Science News Digest – January 01, 2021

Hello, Premium Members!

Happy New Year! We’re starting 2021 off with a fantastic lineup of science news stories, covering the latest scientific research about nutrition, health, and lifestyle. Read on to learn how…

SARS-CoV-2 virus-like particles remain infectious longer in cooler temperatures.
Mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 provide immunity against future reinfection.
Exercise counteracts the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.

And much more!

We’re really excited and optimistic about this new year. That’s because we’ve got a new release schedule that should really blow a lot of our member’s minds: new interviews, new articles, new videos – delivered as fast as we can produce them, without cutting corners. We think you’re going to love it all!

We’ve got another Crowdcast live Q&A coming up Saturday, January 9th, at 9:30 am PDT. The code for this event is newyear1. Be sure to sign up and submit your questions as soon as possible! Remember, you can always access the most recent event code and Q&A calendar by visiting your dashboard at

ICYMI, we released the latest video in our interview series, featuring Dr. Steve Horvath, the creator of the Horvath epigenetic aging clock. We talk about epigenetic aging and the clocks that measure it, and we even discuss factors that might affect our rate of epigenetic aging. You won’t want to miss this one! Watch it here.


Rhonda and team
Science News Digest – January 01, 2021
SARS-CoV-2 virus-like particles remain infectious longer in cooler temperatures.

Many viral infections show seasonality, with surges often occurring in cooler months. This phenomenon has been observed with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, as the number of cases in the northern hemisphere has surged as outside temperatures have plunged. Findings from a new study indicate that SARS-CoV-2 particles remain infectious longer in cooler temperatures.

SARS-CoV-2 is a type of human coronavirus. At least seven coronaviruses are known to infect humans, including SARS-CoV-1 (which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS) and MERS-CoV (which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS). SARS-CoV-2 is highly virulent and requires novel strategies for its study, such as virus-like particles – multiprotein structures that mimic the parent virus but lack the viral genome.

The authors of the study used atomic force microscopy to observe how well the virus-like particles withstood environmental changes. They applied the virus-like particles to a glass surface and then exposed them to different temperatures (ranging from 71° F to 93° F) in humid and dry conditions.

They found that exposure to warm temperatures (93° F) for as little as 30 minutes caused the outer structure of the virus-like particles to break down. However, the particles’ integrity was not affected at cooler temperatures (71° F). The effects of warm temperatures were greater in dry conditions than in humid ones.

These findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 remains infectious longer in cooler, drier environments, such as those encountered outside during winter months or indoors and underscore the importance of adherence to public health guidelines for washing hands, wearing masks, and distancing whenever possible.

Link to full study.

Biological sex differences in COVID-19 risk explained.

Biological sex differences play critical roles in health, a circumstance observed in the higher rates of severe outcomes or death among men diagnosed with COVID-19, despite nearly equal infection rates among both sexes. Authors of a recent review suggest that these anomalies may be due to sex-based differences in the number of two proteins: the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor and the toll-like receptor 7.

The angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor is widely distributed among the body’s tissues. It plays key roles in the maintenance of blood pressure. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, exploits ACE2 to gain entry into cells by binding to a cell’s ACE2 receptor and injecting its genetic material into the cytosol, where it can replicate. Normal ACE2 function is markedly impaired in COVID-19 illness. The authors of the review report that women express twice the number of ACE2 receptors as men, providing a sort of “backup” population of receptors to carry out their normal function.

Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR-7) is an element of the body’s immune response. It facilitates pathogen recognition and activates innate immune function. Women express twice the number of TLR-7s than men. The authors report that this translates to a more robust immune response among women than among men.

The authors also pointed out that hormonal differences (such as higher estrogen levels in women) and sociocultural factors influence the differential COVID-19 risk profiles among men and women. They posited that repurposing drugs that affect ACE2, such as ACE2 inhibitors and ACE2 receptor blockers may be useful in treating COVID-19.

