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Posts Tagged ‘Reactive oxygen species’

Just so you know, neither of you are in charge … so please stop acting like hyper oxygen sensitive drama queens with self-absorbed Lewy body issues when it’s not even really about either of you.  I realize that you both have to work in a toxic stew of lethal reactive oxygen species to pump out limitless quantities of ATP and then die in a shallow, unmarked DNA repair enzyme complex … all so I can lay around and watch The Jerry Springer Show.  I get it.  You are under appreciated.  Listen, if you two would stop sniping at each other on Facebook, I promise I’ll eat more kale, volunteer at a soup kitchen and go to yoga 3 times a week.  Besides, AMP Kinase says that if you don’t get your shit together, he’s going to send mTORC1 over and teach both of you what being “mTORC1-dependent” is all about.

mitochondria and neural health

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Stick model of NAD + , based on x-ray diffract...
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Yogis are by far the healthiest eaters I have ever met.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably one of them – faithful in the observance of your Yamas and Niyamas – leaving me  reluctant to confess my own (pre-yoga) pizza-scarfing, soda-swilling ways.  Please don’t hold it against me.  I’ve changed, really.

Here – as plain as I can make it – is the scientific reason why eating a low-calorie vegetarian diet is a good thing.  Good, as in living longer and cancer-free.

All you need to know is that when you eat less, your levels of Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD – the contorted, yogic-looking molecule shown at left) are HIGH – and this increases the activity of the “longevity gene” SIR2. The amazing life-extending effects of the NAD-dependent SIR2 genes are described in detail on Leonard Guarente’s website at M.I.T.:

The discovery that Sir2p requires NAD for its activity immediately suggested a link between SIR2 activity and caloric restriction. This link was strengthened by the observation that life span extension by caloric restriction requires Sir2 protein. Caloric restriction is likely to reduce the carbon flow through glycolysis and result in more free cytoplasmic NAD. SIR2 could act as a sensor of NAD levels within the nucleus. Under conditions of caloric restriction, NAD levels are high, SIR2 is activated, and the rate of aging is decreased.

The hard science link between cancer and NAD is more recent – this week in fact – with the release of a study entitled, “Transcriptional regulation of BRCA1 expression by a metabolic switch” [doi:10.1038/nsmb.1941].  Here the researchers found that NAD/NADH levels via binding to CTBP1 can regulate the anti-tumor properties of BRCA1.  In a nutshell, a high-calorie diet leads to LOW levels of NAD which has the net effect (via CTBP1) of turning OFF the anti-tumor gene BRCA1 (a bad thing).  From the article:

The elevated expression of estrogen in the context of higher levels of NADH or lower NAD+/NADH ratios due to high caloric intake and/or obesity could establish a state in which the pro-proliferative effects of estrogen are not completely balanced by the protective functions of BRCA1 that would normally restrain estrogen-induced proliferation and heighten genome surveillance.

I realize that most yoga folks need no such hard science to convince them of the merits of a low-calorie, healthy diet.  In the science-world however, empirical evidence can take decades to gather, so its an important milestone to now have established causal links between caloric intake, longevity and cancer risk.

For (former) junk food junkies like myself, there is no room to debate or side-step the issue.  Eat less, eat healthy – live longer and cancer-free.  More on yoga and aging (here, here, here).  Now, off to the shala for NADasana pose!

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Last night I was watching a TV show on the story of The Buddha.   There was a part in the story where, “Siddhartha saw a man lying on the ground and moaning. Out of compassion, he rushed over to the man. Channa warned him that the man was sick and that everyone, even noble people like Siddhartha or the king could get sick.” Later, “Siddhartha lost all interest in watching the dancing girls and other such pleasures.  He kept on thinking instead about how to free himself and others from sickness, ageing and death.”

When Siddhartha looked at the beautiful young dancers, he saw them as old, dying women and felt empathy for the suffering they would endure in their lives.

This part of the story reminded me of the way mass marketeers often use sexuality to market yoga, and the backlash it creates.   I thought that this moment in Siddhartha’s life really captured the “true” spirit of yoga/Buddhism – in stark contrast to so many slick, sexy advertisements.  Yoga and meditation – while enjoyed by many young and beautiful people – provides something deeper – a path to cope with the painful, frightening and inexorable loss one’s health, (outer) beauty, memory and breath.

I’d be a hypocrite to say I’m averse to the “sex sells” media, but Siddhartha’s insight is one to keep in mind – and heart.

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Hindus believe in reincarnation, the process w...
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The concept of “immortality” lies deep in the core of Indian spirituality and the religious traditions of many other cultures.  Its probably not a coincidence that one of the first and, still, most influential books on the history of yoga is entitled, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade (you can read the book online here)

Most of the time, this refers to some part of a person – the soul, spirit or otherwise – that lives on forever after the physical body decays.  That we are able to recognize and ponder our mortality and the suffering of the physical body, is an integral part of why, in the first place, we seek to practice religion  (covered here).

