Research Extracts: NASA's Twins Study | PCOS and Microbiome | Blueberries for Pain Reduction
Welcome to the May 2019 issue of Thorne’s Research Extracts – designed to keep busy practitioners and savvy consumers up to date on the latest research on the microbiome, the environment, diet, nutrients, botanicals, and lifestyle approaches to good health. Our medical team, which includes NDs, MDs, PhDs, RDs, and an MS, LAc, and CCN, has summarized the essence of several of the most interesting studies.
In this issue: (1) Effects of spaceflight on the microbiome and health; (2) PCOS and the gut microbiome; (3) blueberries and arthritis; (4) tobacco cravings and pleasant scents; and (5) supplement myth busters podcasts.
What can be learned from NASA’s Twins Study?
Because only eight people have been in space for longer than 300 days, scientists know very little about the health impact of long-duration spaceflight. The NASA Twins Study was designed to compare observational, longitudinal assessments of an astronaut with his genetically matched control twin brother in order to analyze a multitude of physical, genomic, microbiome, cognitive, and methylation changes in immune and stress-related pathways during a 1-year mission in space.
Notably, the average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes that occurred during space flight returned to pre-flight levels within six months after returning to Earth.
However, some disrupted genetic expression and shortened telomeres (which had lengthened during space flight) persisted beyond six months, with an unknown impact on long-term health effects.
This study, unlike any other of its kind, provides detailed methods and analytics of the challenges that astronauts face in space and that researchers encounter when trying to evaluate and draw scientific conclusions.
The multi-omic, molecular, physiological, and behavioral datasets from this and the other NASA twins studies will provide immense value to researchers of humans under extreme conditions.
NOTE: Onegevity™ co-founder Dr. Chris Mason and Onegevity scientist Cem Meydan are co-authors of this paper. Onegevity, a Thorne strategic partner, is a new consumer health intelligence company that combines a unique multi-omic artificial intelligence platform with user-friendly, at-home tests, products, and digital health services.
Contributed by Laura Kunces, PhD
- Garrett-Bakelman F, Darshi M, Green S, et al. The NASA Twins Study: A multi-dimensional analysis of a year-long human spaceflight. Science 2019 Apr 12;364(6436). doi: 10.1126/science.aau8650.
PCOS and the gut microbiome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, typically manifests with elevated testosterone, hirsutism, acne, increased perspiration, and weight gain.
PCOS can increase the risk for insulin resistance, diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, infertility, miscarriage and other pregnancy complications, mood disorders, endometrial hyperplasia, and possibly cancer. Results from other studies have recently revealed changes in the gut microbiome in women with PCOS.
Researchers at Poland’s Ponzan University of Medical Sciences investigated whether changes in the microbiome would correlate with elevated androgens and other symptoms of PCOS.
They analyzed the fecal microbial diversity of 73 women who had PCOS, 42 asymptomatic women who had polycystic ovarian morphology (PCOM), and 48 healthy women. The study found that women diagnosed with PCOS had a reduction in microbial biodiversity (a reduced number of species in the gut), as well as notable changes in the specific types of bacteria in the gut.
The researchers noted a very strong correlation between microbial alterations and elevated testosterone and hirsutism. They also observed changes in the biodiversity of asymptomatic women with polycystic ovaries, although not as drastic as women formally diagnosed with PCOS.
The authors suggest that androgen levels might be an important factor in shaping the gut microbiome in women with PCOS. At the same time, they also suggest that alterations in the microbiome could influence the development and pathology of PCOS.
Because there is no cure for PCOS, the current therapeutic focus is to manage symptoms and long-term health risks through diet and lifestyle. Although more research is needed, this research could lead forward-thinking practitioners to consider using probiotics and microbial analysis as additional tools to help their patients manage symptoms and reduce the long-term health complications of PCOS.
