Beyond Psilocybin: These Mushrooms May Offer Brain-Boosting Compounds, Too

While the trippier fungi have stolen the show, several of their relatives are being investigated to treat common mental health conditions and neurodegenerative disorders.

Psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some psychedelic species of fungi, has received a flood of attention in recent years for its potential in treating mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and PTSD. But it isn’t just trippy fungi that could deliver major brain benefits:

Scientists are also looking into a host of other species that could help combat conditions affecting the mind, such as neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and common mental illnesses.

Fungi have long attracted scientific inquiry. For starters, they’re known to offer diverse, powerful collections of compounds called secondary metabolites that help them compete in the wild. These compounds have already provided us with a range of life-saving drugs, such as the antibiotic penicillin, the chemotherapy treatment Taxol, and the cholesterol medication Lovastatin.

Many types of fungi are sold in the U.S. as supplements in the form of ground powders. Lab experiments, meanwhile, typically extract biologically-active compounds using ethanol, certain enzymes or other agents that seem to boost their positive effects.

And while recent epidemiological studies have identified a possible link between regularly eating mushrooms and a reduced risk of cognitive decline, researchers hope to incorporate the powerful fungi-derived compounds into more targeted treatments.

Currently, the vast majority of studies have analyzed the effects of fungi extracts and certain isolated compounds on cells and rodents, along with relatively tiny samples of humans, so it’s far too early to make any conclusions.

Still, some results have nevertheless been encouraging. Here are some varieties that are currently being studied for their potential brain benefits:

Shiitake

While it’s one of the most popular edible mushrooms worldwide, you may not know that Lentinula edodes has also received attention in labs for its possible neurological applications. Shiitake are particularly prized for carbohydrates called polysaccharides, specifically beta-glucans, that are also found in the cell walls of various fungi. Beta-glucans offer a variety of possible advantages, including their ability to reduce inflammation, regulate the immune system and combat infections. 

In recent years, scientists have found that beta-glucans can improve gut microbiome diversity in mice. This is a win for the brain, because the two are closely linked via a two-way communication channel called the gut-brain axis. In fact, feeding mice beta-glucans from Shiitake mushrooms helped counteract the cognitive impairments caused by a high-fat diet — which wreaks brain inflammation — a 2021 Journal of Translational Medicine study found.

Lion’s Mane

The hairy-looking Hericium erinaceus, commonly referred to as lion’s mane, is found in Asia, Europe and North America on decaying or dead trees. Research has indicated that it could help treat or prevent a wide range of conditions, including cancer, diabetes and high cholesterol. Among other medicinal mushrooms, this species has received particular attention for its potential neuroprotective properties. These may stem from chemical compounds that can promote cell growth, fight inflammation and regulate reward pathways within the brain. 

Studies in mice and cells have accordingly suggested that lion’s mane may improve mental function in people with Alzheimer’s and help treat epilepsy. Small human trials suggest it could mitigate depression, improve sleep quality and alleviate early-stage cognitive decline, but researchers have called for more rigorous studies in people.

Cordyceps

This parasitic genus of fungus is known to get gruesome. For example, the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis species can infiltrate the bodies of ants via spores and turn them into “zombies” before sprouting out of the insects’ heads. Fittingly, Cordyceps even inspired a zombie-themed horror video game series

Despite their frightening behavior toward insects, humans have long prized these Cheeto-like fungi. Chinese medicine has used the Ophiocordyceps sinensis species to promote lung and kidney health since at least the 18th century. Natural forms of O. sinensis, which grow high in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas on ghost moths, can cost up to $63,000 a pound. Research teams therefore commonly study samples of this species that have been cultivated in labs.

In recent years, various varieties of Cordyceps have been studied for their anti-inflammatory, antitumor, immune system-regulating and neuroprotective properties, among others. Their various powers are thought to come from a unique compound called cordycepin, along with polysaccharides and sterols, which are somewhat similar to the cholesterol produced by humans. 

Experiments with animal models have demonstrated that the compounds within Cordyceps could help mitigate learning and memory impairment, symptoms associated with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This could occur through various mechanisms, including cordycepin’s ability to prevent neuronal cell death.

Chaga

The Inonotus obliquus fungus, commonly called chaga, typically grows as a parasite on birch trees in cold climates. It has long been incorporated in folk medicine in China, Korea, Japan and eastern Europe. And historical sources claim that 12th-century Kiev Prince Vladimir Monomakh used chaga to get rid of a lip tumor.

