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Happy Thanksgiving!

We would like to wish a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. Let us also take a moment to thank the men and women of the armed forces, many of whom are serving overseas.

Posting has been light lately due to an overabundance of real life deadlines and responsibilities but we will be resuming our regularly scheduled programming shortly. Stay tuned.

~ The 3 Monkeys

Professor Meital Zilberman of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has developed a special dissolvable fiber loaded with antibiotics which can be made into a wound dressing.

Although this may seem to be a simple concept, skin functions in a complex way which is not easily mimicked.

Skin, Prof. Zilberman explains, serves a number of vastly different purposes. “Wound dressings must maintain a certain level of moisture while acting as a shield,” she says. “Like skin, they must also enable fluids from the wound to leave the infected tissue at a certain rate. It can’t be too fast or too slow. If too fast, the wound will dry out and it won’t heal properly. If too slow, there’s a real risk of increased contamination.”

Severe burns are a particularly nasty variety of dermal damage. About 70% of people with severe burns die from infections, not from their actual wounds. In a valiant effort to help patients survive the healing process nurses must change dressings often to prevent infection by cleaning the wounded areas. This new wound dressing can change all that by eliminating the need for constant redressing and by applying high levels of antibiotics precisely where they are needed.

Unlike oral antibiotics, locally-applied antibiotics can target and kill harmful bacteria before they enter the body to cause further infection, sepsis, or death. “People who suffer from large burns don’t usually die from the condition itself. The fatal culprits are the secondary bacterial infections that invade the body through these vulnerable burned areas,” says Prof. Zilberman.

The new TAU dressing inhibits bacterial growth and is biodegradable, which helps doctors avoid constant wound cleaning and  redressing, allowing the body to do the work on its own. “When administered at the wound, a doctor can give relatively high but local doses of antibiotics, avoiding any toxicity issues that arise when the same amount of antibiotic passes through the body,” explains Prof. Zilberman, who worked on this research with Jonathan Elsner, her Ph.D. student.

The only sad part of this news is how early in the development phase it is in right now.

Prof. Zilberman is now starting the early stages of clinical trials on animal models. So far, her wound dressing has passed physical and mechanical tests in vitro and in bacterial inhibition tests in the laboratory. She is also seeking a strategic partner to co-develop the research and take it to the commercial stage.

If this revolutionary new wound dressing survives the clinical stage then it may begin appearing in hospital near you within a few short years.

Researchers have found that the insulin signaling pathways in worms have a direct bearing on their lifespan. This research is particularly interesting because humans and worms share very similar insulin signaling pathways.

Over a decade ago, the first part of this research led to some positive news as researchers found that certain mutations involved in the insulin pathways can greatly extend lifespan in worms.

“In the early 90s, we discovered mutations that could double the normal life span of worms,” Kenyon said. Those mutations effected insulin signals. Specifically, a mutation in a gene known as daf-2 slowed aging and doubled life span. That longer life depended on another “FOXO transcription factor” called DAF-16 and the heat shock factor HSF-1.

Unfortunately, the recent results show that adding sugar to the worm diet has the opposite effect.

By adding just a small amount of glucose to C. elegans usual fare of straight bacteria, they found the worms lose about 20 percent of their usual life span. They trace the effect to insulin signals, which can block other life-extending molecular players.

Here is the technical aspect of the results:

In fact, glucose makes no difference to the life span of worms that lack DAF-16 or HSF-1, they show. Glucose also completely prevents the life-extending benefits that would otherwise come with mutations in the daf-2 gene.Ultimately, worms fed a steady diet containing glucose show a reduction in aquaporin channels that transport glycerol, one of the ingredients in the process by which the body produces its own glucose. “If there is not enough glucose, the body makes it with glycerol,” Kenyon explained. That glycerol has to first get where it needs to go, which it does via the aquaporin channels.

There are a few ways in which the result from studying worms affects us as humans.

