What are Prebiotics and why we need them

Prebiotics are a very specific type of food. While many of the food ingredients we consume are digested immediately, prebiotics are a healthy non-digestible food ingredient. When the non-digestible ingredient reaches our large intestines, it allows for growth of bio-cultures . This can provide good digestive health. The positive effects prebiotics have by reaching the intestine in an unaltered form is known as the prebiotic effect.


Prebiotic Effect

A prebiotic effect occurs when there is an increase in the activity of healthy bacteria in the human intestine. The prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut and increase resistance to invading pathogens. These foods induce metabolic activity, leading to health improvements. Healthy bacteria in the intestine can combat unwanted bacteria, which are associated  with many diseases and gut complaints.

Prebiotic sources

An example of some prebiotic sources you will find in your local store or supermarket are: –

  • raw Jerusalem artichoke.
  • raw garlic.
  • raw leeks.
  • raw or cooked onions.

However not all prebiotics sources are the same and often prebiotic powders with high concentrations of  more potent prebiotics can be useful as part of a treatment plan for many gut problems and also just for supplementation. For example a good source of chicory Root (containing inulin ) will help the bacteria  in your gut to produce large amounts of short chain fatty acids, a vital nutrient for gut cells and for metabolism of fats and glucose.

Some Health Benefits of Prebiotics

A recent study reported


  • The gut microbiota influences metabolic syndrome-associated alterations.
  • Prebiotics reduces peripheral and brain inflammation in obese db/db mice.
  • Link between prebiotics, hippocampal neurogenesis and spatial memory.


Mounting evidence shows that the gut microbiota, an important player within the gut-brain communication axis, can affect metabolism, inflammation, brain function and behavior. Interestingly, gut microbiota composition is known to be altered in patients with metabolic syndrome (MetS), who also often display neuropsychiatric symptoms. The use of prebiotics, which beneficially alters the microbiota, may therefore be a promising way to potentially improve physical and mental health in MetS patients.

This hypothesis was tested in a mouse model of MetS, namely the obese and type-2 diabetic db/db mice, which display emotional and cognitive alterations associated with changes in gut microbiota composition and hippocampal inflammation compared to their lean db/+ littermates. We assessed the impact of chronic administration (8 weeks) of prebiotics (oligofructose) on both metabolic (body weight, food intake, glucose homeostasis) and behavioral (increased anxiety-like behavior and impaired spatial memory) alterations characterizing db/db mice, as well as related neurobiological correlates, with particular attention to neuroinflammatory processes.

Prebiotic administration improved excessive food intake and glycemic dysregulations (glucose tolerance and insulin resistance) in db/db mice. This was accompanied by an increase of plasma anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 levels and hypothalamic mRNA expression of the anorexigenic cytokine IL-1β, whereas unbalanced mRNA expression of hypothalamic orexigenic (NPY) and anorexigenic (CART, POMC) peptides was unchanged. We also detected signs of improved blood-brain-barrier integrity in the hypothalamus of oligofructose-treated db/dbmice (normalized expression of tight junction proteins ZO-1 and occludin). On the contrary, prebiotic administration did not improve behavioral alterations and associated reduction of hippocampal neurogenesis displayed by db/db mice, despite normalization of increased hippocampal IL-6 mRNA expression. Of note, we found a relationship between the effect of treatment on dentate gyrus neurons and spatial memory. These findings may prove valuable for introducing novel approaches to treat some of the comorbidities associated with MetS.





Artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia.

A cohort study published in journal Stroke has implicated diet soft drinks in increasing risk of stroke and dementia. Another good reason to stay away from drinks that are naturally sweetened, better still filtered drink water.

Here’s the study abstract below


Background and Purpose—Sugar- and artificially-sweetened beverage intake have been linked to cardiometabolic risk factors, which increase the risk of cerebrovascular disease and dementia. We examined whether sugar- or artificially sweetened beverage consumption was associated with the prospective risks of incident stroke or dementia in the community-based Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort.

