In the News – Health and Nutrition Research

In this week’s article we provide our usual monthly roundup of some of the most recent health and nutrition related articles to be in the news, five items comprising:

  • Vitamin D3 supplements shown to significantly improve autism symptoms
  • Imaging technique measures toxicity of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s proteins
  • Early life nutrition builds brain resilience to extreme stress
  • Weight gain driven by gut bacteria’s ‘memory’ of obesity, says study
  • Scientists study link between unhealthy pregnancy diet and ADHD


Vitamin D3 supplements shown to significantly improve autism symptoms

Taking vitamin D3 supplements may help improve autism symptoms of children, a first of its-kind study has suggested.

The study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry showed symptoms “improved significantly” following four months of vitamin D3 supplements.

This effect was not seen in the placebo group.

The study involving a total of 109 children in Egypt 3-10 years is said to be the first double-blinded randomised clinical trial proving the efficacy of vitamin D3 in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) patients.

Researchers from the Assuit University in Egypt said the findings could justify new recommendations for children with the condition.

However they warned: “At this stage, this study is a single RCT with a small number of patients, and a great deal of additional wide-scale studies are needed to critically validate the efficacy of vitamin D in ASD.”

Carol Povey, director of the Centre for Autism at the National Autistic Society in the UK, echoed this saying it was “too early” to draw any firm conclusions from the study.

“It is important to remember that autism is a lifelong disability – children who are autistic will become autistic adults – and the most crucial thing is that every autistic person has the right support to meet their needs,” she told us.

Read the full article here.

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Imaging technique measures toxicity of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s proteins

Researchers have developed a new imaging technique that makes it possible to study why proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases may go from harmless to toxic. The technique uses a technology called multi-dimensional super-resolution imaging that makes it possible to observe changes in the surfaces of individual protein molecules as they clump together. The tool may allow researchers to pinpoint how proteins misfold and eventually become toxic to nerve cells in the brain.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, have studied how a phenomenon called hydrophobicity (lack of affinity for water) in the proteins amyloid-beta and alpha synuclein – which are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s respectively — changes as they stick together. It had been hypothesised that there was a link between the hydrophobicity and toxicity of these proteins, but this is the first time it has been possible to image hydrophobicity at such high resolution. Details are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

“These proteins start out in a relatively harmless form, but when they clump together, something important changes,” said Dr Steven Lee from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, the study’s senior author. “But using conventional imaging techniques, it hasn’t been possible to see what’s going on at the molecular level.”

In neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, naturally-occurring proteins fold into the wrong shape and clump together into filament-like structures known as amyloid fibrils and smaller, highly toxic clusters known as oligomers which are thought to damage or kill neurons, however the exact mechanism remains unknown.

Read the full article here.

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Early life nutrition builds brain resilience to extreme stress

Brain and memory impairment caused by stress during early development could be lessened by micronutrient supplements, according to a Dutch study.

The study found a micronutrient blend of methionine and B vitamins led to a degree of neuroprotection when given to young mice.

The conclusions highlight benefits of supplementation and food fortification particularly during the early years of mental and cognitive development.

This concept also opens up new avenues for nutritional intervention in extreme stress suffered in early childhood such as abuse and neglect or trauma caused by conflict or famine.

The study

In a collaboration between the University of Amsterdam (UvA), University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and the Academic Medical Center (AMC), the researchers began inducing stress in female mice by restricting the amount of material available in which to build nests. This restricted the amount of time spent with their offspring.

Mothers in the control group were given plentiful nest material and were therefore able to spend much longer periods of time with their young.

During a stress-inducing event, half of the stressed mothers in the experimental group were supplemented with nutrients the body is unable to produce on its own – vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 and the related amino acid methionine.

The stressed mice not given the nutritional supplement produced offspring that had an increased hormonal response to stress along with reduced methionine levels in their brains.

Read the full article here.

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Weight gain driven by gut bacteria’s ‘memory’ of obesity, says study

People who struggle to maintain a healthy weight after dieting may do so because their gut bacteria retains a “memory” of their past weight, according to scientists.

The study, in mice, suggests that yo-yo dieting is not simply a reflection of people returning to unhealthy eating habits, but could be driven by long-term changes in gut bacteria brought about by obesity.

The scientists observed that the changes to the gut microbiome brought about by obesity persisted for five times as long as the actual period spent dieting and predisposed the mice to rapidly regain weight.

Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and lead author, said that the findings, if replicated in people, could help develop more evidence-based methods for weight loss. “It may explain some – more than some – of our failure to control weight by dieting,” he said.

Simon Cork, a medical researcher at Imperial College London, said the study was one of the first to show that gut bacteria could actively drive weight gain, rather than simply being associated with it. However, he cautioned that it was unclear whether the findings could be extrapolated to people.

Read the full article here.

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Scientists study link between unhealthy pregnancy diet and ADHD

A diet high in fat and sugar during pregnancy may be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children with behavioural problems early in life, experts have found.

The research, led by scientists from King’s College London (KCL) and the University of Bristol, is believed to be the first to indicate that an unhealthy diet alters the baby’s DNA in a way that might lead to brain changes and later ADHD.

ADHD and conduct problems are the most common reasons for child mental health referral in the UK and tend to occur in tandem. More than 40% of children with a diagnosis of behavioural problems also have a diagnosis of ADHD.

A high fat, high sugar diet in pregnancy had already been associated with behavioural problems and ADHD, but the study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry on Thursday, attempts to look at the processes involved.

Studying participants from the Bristol-based “Children of the 90s” cohort, the experts compared 83 children with early-onset persistent conduct problems with 81 children who had low levels of conduct problems. They assessed how the mothers’ nutrition changed IGF2, a gene involved in foetal development and the development of the cerebellum and hippocampus, areas of the brain implicated in ADHD.

The results showed high fat and sugar diets of processed food and confectionery were associated with greater modification of IGF2 in both sets of children. Higher IGF2 methylation was also associated with higher ADHD symptoms between the ages of seven and 13, but only for children who showed an early onset of behavioural problems such as lying or fighting.

Read the full article here.

Related Cytoplan blogs

Preconception care – optimising health of baby and mother

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If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Clare) by phone or email at any time.

clare@cytoplan.co.uk, 01684 310099

The Cytoplan editorial team: Joseph Forsyth & Clare Daley


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