Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we cover news that says napping could lead to fewer heart problems, an obesity cure might be found in the gut microbiome, and look at a new medical research center at Johns Hopkins devoted solely to using psychedelic drugs to treat mental health and addiction challenges.
It’s not lazy, it’s heart-healthy
Naps aren’t just an indulgent way to unwind, according to this article in Time. Squeezing a couple in each week might actually be good for your ticker.
A new paper published in the journal Heart found that Swiss adults who took one or two daytime naps a week had a lower risk of heart problems, including heart disease and strokes, over an eight-year follow-up period than those who didn’t nap. The connection between more frequent naps and heart health was not as strong, and older adults (over age 65) did not see the same heart-health perks, perhaps because they had more health problems and tended to nap for longer amounts of time than younger people, the study said.
The report speculates that these mini bouts of shut-eye could protect heart health by relieving stress and compensating for inadequate sleep at night. Sleep deprivation is a known risk factor for a whole host of health problems—from obesity to diabetes to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study did not answer what the ideal nap length would be to get this heart-healthy effect. However, most sleep experts say a 20-minute nap is enough to reap benefits in performance, mood and alertness.
Could a cure for obesity reside in the gut?
Scientists are trying to unravel the link between gut microbiota and metabolic disease. This article in The New York Times examines ongoing research to determine whether scientists can spur changes to a person’s metabolism and body weight simply by transferring the gut bacteria from lean donors to obese patients.
These transfers, known as fecal microbiota transplants, are conducted by having patients swallow frozen stool in capsules. Scientists have long observed striking changes in the guts of obese and lean people, including less microbiotic diversity and higher levels of a group of organisms called Firmicutes. Studies of obese mice show that when their microbiota is transferred to a lean rat, the recipients gained weight.
But does that translate to humans? So far, the results have been mixed, with one Dutch study in 2012 showing a positive change in the insulin sensitivity and microbial diversity of obese subjects receiving the transplants, suggesting a change in their metabolism.
Dr. Elaine Yu, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, also tested this theory on 24 obese men and women with insulin resistance, giving them the stool of donors who had always been lean. After 12 weeks, there was no improvement in their metabolic health, although the subjects had acquired microbiota similar to the lean donors.
However, a Canadian study awaiting publication, looking at the effects of fecal microbiota transplants on people with fatty liver disease, found that the treatment led to changes in the gut membrane, making them less permeable or “leaky.” That’s important because scientists believe an abnormal biome could contribute to metabolic disease and obesity by damaging the gut barrier, which keeps toxins and pathogens from crossing into the bloodstream, setting off a cascade of inflammation, contributing to insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions.
None of the studies were long enough to assess changes in body weight, though that is next for some researchers. The idea, Yu told the Times, is to identify pathways that could lead to new drugs or probiotics to alter the microbiome.
One clinical trial published in the journal Nature, which used supplements with a gut microbe found in lean mice and humans, discovered that the treatment lowered their cholesterol, inflammation and insulin, and it even led to a bit of weight loss compared to a control group.
Of course, researchers acknowledge that there’s no silver bullet for weight loss and that the most effective treatment for obesity would have to include other interventions such as diet and exercise.
Could “magic mushrooms” help solve some diseases?
Sounding straight out of the 1960s counterculture movement, the first-of-its-kind Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore was announced this week to test the potential of psychedelic drugs to help treat everything from opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and depression, among other conditions, according to this Baltimore Sun article in The Washington Post.