Methods—We studied 2888 participants aged >45 years for incident stroke (mean age 62 [SD, 9] years; 45% men) and 1484 participants aged >60 years for incident dementia (mean age 69 [SD, 6] years; 46% men). Beverage intake was quantified using a food-frequency questionnaire at cohort examinations 5 (1991–1995), 6 (1995–1998), and 7 (1998–2001). We quantified recent consumption at examination 7 and cumulative consumption by averaging across examinations. Surveillance for incident events commenced at examination 7 and continued for 10 years. We observed 97 cases of incident stroke (82 ischemic) and 81 cases of incident dementia (63 consistent with Alzheimer’s disease).

Results—After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia. When comparing daily cumulative intake to 0 per week (reference), the hazard ratios were 2.96 (95% confidence interval, 1.26–6.97) for ischemic stroke and 2.89 (95% confidence interval, 1.18–7.07) for Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar-sweetened beverages were not associated with stroke or dementia.

Conclusions—Artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia.

Another reason why exercise can rescue you from depression

Whilst anti-depressants are still the number one choice for treating depression they have many limitations.   Exercise on the other hand has very few limitations and many benefits. Lets compare these two treatment options.

Anti-depressant drugs

The first major limitation that may surprise you is that Anti-depressant medication is only effective in less than 50% of  patients (1).  Anti-depressants have numerous side effects including loss of libido, increased sleep, weight gain, dry mouth, and many of these side effects seem to plague older adults (2).  Anxiety and diarrhea are often experienced on onset of treatment and there are well documented withdrawal side effects that can be mistaken for the return of depression / anxiety (3).

Independent reviews  of anti-depressant clinical trails have found that  the drugs are no better than placebo (4) and the original “monoamine hypothesis ” which taught us that depression is caused by a serotonin (5-HT) deficiency (a chemical imbalance in the brain) is flawed (5).  If it had been true  than wouldn’t you expect the drugs to work for 100% of people correctly diagnosed with MDD? Today scientists are still trying to explain how SSRIs/SRNIs alter the brain , but they can’t precisely  explain this because it turns out our brain chemistry is immensely complicated. The validity of the original drug trials remain controversial , but despite our new understanding of the human nervous system and its interdependency with the whole body , these out-dated ineffective drugs are still prescribed.


Exercise for depression

There are numerous studies proving regular exercise significantly relieves depression quickly and long term. These studies have proven exercise is just as effective at relieving MDD as anti-depressants drugs and keeps you in remission (6). Exercise wont cure everyone, but it’s consistently more effective than the anti-depressant drugs, it has no side effects, except perhaps  sore muscles and it will give you more energy, help you sleep better , strengthen your immune system  and it’s free!

A recent study on exercise and depression measured the effects of exercise on particular brain chemical called brain-derived-neurotropic factor or BDNF. BDNF has been implicated in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder (MDD) (7). Many preclinical and clinical studies provide direct evidence suggesting that modulation in expression of BDNF could be involved in behavioral phenomenon associated with depression (4). Studies in humans have shown decreased plasma levels of BDNF in bipolar disorder, manic and depressed patients (8).


Study Abstract (4)

Exercise increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with major depressive disorder


Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of major depressive disorder (MDD). Existing data on exercise treatment in people with MDD are inconsistent concerning the effect of exercise on BDNF pointing either to increased or unaltered BDNF concentrations. However, studies in non-depressed persons demonstrated a significant effect on resting peripheral BDNF concentrations in aerobic training interventions. Given the lack of clarity mentioned above, the current study aimed at examining the effect of adjunctive exercise on serum BDNF levels in guideline based treated patients with MDD.

depressed inpatients were included, and randomized either to a 6 week structured and supervised exercise intervention plus treatment as usual (EXERCISE, n=22), or to treatment as usual (TAU, n=20). BDNF serum concentrations were assessed before and after the intervention in both study groups with established immunoassays.


Serum BDNF slightly decreased in the TAU group, whilst there was an increase in BDNF levels in the exercise group. There was a significant time x group effect concerning sBDNF (p=0.030) with repeated ANOVA measures with age and BMI as covariates, suggesting an increase in BDNF concentrations in the EXERCISE group compared to TAU.


