Category Archives: Immune system


New Food Trend, Koji

KojiConsumer behavior is beginning to change in regards to food and is embracing more traditional foods. They are also relearning ancient culinary methods such as fermenting. This could be one of the most positive food trends in many decades as these fermented foods are really important for optimal gut health and plays a crucial role in how the microbiome plays in our overall health and mental wellbeing.

Your microbiome is one of the environmental factors that drives genetic expression that turns the genes on and off, depending on which microbes are present.  According to research, many are deficient in beneficial gut bacteria.

Koji (Asperfillus oryzae) is now embraced by chefs around the world.  It is a type of fungus that has been used for millennia in China and Japan.  Asperfillus ferments and produces a number of enzymes known to be beneficial for animal and human health, which aids digestion and promotes a healthy gut.  Sake, soy sauce, rice vinegar and miso soup are Asian foods and beverages made with koji. Western chefs are experimenting and coming up with all sorts of new koji-fermented products.

Koji is used to tenderize meats, cutting the time required to dry and age the meat from 45 days to as little as 48 hours.  Koji looks a bit like rice pudding or little grains covered in powder. Over time the enzymes in the koji breaks down the connective tissue in steak and rids the meat of its moisture.  The meat is beginning to decompose, and that is what makes it so tender.

Another use for koji is to use it as a marinade for fish, chicken and vegetables.  Marinade for as little as 30 to 60 minutes and keep in mind that the food may burn faster than normal when cooked.  It’s salty enough so do not add extra salt. Koji can also be used as a salt substitute.

The fermentation process produces:

  • Beneficial healthy bacteria that promotes gut health
  • Beneficial enzymes
  • Certain nutrients, including B vitamins, biotin and folic acid
  • Increased bioavailability of minerals
  • Short-chain fatty acids that help improve your immune system function

Optimizing your gut health is a foundational step.  Most people have poor gut health and would benefit from eating more fermented foods.  Fiber serves as a prebiotic and is another important component. Ways that probiotic foods influence your health and well being are: enhancing nutritional content of the food, restoration of normal gut flora when taking antibiotics, immune system enhancement, improvement of symptoms of lactose intolerance, reduced risk of infection from pathogenic microorganisms, weight loss aid, reduced constipation or diarrhea, can help prevent allergies in children, antioxidant and detoxifying effects, reduced risk for helicobacter pylori, improvement of leaky gut, reduced urinary and female genital tract infections, improvement of premenstrual syndrome, improvement of and reduced risk for atopic dermatitis and acne, reduced risk for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, improved mental health, mood control and behavior, improvement of autistic symptoms and reduced risk of brain diseases.

Optimizing your microbiome could be a potent disease prevention strategy.

Dr Fredda Branyon


Cancer Cells Hijack DNA Repair Networks

Cancer Cells Hijack DNA Repair Networks

The university of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) scientists have completed research that has revealed how cancer cells hijack DNA repair pathways to prevent telomeres, the end caps of chromosomes, from shortening and allowing the tumor to spread.  The findings of this research are published in the journal Cell Reports.

When a cell is formed, a countdown clock begins ticking that determines how long the cell can live.  This is the telomere, a series of repeating DNA letters at the ends of each chromosome in the cell.  But, the cancer cell cleverly hijack this telomere clock and reset it, thus lengthening the telomere every time it shortens.  The cell is then lead into thinking it is still young and can divide, spreading the tumor.

Most of the cancers do this by increasing the activity of an enzyme that lengthens telomeres, however, approximately 15% of cancers use a different mechanism for resetting the clock, called alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT).  There is also evidence that suggests tumors that activate the ALT pathway are aggressive and more resistant to treatment.  ALT was identified close to two decades ago and identified how this mechanism works and has proven elusive.

By identifying the parts that the cancer cell tweaks to reset the countdown time might provide targets for developing new cancer drugs or making existing ones more effective, according to senior author Roderick O’Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and chemical biology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and a member of UPCI.

The team used a recently developed technique called proximity dependent biotinylation (BioID), which allowed them to quickly identify proteins that were physically close to, and potentially associated with, telomere lengthening in cancer cells.  When they compared cancer cells in which either telomerase or ALT were active, the BioID technique identified 139 proteins that were unique to ALT-activated cells.  The team took a closer look and one enzyme, DNA polymerase, took them by surprise.

They expected to see DNA repair proteins but saw Poln was activated only in cells that were damaged by UV light that they did use in their experiments.  Knowing the molecular players in the ALT pathway opens a whole new area of research as well as potential drug targets.

