Categories
News on Health & Science

Sea Cucumber ‘New Malaria Weapon’

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Sea cucumbers could provide a potential new weapon to block transmission of the malaria parasite, a study suggests.

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Sea cucumbers live on the ocean floor

The slug-like creature produces a protein, lectin, which impairs development of the parasites.

An international team genetically engineered mosquitoes – which carry the malaria parasite – to produce the same protein in their gut when feeding.

The PLoS Pathogens study found the protein disrupted development of the parasites inside the insects’ stomach.

Malaria causes severe illness in 500 million people worldwide each year, and kills more than one million.

It is estimated that 40% of the world’s population are at risk of the disease.

To stimulate the mosquitoes to produce lectin, the researchers fused part of the gene from the sea cucumber which produces the protein with a gene from the insect.

The results showed that the technique was effective against several of the parasites which cause malaria.

Lectin is poisonous to the parasites when they are still in an early stage of development called an ookinete.

Usually, the ookinetes migrate through the mosquito’s stomach wall, and produce thousands of daughter cells which invade the salivary glands, and infect a human when the mosquito takes a blood meal.

But when exposed to lectin the ookinetes are killed before they can start their deadly journey.

Work left

Researcher Professor Bob Sinden, from Imperial College London, said: “These results are very promising and show that genetically engineering mosquitoes in this way has a clear impact on the parasites’ ability to multiply inside the mosquito host.”

However, he said much more work still had to be done before the technique could be used to curb the spread of malaria.

“Although the sea cucumber protein significantly reduced the number of parasites in mosquitoes, it did not totally remove them from all insects.

“At the current stage of development, the genetically modified mosquitoes would remain dangerous to humans.

“Ultimately, one aim of our field is to find a way of genetically engineering mosquitoes so that the malaria parasite cannot develop inside them.”

Professor Sanjeev Krishna, an expert in malaria at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, said new treatments for malaria were vital, as there was some sign that the parasites which cause the disease were developing resistance to the current artemisinin drugs.

He said: “This is a very important first step in developing a potential new way to control this infection.”

Dr Ron Behrens, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the technique showed promise in theory – but he warned that introducing genetically modified mosquitoes could be fraught with practical difficulties.

“You would have to get the modified version to become the predominant species, and that has never been done in any setting before,” he said.

Sources :BBC NEWS ( 23rd. Dec’07)

Categories
News on Health & Science

Fish Oil Linked to Lower Alzheimer’s Risk

A substance found in fish oil may be associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias, researchers reported yesterday…….click & see

The scientists found that people with the highest blood levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, were about half as likely to develop dementia as those with lower levels.

The substance is one of several omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fatty fish and, in small amounts, in some meats. It is also sold in fish oil or DHA supplements. The researchers looked for a reduced risk associated with seven other omega-3 fatty acids, but only DHA had any effect.

The study, in the November’06 issue of The Archives of Neurology, used data from the Framingham Heart Study to follow 899 initially healthy participants, with a median age of 76, for an average of more than nine years.

The scientists assessed DHA and fish intake using a questionnaire and obtained complete dietary data on more than half the subjects. They took blood samples from all the participants to determine serum levels of fatty acids.

Ninety-nine people developed dementia over the course of the study, including 71 cases of Alzheimer’s disease. The average level of DHA among all the participants was 3.6 percent of all fatty acids, and the top 25 percent of the population had values above 4.2 percent. People in this top one-quarter in DHA levels had a 47 percent reduced risk of developing dementia, even after controlling for body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, smoking status and other known or suspected risks. Risk reduction was apparent only at that top level of DHA — those in the bottom three-quarters in DHA level showed no detectable difference in risk.

People who ate two or more servings of fish a week reduced their risk for dementia by 39 percent, but there was no effect on the risk for dementia among those who ate less than that.

The finding that DHA alone reduces risk, the authors write, is consistent with earlier data showing high levels of DHA in healthy brain tissue and low levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Ernst J. Schaefer, the lead author of the study, was cautious in interpreting the results.