Though there was no statistic difference in the antidepressant medication between EXERCISE and TAU potential interactions between exercise and medication on the effects of exercise in BDNF cannot be excluded. Gender was not considered as a covariate in ANOVA due to the small number of objects.


Exercise training given as adjunct to standard guideline based treatment appears to have additional effects on BDNF serum concentrations in people with MDD. Our results add further evidence to the beneficial effects of exercise in the treatment of MDD.


Blog Post References

  1. Yu H, Chen Z. The role of BDNF in depression on the basis of its location in the neural circuitry. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. 2011;32(1):3-11. doi:10.1038/aps.2010.184.
  2. Garfield LD, Dixon D, Nowotny P, et al. Common SSRI side-effects in older adults associated with genetic polymorphisms in the serotonin transporter and receptors: Data from a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. 2014;22(10):971-979. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.003.
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressant-withdrawal/faq-20058133
  4. Irving Kirsch , The Emperor’s New Drugs
  5. Nestler, Eric J. et al. Neurobiology of Depression Neuron , Volume 34 , Issue 1 , 13 – 25
  6. Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Murali Doraiswamy P, et al. Exercise and Pharmacotherapy in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. Psychosomatic medicine. 2007;69(7):587-596. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e318148c19a.
  7. Kerling, M. Kück, U. Tegtbur, L. Grams, S. Weber-Spickschen, A. Hanke, B. Stubbs, K.G. Kahl, Exercise increases serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with major depressive disorder, Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 215, June 2017, Pages 152-155, ISSN 0165-0327, http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2017.03.034
  8. Yu H, Chen Z. The role of BDNF in depression on the basis of its location in the neural circuitry. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. 2011;32(1):3-11. doi:10.1038/aps.2010.184.

A diet rich in whole grains may lead to modest improvements in gut microbiota and immune response in healthy adults

A recent study reminds  us that bread is actually good for you, but it has to be bread made from whole wheat.  A recent 6 week study on diets high in whole grains found that  eating more whole grains foods (such as  wholewheat bread, brown rice, oats) can improve your immune system and your gut microbiota. Here’s the original article and reference.

6 APR 2017 |

Dietary fibre is a key nutrient for optimizing gut health through fermentation by commensal microbiota in the colon. The vast majority of studies that support the health benefits of dietary fibre are observational, whereas little evidence from interventional studies is available and mechanisms involved in their effects on gut microbiota and immune response are poorly understood.

A recent study, led by Dr. Simin Nikbin Meydani from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Aging at Tufts University in Boston (USA), has found that consuming a diet rich in whole grains may lead to modest improvements in gut microbiota and immune response in healthy adults.

For the first 2 weeks (the weight maintenance run-in period), 81 metabolically healthy adults (49 men and 32 postmenopausal women, age range: 40-65 years, body mass index less than 35 kg/m2) consumed the same weight-maintaining Western-style diet high in refined grains (with high consumption of saturated fats, red meats, simple carbohydrates, and processed or refined foods and low consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and poultry). For the next 6 weeks, 40 of those participants stayed on that diet (refined grains group: 8g fibre/1000 kcal), whereas 41 participants switched to a diet rich in whole grains but matched in all other ways (whole grain group: 16 g fibre/1000 kcal, which met the recommended dietary guidelines for Americans of 35 g/day). It is noteworthy to highlight that all meals were provided to the volunteers by trained staff, which aims to improve compliance and, thus, diet is not a factor of variability.

The researchers assessed the effects of the diet rich in whole grains compared with refined grains on immune and inflammatory responses: systemic and stool inflammatory cytokine concentrations and plasma lipopolysaccharide-binding protein concentrations, phenotypic and functional immune variables, and gut microbiota and microbial products. Stool, 12-h fasting blood, and saliva samples were collected, and delayed-type hypersensibility (DTH) tests were conducted at or near the end of week 2 of the run-in period and at or near the end of week 8 of the study.