The co-first authors of the study were Laura Garcia-Exposito, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in O’Sullivan’s lab, and Elodie Bournique, a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Jean-Sebastien Hoffmann at the Cancer Research Center of Toulouse, France.

The research was funded by grants from the Competitive Medical Research Fund and Stimulating Pittsburgh Research in Geroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, National Institutes of Health grants and La Ligue contre le Cancer.

Dr Fredda Branyon




Halting Spread of Lung Cancer


A component of cancer cells, which act like a cellular post office, was found by the scientists at the Universities of York and Texas could be the key to preventing the spread of lung cancer to other parts of the body.  These findings could lead to new therapeutics, targeted at a particular communication mechanism in the cell. This could trigger a change in the scaffolding of the cell perimeter, altering from a fixed shape, attached to an organ and to a less stable one that is moving freely around the body.

The Golgi apparatus or the “post office” of the cell, has the ability to package proteins in order to transport them to other parts of the cell or to deliver them to areas outside of the cell.  A protein called PAQR11 has been identified by researchers. This PAQR11 is inside the cellular post office that receives a signal from another proteins called Zeb 1. This communication of the two proteins then prompts the transport of membrane sacks inside the Golgi.  These vesicles, or sacks, change their delivery routes and fundamentally alter the perimeter of the cancer cells, making it possible for the cell to detach from its fixed position in the lung and travel to other areas of the body.

It was stated by Dr. Daniel Ungar from the University of York’s Department of Biology that they think of the cancer cell like a tent structure.  The sides are fixed to hold its shape and are firmly anchored to the ground in order to secure its contents. It cannot then be moved until its architecture is altered somehow.  To be able to move the tent, they have to rearrange its contents and collapse its sides in order to lift it out of its anchored position and carry it away. When cancer metastasizes, a similar process also happens with the outer edges altered and results in it becoming un-anchored.

The delivery center for communications between proteins receives the communication between two proteins, which signals that the movement of membrane sacks around the cell should be changed.  This delivery center of the communications between proteins is called the cellular post office. The change in movement changes the perimeter of the cancer cell and collapses, much like a tent’s sides, and allows it to move from its original resting place to anywhere in the body.

Now that they recognize this system, the potential is there to develop a drug that interferes with this communication and prevents the Golgi apparatus from facilitating the movement of the membrane sacks.  They will be looking at how to target this process without interrupting normal cellular functions of non-cancerous cells.

This research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas.

                                                                                                                          Dr Fredda Branyon


High BP Meds Block Cancer

Postdoctoral Researcher Guillaume Jacquemet and Academy Professor Johanna Ivaska have screened already approved drugs and discovered that calcium channel blockers can efficiently stop cancer cell invasion in vitro.  These blockers are currently being used to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) but their potential use in blocking cancer cell metastases has not been previously reported.

Cancer’s ability to kill is because of its spreading throughout the body and forming metastases.  Developing drugs that can block the ability of these cancer cells to disseminate is a major anti-cancer therapeutic avenue.  It is a very lengthy and expensive process to develop new drugs and many of the promising drugs fail the clinical trials because of unanticipated toxicity and side effects.  Finding some new targets for the drugs already in use to treat other diseases is an emerging area in developing anti-cancer therapies.

Identifying anti-hypertension drugs as potential therapeutics against breast and pancreatic cancer metastasis was a big surprise.  These drugs were not known to be present in cancer cells and no one had considered the possibility that they might be effective against aggressive cancer types.

The research team from the Turku Centre for Biotechnology that is lead by Professor Johanna Ivaska has focused their efforts on understanding how these cancer cells move and invade the surrounding tissue.  The aggressively spreading cancer cells express a protein called Myosin-10, which drives cancer cell motility. These expressing cancers have a large number of structures called filopodia that are sticky finger-like structures.  The cancer cells extend to sense their environment and to navigate.

It was found by the team that calcium channel blockers target specifically these sticky fingers and render them inactive which efficiently blocks the cancer cell movement.  Therefore, it is thought that they might be effective drugs against cancer metastasis. There is much more work required at this stage to assess if these drugs would be efficient against the cancer progression.

The team is currently assessing the efficiency of calcium channel blockers to stop the spreading of breast and pancreatic cancer using pre-clinical models and analyzing patient data.  More information can be found in the Nature Communications journal.

