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Omega-3 supplements do double duty in protecting against stress

A high daily dose of an omega-3 supplement may help slow the effects of aging by suppressing damage and boosting protection at the cellular level during and after a stressful event, new research suggests.

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Photo by Michele Blackwell from Unsplash.com

A high daily dose of an omega-3 supplement may help slow the effects of aging by suppressing damage and boosting protection at the cellular level during and after a stressful event, new research suggests.

Researchers at The Ohio State University found that daily supplements that contained 2.5 grams of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, the highest dose tested, were the best at helping the body resist the damaging effects of stress.

Compared to the placebo group, participants taking omega-3 supplements produced less of the stress hormone cortisol and lower levels of a pro-inflammatory protein during a stressful event in the lab. And while levels of protective compounds sharply declined in the placebo group after the stressor, there were no such decreases detected in people taking omega-3s.

The supplements contributed to what the researchers call stress resilience: reduction of harm during stress and, after acute stress, sustained anti-inflammatory activity and protection of cell components that shrink as a consequence of aging.

The potential anti-aging effects were considered particularly striking because they occurred in people who were healthy but also sedentary, overweight and middle-aged – all characteristics that could lead to a higher risk for accelerated aging.

“The findings suggest that omega-3 supplementation is one relatively simple change people could make that could have a positive effect at breaking the chain between stress and negative health effects,” said Annelise Madison, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in clinical psychology at Ohio State.

The research is published today (Monday, April 19, 2021) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Madison works in the lab of Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State. This paper is a secondary analysis of one of Kiecolt-Glaser’s earlier studies showing that omega-3 supplements altered a ratio of fatty acid consumption in a way that helped preserve tiny segments of DNA in white blood cells.

Those short fragments of DNA are called telomeres, which function as protective caps at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres’ tendency to shorten in many types of cells is associated with age-related diseases, especially heart disease, and early mortality.

In the initial study, researchers were monitoring changes to telomere length in white blood cells known as lymphocytes. For this new study, the researchers looked at how sudden stress affected a group of biological markers that included telomerase, an enzyme that rebuilds telomeres, because levels of the enzyme would react more quickly to stress than the length of telomeres themselves.

Specifically, they compared how moderate and high doses of omega-3s and a placebo influenced those markers during and after an experimental stressor. Study participants took either 2.5 grams or 1.25 grams of omega-3s each day, or a placebo containing a mix of oils representing a typical American’s daily intake.

After four months on the supplements, the 138 research participants, age 40-85, took a 20-minute test combining a speech and a math subtraction task that is known to reliably produce an inflammatory stress response.

Only the highest dose of omega-3s helped suppress damage during the stressful event when compared to the placebo group, lowering cortisol and a pro-inflammatory protein by an average of 19% and 33%, respectively.

Results from blood samples showed that both doses of omega-3s prevented any changes in telomerase levels or a protein that reduces inflammation in the two hours after participants experienced the acute stress, meaning any needed stress-related cell repair – including telomere restoration – could be performed as usual. In the placebo group, those repair mechanisms lost ground: Telomerase dropped by an average of 24% and the anti-inflammatory protein decreased by an average of at least 20%.

“You could consider an increase in cortisol and inflammation potential factors that would erode telomere length,” Madison said. “The assumption based on past work is that telomerase can help rebuild telomere length, and you want to have enough telomerase present to compensate for any stress-related damage.

“The fact that our results were dose-dependent, and we’re seeing more impact with the higher omega-3 dose, would suggest that this supports a causal relationship.”

The researchers also suggested that by lowering stress-related inflammation, omega-3s may help disrupt the connection between repeated stress and depressive symptoms. Previous research has suggested that people with a higher inflammatory reaction to a stressor in the lab may develop more depressive symptoms over time.

“Not everyone who is depressed has heightened inflammation – about a third do. This helps explain why omega-3 supplementation doesn’t always result in reduced depressive symptoms,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “If you don’t have heightened inflammation, then omega-3s may not be particularly helpful. But for people with depression who do, our results suggest omega-3s would be more useful.”

The 2.5-gram dose of omega-3s is much higher than what most Americans consume on a daily basis, but study participants showed no signs of having problems with the supplements, Madison said.

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Knowing the telltale signs of stroke

Learning stroke symptoms can help disrupt stroke before it disrupts your (or someone else’s) life.