Contributed by Danielle Paciera, RD, CCN
- Torres P, Siakowska M, Banaszewska B, et al. Gut microbial diversity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome correlates with hyperandrogenism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2018;103(4):1502-1511.
Blueberries improve function and reduce pain in osteoarthritis
Last month you read that blueberries can improve blood pressure. Now it seems they might also provide benefit for arthritis.
Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, is associated with joint pain, decreased flexibility, and issues with gait. The progression of OA – associated with joint trauma, obesity, altered joint mechanics, and to a lesser degree inflammation (compared to rheumatoid arthritis) – leads to loss of cartilage and decreased joint function.
Polyphenols – blueberries are a significant source of anthocyanin polyphenols – have been studied for their potential regenerative effect on cartilage cells.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the potential effect of blueberries on pain reduction, improved functional movement, and inflammation in OA patients.
The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study was conducted on 49 subjects, ages 45-79, with symptomatic OA. The treatment group received 40 g of freeze-dried whole blueberry powder daily for four months. Pain and functionality were assessed using the WOMAC questionnaire.
Gait and balance were analyzed using the GAITRite system. Inflammatory biomarkers were recorded and assessed. All parameters were measured at baseline, midpoint, and study conclusion.
At the study’s conclusion, the total WOMAC score – including scores for pain, stiffness, and difficultly completing daily activities – decreased significantly in the blueberry group, while there was no change from baseline in the control group.
The blueberry group also experienced improved walking gait and pace. Inflammatory markers were unchanged at the end of the study in both groups, although, interestingly, two of them (TNF-α and IL-1β) increased in the placebo group at the study’s midpoint.
Contributed by Amanda Frick, ND, LAc
- Du C, Smith A, Avalos M, et. al. Blueberries improve pain, gait performance, and inflammation in individuals with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Nutrients 2019;11(2): pii: E290. doi: 10.3390/nu11020290.
Pleasant odors could help smokers resist cigarette cravings
Citing cravings as a major cause of smoking cessation failure or relapse, and olfaction as strong, emotionally linked stimuli, investigators tested whether smelling pleasant olfactory cues during a cigarette craving could reduce the craving.
The 232 participants in the study were regular smokers. Participants were asked to rate 12 odors – from extremely pleasant to extremely unpleasant. In the first round, participants were randomized into three groups, asked to light but not smoke their favorite cigarette to induce a craving, then rate the intensity of the craving on a 0-100 scale.
They were then asked to smell a scent based on group assignment – either their personal most pleasant scent, their preferred tobacco scent, or a blank with no scent. After smelling, they reported the intensity of the craving, repeating this five more times during the next five minutes.
A second experimental session the next day followed the same protocol except participants were divided into five groups – same pleasant scent, same tobacco scent, same blank, different pleasant scent, pleasant scent instead of tobacco or blank. Participants were also asked to anticipate how strong their craving would become over time if they were not allowed to smoke.
Overall, tobacco odor and blank groups had similar results, with no significant effect between groups or on craving intensity.
The groups receiving the pleasant scent intervention experienced a significant drop in craving intensity (19.3 points).
When asked to anticipate craving intensity progression when prevented from smoking, the pleasant scent yielded significantly lower predicted intensities. The authors suggest that odor intervention could both attenuate the immediate craving and offset the tendency to overestimate future unpleasantness, making it easier for smokers to avoid succumbing to a craving.
Contributed by Sheena Smith, MS (Biol)
- Sayette M, Marchetti M, Herz R, et al. Pleasant olfactory cues can reduce cigarette craving. J Abnorm Psychol 2019;128(4):327-340.
Miller & Rountree: The Myth Busters Podcast
In this two-part podcast, Dr. Alan Miller and Dr. Bob Rountree bust some common myths about supplements, including:
- You don’t need supplements – you can get all the nutrients you need from your diet
- Fish oil should be stopped prior to surgery
- Curcumin and Coenzyme Q10 shouldn’t be taken with blood thinners
- And a lot more!