Dr Fredda Branyon

Oh, Those Superbugs!

img c/o pixabay

Common and serious infections are getting even harder to treat with all the bacteria, viruses and parasites that are able to survive some of the drugs we are using, like the basic antibiotics. These also include pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization they are in every country and if it keeps getting harder to prevent and treat these infections, it will affect things like chemotherapy and major surgery and become risky for tuberculosis, HIV and infections that can happen after surgery.

There are 800,000 sick each year and this is in every country. It is harder than ever to prevent and treat the infections, and even chemotherapy and major surgery can become very risky.

The most dangerous superbug found so far is clostridium difficile (C. diff). C. diff is a strain of bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea and is No. 1 on the list of urgent threats, according to the CDC. These drug-resistant infections cost about $20 billion in direct health care costs and $35 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. alone. Even using hand sanitizers can spread superbugs. These use alcohol, not antibiotics, to kill germs, but the CDC says soap and water is still the best way to keep your hands clean to avoid these superbugs.

About 30% of all antibiotic prescriptions written are not really needed. Quite often these prescriptions for antibiotics are written by the doctors for people who have illnesses that are caused by viruses like the common cold, sinus infections and ear infections. They only work on bacteria, so they aren’t really an effective treatment for those illnesses.

Bronchitis is caused by a virus and should never be treated with antibiotics. It won’t help and might actually contribute to the rise of a drug-resistant infection.

What is the best way to prevent superbugs? Just avoid infections altogether. Lowering the number of antibiotics that are used each year is the key to staying healthy. Be sure to keep your vaccines up to date and use safe practices when you’re cooking, and be sure to wash your hands before and after with soap and water. This will be the best way to keep drug-resistant bacteria from spreading. Make sure you finish all meds prescribed by your doctor, even if you are feeling better. Do not suggest you take an antibiotic to your doctor.

The resistance to antibiotics is a natural process where over time the bacteria that survive treatment by drugs can pass that ability on to other bacteria. This is happening faster than normal because of the things we do, like using antibiotics too often and giving them to livestock to enhance their growing. Farm animals are getting more antibiotics than people in the US. About 70% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock and could lead to drug-resistant bugs that can be passed to humans, according to scientists. A good number of the large companies in the food industry have agreed to use fewer antibiotics in their meat or to stop using them altogether.

Antibiotic resistance in bacteria was originally discovered in 1940 where the first case was a strain of the bacteria that causes staph infections. It was found resistant to penicillin. Alexander Fleming discovered the drug in 1928 and won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1945. He was already talking about the dangers of drug resistance.

Many common ailments can be treated with home remedies in lieu of taking high-powered antibiotics that just might cause more harm than good. Be observant of the antibiotics being given to you and keep those hands washed good with soap and water!

–Dr Fredda Branyon

Can Arginine Enhance The Immune Response?

Researchers from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) affiliated to the Universita della Svizzera italiana (USI), shows that L-arginine, which is an amino acid that is consumed through diet, can actually boost the activity of a particular type of immune cells, called T cells. The metabolism of these cells is organized and the cells survive longer and are more effective in fighting tumors when the levels of L-arginine are increased. The scientific journal Cell has published these findings and this opens up new ways to improve T cell therapies against cancer. Crucial roles in the immune defense against viruses, bacterial and cancer cells are played by T cells. A goal of immunologists is to tailor the activity and effectiveness of T cells trelaxo modulate the immune response. To explore this possibility the researchers systematically analyzed fluctuations of metabolic pathways in T cells following activation, according to Roger Geiger, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Antonio Lanzavecchia (IRB Bellinzona), teamed with the research groups of Nicola Zamboni (ETH Zurich) and Matthias Mann (MPI Munich) that are specialized in mass spectrometry-based technologies for the analysis of hundreds of metabolite and thousands of proteins within a cell.

The analysis revealed the arginine metabolism was identified as a potential point for therapeutic intervention. Federica Sallusto (IRB Bellinzona) tested in the lab and led to the discovery that orally administered L-arginine endowed T cells with a higher survival capacity and a better effectiveness against tumors.

The researchers then collaborated with another team headed by Paola Picotti (ETH Zurich) that developed a method for the identification of proteins that interact with metabolites. Three proteins were identified that sense increased L-arginine levels and participate in the remodeling of T cells toward increased survival.

Roger Geiger says it is truly fascinating that a single metabolite can influence the properties of T cell in such a dramatic way. Federica Sallusto believes they have obtained proof of principle that T cells with elevated L-arginine concentrations may function better in fighting against tumors that may lead to improved cellular immunotherapies. Director of the IRB and Professor at ETH Zurich, Antonio Lanzavecchia, reports this study demonstrates how the global analysis of proteins and metabolites in immune cells can generate hypotheses that open up new ways to enhance the immune response.

–Dr Fredda Branyon

Bladder Cancer & Vitamin D

Other than the already known benefits of Vitamin D, could there be yet another important benefit?  Our vitamin D intake is important, as low levels have been linked to a risk of bladder cancer.  These findings are coming from results presented recently at the Society for Endocrinology conference in the United Kingdom.

Evidence has already been shown that low vitamin D is detrimental to our health.  Some of it comes from a good diet, and good sources will include fatty fish and fish oil, dairy products, mushrooms, liver and egg yolks.  It is mostly synthesized when the body is exposed to sunlight.  It has been found that our dietary sources alone cannot normally provide sufficient vitamin D.

This particular vitamin helps our bodies to maintain healthy levels of calcium and phosphates and low levels are linked to a range of health problems.  If a child has low levels of vitamin D it can lead to bone deformities, such as rickets.  In time with age, a lack of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women.  The low levels have also been linked to cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune conditions.

This condition is common among people with limited exposure to sunlight and includes those populations from northern regions where winter days are short, and also those in climates where it is too hot to spend time outdoors.  Those who cover up or use sunscreen with a strong SPF factor to avoid sunburn or skin cancer are at risk of the lack of vitamin D.  Low levels also include those who cover their bodies for cultural or religious reasons, those who stay out of the sun to keep their skin pale and people with darker skin who are also more prone to low vitamin D levels.

Drinking those sugary drinks may also have an impact on their vitamin D levels.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States noted that between 2002-2006, about 8% of the population aged 1 year or over were at risk of vitamin D deficiency, 24% at risk of inadequacy, and only 17% met the desirable levels.  Less than 1% raised concerns about an excess of vitamin D.  About 1.4% of the men and women in the U.S. are expected to develop bladder cancer.  This accounts for 4.6% of all new cancer cases and responsible for 2.8% of all cancer deaths.  

Dr. Rosemary Bland from the University of Warwick and Coventry in the U.K. led researchers who wanted to know more about how synthesis of vitamin D might affect immune responses in specific tissues.  The team had a systematic review of 7 studies to investigate the link between vitamin D and bladder cancer.  They had 112 to 1,125 participants per study and some of the studies measured vitamin D levels before diagnosis, some during and some at the follow-up stage.

Out of 7 studies performed, it was found that 5 had a risk of bladder cancer going up when vitamin D levels are low.  The higher levels also correlated with better survival and outcome in those with bladder cancer.  They also examined the transitional epithelial cells that line the bladder and found these cells can activate and respond to vitamin D.  They can also synthesize enough vitamin D to trigger a local immune response by recognizing the abnormal cells before they develop further.  Their conclusions are that bladder cancer risk correlates with low serum (vitamin D) levels and if confirmed, administering supplementary vitamin D could be a safe and economical means of prevention. More studies are required to test this association.  

–Dr Fredda Branyon


Treating Pain Without Drugs

The United States released a federal report revealing that more than 54% of adults had some type of musculoskeletal pain disorder such as back, joint or neck pain in 2012. This is a leading cause of disability and major contributor to health care expenses and disability compensation, and a significant price Americans pay for pain. Those suffering from pain were significantly more likely to have used a complementary health approach compared to those without pain.

There was congressional testimony from the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP) that stated Americans consume 80% of the pain pills in the world. More than 2,000 pain patients in the U.S. said they were taking a dangerously addictive opioid pain medication. It has been suggested by research that these drugs work for only about three months and make changes in your brain that may lead to increased feelings of pain, along with added emotional upset. Feelings of hopelessness and desperation can be included.

Many suffering pain have tried nearly every treatment that conventional medicine has to offer such as medications, injections, surgery and more, only to find their pain hasn’t gotten better and they are struggling with treatment-induced side effects as well. At this point, it’s natural that they begin to seek other options, like holistic, complementary or “alternative” health care options for some relief.

Mayo Clinic Proceedings evaluated several complementary approaches for pain relief as listed below:

· Acupuncture
· Massage Therapy
· Relaxation Techniques
· Exercise
· Medical Marijuana

The therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor. These receptors are in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system and more. It is known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulations, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth and immune function.

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has notable anti-inflammatory properties and has earned a reputation for being a multi-faceted healer. Essential oils for pain relief are: lavender, marjoram, chamomile, spruce, clove, ginger, sandalwood, fennel, wintergreen and frankincense.

