Science Digest – March 12, 2021 – Pocket

Hello, friends!

We’ve got some great weekend reading material for you in this issue of the Science Digest. We cover a wide range of topics, including how…

Antioxidant-rich moringa and amaranth leaf powders decrease oxidative stress and improve metabolic health.
SARS-CoV-2 virus targets heart muscle cells in the setting of COVID-19.
The majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients with elevated troponin levels have heart damage.

And much more!

In other news:
We’ve got another Crowdcast live Q&A coming up Saturday, April 10th, at 9:30 am PDT. [Note: This is a week later than usual.] The code for this event is mitochondria. Remember, you can always access the most recent event code and Q&A calendar by visiting your dashboard at

Rhonda and team
Science Digest – March 12, 2021
Antioxidant-rich moringa and amaranth leaf powders decrease oxidative stress and improve metabolic health.

During the process of menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen, leading to several physiological changes that include the end of reproductive capacity. Lower estrogen levels in post-menopausal females may decrease the body’s antioxidant enzymes because estrogen has known antioxidant properties. In a recent report, a group of researchers tested the effects of moringa (commonly known as drumstick) and amaranth leaf supplements on antioxidant capacity in post-menopausal females.

Much of the bodily damage that comes with aging is caused by oxygen radicals, but many foods and supplements contain antioxidant compounds that protect the body. Moringa leaves contain a number of antioxidant compounds, including the isothiocyanate moringin, which is similar to sulforaphane found in some cruciferous vegetables. Amaranth leaves contain a number of antioxidant compounds as well as other beneficial nutrients, such as magnesium, folic acid, and dietary fiber.

The investigators enrolled 90 post-menopausal females and allocated them to one of three groups. One group received 7 grams of moringa leaf powder for three months, another received 9 grams of amaranth leaf powder for three months, and the third group received no intervention. The investigators measured antioxidant enzymes, glucose, and malondialdehyde, a marker of oxidative stress, in the participants’ blood.

The authors found that the moringa leaf and amaranth leaf powders increased retinol by 9 percent and 5 percent (respectively) and increased vitamin C by 44 percent and 6 percent (respectively). The moringa leaf and amaranth leaf powders decreased malondialdehyde by 16 percent and 10 percent (respectively) and decreased fasting glucose levels by 14 percent and 10 percent (respectively).

These results suggest that moringa and amaranth leaf supplements improve antioxidant capacity and reduce oxidative stress in postmenopausal females while also improving metabolic health.

Link to full report.
Learn more about the effects of moringa on blood glucose levels in this Q&A featuring Dr. Jed Fahey.

SARS-CoV-2 virus targets and damages the muscle cells of the heart in the setting of COVID-19.

COVID-19 elicits a wide range of cardiovascular-related complications. Whether these problems are due to viral presence in the heart tissue or they are driven by the body’s systemic inflammatory response to the virus remains unknown. Findings from a new study demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, targets the cardiomyocytes of the heart in the setting of COVID-19, causing myocarditis.

SARS-CoV-2 exploits the ACE2 receptor to gain entry into cells. A specific region of the virus called a spike protein binds to a cell’s ACE2 receptor, and the virus injects its genetic material – RNA – into the cytosol. Once inside, the virus hijacks the body’s natural replicating processes to promote viral reproduction.

Myocarditis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium). It typically manifests as chest pain, heart failure, or sudden death. Myocarditis commonly occurs after a viral infection.

The authors of the study developed an engineered heart tissue system using stem cells to mimic many aspects of SARS-CoV-2-induced inflammation of the heart muscle. Their model demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 infects the heart’s muscle cells, driving many deleterious effects, including reduced expression of genes related to metabolism and contraction, and promoting inflammation and cell death. The model also confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 entered the cells via ACE2 and quickly replicated, produced viral particles, and activated the interferon response – classic features of viral infection.

These findings demonstrate that myocarditis in the setting of COVID-19 occurs due to SARS-CoV-2 infection of heart muscle cells and provide a unique model by which to study the disease. Learn more about COVID-19 in this new episode featuring Dr. Roger Seheult.

Link to full study.

Majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who have elevated troponin levels have heart damage.

Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, elicits a wide range of cardiovascular-related complications, including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), ventricular failure, myocardial infarction (heart attack), and others. Findings from a recent study indicate that more than half of hospitalized patients who have severe COVID-19 and elevated troponin levels have heart damage.

Troponin is a group of three proteins that regulate heart and skeletal muscle contractions. Elevated levels of cardiac-specific troponin are indicators of heart muscle damage. Many people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have elevated troponin levels.

The study involved 148 patients (average age, 64 years) who had recovered from severe COVID-19 illness. Of these, 48 required ventilator support. The authors used a form of magnetic resonance imaging to assess heart muscle damage in the patients.

The imaging revealed that more than half (54 percent) of the patients exhibited signs of heart damage, including infarction (tissue death) and/or ischemia (poor blood supply), or both; some showed signs of myocarditis-like scarring. A quarter of the patients had ischemia; of these, two-thirds had no prior history of coronary disease. The majority of patients (88 percent) exhibited limited-extent myocarditis-like injury, and nearly one-third (30 percent) of these had active myocarditis.

These findings suggest that COVID-19 exerts deleterious effects on multiple organ systems, including the cardiovascular system, and underscores the need for monitoring COVID-19 patients well after recovery.

Link to full study.

Learn more about COVID-19 in our episode featuring Dr. Roger Seheult, a physician providing critical care to COVID-19 patients.

Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily reduces the risk of premature death.

Current dietary guidelines for people living in the United States recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily as part of a healthy eating pattern. Despite these recommendations, evidence indicates that most people consume far less. Findings from a recent study indicate that eating two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables daily reduces the risk of premature death.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. They also contain phytochemicals – a broad class of bioactive dietary compounds that exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.

The authors of the study drew on data gathered from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, two ongoing prospective epidemiological studies spanning more than 30 years. More than 108,000 men and women enrolled in the studies completed food frequency questionnaires at the beginning of the studies and every two to four years thereafter. The authors also conducted a meta-analysis of findings from these two studies plus 24 others, comprising more than two million people.

They found that people who ate roughly five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables) were 13 percent less likely to die a premature death from all causes during the 30-year follow-up, compared to those who ate only two servings (total) per day. When the authors of the study looked at specific causes of death, they found that those who ate five servings of fruits and vegetables per day were 12 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke; 10 percent less likely to die from cancer; and 35 percent less likely to die from respiratory illness, even after ruling out other risk factors.

Interestingly, eating more than the recommended five servings did not further reduce risk. The greatest benefits were seen when intake included leafy greens and items rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries, and carrots. Fruit juices and starchy vegetables such as peas, corn, and potatoes conferred little benefit.

These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables. For a quick and tasty way to get your five-a-day, try this smoothie recipe from Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

Link to full study.

Omega-3 fatty acids protect the brain from the harms of air pollution.

Robust evidence indicates that omega-3 fatty acids play critical roles in maintaining optimal human health, potentially conferring protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other conditions. A new study demonstrates that dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may help protect the brain from damage associated with exposure to particulate matter in air pollution.

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets. It is present in fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrograms or less. Exposure to air pollution promotes oxidative stress and increases the risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. Evidence indicates that global air pollution shortens people’s lives on a scale greater than warfare, other forms of violence, parasitic infection, and more.

The investigation involved 1,315 women (average age, 70 years) whose brain volumes had been assessed using structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as part of a previous observational study. The authors of the current study estimated the women’s average exposure to particulate matter, based on where the women lived during the three years prior to their MRI. They measured the women’s dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and non-fried fish via food frequency questionnaires and measured the omega-3 fatty content in the women’s red blood cells.

They found that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids corresponded with higher red blood cell levels of omega-3s. In turn, the women with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells had greater white matter and hippocampus volumes. Women who lived in areas with high levels of particulate air pollution had lower brain volumes, but these effects were attenuated with higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids and non-fried fish.

These findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acids confer protection against potential neurotoxic effects of air pollution on white matter volumes.

Link to study abstract.

Circadian dysregulation of DNA repair drives increased cancer risk among shift workers.

