Dr. Rhonda Patrick: "Poor vitamin D status was prevalent among patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome."
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Betacoronaviruses as a group, including SARS-CoV-2, produce immune antibodies that cross-react with other viral family members.
People with COVID-19 are at higher risk of complications associated with thrombotic events.
And tons more!
Science News Digest
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays critical roles in several physiological processes, including blood pressure regulation, calcium homeostasis, and immune function. Approximately 70 percent of people living in the United States have low vitamin D levels. Findings of a study presented at a 2016 scientific conference suggested that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased risk for developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
ARDS is a severe form of acute lung injury characterized by rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and a low blood oxygen level. It can lead to respiratory failure and death. ARDS commonly occurs with viral illnesses, including influenza and COVID-19.
The retrospective study, which drew on data collected as part of a multicenter randomized controlled trial, involved 476 patients diagnosed with ARDS. The patients' vitamin D status was assessed upon admission to the hospital. Vitamin D levels less than 20 mg/dL were considered “low.”
The assessments indicated that approximately 90 percent of the patients had low vitamin D levels, even when the data were adjusted for age and severity of illness. The patients with low vitamin D levels spent an average of six days longer on mechanical ventilation compared to patients with higher levels. These findings suggest that poor vitamin D status contributes to increased risk for developing ARDS and influences disease outcomes associated with ventilator needs.
Betacoronaviruses are a subfamily of the coronaviruses – a group of related viruses that cause illness in birds and mammals, including humans. Members of this subfamily include SARS-CoV-1 (which causes a severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS), MERS-CoV (which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS), SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19), and HCoV-OC43 (which causes the common cold). A 2013 study found that betacoronaviruses generate cross-reactive antibodies against SARS-CoV-1 in serological assessments, which could have implications for testing as well as for informing scientists about who might be more resilient.
Serological tests detect antibodies present in the blood following a response to a specific infection, such as SARS or COVID-19. Previous studies have found that SARS-CoV-1 can generate antibodies against HCoV-OC43 (which could confer cross-immunity). Similarly, HCoV-OC43 can generate cross-reactive antibodies against SARS-CoV-1 (which could generate false positives on serological antibody tests).
The seroprevalence study involved 94 game-food animal handlers, 28 SARS patients, and 152 healthy blood donors in Southern China. The authors of the study used indirect immunofluorescence and neutralizing antibody tests to screen for antibodies.
They found that two of the animal handlers had antibodies against HCoV-EMC and SARS-CoV-1, with low levels of neutralizing antibodies. However, 17 of the SARS patients had neutralizing antibodies against HCoV-OC43. None of the healthy blood donors had any antibodies against either virus.
These findings suggest that betacoronaviruses can induce immune responses against one another, generating neutralizing antibodies and/or cross-reactive antibodies against each other. This could confound serological surveillance studies investigating the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection, while also raising the possibility for cross-immunity.
No data currently exist demonstrating that betacoronaviruses generate cross-reactive and/or neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Both scenarios are probable.
Known complications of COVID-19 illness include acute respiratory failure, pneumonia, and acute kidney failure, among others. Recent findings now indicate that people with COVID-19 are at higher risk of complications associated with thrombotic events.
Thrombotic events, which occur when the balance between the body's procoagulant (clotting) forces and anticoagulant forces is disrupted, can affect multiple organ systems. Common manifestations of thrombotic dysfunction include deep venous thrombosis (blood clots in the legs), pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), or disseminated intravascular coagulation (a systemic, life-threatening blood clotting disorder).
Reports from two hospitals in France indicate that pulmonary embolism occurred in 23 to 30 percent of critically ill COVID-19 patients – considerably higher than is commonly observed in critically ill patients without COVID-19. A single case report described thrombotic events that affected a patient’s lungs, brain, and kidneys. These findings suggest that early monitoring via imaging tests and treatment with anti-clotting factors is critical for COVID-19 patients.
Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids might be useful as prophylactic measures against thrombotic events. Previous research indicates that omega-3 fatty acid intake of 4.7 grams or more per week from either fish or supplements reduced lower venous thromboembolism risk 22 to 26 percent and reduced pulmonary embolism risk 39 to 60 percent.
Parenteral nutrition (PN) is the intravenous feeding of a person whose gastrointestinal tract is not working. Findings presented in a recent review and meta-analysis suggest that enriching the PN solution with omega-3 fatty acids improved patient outcomes and reduced the length of hospital and ICU stays.
Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, considered essential because the human body cannot make them. Conventional lipid emulsions used in PN, including soybean and safflower oils, are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation and suppress the immune system.
The review and meta-analysis compared clinical outcomes in adult hospitalized patients administered PN enriched with omega-3 fatty acids versus non-enriched formulations. Parameters evaluated by the authors included routine lab values, markers of inflammation, rates of infection and sepsis, and the length of ICU and hospital stays.
The data revealed that infection rates decreased by 40 percent and sepsis by 56 percent in patients who received omega-3 fatty acids in their PN infusions. Moreover, the length of hospital stays and ICU stays both decreased by approximately two days.
These findings demonstrate that omega-3 fatty acid-enriched PN can decrease infection rates, sepsis, and the length of ICU and hospital stays.
Early life nutrition is critical to a child’s development and eventual lifelong health. New research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids might have long-term neurodevelopmental effects in children that ultimately reduce antisocial and aggressive behavior problems.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are essential for human health. They influence cell membrane integrity, affect membrane-bound cellular receptor functions, and participate in pathways involved in the biosynthesis of hormones that regulate blood clotting, arterial function, and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (found in plants), and eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid (found in fish, seafood, and salmon roe).
The randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study involved 200 school-aged children (8 to 16 years old) randomized to either a placebo group or a treatment group. The children in the treatment group drank a fruit juice-based beverage containing 1 gram of mixed omega-3 fatty acids every day for six months. The children in the placebo group drank a similar beverage without omega-3 fatty acids. At the end of the six-month period, the parents and children completed personality assessments and provided reports about the children’s behavior, especially externalizing behavior (such as fighting or lying) and internalizing behavior (such as depression, anxiety, and withdrawal).
The children who took the omega-3 fatty acid-enriched beverage showed marked reductions in negative behaviors. These reductions persisted to the 12-month point, with externalizing behaviors reduced nearly 42 percent, and internalizing behaviors reduced nearly 69 percent. These effects were attributed to the role that omega-3 fatty acids play in neuronal health and neurotransmitter production and function.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by profound sadness, fatigue, altered sleep, and feelings of guilt or low self-worth. It is the most common mental health disorder worldwide, affecting as many as 322 million people. Many people with depression do not respond to antidepressant therapies. A new study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in treating symptoms of depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are essential for human health. They play critical roles in the development and function of the nervous system. Evidence suggests that a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids contributes to depression.
The double-blind, randomized, controlled trial involved more than 430 outpatients enrolled in treatment programs at eight academic and psychiatric clinics in Canada. The authors of the study randomized the patients to take either a supplement containing omega-3 fatty acids (1,050 milligrams of eicosapentaenoic acid and 150 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid) or a placebo daily for eight weeks. The patients provided self-reports about their depressive symptoms and underwent clinical psychiatric assessment.
At the end of the study, the patients who took the omega-3 supplement showed improvements in both self-reported and clinical assessments of their symptoms, particularly among those who had no accompanying anxiety disorders. These improvements were comparable to those observed with common antidepressant drugs. Future studies directly comparing the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to drug therapies are needed.
Sugar provides necessary energy in the human diet, but excess sugar consumption is associated with weight gain and metabolic disorders. The average person living in the United States consumes approximately 100 pounds of sugar per year. Findings from a recent study suggest that the human preference for sugar has its origins in the brain.
The authors of the study gave mice water that was sweetened with either sugar or acesulfame, an artificial sweetener commonly used in diet drinks and foods. At first, the mice chose to drink both solutions, but after two days, the mice chose the sugar-sweetened water only.
The researchers analyzed the brain activity of the mice when they drank the two solutions and found that a particular region of the brain responds to sugar – an area called the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract, which is located in the brain stem. They discovered that signals originating in the gut travel along the vagus nerve to this region of the brain to create a gut-brain axis specific to glucose and similar molecules. Intake of these molecules stimulates even greater consumption, setting up an environment conducive to overconsumption.
Identification of this neural pathway provides insights into human consumption of sugar and might inform the development of new strategies to reduce intake.
The common cold is due to a viral infection of the upper respiratory system. It is characterized by a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing that lasts approximately one week. The average person has four to six colds per year. A 2011 review found that zinc can reduce the duration and incidence of the common cold.
Zinc is an essential mineral. It plays roles in immune function, wound healing, eye health, and the synthesis of protein and DNA. Previous research demonstrates that zinc inhibits the replication of cold viruses.
The review drew on data from 13 randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that provided zinc for at least five consecutive days as a therapy for colds and two trials that provided zinc for at least five months as a measure to prevent colds. More than 1,300 people were involved in the various studies.
The authors of the review found a great deal of heterogeneity in the findings of the studies. They attributed this to differences in the nature of the different zinc formulations and dose range, the timing of the interventions (ranging from 24 to 48 hours), and characteristics of the study populations (children versus adults). However, they concluded that zinc (as lozenges or syrup) reduced the duration and symptoms of a cold in otherwise healthy people when given at the onset of symptoms. When given for at least five months, zinc reduced the incidence of colds by 37 percent.
Zinc acetate and zinc gluconate lozenges were equally effective at reducing duration of the common cold.
The average cold lasts approximately one week. Evidence suggests that zinc lozenges reduce the duration and severity of a cold, but controversy exists regarding the optimal form of zinc used in the lozenges. However, findings from a 2017 meta-analysis suggest that the form of zinc used is not important.
Zinc lozenges commonly provide zinc as either zinc gluconate or zinc acetate. The lozenges often contain sweeteners (natural or artificial), vitamins (typically vitamin C), bioactive compounds such as citric acid, and/or other ingredients. Evidence suggests that citric acid binds zinc ions, thereby reducing zinc’s effectiveness.
The authors of the meta-analysis drew on data from seven placebo-controlled zinc lozenge trials involving 575 children and adults. The doses used in the studies ranged from 80 to 207 milligrams per day, using zinc gluconate (four trials) and zinc acetate (three trials).
The analysis revealed that zinc acetate lozenges shortened the duration of colds by 40 percent, and zinc gluconate lozenges shortened colds by 28 percent. The analysis also demonstrated that dose had very little influence on the effectiveness of zinc lozenges in reducing the duration of a cold, with both high and low doses reducing duration by about one-third. The authors of the analysis concluded that zinc lozenges delivering doses greater than 80 milligrams per day reduce the duration of a cold, regardless of the form of zinc provided, as long as the lozenge does not contain ingredients that bind zinc.
Elderly adults, especially those living in nursing homes, often have impaired immune function, which increases their susceptibility to respiratory infections and subsequent pneumonia. A 2007 study found that higher zinc status among elderly nursing home patients was associated with reduced incidence and duration of pneumonia.
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays critical roles in modulating the body’s immune response. It influences T-cell activity, cytokine production, and phagocytosis. Zinc deficiency is associated with poor immune function.
The observational study involved nearly 600 nursing home residents living in 33 facilities across the Boston, Massachusetts area. The participants were part of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled vitamin E supplementation trial in which they received a multivitamin supplement providing 50 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, daily for one year. The authors of the study measured the participants' baseline and final plasma zinc levels and categorized participants as low (less than 70 mcg/dL) or normal (greater than or equal to 70 mcg/dL). They also tracked the incidence and duration of pneumonia as well as other measures associated with the illness, such as the number of new antibiotic prescriptions, duration of antibiotic use, and death due to pneumonia or other causes.
The findings revealed that nursing home residents whose plasma zinc levels were normal were more than 50 percent less likely to develop pneumonia. If they did develop pneumonia, they recovered sooner and typically required half as many antibiotic prescriptions. In addition, the number of deaths from all causes was 30 percent lower among those with normal zinc levels.
These findings underscore the need for maintaining optimal zinc levels in elderly patients, especially those living in nursing homes, and suggests that supplemental zinc is beneficial in reducing the risk and severity of pneumonia.
Cigarette smokers are known to have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, the essential fats necessary for brain function. A 2014 study suggests that providing omega-3 fatty acids to regular cigarette smokers reduced daily smoking and tobacco cravings.
Previous research has demonstrated that a deficiency of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can contribute to psychological stress. Interestingly, the areas of the brain that process stress and drug cues have sizable overlap. Imbalanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in smokers can make them more vulnerable to stress, which can contribute to the urge to smoke. The current study investigated whether the administration of omega-3 fatty acids to smokers would affect cravings.
In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study, the researchers provided smokers with a combination of EPA and DHA or a placebo daily for four weeks. The authors assessed tobacco cravings after cueing participants with images of cigarettes and other people smoking. After one month of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, smokers experienced reduced tobacco cravings and reported an 11 percent lower daily cigarette intake as compared to the start of the study. Cravings remained below baseline for one-month post-treatment. The placebo did not affect tobacco cravings or cigarette consumption.
These preliminary findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation decreases daily smoking and tobacco cravings in cigarette smokers. Further clinical trials are needed to determine if these findings hold up.
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