Link to review abstract.

Suppressing thoughts facilitates removal of information from working memory.

Working memory is a limited capacity storage mechanism that allows the brain to store information in the short-term. It facilitates learning and execution of everyday tasks. Findings from a new study suggest that the removal of information from working memory requires active suppression.

Most people can only hold three or four thoughts in working memory; eventually old information (thoughts) needs to be removed to make room for new ones. The inability to remove old thoughts from working memory is a characteristic of many mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Previous work by the authors of the current study identified three distinct strategies for thought removal: replacement of the thought with another, suppression of the thought, and clearing the mind of all thoughts.

The authors of the current study combined machine learning and neuroimaging to observe how the brain responded to removal of old information from working memory in 60 healthy volunteers. The participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while storing information in their working memory and again while performing strategies to remove that information.

The imaging studies revealed that replacing and clearing thoughts work by shifting the brain’s focus. This action deactivates the thoughts’ neural representation in the brain but leaves the information intact. Suppressing thoughts, however, deletes them, freeing up working memory capacity to take in other information.

These findings suggest that thought suppression is beneficial for freeing up space in working memory, which has relevance not only for mental health, but also for learning and productivity.

Link to full study.

Dietary patterns that include cheese and wine may promote cognitive health.

Fluid intelligence – the ability to creatively solve problems without prior knowledge or learning – declines with age. Greater losses of fluid intelligence are associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Findings from a recent study suggest that dietary factors protect against fluid intelligence losses.

Nutrition plays critical roles in maintaining cognitive health. Evidence indicates that adherence to dietary patterns that include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. People who carry gene variants that increase their risk of Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from consuming foods that are rich in DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

The study involved nearly 1,800 people between the ages of 46 and 77 years who were enrolled in the UK Biobank Prospective Study. The participants completed three fluid intelligence tests over a period of several years to assess their ability to creatively solve problems without prior knowledge or learning. They also completed food frequency questionnaires regarding their dietary intake.

The authors of the study found that daily cheese consumption provided the most protection against age-related fluid intelligence losses. They also found that alcohol consumption, especially red wine, provided protection. Eating lamb was associated with better cognitive performance but eating other types of red meat was not. In general, eating too much salt promoted cognitive decline, especially among high-risk groups.

These findings suggest that dietary modifications can promote cognitive health in aging. One mechanism that may drive these benefits is autophagy, a cellular recycling program that is crucial in maintaining neuronal health. Caloric restriction mimetics, such as spermidine (present in aged cheese) and resveratrol (present in red wine), “trick” cells into inducing autophagy even in the setting of sufficient nutrient levels. Watch Dr. Guido Kroemer describe the autophagy-inducing effects of calorie restriction mimetics such as spermidine and resveratrol.

Link to study abstract.

Learn more about autophagy in our overview article.

Exercise counteracts the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.

Exercise and other forms of physical activity elicit a wide range of beneficial health effects, including improvements in glucose tolerance and mitochondrial function. Findings from a new study suggest that high-intensity exercise compensates for the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep is critical for our mental and physical well-being. Sleep deprivation increases our risk of developing many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, kidney dysfunction, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. More than a third of all adults living in the United States report regular short sleep duration.

The intervention study involved 24 healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The study’s investigators placed the men into one of three groups: normal sleep (eight hours per night, for five nights); sleep restriction (four hours per night, for five nights); and sleep restriction/exercise (four hours per night, for five nights plus three high-intensity interval exercise sessions on a cycle ergometer). They assessed the participants’ glucose tolerance, mitochondrial function, sarcoplasmic protein synthesis (a proxy for mitochondrial protein synthesis), and skin temperature before and after the intervention. Sarcoplasmic protein synthesis and skin temperature fluctuate in a diurnal manner due to circadian rhythms, which are altered with poor sleep.