Participants who consumed the whole-grain diet had increased stool weight and frequency and a modest increase in the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) producer Lachnospira, together with decreased pro-inflammatory Enterobacteriaceae, which was associated with a higher concentration of acetate and butyrate in the stool samples. Increased SCFA production after whole grain consumption was suggested to be related to a decrease in stool pH, as lower pH favours the production of SCFAs. Adherence to the assigned diets was assessed by measuring plasma concentrations of alkylresorcinol, a biomarker of whole grain intake. The whole grain group had significantly increased plasma alkylresorcinol compared with refined grain group.

Besides this, eating whole grains resulted in a modest increase in levels of memory T cells and tumour necrosis factor-alpha production by lipopolysaccharide stimulated immune cells. There was no change in the levels of other markers of cell-mediated immunity and inflammatory cytokines.

“The strength of the study is that we found modest effects of whole grain on gut microbiota and measures of immune function in the context of a controlled energy and macronutrient diet where all food was provided to participants, allowing them to maintain their body weight constant, thus eliminating the confounding effect of weight loss associated with increasing fibre consumption on immune and inflammatory markers. Additionally, our study incorporated markers of diet adherence and whole grain consumption, allowing us to more confidently determine the effect whole grains have on the gut microbiota and inflammatory responses,” said Dr. Simin Nikbin Meydani in a Tufts news release.

To sum up, 6 weeks of whole grain consumption over refined grain consumption resulted in a modest effect on gut microbiota composition, stool short-chain fatty acid concentrations, and certain indicators of the immune response in healthy adults. Further long-term interventional studies in humans are needed in order to explore the role of the gut microbiota in the health benefits of whole grains.




Vanegas SM, Meydani M, Barnett JB, et al. Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.146928.


New review shows a strong association between anxiety and metabolic syndrome (MetS)

A recent meta-analysis of previous studies on MetS and anxiety concluded that there is a strong association between MetS and anxiety. This is more evidence that chronic diseases often involve mood / psycho-emotional problems (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.11.025).

Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) is a major risk for heart disease and diabetes mellitus. MetS is also associated with systemic inflammation, which a risk factor for other chronic diseases like cancer. MetS refers to a cluster of abnormal changes in the body. MetS is diagnosed using a set of pathology tests and also clinical assessments. Lab tests include inflammatory markers (CRP), blood glucose levels, cholesterol, blood levels of triglycerides  and insulin levels. Clinical assessments of blood pressure, BMI and sometimes waist-to-hip ratio, are important indicators of those who are at risk for MetS and DBII.

It has been known for sometime depression is strongly associated with obesity and inflammation however MetS does not consider mood or psychological state as important indicators of those who are at risk of MetS or who have been diagnosed with it.  Depression is not a single disease but is a spectrum of mood / emotional and phycological symptoms that overlaps with anxiety disorders. It is common for people with depression to also feel anxious to the point it interferes with their lives. Many patients may suffer frequently from anxiety and depression and are treated for both.

Perhaps part of the reason for the lack of integration of psycho-emotional and psychical problems is that we live in a culture of specialization and reductionism. We typically  seek a psychologist for help with our mood , self-confidence or to change behaviour. We see a GP for physical problems.  In reality these compartmentalized  aspects of ourselves are not separate but one and science is beginning to reveal this with ample evidence that mind and body are an integrated system.

It is understandable people with MetS  suffer from anxiety . Anxiety is a prevalent in modern society and it can affect anyone. Being in an anxious state can drive behavior that leads to ill health. Self-medicating, excessive alcohol , lack of exercise, comfort eating , lack of sleep,  isolation are all associated with leading to one or more of the  abnormal changes that are measured for MetS.




Could probiotics each day keep antibiotic prescriptions at bay?

28 FEB 2017 |

Let’s say you have a cold—and it’s a bad one. Your head constantly aches, your nose runs, and you cough until you almost choke. You can’t get warm, no matter how many blankets you wrap around yourself. Five days into this misery you’re exhausted and just want to resume your normal life.

A massive temptation exists at this stage: to visit your doctor and ask for a prescription for antibiotics. In fact, the common cold—officially diagnosed as an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)—is one of the top reasons for doctors’ visits in the US.