I mean, no one ever took the concept of immortality LITERALLY, did they?  Perhaps not.  Until now.  Check out the trailer for a new movie that opens tonight in New York City on the science of Aging:  To Age or Not To Age – a film by Robert Kane Pappas. At the center of this film is likely the so-called longevity gene known as SIRT1 (covered earlier here).

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chakras
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One thing that draws me to yoga, apart from other pure meditative practices, is that it places an emphasis on the body and mind, and not just the mind alone.  By paying attention to one’s diet, working diligently on postures and breathing, etc., there comes a transformation (still many years away for me) of both the body and the mind.  The concept of Kundalini seems to capture this – wherein a kind of psychic energy is awoken and driven slowly up through the spinal column and into the brain – releasing all sorts of desirable cognitive and physical benefits.

Transform the body and the mind will follow?

Today I was reminded of this when I saw a research article entitled, “A novel pathway regulates memory and plasticity via SIRT1 and miR-134” that was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.  In this article, the researchers examined a gene called SIRT1 which encodes a small protein that regulates the structure of chromosomes in response to the overall energy state of cells.  Most famously, it has been shown that SIRT1 mediates the longevity, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory health benefits that occur when individuals observe a diet that is calorie restricted.

In his book on Ayurvedic medicine and Kundalini yoga, Sri Swami Sivananda remarks, not on SIRT1 (obviously), but on the importance of a calorie-restricted diet as a part of the long-standing commitment to certain virtuous observances or Niyama:

A glutton cannot at the very outset have diet regulations and observe Mitahara. He must gradually practise this. First let him take less quantity twice as usual. Then instead of the usual heavy night meals, let him take fruits and milk alone for some days. In due course of time he can completely avoid the night meals and try to take fruits and milk in the daytime. Those who do intense Sadhana must take milk alone. It is a perfect food by itself. If necessary they can take some easily digestible fruits.

Indeed, a restricted diet (but not a fasting state) is a part of the yoga practice.  This observance has long been known to confer tremendous bodily health benefits – that, it turns out, are mediated by SIRT1!  Indeed, if ever there were a “longevity gene” SIRT1 would be it.  When it is over-expressed (in mice) the mice show many of the same health benefits as seen in mice that are on calorie-restricted diets (even though the mice can eat as much as they want).  Conversely, when the gene is inactivated, the mice die early and are in poor health.

In any case, today’s research article takes the SIRT1 story from the body and pushes it upwards (like the awakening kundalini) to the mind.  The article demonstrates that overexpression of SIRT1 improves cognitive function while inactivation of SIRT1 in the brain lessens cognitive function.

So it seems that body and mind are ever more unified and that – even on the molecular level – what is good for one has benefits for the other.

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Samadhi Statue
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In some ways, the 8 limbs of yoga described in the yoga sutras, seem a bit like a ladder, rather than a concentric set of outreached arms or spokes on a wheel.  It seems like I’m working toward something.  But what?  I certainly feel healthier, and also enjoy the satisfaction of getting slightly more able (ever so slightly) to shift into new postures – so am quite motivated to continue the pursuit.  Perhaps this is how yoga got started eons ago?   Just a pursuit that – by trial and error – left its practitioners feeling more healthy, relaxed and more in touch with their outer and inner worlds?  But where does this path lead, if anywhere?

I was intrigued by a report published in 1973 by an 8-day study carried out on the grounds of the Ravindra Nath Tagore Medical College and Hospital, Udaipur, India and subsequent letter, “The Yogic claim of voluntary control over the heart beat: an unusual demonstration” published in the American Heart Journal, Volume 86 Number 2.  Apparently, a local yogi named Yogi Satyamurti:

Yogi Satyamurti, a sparsely built man of about 60 years of age, remained confined in a small underground pit for 8 days in what according to him was a state of “Samadhi,” or deep meditation, with all bodily activity cut down to the barest minimum.

The medical researchers had the yogi’s heart and other physiological functions under constant watch via electrical recording leads, and watched as the yogi’s heart slowed down (their equipment registered a flatline) a remained so for several days.  Upon opening up the pit, the researchers found:

The Yogi was found sitting in the same posture. One of us immediately went in to examine him. He was in a stuporous condition and was very cold (oral temperature was 34.8O C) [the same temperature as the earth around him].

After a few hours, the yogi had recovered from the experience and displayed normal physiological and behavioral function – despite 8 days underground (air supposedly seeped in from the sides of the pit) with no food or human contact!