A diet with a low glycemic index seems like a safe bet for now. One of the scientists was alarmed enough with the data to make serious changes to her diet:

As an aside, Kenyon says she read up on low-carb diets and changed her eating habits immediately — cutting out essentially all starches and desserts — after making the initial discovery in worms. The discovery was made several years ago, but had not been reported in a peer-reviewed journal until now.

Another area of concern is medicine. Current drugs may be offering treatment which carry as of yet unknown long term side effects. Fortunately, as is the case with anti-depressant medication, science is continually advancing to make our lives better and this research will undoubtedly result in better life saving medicines.

She says the findings may also have implications for drugs now in development for the treatment of diabetes, which are meant to block glucose production by inhibiting glycerol channels. The new findings “raise a flag” that glycerol channels might be doing something else, she says, and that drugs designed to block them might have a downside.

A long term study recently found a connection between consuming two servings of diet soda daily and a significant decline in kidney function. How do different types of artificial sugars factor into these results? Is there any connection between these two studies?

Aging in humans is far more complex than in worms.

“Although we do not fully understand the mechanism by which glucose shortens the life span of C. elegans, the fact that the two mammalian aquaporin glycerol-transporting channels are downregulated by insulin raises the possibility that glucose may have a life-span-shortening effect in humans, and, conversely, that a diet with a low glycemic index may extend human life span,” the researchers write. Kenyon also points to recent studies that have linked particular FOXO variants to longevity in several human populations, making the pathway the first with clear effects on human aging.

Glucose and the insulin signaling pathways are probably just one piece in a complex puzzle explaining the aging process. With every piece of the puzzle that gets illuminated and understood we come one step closer to allowing science an opportunity to stop aging.

If you are a loyal reader of The 3 Monkeys Guide to Health you can now join a community with other fans on Facebook. We have a unique fan page where you can post discussion topics, communicate directly with the authors, post links to interesting items and even post a review of The 3 Monkeys (please be gentle).

The fan page is here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-3-Monkeys-Guide-to-Health/152812058220

You will need to be a member of Facebook to become a fan.

Some sobering news about diet soda has come to light which should give people pause before consuming such beverages.

Julie Lin MD, MPH, FASN and Gary Curhan, MD, ScD, FASN of Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 3,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study to identify the impact of sodium and sweetened drinks on kidney function.

The information from the participating women, whose median age is 67, was from 1984, 1986, and 1990 and included data about kidney function. Over the course of the years from 1989 – 2000, the shocking data revealed that over 11% of the women suffered a decline of over 30% in their kidney function.

“Thirty percent is considered significant,” says researcher Julie Lin, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a staff physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That’s especially true, she says, because most study participants had well-preserved kidney function at the start of the study.

What those women had in common was a thirst for artificially sweetened sodas which exceeded two per day. Other factors were ruled out in reaching that conclusion, including age, caloric intake, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease.

Put another way: the women who drank two or more diet sodas a day had a decline in their glomerular filtration rate, a measure of kidney function, of 3 milliliters per minute per year. ”With natural aging, kidney function declines about 1 mL per minute per year after age 40,” Lin says. No link was found with the other beverages. And less than two sodas a day didn’t seem to hurt. “We didn’t see any association up to two artificially sweetened beverages a day,” Lin says.

”A serving was reported as either a glass, a can, or a bottle of a beverage,” Lin tells WebMD. ”It was not more specific than that.”

”The mechanisms aren’t clear,” Lin says of the association she found. In another study she presented at the meeting, she found higher salt intake is also associated with faster kidney function decline.

Understanding the mechanisms are important because it can help evaluate with certainty whether these results are applicable to men as well.

Unsurprisingly, an industry group remains skeptical of these findings:

Asked to review the study findings, Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, says in a prepared statement: “It’s important to remember that this is an abstract presented at an annual meeting.” She notes that the research needs further scrutiny by researchers.

She acknowledges that kidney disease is serious but that diabetes and high blood pressure account for the majority of kidney disease cases, ”not consumption of diet soda.”

