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Seaweed extract blocks COVID-19

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*Low plasma vitamin D level as independent risk factor for coronavirus infection
*Plant-based protein lowers risk of death as fasting diet boosts breast cancer therapy

Scientists have made major breakthroughs in search for natural cures for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and elixirs to longer and healthier lives with the discoveries that seaweed extract outperforms remdesivir in blocking COVID-19 virus and plant-based protein lowers risk of death as well as evidence that fasting diet boosts breast cancer therapy.

Remdesivir, a drug that once offered hope against Ebola, is now in the spotlight as the only current effective medication for COVID-19.

In a test of antiviral effectiveness against the virus that causes COVID-19, an extract from edible seaweeds substantially outperformed remdesivir, the current standard antiviral used to combat the disease. Heparin, a common blood thinner, and a heparin variant stripped of its anticoagulant properties, performed on par with remdesivir in inhibiting Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2)/COVID-19 infection in mammalian cells.

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Published online in Cell Discovery, the research is the latest example of a decoy strategy researchers from the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute are developing against viruses like the novel coronavirus that spawned the current global health crisis.

The spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 latches onto the ACE-2 receptor, a molecule on the surface of human cells. Once secured, the virus inserts its own genetic material into the cell, hijacking the cellular machinery to produce replica viruses. But the virus could just as easily be persuaded to lock onto a decoy molecule that offers a similar fit. The neutralized virus would be trapped and eventually degrade naturally. Previous research has shown this decoy technique works in trapping other viruses, including dengue, Zika, and influenza A.

“We’re learning how to block viral infection, and that is knowledge we are going to need if we want to rapidly confront pandemics,” said Jonathan Dordick, the lead researcher and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “The reality is that we don’t have great antivirals. To protect ourselves against future pandemics, we are going to need an arsenal of approaches that we can quickly adapt to emerging viruses.”

The Cell Discovery paper tests antiviral activity in three variants of heparin (heparin, trisulphated heparin, and a non-anticoagulant low molecular weight heparin) and two fucoidans (RPI-27 and RPI-28) extracted from seaweed. All five compounds are long chains of sugar molecules known as sulfated polysaccharides, a structural conformation that the results of a binding study published earlier this month in Antiviral Research suggested as an effective decoy.

Meanwhile, a collaborative group of scientists from the Leumit Health Services (LHS) and the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University aimed to determine associations of low plasma 25(OH)D with the risk of COVID-19 infection and hospitalisation. Using the real-world data and Israeli cohort of 782 COVID-19 positive patients and 7,025 COVID-19 negative patients, the groups identified that low plasma vitamin D level appears to be an independent risk factor for COVID-19 infection and hospitalisation. The research was just published in The FEBS Journal.

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Meanwhile, a team of researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, United States (U.S.), has revealed that diets high in protein, including plants such as legumes, nuts, and whole grains, are associated with lower risks of developing chronic and potentially fatal diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

On the other hand, regular intake of red meat and high intake of animal proteins are tied to many health problems. Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the researchers aimed to examine and quantify the potential dose-response relation between the intake of total, animal and plant protein, and the risk of death from all causes such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies that tackled a high protein diet and how it affects overall health.

To arrive at the findings of the study, the researchers reviewed the results of 32 studies that showed risk estimates for all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality in adults who are 19 years and older. The studies were carried out carefully and extensively to remove biases, which are common problems that can influence results.

The team used mathematical models to compare the effects of the highest and lowest categories of protein intake. They analyzed the dose-response links between the consumption of protein and the risk of death.

A total of 715,128 participants were included in the study. During the follow-up period of around 32 years, there were 113,039 deaths, wherein 16,429 were related to cardiovascular disease, and 22,303 were linked to cancer.

The team has found that protein intake was tied to a lower risk of death when comparing to the highest and lowest levels of protein intake. They also determined that even though there was no significant correlation between animal protein intake and cardiovascular mortality, there was an association between plant protein and CV mortality.

They also found that a high intake of total proteins was tied to a lower risk of mortality from all causes. In comparison, the consumption of plant protein was also linked to a lower risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular diseases.

The study findings have important implications since people can increase their intake of plant-based proteins by replacing animal protein. This could have a significant impact on longevity and promoting health among adults.

“Our findings therefore strongly support the existing dietary recommendations to increase consumption of plant proteins in the general population. Extrapolation of these findings to the worldwide population should be done cautiously because most studies included in the meta-analysis are from Western nations and few studies have been reported from other countries,” the researchers concluded in the study.

“Therefore, further studies are required. Additional studies should also focus on the mechanisms through which dietary protein affects mortality,” they added.

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In a separate study, a team of researchers found that eating a plant-heavy diet can significantly delay the aging process, disease and death. Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study highlights the benefits of shifting to a plant-based diet to promote overall health.

The team has found that a higher plant protein intake was associated with small declines in the risk of overall and cardiovascular disease mortality. The findings provide evidence that dietary changes or modifications in the choice of protein sources may impact health and life span.

In conclusion, this large cohort investigation showed small but significant associations between higher intake of plant protein and lower overall and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) mortality, with prominent inverse associations observed for replacement of egg protein and red meat protein with plant protein, particularly for plant protein derived from bread, cereal, and pasta,”

“Findings from this and previous studies provide evidence that dietary modifications in choice of protein sources may promote health and longevity,” they added.

Also, a team of scientists has found that a fasting-mimicking diet combined with hormone therapy has the potential to help treat breast cancer, according to newly published animal studies and small clinical trials in humans.

In studies on mice and in two small breast cancer clinical trials, researchers at University of Southern California (USC) and the IFOM Cancer Institute in Milan — in collaboration with the University of Genova — found that the fasting-mimicking diet reduces blood insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) and leptin. In mice, these effects appear to increase the power of the cancer hormone drugs tamoxifen and fulvestrant and delay any resistance to them. The results from 36 women treated with the hormone therapy and fasting-mimicking diet are promising, but researchers say it is still too early to determine whether the effects will be confirmed in large-scale clinical trials.

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The research was published in the journal Nature. The researchers say the two small clinical trials are feasibility studies that showed promising results, but they are in no way conclusive. They believe the results support further clinical studies of a fasting-mimicking diet used in combination with endocrine therapy in hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

The scientists also contributed to a recent clinical study of 129 breast cancer patients conducted with the University of Leiden. The results, published last month in Nature Communications, appeared to show increased efficacy of chemotherapy in patients receiving a combination of chemotherapy and a fasting-mimicking diet.

The data also suggest that in mice, the fasting-mimicking diet appears to prevent tamoxifen-induced endometrial hyperplasia, a condition in which the endometrium (or the lining of the uterus) becomes abnormally thick. The study authors believe this potential use of the fasting diet should be explored further, given the prevalence of this side effect of tamoxifen and the limited options for preventing it.

Several clinical trials, including one at USC on breast cancer and prostate patients, are now investigating the effects of the fasting-mimicking diets in combination with different cancer-fighting drugs.

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