An amazing feat indeed – one that has some scientists wondering about the psychology and physiology that occurs when advanced meditators sink into (very deep) states.  John Ding-E Young and Eugene Taylor explored this in an article entitled, “Meditation as a Voluntary Hypometabolic State of Biological Estivation” published in News Physiol. Sci., Volume 13, June 1998.   They  suggest that humans have a kind of latent capacity to enter a kind of dormant or  hibernation-like state that is similar to other mammals and even certain primates.

Meditation, a wakeful hypometabolic state of parasympathetic dominance, is compared with other hypometabolic conditions, such as sleep, hypnosis, and the torpor of hibernation. We conclude that there are many analogies between the physiology of long-term meditators and hibernators across the phylogenetic scale. These analogies further reinforce the idea that plasticity of consciousness remains a key factor in successful biological adaptation.

Practice, practice, practice – towards an ability to engage a latent evolutionary adaptation? Sounds hokey, but certainly an interesting idea worth exploring more in the future.

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Practice Yoga, Be Healthy! {EXPLORED}
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Have you ever noticed how everything healthy these days is “anti-oxidant” this and “anti-oxidant” that?  Green tea, dark chocolate, vitamin E and vitamin C – just to name a few.  Surely, its all the rage to be “anti” oxygen these days (indeed, there are currently 458 clinical trials open now for the study of anti-oxidants!).

But wait.  Isn’t oxygen the stuff we BREATHE?  Don’t we need it to live?  How can we be so “anti” oxidant?

Herein lies a very sobering chemical fact of life.  We need oxygen to breathe – while at the same time – the very same oxygen produces so-called reactive oxygen species (hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid, and free radicals such as the hydroxyl radical and the superoxide anion) which cause damage to our lipids, proteins and even our genome.  What gives us life – also takes away life – a little bit each time we breathe.

Such is the basis for the healthy foods and myriad dietary supplements that (promise to) counteract and biochemically scavenge the toxic reactive oxygen molecules in our bodies.  But for the fact it would make me even fatter, I’d promptly say, “Bring on more dark chocolate!“.

But what if we could just forgo all those dietary supplements, and just USE LESS oxygen?  Might that be another way to enhance longevity and health?

With this thought in mind, I enjoyed a research article entitled, “Oxygen Consumption and Respiration Following Two Yoga Relaxation Techniques” by Drs. Shirley Telles, Satish Kumar Reddy and H. R. Nagendra from the Vivekananda Kendra Yoga Research Foundation in Bangalore, India.  The article was published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vol. 25, No. 4, 2000.

In their research article, the authors noted that – with practice – yoga can help an individual voluntarily lower their cardiac and metabolic levels.  A number of previous studies show that advanced meditators and yoga practitioners can lower their heart rate and respirations to astonishingly low levels (more posts on this to come).  The scientists in this study asked simply whether a relatively brief 22min routine of “cyclic meditation” (CM) consisting of yoga postures interspersed with periods of supine rest led to a greater reduction in oxygen consumption when compared to 22mins of supine rest (shavasana or SH).  Their question is relevant to the life-giving/damaging effects of oxygen, because a lower metabolic rate means one is using less oxygen.  According to the authors:

“We hypothesized that because cyclic meditation (CM) has repetitive cycles of ‘activating’ and ‘calming’ practices, based on the idea from the ancient texts, as discussed earlier, practicing CM would cause greater relaxation compared with supine rest in shavasan (SH).”

In the results and discussion of the data, they found (using a sample of 40 male adults) that the when they measured oxygen consumption at the beginning and at the end of the session, that the yoga postures/rest routine (CM) resulted in a 32% reduction in oxygen consumption (this is the amount of oxygen used when sitting still at the end of the session) while just laying in shavasana led to only a 10% reduction in the amount of oxygen used at the end of the session.

Wow!  So even after moving through postures – which admittedly gets one’s heart pumping and elevates one’s breathing – I would be using less oxygen (when sitting at the end of the session), than if I had just decided to lay in a supine position.  In this instance, I guess I may be using more oxygen overall during the session, but perhaps would be glad to improve the efficiency of my breathing – and intake of oxygen – in the long run (after many years of practice I’m sure).  Maybe this is a physiological/biochemical basis for the longevity-promoting benefits of yoga?

How does the effect work?  Does the act of moving in and out of postures engage the sympathetic nervous system (something not observed for shavasana)?   Much to explore here.  The authors point out that these effects on improving the efficiency of breathing and oxygen consumption may not be specific to yoga, but to any MODERATE exercise regimen, where exercise and some sort of mental focus is practiced (Tai Chi for example).

Move and pay attention to your breath.  I will keep this in mind tonight in my beginners class.  By the way, there are currently 93 clinical trials involving yoga!

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