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Here’s what you may not know, but has to be emphasized: Stroke can happen to anyone, happening to over 800,000 people every year in the US alone. And so it goes without saying that knowing the signs of stroke and how to prevent it can help protect you or your loved ones from disabilities caused by stroke.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, created the “Know Stroke” campaign to disrupt stroke and help people in your community who might be at risk of stroke through prevention, treatment and research.

“Seconds are critical when someone is having a stroke,” said Dr. Clinton Wright, vascular neurologist and director of the Division of Clinical Research at NINDS. “It’s important to know the signs.”

Know Stroke

Most strokes happen when the brain stops getting the blood supply it needs to work properly. Without enough blood flow, the brain starts to lose function. Two million brain cells die every minute during stroke, which is why stroke prevention is important. Preventing stroke protects you from developing disabilities that stroke may cause like speech problems, limited movement and memory loss.

Know the Signs of Stroke

Stroke symptoms often appear suddenly and can be easily missed. Treating stroke by getting to a hospital quickly is critical to prevent brain damage. If you see these signs, act F.A.S.T.:

  • Face drooping: One side of the face droops when smiling
  • Arm weakness: If both arms are raised, one drifts down
  • Speech difficulty: Slurred or strange speech
  • Time to call 911: Do not drive yourself or your loved one – call an ambulance immediately if you notice one or more of these signs

Learning these stroke symptoms can help disrupt stroke before it disrupts your (or someone else’s) life. Other signs to look for include sudden numbness, confusion, difficulty seeing, difficulty walking and severe headache, especially one that occurs in a split second, called a thunder-clap headache. Remember stroke is always an emergency that requires fast action and medical treatment.

Know How to Prevent Stroke

Some medical conditions and lifestyle considerations can put you at higher risk for stroke. For example, high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. Stroke can be prevented by effectively treating high blood pressure as well as high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, smoking and obesity. There are several ways to lower your risk for stroke:

  • Treat high blood pressure
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage diabetes
  • Quit smoking
  • Control cholesterol

Doing your best to prevent stroke from happening is the No. 1 way to lower your risk of disabilities caused by stroke. Even if you have had a stroke before, you can still take steps to reduce your risk of more strokes. Treating these risk factors may also reduce the chance of developing age-related dementia. For more information on the connection between stroke risk factors and dementia, visit mindyourrisks.nih.gov.

Know How to Recover from Stroke

As much as prevention helps lower the chances of having a stroke, it can still happen. Rehabilitation therapy is usually started in the hospital within 48 hours after a stroke. Health care workers help stroke patients relearn skills that were lost from the stroke or teach them new ways to compensate for remaining disabilities. Researchers continue to investigate how patients can restore blood flow to the brain and how to protect brain cells after stroke to improve recovery.

Know More

When you know the signs of stroke, you can help prevent a life-changing disability for yourself or someone you care about. You could even save a life. Visit stroke.nih.gov to learn more about stroke risks, prevention and research.

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Acetaminophen reduces sepsis patients’ risk of having organ injury

Intravenous acetaminophen was safe for all the sepsis patients, with no difference in liver injury, low blood pressure, or other adverse events compared to the placebo group. Among secondary outcomes, they also found that organ injury was significantly lower in the acetaminophen group, as was the rate of acute respiratory distress syndrome onset within seven days of hospital admission.

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Intravenous acetaminophen reduced sepsis patients’ risk of having organ injury or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome, a serious condition that allows fluid to leak into the lungs.

This is according to a study, “Phase 2b Randomized Trial of Acetaminophen for Prevention and Treatment of Organ Dysfunction in Critically Ill Sepsis Patients”, that appeared in JAMA.

As FYI: Sepsis is the body’s uncontrolled and extreme response to an infection. In sepsis, red blood cells become injured and die at abnormally high rates, releasing so called “cell-free hemoglobin” into the blood. The body becomes overwhelmed and can’t remove this excess hemoglobin which can lead to organ damage.

While the trial did not improve mortality rates in all patients with sepsis regardless of severity, the researchers found that acetaminophen gave the greatest benefit to the patients most at risk for organ damage. With the therapy, those patients needed less assisted ventilation and experienced a slight, though statistically insignificant, decrease in mortality.

To test the therapeutic potential of acetaminophen more fully in a mid-stage clinical trial, researchers enrolled 447 adults with sepsis and respiratory or circulatory organ dysfunction at 40 US academic hospitals from October 2021 to April 2023.