As with the other fungi on this list, the polysaccharides within I. obliquus may offer a range of helpful properties, including antitumor, anti-fatigue, antioxidant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.

So far, compounds isolated from chaga have been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in cell studies by mitigating oxidative stress, which can cause excess unstable molecules called free radicals to attack brain cells. While some medicinal fungi have received human trials, albeit tiny ones, chaga does not appear to have been tested in humans for any possible neurological benefits. 

Reishi

Known as the “Mushroom of Immortality” in Korea and China, reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum, sprouts up on dying or dead trees, including maple, elm and oak. In Chinese medicine, reishi is used to boost overall health and longevity. Like plenty of other sought-after fungi, reishi may get its magic from substances such as sterols, polysaccharides and peptides.

Reishi offers a laundry list of potential benefits, such as sedative, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antitumor effects. Evidence suggests that it could prove a helpful treatment for neurodegenerative conditions. Studies performed on cells and animals have highlighted the possibility that the polysaccharides from Ganoderma lucidum could, for example, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. These substances may encourage neuron growth in the brain and alleviate cognitive decline.

Results in humans, however, haven’t been as promising. A first-of-its-kind experiment in just 42 people with Alzheimer’s disease found that spore powder made from G. lucidum failed to improve symptoms or enhance patients’ quality of life measurements, according to a 2018 Medicine study. But the authors noted that it was a brief treatment period (six weeks) and small sample size.

If future research succeeds (and plenty more is needed), this mushroom could perhaps compete with widely prescribed antidepressants. Reishi extracts seemed to exhibit an effect comparable to that of the SSRI fluoxetine in studies from 2017 and 2021 performed on mice. Its relative Ganoderma applanatum might also help ease depression and anxiety, according to another mouse experiment.

Beyond that, a small study in 64 women with fibromyalgia failed to find statistically significant effects of Ganoderma lucidum supplementation on subjective measures like feelings of happiness, depression and life satisfaction. But researchers did notice a positive trend in these outcomes post-treatment, as reported in the journal Healthcare in 2020. And in a 2011 study assessing reishi’s effect on fatigue in breast cancer patients, subjects reported reduced anxiety and depression.

By Molly Glick

Source: Beyond Psilocybin: These Mushrooms May Offer Brain-Boosting Compounds, Too | Discover Magazine

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Erectile Dysfunction Meds Linked To 85% Higher Serious Eye Damage Risk, Study Says

Can regularly taking erectile dysfunction (ED) medications like Viagra and Cialis make it much harder for you to see? Well, a study just published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that men who regularly took phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors were 85% more likely to have suffered at least one of the following three major eye problems:

Serous retinal detachment (SRD), retinal vascular occlusion (RVO), and ischemic optic neuropathy (ION). Now, if you and your penis were to say, “still worth it,” keep in mind that all three conditions could lead to blindness. And when you are blind you can’t see your penis.

Chances are you don’t commonly use words such as phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor (PDE5Is) when making some romance. Such words probably rank lower than “amazeballs” and “sasquatch” in terms of sexiness and things to say in bed. However, you may be more familiar with specific PDE5Is such as sildenafil (e.g., Viagra), vardenafil (e.g., Levitra and Staxyn), tadalafil (e.g., Cialis), and avanafil (e.g., Stendra).

For the study, a team from the University of British Columbia (Mahyar Etminan, PharmD, MSc, Mohit Sodhi, MSc, Frederick S. Mikelberg, MD, and David Maberley, MD, MSc) identified 213, 033 men in the PharMetrics Plus database (IQVIA) who had regularly taken PDE5Is from January 1, 2006, through December 31, 2020.linkedin-1

They then compared what happened to these men to what happened to 4,584 men who didn’t regularly take PDE5Is. They had excluded anyone who had had diagnoses of SRD, RVO, or ION in the year prior. The average age of those in both the PDE5I-taking group and the control group was 64.6 years old.

During the study time period, there were 278 cases of SRD, 628 cases of RVO, and 240 cases of ION. Those who had SRD, RVO, or ION were more likely to have had chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and sleep apnea. However, even when controlling for such other risk factors, those who had regularly taken such ED medications were still 85% more likely to have suffered one of these three eye conditions.