But here’s the problem: antibiotics are ineffective against the common cold. Despite the fact that patients with a URTI frequently ask doctors for antibiotics, and the fact that doctors frequently prescribe them, the common cold is caused by a virus and cannot be cured with drugs that target bacteria. (If the antibiotics appear to work in the end, it might be due to the placebo effect.)

Antibiotics for the common cold account for some of the estimated 30% of all antibiotic prescriptions in US clinics and hospitals that are given inappropriately. Excessive antibiotic use is considered a major threat to global public health, contributing the problem of antibiotic resistance: microorganisms developing the ability to withstand the effects of drugs that are supposed to kill them. Furthermore, antibiotics may affect individuals’ gut microbiota in a way that poses risks to long-term health.

Can all of this be avoided? Ideally, you wouldn’t get a cold in the first place. But it seems impossible to avoid harmful viral exposure in a world that includes regular encounters with public transit, elevator buttons, ATM keypads, or even regular old doorknobs.

A group of scientists and experts are starting to investigate a tool that might solve this tricky problem: probiotics as a preventative measure against the common cold.

A 2015 scientific analysis showed growing evidence for probiotics as a way to improve outcomes related to the common cold. The analysis, which compared groups of adults that used probiotics to those not using probiotics, found 11 fewer people out of 100 developed a cold when probiotics were in the picture. The length of the illness was shorter for those who consumed probiotics, by an average of 2 days. And most importantly: those who took probiotics preventatively had fewer antibiotic prescriptions.

The real-life benefits of using probiotics to prevent the common cold were illustrated by some number-crunching on the populations of France and Canada. Analyses published in 2015 and 2016 showed that widespread consumption of probiotics might save thousands of antibiotic prescriptions per year in each country—between 291,000 and 473,000 in France and between 52,000 and 84,000 in Canada. As a bonus, it could also lead to significant savings on healthcare costs.

Experts from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) say they are planning to follow up on this work by systematically investigating the question of whether antibiotic use is reduced when people are given probiotics to prevent or treat infections like the common cold.

Reducing misuse and overuse of antibiotics is an urgent mandate in healthcare, according to the World Health Organization. With more and more evidence, healthcare professionals will understand the most effective way to leverage probiotics for addressing this problem. Because it would be mighty nice to find a way of stopping the shivering, sniffling misery of the person standing next to you in the elevator before it even begins.



Stress alters our gut microbiome leading to increased colonic inflammation during infections.

The mutualistic (friendly) bacteria in our gut is vital for defences against infections because it works in concert our immune system to kill and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

For sometime it has been proposed stress can alter the populations of friendly bacteria leading to vulnerability to acute or chronic infections and inflammation. People with  Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis have significantly different bacteria populations to healthy people , but scientists are still not sure how much the alterations of gut bacteria has to do with the progression of these diseases. This study below might help find the answer.

The commensal microbiota exacerbate infectious colitis in stressor-exposed mice

• Germfree mice were colonized with microbiota from stressor-exposed or control mice.
• Newly colonized mice were infected with the colonic pathogen Citrobacter rodentium.
• Colonization with microbiota from stressed donors increased colonic inflammation.
• Stressor-induced effects on the microbiota directly affect mucosal immunity.

ABSTRACT HERE  – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159116304196?dgcid=raven_sd_via_email

Study conclusion: This study demonstrates that the commensal microbiota directly contribute to excessive inflammatory responses to C. rodentium during stressor exposure, and may help to explain why gastrointestinal disorders are worsened during stressful experiences.


This study revealed the stressed mice guts did not have an important species of friendly bacteria called Bifidobacterium,  but in mice not exposed to stress there was bifidobacterium present. It is is suggest that the absence of  bifidobacterium caused a more severe inflammatory response.

Bifidobacterium coevolved with us. It is important for immunity, energy, metabolic process and mood. Studies like this help us understand the benefits of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and perhaps they will help us develop more effective treatments for gastrointestinal complaints.