Large, population-based studies have identified robust links between shift work and increased cancer risk. Much of this risk is associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms, the body’s 24-hour cycles of biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns. A recent study suggests that circadian dysregulation of DNA repair mechanisms drives the increased cancer risk associated with shift work.

Circadian rhythms influence many physiological pathways associated with cancer, such as regulation of the cell cycle, cell proliferation, and inflammation. These rhythms also influence mechanisms that repair DNA damage – which can drive mutations that promote cancer.

The study involved 14 healthy men and women (22 to 34 years old) who participated in a simulated shift work experiment at a sleep laboratory. Half of the participants completed a simulated night shift schedule for three nights in which they were awake from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. The other half completed a simulated day shift schedule for three days in which they were awake from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The study participants received a snack and provided blood samples every three hours.

After completing their three days of respective shift work schedules, they underwent a 24-hour study protocol in which they were kept awake for 24 hours in low light in a semi-recumbent posture and received hourly snacks. Every three hours the study investigators took a blood sample from the participants. They analyzed the white blood cells from the samples and then exposed the cells to radiation in the morning and evening.

The authors found that the rhythms of many of the cancer-related genes in the white blood cells were different among the night shift workers compared to the day shift workers. Notably, genes related to DNA repair that showed distinct rhythms of expression during the day shift lost their rhythmicity during the night shift. They also found that the night shift workers’ cells that were exposed to radiation in the evening showed more DNA damage – an indication that they were more vulnerable to external stressors.

These findings suggest that night shift work alters circadian DNA repair mechanisms and promotes DNA damage, thereby increasing cancer risk. One strategy for ameliorating the harmful effects of night shift work is time-restricted eating. Learn more in this episode featuring circadian rhythm expert Dr. Satchin Panda.

Link to study abstract.

A measles-based vector vaccine may be effective against COVID-19.

More than 200 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are currently in development, employing a wide range of vaccine technologies. Findings from a new study demonstrate that a measles-based vector vaccine may be effective against COVID-19.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus. The current measles vaccine, which was developed in the early 1960s, utilizes an attenuated, live virus to provoke an immune response. It has been one of the safest and most successful vaccines ever used in children and is often delivered as part of a triple vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, commonly referred to as the MMR vaccine.

Vector vaccines use an altered version of a virus to deliver instructions (in the form of genetic material) to induce antibody production against a different virus. Vector vaccines have been used safely against a variety of viral illnesses, including influenza, hepatitis, and others.

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The primary antigenic component – the part of the virus that provokes an immune response – is a spiky protein on the surface of the vaccine (aptly named a spike protein) that attaches to receptors on mammalian cells. Prior to its attachment, it is referred to as the prefusion spike protein.

The authors of the study developed several measles virus vector vaccines carrying genetic material for different forms of SARS-CoV-2 and tested them in several rodent models. They found that vaccines carrying genetic information for the prefusion spike protein induced neutralizing antibody levels higher than those found in convalescent plasma of patients who had recovered from COVID-19. The vaccines also induced a robust T cell immune response, even among animals previously vaccinated against measles. In fact, the prefusion spike protein vector vaccine provided complete protection against SARS-CoV-2 and associated respiratory illness – in a single immunization.

These findings suggest that the measles vaccine is an excellent vehicle for delivering protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The authors posited that their vector-based prefusion spike protein vaccine could be incorporated into the current MMR vaccine as a quadruple protection against multiple pathogens that affect children.

Link to full study.

Learn more about COVID-19 in this new episode featuring Dr. Roger Seheult.

Eating ultra-processed foods increases the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and all other causes.

Whole or minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, differ little from their original, intact forms. Ultra-processed foods, however, such as snacks, ready-to-eat meals, and soft drinks, bear little resemblance to intact food forms. These foods typically contain added flavors and colors, are inexpensive and ready to eat, and often have long shelf lives. Findings from a recent study suggest that consumption of ultra-processed foods increases the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and all other causes.

The study involved more than 22,00 men and women (average age, 55 years) enrolled in the Moli-sani Study, a large study of cardiovascular disease and cancer risks among people living in Italy. At the beginning of the study, participants completed questionnaires regarding their intake of 188 foods. The authors of the study categorized each of these foods according to the degree of processing: fresh or minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish; processed culinary ingredients, such as honey or butter; processed foods made with salt, sugar, or oil, such as canned vegetables, legumes, or fish; and ultra-processed foods such as carbonated beverages and processed meats.

The participants who consumed the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods were 58 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 52 percent more likely to die from ischemic heart disease or cerebrovascular disease, and 26 percent more likely to die from all causes of premature death. The greatest contributor to the increased risk appeared to be high sugar content in the ultra-processed foods.

These findings suggest that consumption of ultra-processed foods increases the risk of premature death and underscores current dietary guidelines to reduce intake of foods containing added sugars.

Link to study abstract.

Compound found in sesame seeds may protect against Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that causes cognitive and motor impairments. The motor impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease occur due to the damage and death of cells in a brain region called the substantia nigra, leading to insufficient dopamine production. A new report shows how an antioxidant compound found in sesame seeds, called sesaminol, can protect cells from oxidative damage and prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Oxidative stress is a main driver of cell damage and aging and is the result of normal cellular metabolism. The body produces a number of antioxidant compounds to combat this damage. The production of some of these compounds is increased by a protein called Nrf2, which can be activated by environmental factors, such as dietary components and exercise.

The authors exposed isolated brain cells to an oxidative stressor and measured the activity of Nrf2 and production of antioxidant compounds. Next, they fed sesaminol to mice that develop a disorder similar to Parkinson’s disease for 29 days. They measured the animals’ motor, digestive, and brain function compared to normal mice and Parkinson’s disease mice fed a normal diet.

The authors found that sesaminol enhanced Nrf2 activity and increased production of antioxidant enzymes in response to oxidative stress. The authors also report that, compared to both groups of the mice fed a normal diet, the Parkinson’s disease mice that were fed small amounts of sesaminol exhibited normal motor and digestive function. They also had less alpha-synuclein in their brains, a misfolded protein known to accumulate during the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The authors concluded that sesaminol may be a suitable strategy for preventing Parkinson’s disease, noting that very small amounts of the compound can be effective in protecting cells.

Link to full report.
Learn more about Parkinson’s disease in this episode featuring Dr. Giselle Petzinger.

High dietary spermidine intake decreases disease risk.

Spermidine is a compound found in cells throughout the human body, but concentrations decrease with age. Supplemental spermidine has been found to increase survival in yeast, worms, and human immune cells. A recent observational study investigated the link between dietary spermidine content and disease risk.

Spermidine is one of a small number of compounds that has demonstrated anti-aging properties in animal research, likely due to its ability to induce autophagy – the process by which the body clears dead and damaged cells. While the compound is widely available as a dietary supplement, it is also present in a number of foods including wheat germ, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, amaranth, a variety of cheeses (especially aged cheeses), and soybean products, such as natto.

The investigators recruited a group of 1,000 participants aged 49 to 79 years old who were enrolled in the Bruneck Study, a prospective cohort study of adults living in Bruneck, Italy. Participants shared their full medical records with the researchers and completed food frequency questionnaires every five years for 20 years. The investigators quantified the participants’ nutrient intake (including spermidine) based on their responses. If participants died during the study period, the investigators ascertained whether the death was due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, or other causes. They replicated their analysis using data from the SAPHIR Study, a large population-based study in Austria.

Of the 146 nutrients the authors investigated, spermidine had the strongest relationship with decreased disease risk, even after taking other factors into consideration, such as age, sex, or caloric intake. Higher spermidine intake reduced the risk of all causes of premature death over the 20-year period, with 37 percent fewer deaths in the group with highest intake, compared with the lowest intake, translating to a life extension of nearly six years. The findings were consistent in women, men, and several subgroups of participants and were replicated in the SAPHIR data.

These findings demonstrate an association between dietary spermidine intake and increased survival in humans. Because this study is observational in design, spermidine should be tested in interventional trials to confirm these results.

Link to full report.

Learn more about spermidine and autophagy from Dr. Guido Kroemer, one of the authors of this report, in this episode.

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