They were 158% more likely to have had SRD, 44% more likely to have had RVO, and 102% more likely to have had ION. This translated to an additional 3.8 SRD cases, 8.5 RVO cases, and 3.2 ION cases per 10,000 person-years.

While your penis may regularly make decisions for you, your eyes and vision are pretty darn important as well. Typically, you can see things such as hot dogs or Madonna because light from these images passes through the cornea in the front of your eye, gets focused by your lens that sits behind your cornea, and then hits your retina, the layer of photoreceptors lining the back of your eye.

These photoreceptors convert the light into electrical signals, which then travel to your brain via your optic nerve. Your brain subsequently transforms these nerve signals into images so that you can say that that indeed is a plate of hot dogs and not Madonna.

Any kind of retinal detachment can interrupt this pathway. Retinal detachment is not an emotional state for your retina such as when it inexplicably doesn’t cry during the movie Up. Rather, it’s when your retina separates from the blood vessels that provide your retina oxygen and nourishment.Exudative or serous retinal detachment (SRD) is rare type of retinal detachment, which occurs when fluid accumulates under your retina and pushes it away from the blood vessels. This is not only serous, it’s also a serious condition and calls for emergency care.

Disrupting the blood flow to and from your retina or optic nerve can interrupt your visual pathway too. When blood flow to your optic nerve is messed up, ION can result. And RVO is when the veins carrying blood away from your retina get blocked.

It’s not completely surprising that ED medications like sildenafil and tadalafil might affect the blood flow to and from different parts of your eyes and optic nerves. Such medications act by inhibiting the action of phosphodiesterase enzymes that normally degrade cyclic guanosine monophosphatec (GMP) and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP).

As a result, the levels of cGMP/cAMP increase in the smooth muscle cells that line the walls of your blood vessels, which, in turn, can cause the smooth muscles to relax and the blood vessels to dilate and expand. Expanded blood vessels can send more blood flow to your penis, which can lead your penis doing stand up, so to speak. Mo blood can potentially mean mo erection.

That’s because it is blood that makes you hard and lifts you up, presumably not wires, CGI, or any other special effects. PDE5Is aren’t as penis focused as you may be, though. They can act on blood vessels throughout your body, including those that may affect your vision.

Of course, the results of this study don’t necessarily mean that you should immediately stop taking your ED medications and start Googling Swedish-made penis enlarger pumps or some other method not recommended by your doctor.

As an observational cohort study, this study can only show associations and not cause-and-effect. Moreover, it’s not as if people are losing vision left and right after taking sildenafil. You may not be hearing regular stories of people saying, “OK, babe, I’m ready for you. Babe? Babe, where are you?” The incidence of SRD, RVO, and ION was still quite low.

Nonetheless, this study’s findings do offer an additional warning that you shouldn’t treat ED medications as if they were candy or oysters. This certainly wasn’t the first study to show a link between PDE5I and major eye problems. There have been previous case reports and other epidemiologic studies as well. I covered one of these case reports for Forbes back in 2018, although that was a case of someone potentially taking too much sildenafil.

So, if you happen to have any problems with your penis, don’t just take matters into your own hands, so to speak, and jump to over-the-counter medications such as sildenafil. The words “over-the-counter” and “penis” don’t always go together. Instead, talk to your doctor first, and figure out together what to do about any standing problems. After all, indiscriminately taking ED medications can have some stiff consequences.

I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, medical doctor, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that….

Source: Erectile Dysfunction Meds Linked To 85% Higher Serious Eye Damage Risk, Study Says

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A Simple Retina Scan Could Predict Your Risk of Early Death

A new study has proposed that a simple retina scan could indicate whether a person is at risk of early death. The research found the greater the gap between a person’s chronological age and retinal age the higher their risk of dying.

We have all heard the saying “age is just a number.” Plenty of people can act much more youthful than you’d expect from their chronological age while others certainly seem older than their years.

Researchers have long suggested measuring a person’s biological age could offer insight into their risk for many diseases. But the challenge has been finding a simple measure to objectively track how fast a body is aging.

One recent study homed in on a pattern of blood-based inflammatory biomarkers to measure a person’s immune system age. Another project is tracking the accumulation of DNA mutations over time as a way of calculating biological age and determining potential lifespan.

This latest method is perhaps the simplest to date, relying on an easy retinal scan to evaluate a person’s biological age. The researchers used machine learning to create a deep learning model designed to predict a person’s age by measuring deterioration in tissue at the back of the eye.