The Pros and cons of PPIs (Anti-acid drugs)

Christmas is over and for some it was time to enjoy the food and drink in plenty! Unfortunately it may have left you with  some digestion problems and you may find yourself reaching in your pocket to use your new prescription of PPIs or an over-the-counter brand. The Christmas holidays is a common time to experience reflux , heartburn and indigestion. Many people will choose  this class of drug to provide fast relief.

However PPIs were never intended to be taken long term or for mild reflux. The OTC drugs were originally designed for short term relief and  prescribed medication is intended for severe symptoms and a clinical diagnosis of GERD or conditions like esophagitis.  If you have just started taking PPIs or find yourself crunching on a few anti-acid tablets a day then take a minute to know the pro’s and con’s of these drugs.


  • Fast short term relief from heartburn and reflux / GERD
  • Easy to take
  • Available OTC


  • PPIs treat the symptoms not the cause.
  • Long term use increases risk of osteoporosis ,  low bone density and hip fractures in elderly
  • May lower calcium absorption
  • Increases risk of B12 and Iron deficiency because your stomach acid production is impaired and this also increases risk of small intestinal bacteria overgrowth
  • Can be difficult to stop taking PPIs due to a “rebound acid hypersecretion response” causing severe heartburn and reflux soon after after withdrawal. Studies that this is  withdrawal symptoms and not just the return of the original disease.
  • Can cause the symptoms it is supposed to treat. Refer to Proton-Pump Inhibitor Therapy Induces Acid-Related Symptoms in Healthy Volunteers After Withdrawal of Therapy 13 April 2009 Christina Reimer, Bo Sondergaard, Linda Hilsted, Peter Bytzer
    Gastroenterology July 2009 (Vol. 137, Issue 1, Pages 80-87.e1) or http://www.natap.org/2009/HIV/070409_02.htm
  • Long term use has been associated with causing Gastritis


Remember stomach acid is good for you. It protects you from nasty bacteria and it is essential for B12 and Iron synthesis.




Prostate Cancer stems cells resist radiation and we now might know why

movemberIt may not be commonly known by the general public but radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer is not as effective as we would have hoped. In fact it is now understood that radiotherapy is not consistently eradicating 100% of the prostate cancer and instead leaving behind cancer stem cells .

Cancer stem cells are  necessary to form new tumours and when these are left circulating in the  body it  increases the likelihood of the cancer returning.  Until now the reasons why stems cells resist radiotherapy have not been  understood. A recent study may be bringing us closer to  understanding why cancer stem cells survive radiotherapy. However this doesn’t provide a solution for patients today. So until science has a solution it maybe the right time to  discuss this issue with  your oncologist  and learn about the actual risks associated with  radiotherapy and  how the risks can be mitigated.


Full Article below

Source: http://oncologynews.com.au/

A new study has shown that a standard hormone supplement, used to boost energy levels in prostate cancer patients following radiotherapy, could potentially increase the chances of the cancer returning.

The research is published in the journal Oncotarget.

Studies led by Professor Norman Maitland at the University of York Department of Biology, have shown that stem cells inside the cancer are resistant to radiotherapy treatment.

This means that the bulk of the cancer dies following treatment, but the ‘core’ does not, increasing the risk of the cancer returning.

Until now, however, it was not clear why stem cells — which are present in all cells of the body — should survive when the rest of the tumour is killed off by radiotherapy.

Using cancerous cells from patients diagnosed with prostate cancer, researchers showed that proteins called SMARCs, inside the stem cells, help to keep the ‘core’ of the cancer alive.

The research team, including York scientists Dr Jayant Rane and Dr Holger Erb, were surprised to find, however, that cancer cells that had been treated in the laboratory with a glucocorticoid hormone, which is normally administered to patients in tablet form to boost energy levels following radiotherapy, became more resistant to cancer treatment.

Professor Maitland said “This was a really unexpected result of our investigation, so we took a slightly different direction in order to find out why these stem cells would become more resistant to cancer treatment.”

Tiny molecules that respond to changes in the body are present in all ‘normal’ cells and can be regulated by hormones.

