News in Science and Health: Peanuts, Emulsifiers, Mental Health


Selina Pi, Editor

In an epidemiological study, a team of researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute found that peanuts decreased risk of heart disease and overall mortality in diverse populations by 32 percent. Peanuts are high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins and may be a more cost-effective way for lower-income populations to maintain health and calorie intake.

A research team from Imperial College London studied how people build immunity to flu viruses over time by analyzing blood samples for antibodies to flu strains from 1968 to 2009. The study showed that adults actually get the flu twice a decade on average, which is less than generally believed. Children contract the illness about once every two years on average.

Emulsifiers are food additives found in many grocery store items, such as bread, ice cream, chocolate, mayonnaise, and processed meats. They help maintain shelf life while mixing water and oil. However, Andrew Gewirtz from Georgia State University found that lab mice fed emulsifiers experienced changed in gut bacteria, severe intestinal inflammation, gut porosity allowing bacteria to slip through the gut wall and provoke the immune system, increased blood sugar, and increased weight. Though the FDA labels emulsifiers as safe for consumption, the study implies that food additives can cause changes in gut microbiota that lead to inflammation, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and more in the long run. Bacterial species that triggered inflammation and consumed the protective mucus lining the mice’s digestive tracts increased in population, while good strains that produces anti-inflammatory substances decreased. This led to a “vicious cycle” of more inflammation and thinner digestive tracts, giving the bacteria access to the mice’s immune systems and resulting in inflammatory diseases. However, mice with sterile guts developed no problems, showing that gut bacteria mediate the inflammatory response to emulsifiers.

New evidence is also suggesting a connection between the brain and the gut. Though psychiatry’s treatments often emphasize medication and talk therapy, diet and exercise also have a huge impact on mental health. Gut microbes are linked with anxiety, depression, autism, and other conditions. Specific nutrients, such as Vitamin D, omega-3s, iron, zinc, and B vitamins are also linked with decreased incidence of depression and schizophrenia. An systematic review by the National Institutes of Health linked unhealthy dietary patterns with worse mental health in children and adolescents, either because anxiety and depression led to dietary self-medication, or because a poor-quality diet increased inflammation, affecting the mind.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found another connection between diet, exercise, and inflammation. Exercise, fasting, and certain diets, such as the low-carbohydrate diet, deplete calories, and the body responds by producing an anti-inflammatory compound called BHB. This research could help scientists develop new pharmaceutical or lifestyle treatments for conditions from Type 2 diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease.

FODMAPs, or fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, are carbohydrates found in foods such as beans, onions, garlic, fruit, and milk. Researchers at King’s College London and Monash University suggested that FODMAPs, rather than gluten, contribute to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Researchers at the University of Michigan identified mercury consumption from seafood as a major risk factor in the development of autoimmune disease in women.

South Carolina native Charles H. Townes died on January 27, 2015, at the age of 99. Born in July 28, 1915, he graduated from Furman University at age 19. Townes invented the maser, or microwave amplifier, which led to the creation of the laser. He received the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics.