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Sea algae: new weapon against HIV?

Interesting research ongoing in Brazil: Dr. Luiz Castello-Branco has spent the last 3 years studying the HIV-killing effects of a compound derived from algae. Apparently, in a Petrie dish of human cells, the algae reduces viral replication by 95%. Dr. Castello-Branco suggests that this algae could be added to a gel that women could use to protect themselves from HIV transmission during sexual contact. The algae will be tested in mice next month, and then human studies may begin as early as next year. Let’s all hope that the algae is as effective in humans as it seems to be in the lab! This could become a really great advance in HIV prevention.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity?

I came across a news headline: “Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity.”  I couldn’t help but be intrigued, so I decided to dig a little deeper.  The news release, as it turns out, is based upon the work of professor Steven R. Blum, a British researcher who is a consultant for many major pharmaceutical companies (Merck, GSK, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, J&J and others).  In addition to owning stock in Thiakis, a new biopharmaceutical company created in 2004, the professor has just received 19 million dollars in VC money (and a 5 million dollar grant from the Wellcome Trust) to further investigate the use of pancreatic polypeptide – an appetite suppressing hormone – for the treatment of obesity.

The amount of money flowing into Blum’s research tells me one thing for sure – Big Pharma is placing a bet on gut hormones as the next big breakthrough in obesity management.  Whether this is money well spent, I’m not sure.  Leptin (an appetite suppressant hormone produced by fat cells) proved to be a big disappointment to researchers, as obese individuals proved to be resistant to leptin.  Pancreatic polypeptide also has a flaw that may prove to limit its use: it is rapidly broken down in the blood stream by enzymes, causing its appetite suppressing effects to be quite transitory.

Evidence to date is limited in humans (as far as I can tell previous studies have mostly focused on mice – I’ll let my GI colleagues correct me here) and Bloom cites a study in which 17 obese adults ate ~15 -25% less at a buffet after being injected with pancreatic polypeptide (compared to 18 others who were injected with saline).

I’d like to believe that gut hormones will lead to an appetite suppressing pill that will reverse or slow our obesity epidemic.  But I remain skeptical at this point.  What do other people think about this?


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Understanding introverts

Here’s an excerpt from a timeless essay in the Atlantic Monthly about understanding and appreciating introverts. For the full article, click here.

“Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially ‘on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: ‘I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.’”


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Does milk block the positive effects of tea?

Some evidence suggests that tea promotes relaxation (dilation) of arteries, thus improving blood circulation. This effect is believed to be mediated by a type of compound found in tea, called catechins. (I also think it might be related to caffeine). Researchers found that those who drank tea with 10% volume of hot milk mixed in did not have the same increase in arterial diameter that was observed in subjects drinking plain tea. They speculate that milk proteins mop up catechins, thus reducing (or eliminating) their relaxing effect on blood vessels.

I wonder if sugar has a similar effect? I guess that’s another study for another time.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

The brain benefits of being bilingual?

Technically, the jury’s still out on this one, but Dr. Ellen Bialystok’s (cognitive psychologist) work is very interesting. She has compared cognitive skills in monolingual and bilingual children, as well as a fairly recent study comparing dementia rates in monolingual and bilingual adults in Canada. I wanted to go back to the original source articles, but I wasn’t willing to pay the journal article fees. Sorry. Still, this seems to be what she found:

Bilingual children were ~55% more able to block out misleading information than their monolingual peers.

Bilingual adults tended to show the first signs of dementia at an average age of 75, but monolingual impairment began at an average age 71.

Yes, there are a gazillion unanswered questions here: does it matter what age you become bilingual? Does it matter which languages you speak? Do you have to speak both of those languages all the time or can you have learned a language back in college and not use it now? What about if you speak 3 languages?

Still, there are some interesting findings here worth a deeper look, wouldn’t you say?


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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