These are kept at very low levels in cancer stem cells.

The researchers found, however, that any increase in these molecules, called MicroRNAs, impacts on the levels of SMARCs in the stem cells.

Professor Maitland continued “When more glucocorticoid hormones are ingested, the levels of MicroRNAs decrease even further, resulting in an increase in SMARCs. These SMARC proteins wind up chromosomes inside the cancer cells to make them resistant to treatment.

“Hormone injections to counter the energy-sapping effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy have been a standard part of after-care for 15 years or more, so we were surprised to find that the treatment was actually to the detriment of radiotherapy.”

When the researchers looked at what would happen if the natural levels of glucocorticoids were blocked, they saw an increase in the number of MicroRNAs and the expected decrease in the levels of SMARCs.

It is now possible that the same radiotherapy dose could kill more cancer stem cells – the root of cancer recurrence after treatment.

Professor Maitland added “We now need to move into clinical trials to see whether blocking, rather than boosting, the glucocorticoids in patients could bolster the success rate of radiotherapy. It would ultimately mean that the patient is more tired after treatment, but there are other non-hormone treatments that could be used to improve energy levels that would not interfere with how we now believe stem cells to behave in cancer.”


Some References

Moncharmont C, Levy A, Gilormini M, Bertrand G, Chargari C, Alphonse G, Ardail

D, Rodriguez-Lafrasse C, Magné N. Targeting a cornerstone of radiation
resistance: cancer stem cell. Cancer Lett. 2012 Sep 28;322(2):139-47. doi:
10.1016/j.canlet.2012.03.024. Review. PubMed PMID: 22459349.

Pajonk F, Vlashi E, McBride WH. Radiation Resistance of Cancer Stem Cells: The 4 R’s of Radiobiology Revisited. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio). 2010;28(4):639-648. doi:10.1002/stem.318.

Skvortsova I, Debbage P, Kumar V, Skvortsov S. Radiation resistance: Cancer
stem cells (CSCs) and their enigmatic pro-survival signaling. Semin Cancer Biol.
2015 Dec;35:39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2015.09.009. Review. PubMed PMID:

Research shows exercise improves Quality of life for men who have prostate cancer with bone metastasis

movemberIt’s Movember this month and in many countries men are asked to  think about their health, to learn more about prostate cancer and to help each other live a healthy long life.

Like any cancer prostate cancer  is feared by men and women, but we can alleviate some of these fears by educating ourselves and sharing the important information that helps men see the bigger picture and understand the consequences of the choices they make to prevent cancer and perhaps one day the choices to  treat prostate cancer.

To begin here is a study of how exercise improves life for men who have bone metastasis , a serious health condition which occurs in advanced prostate cancer. This is not common and most men who have prostate cancer will never experiences this.

Associations between aerobic exercise levels and physical and mental health outcomes in men with bone metastatic prostate cancer: a cross-sectional investigation

Cancer patients with bone metastases have previously been excluded from participation in physical activity programmes due to concerns of skeletal fractures. Our aim was to provide initial information on the association between physical activity levels and physical and mental health outcomes in prostate cancer patients with bone metastases.

Between 2012 and 2015, 55 prostate cancer patients (mean age 69.7 ± 8.3; BMI 28.6 ± 4.0) with bone metastases (58.2% >2 regions affected) undertook assessments for self-reported physical activity, physical and mental health outcomes (SF-36), objective physical performance measures and body composition by DXA. Sixteen men (29%) met the current aerobic exercise guidelines for cancer survivors, while 39 (71%) reported lower aerobic exercise levels.

Men not meeting aerobic exercise guidelines had lower physical functioning (p = .004), role functioning (physical and emotional) (p < .05), general health scores (p = .014) as well all lower measures of physical performance (p < .05). Lower levels of aerobic exercise are associated with reduced physical and mental health outcomes in prostate cancer patients with bone metastases.

While previous research has focused primarily in those with non-metastatic disease, our initial results suggest that higher levels of aerobic exercise may preserve physical and mental health outcomes in prostate cancer patients with bone metastases.