When it comes to dieting and exercise there are no short cuts. Diet soda may help satisfy a craving for a sugary beverage without the caloric penalty, but there may be unintended consequences. For example, what if the body recognizes a discrepancy between the information sent by the tongue, “sugar incoming”, and the message processed by the other parts of the metabolism, “no sugar received”? Logically, if the discrepancy is processed, the body will increase the hunger drive as a way of compensating for the missing sugar, which may cause the person to consume more calories than they would have otherwise.

Even for those people who take the excellent first step towards getting healthy by exercising need to be keenly aware of the law of unintended consequences, because exercise can make you fatter.

A surefire way to suck the romance out of any kiss is to envision it as free shipping for germs. Recent research by British scientists sheds light on why that is actually a good thing.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, researcher Dr Colin Hendrie from the University of Leeds said: ‘Female inoculation with a specific male’s cytomegalovirus is most efficiently achieved through mouth-to-mouth contact and saliva exchange, particularly where the flow of saliva is from the male to the typically shorter female.’

Cytomegalovirus is likely to be only one of many germs which take advantage of kissing as a transfer system and which can confer benefits rather than harm to the recipient.

Cytomegalovirus, which lurks in saliva, normally causes no problems. But it can be extremely dangerous if caught while pregnant and can kill unborn babies or cause birth defects.

These can include problems ranging from deafness to cerebral palsy.

Kissing, over the course of several months and increasing in intensity, transfers small amounts of the virus each time. The result is a built up immunity to the virus, thereby cutting the risk of infection and potential damage to the fetus tremendously. Previous research had hypothesized that kissing was important because it conveyed fitness information about the individual through saliva. Given this new data and given that there are many other methods for determining fitness, kissing is not likely to have evolved as a means of determining fitness from an evolutionary perspective.

Dr Hendrie said: ‘Information concerning body tone, smell, reproductive condition, disease state and, of course, personal physical and oral hygiene can all be gained solely from close physical proximity.’

‘The small amount of additional information from kissing is an unlikely pressure for its development.’

People have subconsciously understood for a long time that germs can be transferred via kissing, hence that use of copious amounts of alcohol when strangers kiss. Clearly, it is being used as an antiseptic.

Here is a “dog bites man” story from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.

It is no secret that anabolic steroids have all sorts of nasty side effects.

Anabolic steroids can cause many adverse effects. Most of these side effects are dose-dependent, the most common being elevated blood pressure, especially in those with pre-existing hypertension, and harmful changes in cholesterol levels: some steroids cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. Anabolic steroids have been shown to alter fasting blood sugar and glucose tolerance tests. Anabolic steroids such as testosterone also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease. Acne is fairly common among anabolic steroid users, mostly due to stimulation of the sebaceous glands by increased testosterone levels. Conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can accelerate the rate of premature baldness for males who are genetically predisposed, but testosterone itself can produce baldness in females.

There is a whole bunch more (we left out some of the nastier bits) where that came from. Now we can include damage to kidneys as a side effect of abusing anabolic steroids too. In fact, the damage incurred is worse than what is seen in the kidneys of morbidly obese individuals.

The investigators studied a group of 10 bodybuilders who used steroids for many years and developed protein leakage into the urine and severe reductions in kidney function. Kidney tests revealed that nine of the ten bodybuilders developed a condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a type of scarring within the kidneys. This disease typically occurs when the kidneys are overworked. The kidney damage in the bodybuilders has similarities to that seen in morbidly obese patients, but appears to be even more severe.

However, some good news also comes from this study:

When the bodybuilders discontinued steroid use their kidney abnormalities improved, with the exception of one individual with advanced kidney disease who developed end-stage kidney failure and required dialysis. Also, one of the bodybuilders started taking steroids again and suffered a relapse of severe kidney dysfunction.

If stopped in time, kidney function can improve enough for daily functioning. Kidneys in particular are so vulnerable to the effects of anabolic steroids because they are affected both directly and indirectly:

The researchers propose that extreme increases in muscle mass require the kidneys to increase their filtration rate, placing harmful levels of stress on these organs. It’s also likely that steroids have direct toxic effects on the kidneys. “Athletes who use anabolic steroids and the doctors caring for them need to be aware of the potentially serious risks to the kidney,” said Dr. Herlitz.

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