The Global Fool

our planet is our village

Nature, Health, and Things in Between
Nov07

Nature, Health, and Things in Between

By Roberta Attanasio A decade ago, Richard Louv — author of the bestsellers Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle — coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the increasing disconnection between children and the natural world. Such disconnection negatively affects health and spiritual well-being. The concept, which was later extended to adults, provides the basis for a working framework to reshape our lives. Louv argues that by tapping into the restorative powers of nature, we can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds. Although results from several studies point out the deleterious health effects of our disconnection with nature, the current focus “is not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places.” Indeed, research shows that spending time in nature protects against depression, diabetes, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more disorders. But, what are the pathways that lead from “exposure to greenness” to improved health? To answer this question, Ming Kuo, Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), reviewed hundreds of studies examining nature’s effects on health, and published her findings in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology. Kuo’s findings indicate that nature enhances the functions of the immune system, thus leading to improved health. “Finding that the immune system is a primary pathway provides an answer to the question of ‘how’ nature and the body work in concert to fight disease,” she said in a press release. “I pulled every bit of the research in this area together that I could find, and was surprised to realize I could trace as many as 21 possible pathways between nature and good health — and even more surprised to realize that all but two of the pathways shared a single common denominator,” Kuo said. She added it was remarkable to see how important a role the immune system plays in every one of the diseases that nature protects against. One way to understand this relationship between nature, health, and the immune system, Kuo explained in the press release, is that exposure to nature switches the body into “rest and digest” mode, which is the opposite of the “fight or flight” mode. When the body is in “fight or flight” mode, it shuts down everything that is immediately nonessential, including the immune system. “When we feel completely safe, our body devotes resources to long-term investments that lead to good health outcomes — growing, reproducing, and...

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E-Cigarettes and Vaping May Cause Lung Damage and Impaired Immune Responses
Feb14

E-Cigarettes and Vaping May Cause Lung Damage and Impaired Immune Responses

By Roberta Attanasio A few months ago, Oxford Dictionaries announced “vape” as its international Word of the Year 2014 – language research conducted by their editors revealed that its use in 2014 had more than doubled compared to 2013 (and increased by 30-fold since 2012), mostly because of the rapidly growing popularity of electronic cigarettes and the expanding debate over their safety. Although e-cigarettes are portrayed as devices that can help adult smokers quit while providing a safe alternative to tobacco smoking, mounting evidence shows that these devices may cause considerable harm. Indeed, about two weeks ago, California health officials said that e-cigarettes represent a rising public-health risk that threaten to unravel progress made on tobacco by “re-normalizing smoking behavior” and luring a new generation into nicotine addiction. Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are tobacco-free and vaporize liquid (also called e-liquid or e-juice) that contains nicotine, producing “faux” smoke or vapor. Because they don’t burn anything, e-cigarettes don’t release any smoke – therefore, users don’t “smoke”, they “vape.” In addition to nicotine, the e-juice typically contains vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and flavorings. There are several types of e-juices, each containing different flavorings – these flavorings make “vaping” especially appealing to young smokers who would not normally try tobacco. While nicotine addiction caused by vaping in young smokers is clearly a major public health issue, there are also public health concerns associated with toxic substances released by e-cigarette vapors. Indeed, e-cigarettes may likely become a toxic replacement for tobacco products. Results from a recent study (published in the scientific journal PLOSone) show that emissions from e-cigarettes damage lung cells. The damage is mostly caused by inflammatory responses and oxidative stress, which are known to represent key events in the development of chronic airway diseases. Some flavored e-juices – particularly those containing cinnamon – are more toxic than others. Irfan Rahman, lead author of the study, said in a press release: “Several leading medical groups, organizations, and scientists are concerned about the lack of restrictions and regulations for e-cigarettes. Our research affirms that e-cigarettes may pose significant health risks and should be investigated further. It seems that every day a new e-cigarette product is launched without knowing the harmful health effects of these products.” Results from an additional study recently published in the same journal confirm that vaping may cause potential deleterious health effects. Using a mouse model, the researchers showed that e-cigarettes compromise the immune system in the lungs and generate some of the same potentially dangerous chemicals found in traditional nicotine cigarettes. Thomas Sussan, lead author of this study, said in a press release: “E-cigarette vapor alone produced mild effects...

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From Old to Young: Rejuvenating Effects of Fasting on the Immune System
Jun07

From Old to Young: Rejuvenating Effects of Fasting on the Immune System

By Roberta Attanasio The beneficial effects of prolonged fasting — fasting that lasts 48–120 hours — have been known for several years. One of these effects is the enhancement of the cellular resistance to toxins in both experimental animals and humans. Now, results from a new study (Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression) published in the journal Cell Stem Cell (June 5, 2014), show that  cycles of prolonged fasting protect against damage to the immune system and induce its regeneration, shifting hematopoietic stem cells from an inactive state to a state of self-renewal. Stem cells are cells that have the ability to divide and develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. Stem cells may also help repair the body by dividing to replenish cells that are damaged by disease, injury, or normal wear. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or to become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a nerve cell, a skin cell, or a red blood cell. Hematopoietic stem cells form all red cells, the white cells of the immune system, and others. They are ultimately responsible for the constant renewal of blood — the production of billions of new red and white cells each day. The study shows that, during prolonged fasting, the number of hematopoietic stem cells increases, while the number of the normally much more abundant white blood cells — which are the immune cells — decreases. Such decrease occurs because older and damaged immune cells die. Eventually, the stem cells generate new, healthy white blood cells. In mice treated with chemotherapy (which results in immunosuppression) or in old mice, cycles of fasting reverse the immunosuppression and immunosenescence, respectively. Cycles of fasting consist of periods of no food for two to four days at a time over the course of six months. During each cycle of fasting, the depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells. In particular, prolonged fasting reduces the enzyme PKA and also lowers the levels of IGF-1, a growth-factor hormone linked to aging, tumor progression and cancer risk. Valter Longo, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release “PKA is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode. It gives the ‘okay’ for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. The good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old,...

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“Iceman” Wim Hof and the Flow Within: The Immune System Goes with It
May20

“Iceman” Wim Hof and the Flow Within: The Immune System Goes with It

By Roberta Attanasio Scientists generally believe that it is not possible to voluntarily influence the autonomic nervous system, which regulates — among other physiological processes — heart rate, breathing, blood circulation and the immune response. However, results from a new study show that, using techniques developed by Wim Hof, it is indeed possible to modulate our own autonomic nervous system and, consequently, our own immune response. “Iceman” Wim Hof is internationally known for his unusual accomplishments — he ran a marathon above the Arctic circle and climbed the highest mountains on earth in only shorts, appeared on several television stations by sitting in a cylinder filled with ice cubes up to his neck, run a marathon in the Namib desert without water consumption, and successfully carried out many more “impossible” feats — in doing so, he has shown “what the human body is capable of once you find the flow within your physical and mental state.” Results from the new study (Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans), published about two weeks ago in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, raise hopes for people with chronic inflammatory diseases, as for example rheumatoid arthritis — the results indicate that the techniques developed by Wim Hof allow to control and decrease the levels of inflammation. The study included 24 volunteers — 12 volunteers were trained for 10 days in meditation (third eye meditation), breathing techniques and exposure to cold (immersions in ice cold water). The other 12 volunteers represented the control group and were not trained. After completion of training, all volunteers were injected with endotoxin, a component from the cell wall of bacteria that elicits a response from the immune system. Peter Pickkers, one of the researchers, said in a press release “”By administering a dead bacterial component we are actually fooling the body. The immune system responds as if living bacteria are present in the blood stream and produces inflammatory proteins. As a result of this the subjects develop symptoms such as fever and headache. We can therefore use this approach to investigate the immune system of humans.” The researchers demonstrated that, in the trained volunteers, endotoxin injection results in the voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system — the trained volunteers produced much higher levels of epinephrine than the untrained ones. Epinephrine is a stress hormone that is released during increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and suppresses the immune response. The researchers found that, in the trained volunteers, the release of inflammatory proteins was attenuated, resulting in the decrease of symptoms such as fever and headache. In conclusion, results from the study show...

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Psychological Stress in Children: Effects on the Immune Response
Mar02

Psychological Stress in Children: Effects on the Immune Response

By Roberta Attanasio Stress is part of life — but while a little bit of it (good stress) may keep us active and alert, and sometimes even motivate us, the long-term type (bad stress) can have negative effects on our health.  Elevated blood pressure and heart disease are just some examples of the so-called “stress-related diseases”.  In addition to good stress and bad stress, there is another type of stress — toxic stress. Professor Pat Levitt defines toxic stress as “a term used by psychologists and developmental neurobiologists to describe the kinds of experiences, particularly in childhood, that can affect brain architecture and brain chemistry. They typically are experiences that are bad for an individual during development such as severe abuse. Toxic stress has been defined also in terms of violence, other sorts of experience that a child can have that can be very powerful in a negative way on the brain.” However, what makes stress toxic or not is — as for other types of stress — the way we respond to it.  Indeed, there are three kinds of responses to stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. These terms refer to the stress response and its effects on the body, not to the stressful event or experience itself. Then, a toxic stress response can occur “when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.” Now, results from a study published in the Journal of Immunology (March 1, 2014), “Psychological Stress in Children May Alter the Immune Response“, show that psychological stress in children may contribute to an imbalance in the immune response, and not only — it can also contribute to a pathological effect on the cells that produce insulin, thus potentially leading to the development of type-1 diabetes. The researchers examined the association between high psychological stress in the family and the immune response of 5-year old children. The study was carried out using immune cells obtained from the blood of 26 high-stressed children and 52 children without high stress within the family.  High psychological stress was defined as being exposed to stressors in three or four domains — serious life events, parenting stress, lack of social support, and parental worries. Children in high-stress families showed signs of immunosuppression, had high levels of cortisol (a biological marker of stress), and had low levels of C-peptide — low...

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