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Life Extension Magazine

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August 2006

Magnesium Reduces Risk for Metabolic Syndrome

New research links increased magnesium intake to a reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and heart rhythm, among other functions.1

Northwestern University scientists followed more than 4,600 young adults for 15 years, estimating their magnesium intake and documenting the incidence of metabolic syndrome and its various components.2 Metabolic syndrome was diagnosed according to standardized, government-recommended criteria.3,4

After adjusting for lifestyle and dietary variables, subjects with the highest dietary intake of magnesium had the lowest incidence of metabolic syndrome, while those with the lowest magnesium intake were significantly more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.2

—Dale Kiefer

Melatonin May Protect Against Alzheimer’s

Chinese researchers report that the “sleep hormone” melatonin protects the brain against several biochemical processes linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.6

Melatonin levels decline as people age, but Alzheimer’s patients experience even more dramatic reductions in melatonin. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, along with neurofibrillary tangles composed of modified tau protein. Melatonin may protect against Alzheimer’s by inhibiting beta-amyloid production and countering the modification of tau protein to its toxic form.

—Dale Kiefer

Creatine Mitigates Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Researchers report that creatine supplementation ameliorates the negative effects of sleep deprivation.7 Extended lack of sleep is known to stress the mind, affecting mood, memory, and the ability to concentrate and perform physical tasks. These deficits may be due, in part, to decreased levels of creatine in the brain.

Subjects in the controlled experiment took 5 grams of creatine monohydrate or placebo four times daily for a week, prior to undergoing 24 hours of sleep deprivation. They underwent various tests designed to assess cognitive function, mood, and motor function. Subjects who had taken creatine experienced significantly less change in mood and cognitive function than those who took placebo.

—Dale Kiefer

Ginger, Chili Peppers Slow Cancer Growth

The flavorsome culinary ingredients ginger and chili peppers contain chemicals that may stop cancer in its tracks, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Pittsburgh.5

In laboratory studies, gingerol, an antioxidant compound in ginger, prevented ovarian cancer cells from growing by promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (a process in which cells digest themselves). Similarly, capsaicin, the chemical responsible for chili peppers’ heat, inhibited the growth of human pancreatic cancer cells that were transplanted into laboratory mice.

—Dale Kiefer

Blueberries Offer Protection for Heart Vessels

New research indicates that blueberries may protect heart vessels against oxidative damage by boosting the production of vessel-protective compounds.11

At the University of Maine, scientists fed laboratory rats an ordinary diet or one enriched with powdered blueberries for 13 weeks. The rodents’ aortas were subsequently examined for glycosaminoglycan content. Glycosaminoglycans are vessel components with great structural diversity, and they interact with numerous compounds, including enzymes, cytokines, growth factors, proteins, and lipoproteins.

Blueberry-fed rats experienced a 13% increase in total glycosaminoglycans, and a 67% increase in a particular class of glycosaminoglycans. Scientists believe that these changes may help protect blood vessel walls from alterations that lead to cardiovascular disease.

—Dale Kiefer

Charred Meat Linked to Prostate Cancer

A chemical formed when meat is charred (as in grilling) promotes the growth of prostate cancer, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The presence of the chemical, a heterocyclic amine dubbed PhIP, may explain the apparent link between greater meat consumption and an increased risk of prostate cancer in men.8

The chemical was added to laboratory rodents’ feed for up to eight weeks, to investigate its effects on the animals’ internal organs. The researchers concluded that PhIP, which is formed when meat is charred at high temperatures, initiates and promotes the growth of prostate cancer in laboratory rodents.8 Late last year, scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reported a link between PhIP and the development of prostate cancer in men.9 Japanese researchers had previously tied PhIP to colon, prostate, and breast cancers in rats.10

In their study, the NCI scientists assessed the dietary consumption of various meats by more than 29,000 men, and calculated their exposure to compounds formed by high-temperature cooking methods. Interestingly, total meat consumption was not associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer, nor was consumption of white or red meat. However, “very well done” meat was “positively associated with prostate cancer risk.”9

—Dale Kiefer

Creatine Aids Muscular Dystrophy Management

Creatine monohydrate enhances neuromuscular function in several diseases, including muscular dystrophy, report scientists at Tufts University in Boston.12 Muscular dystrophy is a family of inherited disorders characterized by genetic defects that lead to defective muscle cell proteins. The different forms of muscular dystrophy vary in their severity and rate of progression.

Although muscular dystrophy lacks a cure, management options include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. A potentially helpful nutritional therapeutic is creatine, which helps reduce calcium ion buildup in muscle cells. Such buildup has been associated with accelerated cellular degeneration. Supplementation with creatine increases stores of phosphocreatine in muscle and brain cells, providing readily available energy for cells.

—Dale Kiefer

Good Fats, Vitamin E Reduce ALS Risk

A diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E may reduce the risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to Dutch researchers.13 ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disorder.

A total of 132 patients with definite or possible ALS and 220 healthy controls answered a questionnaire about their dietary intake in the year before noticing ALS symptoms. ALS patients had markedly lower polyunsaturated fatty acid and vitamin E intake than did controls. For both nutrients, the highest intake (compared to the lowest intake) was associated with a 50-60% reduction in the risk of ALS. The difference was not explained by other patient characteristics such as age, sex, smoking, body weight, education, duration of disease, or total calorie intake.

The beneficial component in polyunsaturated fatty acids is presumably omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and nuts. Unfortunately, the investigators did not differentiate the specific contribution of omega-3 fats.

—Laura J. Ninger, ELS

Most Americans Get No Preventive Health Care

Proven preventive measures, such as a daily dose of aspirin, colon cancer screening, and smoking-cessation therapy, are effective ways to save lives and health care dollars. However, fewer than half of Americans who need these services get them, according to findings by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.17 The findings are based on an analysis of more than 8,000 previously published studies.

For example, low-dose aspirin therapy has been shown to be a cheap, effective way of lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. If doctors discussed aspirin therapy with all at-risk patients, the study authors concluded, it could save 80,000 lives annually.

Researchers ranked 25 recommended preventive services according to their potential health benefits and medical cost savings. Other effective preventive services include childhood vaccinations, blood pressure screening, Chlamydia screening for young women, and immunizing adults against the flu and pneumonia.

—Matt Sizing