Patients were randomized to receive either acetaminophen or a placebo intravenously every six hours for five days. The researchers then followed the patients for 28 days to see how they fared. They also completed a special analysis using data only from the patients with levels of cell-free hemoglobin above a certain threshold. The team’s primary interest overall was the number of patients who were able to stay alive with no organ support, such as mechanical ventilation or kidney failure treatment.

Scientists note that identifying high levels of cell-free hemoglobin as a biomarker that could be tested when patients are first admitted to the hospital would be a breakthrough, because it could help quickly determine which patients with sepsis might benefit from acetaminophen therapy.

The researchers found that intravenous acetaminophen was safe for all the sepsis patients, with no difference in liver injury, low blood pressure, or other adverse events compared to the placebo group. Among secondary outcomes, they also found that organ injury was significantly lower in the acetaminophen group, as was the rate of acute respiratory distress syndrome onset within seven days of hospital admission.

When looking more closely at the patients with higher cell-free hemoglobin, the researchers found that just 8% of patients in the acetaminophen group needed assisted ventilation compared to 23% of patients in the placebo group. And after 28 days, 12% of patients in the acetaminophen group had died, compared to 21% in the placebo group, though this finding was not statistically significant.

“While the anticipated effects of acetaminophen therapy were not realized for all sepsis patients, this study shows that it still holds promise for the most critically ill” said James Kiley. “Though, more research is needed to uncover the mechanisms and validate these results.”

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Extreme heat associated with children’s asthma hospital visits

Daytime heat waves were significantly associated with 19 percent higher odds of children’s asthma hospital visits, and longer duration of heat waves doubled the odds of hospital visits. They did not observe any associations for nighttime heat waves.

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For children seeking care at urban pediatric health centers, extreme heat events were associated with increased asthma hospital visits.

This is according to research published at the ATS 2024 International Conference.  

“We found that both daily high heat events and extreme temperatures that lasted several days increased the risk of asthma hospital visits,” said corresponding author Morgan Ye, MPH, research data analyst, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “Understanding the impacts of climate-sensitive events such as extreme heat on a vulnerable population is the key to reducing the burden of disease due to climate change.”

For this study, Ye and colleagues looked at 2017-2020 electronic health records from the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, which included data on asthma hospital visits by patients of the hospital, some of whom are from Benioff Oakland’s Federally Qualified Health Center, and demographics including patients’ zip codes. They used data from the PRISM Climate Group of Oregon State University to determine the timing of daily maximum (daytime heat waves) and minimum (nighttime heat waves) for each zip code. The researchers restricted their analyses to the region’s warm season (June to September). To evaluate the potential range of effects of different heat wave measurements, they used 18 different heat wave definitions, including the 99th, 97.5th and 95th percentile of the total distribution of the study period for one, two or three days.

They designed the study in a way that allowed them to determine the association between each heat wave definition and a hospital visit. They repeated the analysis for Bay Area and Central California zip codes.

The team discovered that daytime heat waves were significantly associated with 19 percent higher odds of children’s asthma hospital visits, and longer duration of heat waves doubled the odds of hospital visits. They did not observe any associations for nighttime heat waves. 

According to Ye, “We continue to see global temperatures rise due to human-generated climate change, and we can expect a rise in health-related issues as we observe longer, more frequent and severe heat waves. Our research suggests that higher temperatures and increased duration of these high heat days are associated with increased risk of hospital visits due to asthma. Children and families with lower adaptation capacity will experience most of the burden. Therefore, it is important to obtain a better understanding of these heat-associated health risks and susceptible populations for future surveillance and targeted interventions.”

The authors note that past research has suggested positive associations between extreme heat and asthma, but findings regarding hospitalizations and emergency room visits have been conflicting. Additionally, many other studies have focused on respiratory hospitalizations and not hospitalizations for asthma, specifically, and have not included or had a focus on children. This study is also unique because it investigated the effect of daily high temperatures but also the effects of persistent extreme temperatures.

This study demonstrates that even milder extreme heat temperatures may significantly impact health. These effects are more pronounced in climate-susceptible populations, including children and those who are medically vulnerable, such as those served by the urban pediatric health center in this study. The authors hope these study results will lead to more equitable health outcomes and reduce racial/ethnic disparities observed in climate-sensitive events.

“These results can be used to inform targeted actions and resources for vulnerable children and alleviate health-related stress during heat waves,” they conclude.

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