“This study doesn’t prove that eating fish oil prevents dementia,” he said. “It’s an observational study that presents an identified risk factor, and the next step is a randomized placebo-controlled study in people who do not yet have dementia.” Dr. Schaefer is chief of the Lipid Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.
The study was financed in part by Martek, a concern that manufactures DHA, and one author received a grant from Pfizer, France.

Eating fish is not a guarantee of having high levels of DHA. In fact, fish intake accounted for less than half of the variability in DHA levels. Other dietary intake and genetic propensities probably account for the rest. Dr. Schaefer pointed out that the kind of fish consumed is important. Fatty fish, he said, is best, and frying will cause DHA to deteriorate.

Supplements may be an additional source of DHA, but an editorial in the same issue, by Dr. Martha Clare Morris, an associate professor of medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, points out that there are no published human studies of the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. The Food and Drug Administration does not endorse DHA or fish oil capsules, but recognizes doses of up to 3 grams a day of fish oil as generally safe. High intakes of fish oil can cause excessive bleeding in some people.

Dr. Morris writes that there are few human studies examining the effect of mercury intake from eating seafood, and it is not known if the risks of eating fish outweigh the benefits.

But, she adds, epidemiological studies consistently show positive health effects from fish consumption on mortality, cardiovascular risk factors and, now, dementia.

Source:The New York Times

Categories
Herbs & Plants

Alfalfa

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Botanical Name : Medicago sativa
Family:Fabaceae
Genus: Medicago
Species:M. sativa
Kingdom: Plantae
Order:Fabales

Synonyms:  Purple Medicle. Cultivated Lucern.

Common Names :Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, Lucerne

Habitat :Alfalfa is native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region

Description:
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world. The Spanish-Arabic (according to wiktionary and the DRAE) name alfalfa is widely used, particularly in North America and Australia. But in the UK, South Africa and New Zealand, the more commonly used name is lucerne. It superficially resembles clover, with clusters of small purple flowers followed by fruits spiralled in 2 to 3 turns containing 10-20 seeds. Alfalfa is native to a warmer temperate climate such as that of Iran (where it is thought to have originated). It has been cultivated as livestock fodder since at least the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
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 Alfalfa sprouts have become a popular food. Alfalfa herbal supplements primarily use the dried leaves of the plant. The heat-treated seeds of the plant have also been used.Alfalfa has been used in connection with the high cholesterol, menopause and poor appetite.

Sunshine, regular watering are the necessary conditions for the growth of this 1 to 3 feet tall herb which is not picky about the soil and is cultivated in many parts of the world..

First discovered by the Arabs, who dubbed this valuable plant the “father of all foods”, the leaves of the alfalfa plant are rich in minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and carotene to support the heart and normal cellular division. English herbalist John Gerard recommended alfalfa for upset stomachs. Noted biologist and author Frank Bouer discovered that the leaves of this remarkable legume contain eight essential amino acids. Alfalfa is suggested to be a good cleanser and a natural diuretic. This versatile herb is also a folk remedy for joint stress, and is reputed to be an excellent appetite stimulant and overall tonic. Unfortunately, most westerners regard alfalfa as cattle fodder and therefore rarely take advantage of the beneficial properties of this common plant.

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Many years ago, traditional Chinese physicians used young alfalfa leaves to treat disorders of the digestive tract. Similarly, the Ayurvedic physicians of India prescribed the leaves and flowering tops for poor digestion. Alfalfa was also considered therapeutic for water retention and arthritis. North American Indians recommended alfalfa to treat jaundice and to encourage blood clotting.

Although conspicuously absent from many classic textbooks on herbal medicine, alfalfa did find a home in the texts of the Eclectic physicians (19th-century physicians in the United States who used herbal therapies) as a tonic for indigestion, dyspepsia, anemia, loss of appetite, and poor assimilation of nutrients. These physicians also recommended the alfalfa plant to stimulate lactation in nursing mothers, and the seeds were made into a poultice for the treatment of boils and insect bites.