The men who experienced sleep restriction had reduced glucose tolerance and mitochondrial function. They also exhibited reduced amplitude of diurnal rhythms. However, the men who experienced sleep restriction but engaged in high-intensity exercise did not exhibit any of these effects.

These findings demonstrate that high-intensity exercise may counteract the harmful effects of sleep deprivation and suggest that clinicians should recommend exercise to patients who experience poor sleep as a means to improve metabolic health.

Link to full study.

Ashwagandha root extract boosts stress resistance.

Emotional stressors can become overwhelming, potentially setting in motion a cascade of hormonal and physiological responses that are deleterious to a person’s mental and physical health. Evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to emotional stressors increases a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, and depression. Findings from a recent study demonstrate that Ashwagandha root extract enhances a person’s capacity to handle stress.

Commonly referred to as winter cherry, Indian ginseng, or poison gooseberry, Ashwagandha is an herbaceous plant from the Solanaceae family. Evidence indicates that Ashwagandha exerts anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Ashwagandha has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine and is widely described as an adaptogen.

Adaptogens are medicinal plants that promote stress resistance, concentration, performance and endurance. They function by switching on the activity of cellular protective mechanisms, including the activation of heat shock proteins.

The prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial involved 64 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 years. Each of the participants had reported a history of chronic stress but had no psychiatric problems. Half of the participants took a placebo, while the other half took a supplement containing 300 milligrams of high-concentration full-spectrum Ashwagandha extract for 60 days. The authors of the study measured the participants’ serum cortisol (a stress hormone) and scored their stress levels via questionnaires before and after the intervention.

At the beginning of the study, the two groups’ stress level scores were very similar. At the end of the 60-day intervention, however, the groups’ average stress scores were considerably different. In particular, the difference in the participants’ scores indicating symptoms of severe depression differed by 89 percent between the two groups, with the placebo group reporting worsened symptoms of depression. The participants’ cortisol levels decreased nearly 28 percent from baseline in the group that took Ashwagandha. Cortisol levels in the placebo group only dropped about 8 percent.

These findings suggest that Ashwagandha root extract improves stress resistance and decreases stress biomarkers. Interestingly, meditation exerts similar effects. Listen to this episode in which Dr. Rhonda Patrick describes how meditation buffers the negative effects of stress.

Link to full study.

Curcumin reduces pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints. It is the most common form of arthritis worldwide and is a major contributor to disability among older adults. The findings of a recent study suggest that curcumin reduces pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Curcumin in an antioxidant compound produced by the plant Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Curcumin exhibits a wide array of beneficial health effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetes properties. It is responsible for the bright yellow pigment of turmeric, a type of spice commonly used in Indian food.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involved 70 adults over the age of 40 years who had osteoarthritic knee pain and effusion synovitis, an indicator of inflammatory activity in the joint. Half of the participants took 1,000 milligrams of curcumin (in capsule form) daily for 12 weeks. The remaining participants took a placebo. The authors of the study measured the participants’ knee pain using a visual analogue scale, which gauges a person’s pain on a 100-millimeter spectrum. They also assessed their effusion–synovitis volume via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and noted changes in the participants’ knee function.

At the end of the 12-week study, the pain levels among the participants’ who took the curcumin dropped nearly 24 millimeters on the visual analog scale. Pain levels among those who took the placebo only dropped 15 millimeters. The participants who took the curcumin also showed improvements in their knee function. The MRI data showed no changes in the participants’ effusion-synovitis, however.

These findings suggest that curcumin reduces pain and improves function in people who have osteoarthritis. The sample size and short duration of this study may have implications for its clinical applications, however. Larger, longer studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Link to study abstract.

Garlic alleviates symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by pain, swelling, and loss of function in the joints. The condition affects as many as 2 percent of people worldwide and is two to three times more common in women than in men. Findings from a new study demonstrate that garlic alleviates clinical symptoms and inflammatory markers associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Garlic is a bulbous plant used in cooking and traditional medicine practices. It exerts antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. The primary bioactive compound in garlic, allicin, is widely recognized for its capacity to lower blood pressure, prevent atherosclerosis, reduce serum cholesterol and triglycerides, inhibit platelet aggregation, and increase fibrinolytic activity (breaking down blood clots).