Essential oils that help relieve RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) pain and inflammation include peppermint, orange, ginger, myrrh and turmeric.

Homeopathy is found to be effective for low back pain, and some common remedies include Aesculus, for dull pain with muscle weakness, Gnaphalium, for sciatica that alternates with numbness, Colocynthis, for weakness and cramping in the small of the back, Amica Montana, for pain as a result of trauma, Lycopodium, for burning pain, and Rhus toxicodendron, for stiffness and pain in the small of the back.

Your life can quickly be sidelined if you are in severe pain or struggling with chronic pain. Seek the help of a pain specialist who is familiar with alternative treatments. By identifying the underlying causes of your pain, a knowledgeable practitioner can help you to relieve your pain in the short term while healing the cause.

— Dr Fredda Branyon


Increase Vitamin E

How about tossing in some whole eggs to a colorful salad? According to research from Purdue University this will boost the amount of Vitamin E . Vitamin E is the second-most under consumed nutrient in the average American diet. This is problematic because this fat-soluble nutrient has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to Wayne Campbell, a professor of nutrition science. His belief is that by adding eggs to a salad with colorful vegetables, it will improve their diets.

Vitamin E absorption was 4 to 7 fold higher when three whole eggs were added to a salad, according to a study from Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science. The study measured the absorption of Vitamin E from real foods, rather than supplements, which contain a mega-dose amount of Vitamin E.

Dietary fats and Vitamin E are absorbed and also found in oils, seeds and nuts. Amino acids are found in the nutrient-rich food, eggs. The research also highlighted how one food can improve the nutrition value of another food when they are consumed together. These findings are published in The Journal of Nutrition and are supported by the American Egg Board’s Egg Nutrition Center, National Institutes of Health and Purdue Ingestive Behavior Research Center.

This particular study is an extension of a study that Campbell and Jung Eun Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science, reported in June 2015 showing that by adding eggs to a salad there was an overall increased absorption of the vegetables’ carotenoids.

A previous study that was conducted by Campbell and Ferruzzi, a professor at North Carolina State University, has shown that more carotenoids are absorbed when one large salad is consumed at a meal, compared to smaller salads consumed at two meals during the day. The research also focused on understanding how dietary protein and exercise influence adult health as people age.

Dr Fredda Branyon


Castor Oil Benefits

The castor oil seed has a very unique chemical composition.  The seed plant is native to India and 90% of its composition is ricinolete acid.  This is a fatty acid that is thought to be responsible for castor oil’s healing properties.  In Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Persia and 17th Century Europe and the Americas, it was used for medical reasons.

There are many uses for castor oil besides medical such as food additive, flavoring agent, mold inhibitor, ingredient in skin care products and cosmetics, used in the manufacturing of plastics, rubbers, synthetic resins, fibers, paints, varnishes, lubricants, sealants, dyes and leather treatments.  In WWI it was used as an aircraft lubricant.  

Besides being used in the industrialized world, were you aware that castor seeds could be deadly?  The toxin ricin is made from a protein in the castor seed and if ingested, gets into the ribosomes of your cells where it prevents protein synthesis that kills the cells.  Mash that is left over after processing castor seeds into oil, makes the ricin.  Just 1 milligram of ricin is fatal if inhaled or ingested and eating just 5 to 10 seeds would be fatal.

There are modern medical uses for castor oil like topical applications for a variety of skin conditions like keratosis, dermatosis, wound healing, acne, ringworm, warts, other skin infections, sebaceous cysts, itching and hair loss.  More importantly it shows some promise in treatment of cancer.  The American Cancer Society reports that early clinical trials suggest that ricin, when combined with an antibody to confine this poison to malignant cells, will shrink tumors in lymphoma patients.  

Castor oil has also been used to treat multiple sclerosis, arthritis, epilepsy, appendicitis, colitis, Parkinson’s Disease, Migraine and other headaches, liver ailments, cirrhosis, AIDs, eye irritation, cerebral palsy, cholecystitis, scleroderma, detoxification and gynecological problems.

Castor oil can be used as topical massage oil and the castor oil packs can improve the function of your thymus gland and other components of your immune system.  

Some side effects, such as taking orally, may alleviate constipation but can irritate your intestinal lining causing digestive discomfort, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects.  If you have cramps, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, colitis, prolapses, or have recently had surgery, you should avoid castor oil due to the adverse effects.  It has been known to stimulate labor in healthy pregnant women and there have been reports of it causing nausea.

–Dr Fredda Branyon