Religious importance:
It is believed that if this herb is kept in a container and placed outside home it prevents the house from poverty and hunger. Scattering the ashes of burned alfalfa protects property.

Active constituents:
While the medicinal benefits of alfalfa are poorly understood, the constituents in alfalfa have been extensively studied. The leaves contain approximately 23% saponins. Animal studies suggest that these constituents block absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. One small human trial found that 120 grams per day of heat-treated alfalfa seeds for eight weeks led to a modest reduction in cholesterol. However, consuming the large amounts of alfalfa seeds (80–120 grams per day) needed to supply high amounts of these saponins may potentially cause damage to red blood cells in the body. Herbalists also claim that alfalfa may be helpful for people with diabetes. But while high amounts of a water extract of the leaves led to increased insulin release in animal studies, there is no evidence that alfalfa would be useful for the treatment of diabetes in humans.

Alfalfa leaves also contain flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives. The isoflavones are thought to be responsible for the estrogen-like effects seen in animal studies. Although this has not been confirmed with human trials, alfalfa is sometimes used to treat menopause symptoms.

Alfalfa contains protein and vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

 Cultivation:   
Alfalfa is a very versatile plant that can adapt to a wide range of climatic conditions from cold temperate to warm sub-tropical. It succeeds on a wide variety of soils, but thrives best on a rich, friable, well-drained loamy soil with loose topsoil supplied with lime. It does not tolerate waterlogging and fails to grow on acid soils. Grows well on light soils[206]. The plant has a deep taproot and, once establishd, tolerates drought and extremely dry conditions. Prefers a neutral fertile soil but succeeds in relatively poor soils so long as the appropriate Rhizobium bacteria is present.  A good bee plant and a food plant for many caterpillars. Alfalfa is a very deep rooting plant, bringing up nutrients from deep in the soil and making them available for other plants with shallower root systems. It is a good companion plant for growing near fruit trees and grape vines so long as it is in a reasonably sunny position, but it does not grow well with onions or other members of the Allium genus. Growing alfalfa encourages the growth of dandelions. Alfalfa has long been cultivated for its edible seed, which can be sprouted and eaten in salads. It is also grown as a green manure and soil restorer. There are many named varieties. Botanists divide the species into a number of sub-species – these are briefly described below:- M. sativa caerulea (Less. ex Ledeb.)Schmalh. This sub-species is likely to be of value in breeding programmes for giving cold tolerance, drought resistance and salt tolerance to alfalfa. M. sativa falcata (L.)Arcang. This sub-species is likely to be of value in breeding programmes for giving cold tolerance, drought and disease resistance plus salt and water-logging tolerance to alfalfa. M. sativa sativa. The commonly cultivated form of alfalfa. M. sativa varia (Martyn.)Arcang. This sub-species is likely to be of value in breeding programmes for giving cold tolerance, drought resistance and high yields to alfalfa. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby.

Propagation:                                            
Pre-soak the seed for 12 hours in warm water and then sow in spring in situ. The seed can also be sown in situ in autumn. Seed can be obtained that has been inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria, enabling the plant to succeed in soils where the bacteria is not already present.

Medicinal Uses:

The whole herb is used medicinally to help stop bleeding to benefit the kidneys and as a general tonic.   It is a good laxative and a natural diuretic.  It is a folk remedy for arthritis and is reputed to be an excellent appetite stimulant.  Alfalfa possesses extremely high nutritional value.  An excellent source of vitamins A and D, alfalfa leaf is used in the infants’ cereal pablum.  Also rich in vitamin K, alfalfa leaf has been used in medicine to encourage blood clotting.  Alfalfa also lowers blood cholesterol.  Other recommended uses for alfalfa are for asthma and hayfever.  It has also been found to retard the development of streptozotocin diabetes in mice.    It is a traditional European and Russian tea for wasting diseases and is used in some German clinics as a dietary aid in Celiac Disease, together with traditional treatment and diet.  A safe and appropriate tea for pregnancy, along with raspberry leaves; also good to drink when sulfa or antibiotic drugs are taken.