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involved 70 women (average age, 51 years) who had rheumatoid arthritis. Half of the women took 1,000 milligrams of garlic daily for eight weeks, and the other half took a placebo. The authors assessed the women’s clinical symptoms, fatigue, C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) were determined.

At the end of the study, the women who took garlic showed marked improvements in their clinical symptoms, pain intensity, tender joint count, and fatigue, and their serum levels of CRP and TNF-alpha decreased. Their swollen joint count decreased as well, but not in the placebo group.

These findings demonstrate that garlic improves clinical symptoms and modulates inflammatory markers associated with rheumatoid arthritis and may be useful as an adjunct therapy in treating the condition.

Link to study abstract.

Mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 provide immunity against future reinfection.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease with a clinical spectrum that ranges from no or few symptoms to acute respiratory failure, sepsis, and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome. More than 82 million cases of the illness have been reported worldwide. Most healthy people who contract COVID-19 are not hospitalized, however, making it difficult to determine the extent to which infection confers future immunity. A recent report indicates that even mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 provide immunity against future reinfection.

The authors of the report conducted a cross-sectional case-control study to assess T cell and neutralizing antibody immunity approximately four months after the United Kingdom lockdown commenced in March 2019. They drew on a subset of data from the UK COVIDsortium, a longitudinal study of a London-based cohort of hospital healthcare workers. The study involved 76 healthcare workers who tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and 60 healthcare workers (of similar age, gender, and ethnicity) who tested negative. Those who tested positive completed self-reported health questionnaires to identify mild or asymptomatic infections around the time of onset. The investigators measured immune response via serial blood sampling.

They found that 89 percent of the healthcare workers who had tested positive had neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, regardless of disease severity. The antibody responses did not always match T cell responses, which tended to be lower after asymptomatic infection than in symptomatic infection. The healthcare workers that lacked neutralizing antibodies and had undetectable T cell responses to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (the primary viral antigen) did have T cells that reacted with other SARS-CoV-2 antigens.

These findings suggest that most people who have mild or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection carry immunity against future reinfection at four months post-infection. Other research indicates that immunity may last as long as six months.

Link to full study.

Learn more about COVID-19 in these Q&As featuring Dr. Rhonda Patrick, released April 14 and June 10.

Economic modeling predicts antimicrobial resistance based on socioeconomic factors.

In recent decades antimicrobial resistance has emerged as a growing public health concern. Surveillance is critical to managing antimicrobial resistance, especially in low- and middle-income countries. A recent report describes how scientists are using economic modeling to track antimicrobial resistance.

Evidence suggests that socioeconomic factors drive a country’s vulnerability to antimicrobial resistance. Some of these factors include income status, out-of-pocket health expenditures, and poor governance and corruption.

The authors of the report used economic data collected by the World Bank and antimicrobial resistance data from ResistanceMap, an interactive collection of maps and charts that describe antimicrobial use and resistance worldwide. They collected data for 75 combinations of pathogens and antibiotic classes representing antimicrobial resistance prevalence in 74 countries over nearly two decades ending in 2017.

They identified statistical relationships between antimicrobial resistance and socioeconomic status for nine pathogens resistant to 19 antibiotic classes. Their model accurately predicted antimicrobial resistance for six of the nine pathogens 78 to 86 percent of the time. Of particular interest were carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (a common hospital-acquired microbe) and cephalosporin-resistant Escherichia coli in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific Islands.

This model shows promise as a means to predict antimicrobial resistance based on socioeconomic factors and adds to the arsenal of approaches to monitoring the problem. Such measures may benefit as many as 5 billion people worldwide.

Link to full study.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email