In most healthy middle-aged adults the algorithm could accurately predict a person’s age within a window of three and half years from a single retinal image. More interesting was the discovery that those with a large gap between their chronological age and their retinal age had a higher risk of death over an 11-year follow-up.

Those with retinal age gaps larger than three years were between 49 and 67 percent more likely to die than those with a small retinal age gap. For every year difference between retinal age and chronological age the study calculated a two percent increase in all-cause mortality and a three percent increase in death from causes other than cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“The retina offers a unique, accessible ‘window’ to evaluate underlying pathological processes of systemic vascular and neurological diseases that are associated with increased risks of mortality,” the researchers noted in the study.

“Our novel findings have determined that the retinal age gap is an independent predictor of increased mortality risk, especially of non-[cardiovascular disease]/ non-cancer mortality. These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging.”

More work will be needed to further verify these findings in broad cohorts but the researchers hypothesize a simple eye scan could be used to easily monitor a person’s general health. The algorithm could also be incorporated into a smartphone app allowing for doctors to remotely assess patients.

“Given the rising burden of non-communicable diseases and population aging globally, the early identification and delivery of personalized healthcare might have tremendous public health benefits,” the researchers concluded in the study.

“Further, the recent development of smartphone-based retinal cameras, together with the integration of deep learning algorithms, may in the future provide point-of-care assessments of aging and improve accessibility to tailored risk assessments.”

Rich Haridy

Source: A simple retina scan could predict your risk of early death

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How To Move With Migraines

Migraines are the most common form of headache that can cause severe throbbing pain – usually on one side of the head – and severely affect quality of life. A migraine attack can last hours or days and often comes with nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

According to a 2018 Deloitte Access Economics Report, almost 5 million people in Australia live with migraine, with 7.6% of them – around 400,000 people – experiencing chronic migraine, which means more than 15 migraine days per month.

Migraines are much more common in women than men and more prevalent in working-age people.

“During a flare, all people want to do is lie in a cold dark room and not do anything,” says Adnan Asger Ali, a physiotherapist and the deputy national chair at Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia. But research shows regular exercise may have a preventive effect in reducing the number and intensity of migraines. One of the main reasons physical activity may help relieve migraines, says Ali, is that the body releases endorphins (natural painkillers) during exercise.

“Physical therapy can complement the pharmacological management of migraines,” he says. “It might mean that they take two Panadol instead of two codeine, and that’s still going to be a win because they’re not taking the hard stuff.”

A proper physical assessment is necessary to tailor a treatment plan to the individual, and individuals should consult with a health professional before embarking on a new exercise regime, but here are some suggestions on physical exercise that might help manage migraine.

The class: yoga and tai chi

Ali says slow movements, meditation and relaxation have significant beneficial effects on people who suffer from migraines. That includes activities such as yoga and tai chi.

In a recent randomized clinical trial that involved 114 patients aged 18 to 50 years with a diagnosis of episodic migraine, researchers found that people who practised yoga as an add-on therapy had less frequent and less intense migraines than those who received medical treatment alone.

Tai chi can also serve as a preventive measure for migraines. In a 2018 randomised controlled trial of 82 Chinese women with episodic migraines, researchers found that after 12 weeks of tai chi training, the women experienced significantly fewer migraine attacks.

The move: chin tuck

Neck stiffness and postural issues can be a driver for migraines, says Ali. He suggests the chin tuck, or cervical retraction, exercise to strengthen neck muscles and improve mobility.

The chin tuck exercise can be performed standing or sitting. Begin by sitting upright and looking straight ahead, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed. Place a finger on your chin and gently glide your chin down – tuck your chin to your neck. Don’t hold your breath, move your head up or down or bend your neck forward.

You might feel a gentle pull at the base of the head and top of the neck. Hold the position for about five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times – as long as it doesn’t cause any pain.

The activity: walking, jogging, running and cycling

Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, running and cycling might help mitigate migraine.

A systematic review of studies on exercise and migraine published in The Journal of Headache and Pain in 2019 found that moderate-intensity exercise – physical activities that elevate your heart rate and cause you to breathe harder but still allow you to carry on a conversation – can decrease the number of migraine days.

“Any activity that people will do consistently and that they enjoy will be good for them,” says Ali.

The hard pass: high-intensity interval training

Ali warns against HIIT workouts, which alternate short bursts of intense cardio exercise with rest or lower-intensity exercise. “Very high-intensity exercise is discouraged if it triggers your migraine,” he says.

In some people, high-intensity exercise can trigger a migraine attack. But research has shown that regular HIIT workouts might be more beneficial than moderate exercise for others, highlighting the importance of a personalized exercise plan.

By: Manuela Callari

Source: How to move: with migraines | Life and style | The Guardian

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Definition:

The main symptom of a migraine is usually an intense headache on 1 side of the head. The pain is usually a moderate or severe throbbing sensation that gets worse when you move and prevents you carrying out normal activities. In some cases, the pain can occur on both sides of your head and may affect your face or neck.

Additional symptoms

Other symptoms commonly associated with a migraine include:

  • feeling sick
  • being sick
  • increased sensitivity to light and sound, which is why many people with a migraine want to rest in a quiet, dark room

Some people also occasionally experience other symptoms, including:

Not everyone with a migraine experiences these additional symptoms and some people may experience them without having a headache. The symptoms of a migraine usually last between 4 hours and 3 days, although you may feel very tired for up to a week afterwards.

Symptoms of aura

About 1 in 3 people with migraines have temporary warning symptoms, known as aura, before a migraine.

These include:

  • visual problems – such as seeing flashing lights, zig-zag patterns or blind spots
  • numbness or a tingling sensation like pins and needles – which usually starts in 1 hand and moves up your arm before affecting your face, lips and tongue
  • feeling dizzy or off balance
  • difficulty speaking
  • loss of consciousness – although this is unusual

Aura symptoms typically develop over the course of about 5 minutes and last for up to an hour. Some people may experience aura followed by only a mild headache or no headache at all.

When to get medical advice

You should see a GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms that cannot be managed with occasional use of over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol. Try not to use the maximum dosage of painkillers on a regular or frequent basis as this could make it harder to treat headaches over time.

You should also make an appointment to see a GP if you have frequent migraines (on more than 5 days a month), even if they can be controlled with medicine, as you may benefit from preventative treatment. You should call 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone you’re with experiences:

References:

  • Paralysis or weakness in 1 or both arms or 1 side of the face
  • stroke or meningitis, and should be assessed by a doctor as soon as possible.

 

Moderna Data Shows mRNA Isn’t a Quick Fix For The Flu Vaccine

The first data from clinical trials of Moderna’s mRNA-based seasonal flu vaccine, released by the company Friday morning, were underwhelming — a finding that shows gene-based vaccines might not be a fix for all the problems with vaccine development.

The overwhelming success of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, made by Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech, supercharged interest in that strategy for developing shots. The shots inject people with tiny snippets of the gene for a virus, which the body builds and then uses to learn how to fight the virus.

Current flu shots contain inactivated copies of the influenza virus. mRNA vaccines are faster to design and produce because manufacturers don’t have to grow copies of the virus, which is why experts have for years seen them as the future of vaccines.

Moderna launched a clinical trial of an mRNA seasonal flu vaccine this summer, hoping to capture the same success as it did with its COVID-19 vaccine. Typically, seasonal flu shots are around 40 to 60 percent effective, and pharmaceutical companies want to make that better. Three other companies are also working on mRNA flu shots.

Moderna released its first results during an investor phone call and presented slides showing that the mRNA flu shots did generate antibodies — but the levels of those antibodies weren’t higher than those for other flu shots already on the market. They also had more side effects than existing shots.

The findings don’t necessarily mean that mRNA flu shots aren’t any better than what we have now. Because mRNA vaccines are faster to design and make, the shots don’t have to be developed as far in advance. Companies may not have to do as much guesswork around what strain of the flu to target them against each year because they can wait to make the shots until they see what strains are circulating.

And as far as efficacy goes, there’s still a lot more data to collect: Moderna is preparing to conduct larger trials that would test how well the shots actually keep people from getting sick in the real world (not just testing antibody levels)..

Still, this early data shows that the immune system is tricky and that mRNA vaccines probably aren’t an easy shortcut for stopping a virus as persistent as the flu. More studies will be needed to figure out if there is a specific benefit to using mRNA vaccines to fight the flu, wrote chemist and writer Derek Lowe in Science. But it’s not a sure thing.

Nicole Wetsman

Source: Moderna data shows mRNA isn’t a quick fix for the flu vaccine – The Verge

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