Benefits of alfalfa include:

Excellent source of nutritive properties

Minerals

Chlorophyll

Vitamins

Thyroid support

Blood purifier

A host of phytonutrients

Alfalfa is useful in the support of urinary tract health including kidney, bladder and prostate and detoxifies the body, especially the liver. Alfalfa has estrogenic properties and therefore helps support the female cycle.

It is used for treating anemia, fatigue, kidneys, peptic ulcers, pituitary problems, and for building general health, retaining water in the body, relieving urinary and bowel problems. This herb is effective for the treatment of narcotic and alcohol addiction.

Alfalfa acts as a blood purifier and has helped many arthritis sufferers. The action as a detoxifier and blood purifier has been found to be beneficial for a variety of illnesses, including liver disorders, breath odor, infections, disorders of the bones and joints and skin ailments.

Alfalfa is a good laxative and natural diuretic that promotes urine flow and is often used to treat urinary tract infections and eliminate excess retained water.

Alfalfa has an alkalizing effect on the body. It is a great source of mineral supplements that are all alkaline, which has a neutralizing effect on the intestinal tract, thereby easing digestive problems, such as upset stomach, gastritis and indigestion.

Alfalfa contains a high calcium and magnesium content, and studies have shown that migraines may be prevented and/or reduced when these two minerals are combined. All the minerals are in a balanced form, which also promotes absorption.

Herbalists have long used Alfalfa Leaf to treat ulcers, as the bioflavonoids found in Alfalfa reduce inflammation of the stomach lining and build capillary strength, while Alfalfa’s vitamin A helps to maintain the stomach’s overall health. The herb’s enzymes aid in food assimulation. During the Han Dynasty (200 A.D.), Alfalfa was used to treat ulcers and continues in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to strengthen the digestive tract and stimulate the appetite.

Alfalfa is said to lower cholesterol and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques (by blocking cholesterol’s absorption into the body from the intestines), balance blood sugar (especially when taken with manganese) and promote pituitary gland function.

Alfalfa is an immune-system stimulant that promotes normal blood clotting; and the vitamin K content helps treat bleeding gums and nosebleed, but does not interfere with normal circulation. The bioflavonoids found in Alfalfa are believed to build capillary strength.

Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens, and the herb has had some estrogenic activity in women whose own sex hormone production has declined; thus Alfalfa has helped many women with the discomforts of menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. The phytoestrogens appear to reduce the risk of estrogen-linked disease, including serious breast problems). The Vitamin K2 found in Alfalfa may also partially prevent bone loss caused by estrogen deficiency.

Dried alfalfa leaf is available as a bulk herb, and in tablets or capsules. It is also available in liquid extracts. No therapeutic amount of alfalfa has been established for humans. Some herbalists recommend 5001,000 mg of the dried leaf per day or 12 ml of tincture three times per day.

Use of the dried leaves of alfalfa in the amounts listed above is usually safe. There have been isolated reports of people who are allergic to alfalfa.

Contraindications:
Alfalfa should not be taken by those who have autoimmune problems (lupus, etc.), nor should it be taken by pregnant women. Ingestion of very large amounts (the equivalent of several servings)

of the seed and/or sprouts or supplements has been linked to the onset of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the autoimmune illness characterized by inflamed joints and a risk of damage to kidneys and other organs. The chemical responsible for this effect is believed to be canavanine. Those taking prescription anticoagulants such as Coumadin, etc., should avoid this herb.

We can learn little more about Alflfa from this page.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:

http://groups.msn.com http://www.herbalextractsplus.com/alfalfa-leaf.cfm?gclid=CLGiro2w24cCFQ9OWAodujVXBw

http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Medicago+sativa

http://www.ayurveda-herbal-remedy.com/herbal-encyclopedia/index.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfalfa