological studies indicate that men who used the sauna four to seven times per week were 41 percent less likely to develop pneumonia than men who used the sauna less often or not at all. Read more about sauna use in our overview article.

Link to full review.

Omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate olfactory losses.

The sellar and parasellar regions of the brain comprise a complex anatomical area located near the pituitary gland. Tumors in these regions often require resection using endoscopic nasal procedures, which are often associated with concomitant olfactory function losses. In some patients these losses persist long after the procedure and are sometimes permanent. Findings from a new study suggest that omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate olfactory losses associated with endoscopic nasal procedures.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that play essential roles in human health. They influence cell membrane integrity, affect the function of membrane-bound cellular receptors, and participate in a vast array of physiological functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oil, fish, and other seafood. They are also widely available as dietary supplements.

The prospective, randomized controlled trial involved 87 patients with sellar or parasellar tumors who were undergoing endoscopic nasal resection. Roughly half of the patients received nasal saline irrigations (standard treatment) alone or nasal saline irrigations plus 2,000 milligrams of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids daily. The participants underwent a smell test before and at six weeks, three months, and six months after the procedure.

At the six-week point, 25 percent of the patients in both groups had experienced a clinically significant loss in olfactory function. However, at three and six months post-procedure, the patients who took omega-3 fatty acids had less olfactory loss than patients without supplementation.

The authors of the study suggested that the improvements they observed in the patients’ olfactory function were due to omega-3 fatty acids’ neuroprotective effects as well as their capacity to promote synaptic plasticity and neurotransmitter function. Interestingly, many people report olfactory losses with viral infections, including COVID-19. A new clinical trial is investigating whether omega-3 fatty acids can protect and even restore lost sense of smell in patients with COVID-19.

Link to study abstract.

Drinking oolong tea promotes fat burning.

Tea from the leaves of the Camelia sinensis plant is one of the most widely consumed beverages worldwide. Its consumption is associated with a variety of beneficial health effects. Findings from a recent study suggest that oolong tea consumption promotes weight loss.

Many types of tea from Camelia sinensis exist, but they are generally classified as green, oolong, or black. The differences in the three classifications arise during processing, where they undergo various degrees of oxidation. Green tea is unoxidized; oolong tea is partially oxidized; and black tea is fully oxidized. Tea contains several bioactive compounds, including catechins and caffeine. Catechins are polyphenolic compounds that exert antioxidant properties, and caffeine is a potent stimulant.

The intervention study involved 12 healthy non-obese men between the ages of 20 and 56 years. The participants consumed one of three beverages at breakfast and lunch for three 14-day sessions: oolong tea containing 51.8 milligrams of caffeine and 48.5 milligrams of catechins; a beverage containing 51.8 milligrams of caffeine; or a placebo beverage. A washout period of about two weeks separated each session. The men drank no other beverages containing caffeine or alcohol during the study period. They underwent 24-hour indirect calorimetry to monitor their metabolism and polysomnographic sleep recording to gauge their sleep quality.

The authors of the study found that fat oxidation increased by roughly 20 percent when the participants drank the oolong tea or pure caffeine beverage, but not when they drank the placebo beverage. The effects of consuming oolong tea continued to a greater degree while the participants were asleep. Neither of the caffeine-containing beverages promoted an increase in the men’s energy expenditure, and none of the men exhibited alterations in sleep quality, suggesting that they developed a tolerance to the stimulatory effects of caffeine.

These findings suggest that oolong tea stimulates fat oxidation, especially during the overnight fast.

Link to full study.

Low incidence of severe adverse events with Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Anaphylaxis, sometimes referred to as anaphylactic shock, is a severe, potentially life-threatening reaction to an allergen. It affects the entire body, and its symptoms include skin rash, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and anxiety, among others. A recent report describes the incidence of anaphylactic shock following immunization with the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, also known by its generic name tozinameran or its brand name Comirnaty, induces an immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. A clinical trial involving more than 43,000 people demonstrated that the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 95 percent in preventing the disease. The most common reactions to the vaccine were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that some severe reactions have occurred. As of December 23, 2020, nearly 1.9 million people in the United States had received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Of these, 21 experienced anaphylaxis (a rate of 11.1 people per one million doses), including 17 people with a documented history of allergies or allergic reactions, seven of whom had a history of anaphylaxis. The onset of anaphylactic symptoms in most of the people was 13 minutes (with a range of two to 150 minutes). The CDC reported that of the 20 people for whom follow-up information was available, all had recovered.

The findings presented in this report suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has an excellent safety profile and is safe for most people. However, the CDC recommends that vaccination locations should take the following precautions: ensure that necessary supplies are available to manage anaphylaxis; screen potential vaccine recipients to identify those who require extra precautions; establish post-vaccine observation periods (15 to 30 minutes, depending on patient history); ensure that healthcare providers can recognize the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis early; and immediately treat suspected anaphylaxis with epinephrine.

Full report.

Anger makes people more open to misinformation.

Anger is a basic human emotion. It elicits a robust physiological response that includes increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, but it can also affect attention and memory formation. Anger generally makes people more confident in the accuracy of their memories. Findings from a new study suggest that anger makes people more open to misinformation.

Misinformation is incorrect or misleading information. It is a notable component of mass communication and social media. Exposure to misinformation can distort memory of past events, a phenomenon known as misinformation effect.

The two-part study involved 79 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 years. In the first part of the study, participants watched a short excerpt of a movie. Then they participated in a scripted interview during which they experienced either a neutral exposure or an anger-inducing exposure. Afterward, they completed a test that included misinformation in the questions.

In the second part, half of the participants were asked to write about a time they visited a museum (a neutral exposure), while the other half were asked to write about an event that made them angry (an anger exposure). Then they took a test to assess how much they could accurately recall about the movie and how much misinformation they had absorbed.

The tests revealed that anger did not impair the participants’ ability to recognize details that actually appeared in the movie. But the participants who experienced the anger exposure were more vulnerable to misinformation than those who experienced the neutral exposure.

Interestingly, the participants who experienced the anger exposure were more likely to be highly confident in the accuracy of their memories. However, the more confident they were, the less accurate their memories. Confidence among those who experienced the neutral exposure was associated with greater accuracy.

These findings suggest that anger influences memory encoding via increased susceptibility to misinformation and highlight potential concerns with regard to eyewitnesses to crimes.

Link to study abstract.

SARS-CoV-2: Transitioning from pandemic to endemic.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infection, known as COVID-19, a pandemic. A recent report identifies the immunological characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 that will govern its transition from pandemic to endemic status.

The epidemiological view of endemic disease is one that is continuously, predictably present in the human population. An endemic disease is in a steady state in which the infection does not die out and the number of infected people does not increase exponentially.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is one of seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these human coronaviruses are globally endemic and elicit mild symptoms, while the remaining two, SARS-CoV (which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS) and MERS-CoV (which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS), are associated with more severe disease outcomes and even death.

The authors of the report developed an epidemiological model based on key aspects of immunity, all of which centered on reinfection. These aspects included how susceptible a population is to reinfection, whether the disease weakens after reinfection, and how quickly the virus spreads after reinfection.

The authors’ analysis suggested that once SARS-CoV-2 becomes endemic, the disease profile will look considerably different than it does now, affecting primarily children, eliciting mild symptoms, and providing immunity against severe outcomes with future reinfection. In this scenario, vaccination might not be required. However, the current vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 will play a role in how fast the virus becomes endemic, especially if they induce short-lived immunity but reduce the severity of disease upon reinfection. The authors posited that as milder reinfections become more common, reliance on symptoms as a surveillance tool to curb the virus’s spread will become more difficult.

These findings suggest that in the coming years SARS-CoV-2 infection will become endemic, but until then, public health containment strategies such as wearing masks and social distancing remain essential.

Link to full report.

Brown fat is linked with lower risk of some chronic diseases.

Obesity, or having excess body fat, is a known risk factor for a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and dementia. Findings from a new study indicate that having brown fat is linked with lower risk of some chronic diseases.

Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is found in all mammals and is particularly abundant in newborns. Unlike white fat, which functions primarily as an energy storage depot, brown fat is a metabolically active tissue that is rich in mitochondria. Brown fat helps maintain body temperature with cold exposure, during which its uptake of glucose is eightfold higher than that of muscle tissues.

The authors of the retrospective case-control investigation reviewed imaging reports from more than 52,000 adults who had undergone diagnostic positron emission tomography (PET) scans (nearly 135,000 total scans). They also reviewed the participants’ health records.

The PET scans revealed that nearly 10 percent of the study participants had detectable brown fat. Those who had brown fat were less likely to have type 2 diabetes, abnormal lipid levels, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. They were also more likely to have favorable blood glucose, triglyceride, and high-density lipoprotein levels. These effects were greatest in people who had obesity or overweight. The authors suggested that having brown fat might counteract some of the harmful effects of obesity.

These findings indicate that brown fat may protect against some diseases and suggest that adopting lifestyle behaviors that promote production of brown fat, such as exercise or cold exposure, may be beneficial. Some nutrients and bioactive compounds, such as curcumin, capsaicin, resveratrol, and omega-3 fatty acids, may increase brown fat production, too.

Link to full study.
Listen to this podcast in which Dr. Rhonda Patrick describes how cold exposure induces brown fat production.

Hydrogen sulfide protects against Alzheimer’s disease by preventing tau tangle formation.

Abnormal aggregates of tau, a protein found in the brain, are one of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. These aggregates, known as tau tangles, inhibit normal brain function, and the degree of cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease is correlated with their presence. Findings from a new study suggest that hydrogen sulfide prevents tau tangle formation by inhibiting tau phosphorylation.

Hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring gas, notable for its strong odor of rotten eggs. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause irritation to the eyes and respiratory system. Hydrogen sulfide is also produced in the body’s tissues. Sometimes referred to as a gasotransmitter, it serves as a signaling molecule and actively participates in regulation of a wide range of physiological functions, including inflammation and cell death. Evidence suggests that hydrogen sulfide inhibits free radical reactions in aging and age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Hydrogen sulfide signaling is impaired with aging.

Tau phosphorylation is a chemical modification facilitated by the activity of several enzymes, including glycogen synthase kinase 3-beta (GSK3-beta). Hyperactive GSK3-beta promotes abnormal tau phosphorylation and subsequent tangle formation.

The investigators used a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease to study the effects of hydrogen sulfide on the brain. They injected the mice with hydrogen sulfide daily for 12 weeks and then subjected the mice to various cognitive and motor tests. They also conducted biochemical experiments to gauge the effects of hydrogen sulfide on GSK3-beta.

The tests revealed that the mice treated with hydrogen sulfide performed 50 percent better than mice that did not receive the treatment. The biochemical experiments revealed that a chemical modification of GSK3-beta called sulfhydration inhibits tau phosphorylation. However, under conditions of low hydrogen sulfide levels, GSK3-beta is disproportionately attracted to tau, promoting hyperphosphorylation and tau tangle formation.

These findings suggest that strategies to improve hydrogen sulfide status in the brain show promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Link to study abstract.

Compounds in e-cigarettes trigger inflammation, promoting a leaky gut.

In recent years, vaping, or smoking electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), has emerged as a popular substitute for smoking tobacco-containing cigarettes. E-cigarettes produce a vapor that may contain nicotine as well as a variety of toxic substances, including some carcinogens. Findings from a new study suggest that some compounds in e-cigarettes trigger inflammation, promoting a leaky gut.

Leaky gut, otherwise known as intestinal permeability, is a condition in which gaps form between the tight junctions between the endothelial cells that line the gut. These gaps allow pathogens like bacteria or endotoxins (toxins that are released when bacteria die) to leak through the intestinal wall and pass directly into the bloodstream. Leaky gut has been linked with a number of chronic conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease.

The authors of the study exposed mice to e-cigarette vapors for one hour per day. Then they examined the animals’ colons at one week and three months after the exposure and measured gene expression in the colons. They also built gut enteroids – three-dimensional tissue models that incorporate many of the features of human gut tissue, including an epithelial layer surrounding a functional lumen and all of the cell types normally found in the gut. They exposed the enteroids to e-cigarette vapor (with or without nicotine).

They found that exposure to e-cigarette vapor promoted leaky gut, increasing the susceptibility of the gut lining to bacterial infections, and triggering gut inflammation. They also found that e-cigarette vapor altered expression of genes involved in the cellular response to stress, infection, and inflammation. Use of the two models established that the primary components in the vapor responsible for the harmful effects were propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol, compounds present in more than 99 percent of all e-cigarettes.

These findings demonstrate that commonly used substances present in e-cigarettes promote leaky gut and drive inflammation and provide insights into the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes. They also underscore the importance of public health efforts to reduce e-cigarette use.

Link to full study (pre-proof).

Recent review identifies the most successful dietary patterns for reducing blood pressure.

Hypertension, defined as a systolic pressure of 130 mm Hg or higher, or a diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg or higher, is a chronic elevation of blood pressure. Having high blood pressure markedly increases a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. A recent review identified the most successful dietary patterns for reducing blood pressure.

Dietary patterns play critical roles in managing blood pressure. For example, robust evidence demonstrates that reducing salt intake or adhering to a vegetarian diet reduces blood pressure. Some of the blood pressure-lowering attributes of a plant-based diet include lower sodium content, higher potassium content, increased bioavailability of nitric oxide (a potent vasodilator), and beneficial effects on the microbiome.

The authors of the review analyzed data from 50 studies conducted over a period of more than 70 years and comprising 12 distinct dietary patterns. These patterns included Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Mediterranean, Nordic, vegetarian, low-salt, low-carbohydrate, low-fat, high-protein, low glycemic index, portfolio, pulse, and Paleolithic diets.

The analysis revealed that the DASH diet promoted the greatest overall reductions in blood pressure, with systolic pressure dropping 3.20 to 7.62 mm Hg and diastolic pressure dropping 2.50 to 4.22 mm Hg. Beneficial effects were noted with the Nordic, portfolio, and low-salt diets, as well. The authors noted inconsistencies in the evidence supporting the blood pressure-lowering effects of the Mediterranean, vegetarian, Paleolithic, low-carbohydrate, low glycemic index, high-protein, and low-fat diets. Lower salt diets effectively reduced high blood pressure among people of all ethnicities, but they reduced blood pressure in people of Afro-Caribbean descent even if their blood pressure was normal.

These findings provide further support for dietary interventions as means to reduce blood pressure. They also underscore the need for public health messaging to promote proven dietary patterns and lower salt intake as blood pressure-lowering strategies. Many of the components in this smoothie recipe are elements of the DASH diet.

Link to full study.

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