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Sugarcane relieves stress-induced sleeplessness

By Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor
11 September 2017   |   4:29 am
A natural compound commonly extracted from sugarcane (shown here) may do wonders for our sleep.


Avocados, nuts boost intelligence as tomatoes protect from alcohol’s effects
A natural compound commonly extracted from sugarcane (shown here) may do wonders for our sleep.

Octacosanol is commonly found in sugarcane, wheat germ oil, rice bran oil, and beeswax. New research suggests that the compound may help to relieve insomnia when the cause of sleeplessness is stress.

A new study – published in the journal Scientific Reports – examines the effect of octacosanol in stressed sleep-deprived mice.

The research was carried out by a team of scientists led by Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade, both of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.

Octacosanol is an antioxidant whose anti-inflammatory, anti-adipose tissue, and anticoagulant properties have previously been documented in studies referenced by the authors.

The compound has also been shown to help to prevent Parkinson’s disease in animal models.
Also, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in the blood correlated with greater general intelligence in older adults.

Study leader Aron K. Barbey, a professor of psychology at the university, and colleagues recently reported their results in the journal Neuroimage.

MUFAs are fat molecules present in a variety of foods, including olive oil, avocados, canola oil, and a range of nuts and seeds.

MUFAs are considered healthy fats, as they can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by helping to lower levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood.

Also, scientific studies show that tomatoes can protect both the liver and brain from damage caused by alcohol consumption.

The effects of an evening with a few alcoholic beverages are familiar to many of us.

While moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial to long-term health, excessive drinking certainly is not.

Tomatoes may not save you from the headache, dizziness, and bloodshot eyes that are the telltale signs of the morning after the big night out, but research shows that tomatoes can shield your brain and liver from the havoc that alcohol wreaks on these organs.

Enzymes in the liver break down the alcohol that we drink. This causes oxidative damage to liver cells and widespread inflammation.

Meanwhile, Kaushik and colleagues believe that in our modern, stressful world, we are in dire need of sleep-inducing therapies that can help to alleviate insomnia.

In addition to dramatically decreasing one’s overall well-being, insomnia can lead to chronic sleep loss, which has been associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular illnesses, depression, and obesity.

For the new research, Kaushik and colleagues tested the effects of octacosanol in two groups of mice. One group had its cage changed so as to induce a mild sense of stress, which, in turn, disturbed the mice’s sleep. The other group was kept in normal conditions.

Half of the mice in each group received 200 milligrams per kilogram of octacosanol orally, while the other half did not.

Could researchers have identified the neuronal “switch” that puts us to sleep? The team monitored the mice’s sleep over a period of 24 hours after octacosanol administration. They also took blood tests that measured the blood plasma levels of corticosterone – which is an indicator of stress – and monitored the brain activity of the mice using an electroencephalogram (EEG).

With the help of the EEG, the scientists were able to tell how much time that the mice spent in light, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and in deep, non-REM sleep.

The findings revealed that while octacosanol had no bearing on normal mice, it did improve the sleep quantity and quality of the stressed mice. Neither REM nor non-REM sleep were in any way affected by the compound in normal mice.

However, in the mice whose cages had been changed, a dose of 100 and 200 milligrams per kilogram significantly increased the amount of time that they spent in deep, non-REM sleep.

They also had lower sleep latency – that is, it took them less time to transition from wakefulness to sleep compared with the stressed mice that did not receive the compound.

Octacosanol helped the stressed mice to sleep better, as revealed by the time that they spent awake and the time that they spent asleep.

The levels of the stress biomarker corticosterone were also “significantly reduced” after 200 milligrams per kilogram of octacosanol. Overall, “octacosanol-induced changes in sleep-wake parameters in stressed mice were comparable to the values in normal mice,” write the researchers.

“[T]hese data clearly showed that, though octacosanol does not alter normal sleep, it clearly alleviates stress and restores stress-affected sleep […] For the first time, we demonstrated that octacosanol is a potent anti-stress compound with sleep-inducing potential,” they add.

The authors also emphasize the advantages of octacosanol over the sleeping pills that are currently available.

“Being a natural compound and part of food materials are advantages over synthetic drug[s] and hence it can be assumed that octacosanol may be devoid of side effects or adverse reactions to [the] human body. Hence, we strongly suggest that octacosanol could be used as therapy for stress-induced insomnia.”

But more work remains to be done, cautions Kaushik. Future research should try to identify the “target brain area of octacosanol, its [blood-brain barrier] permeability, and the mechanism via which octacosanol lowers stress,” he adds.
You may want to think about adding avocados, olive oil, and nuts to your grocery list, since a new study has suggested that the monounsaturated fatty acids in these foods could boost intelligence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Xiang-Dong Wang – director of the nutrition and cancer biology laboratory at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, MA – and his team tested the effect of tomatoes on rats exposed to alcohol.

The experiments used the equivalent of 100 grams of alcohol consumption, which is approximately seven standard alcoholic drinks, daily for four weeks. This mimics chronic, excessive alcohol intake in humans.

Three different tomato products were tested: tomato powder, which is nutritionally equivalent to whole tomato; tomato extract, which contains only fat-soluble components; and purified lycopene, which is the red pigment that gives tomatoes their colour and a known antioxidant.

Tomato powder, but not extract or purified lycopene, reduced the effects of alcohol damage in over 90 percent of the rats.

These results are in line with the team’s earlier findings that lycopene on its own does not prevent liver damage but points to whole tomatoes being the key.

However, the liver is not the only organ affected by the alcohol that we drink.

Lycopene can prevent moderate damage

Whether alcohol is good for long-term health or not, even modest intake causes damage to brain cells. Oxidative damage and inflammation are once again thought to be the culprits. Could tomatoes come to the rescue?

Ross Grant, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Sydney in Australia, and his research team showed that the equivalent of two standard alcoholic drinks caused DNA damage to brain cells within 15 minutes.

But treating such cells with lycopene for 3.5 hours before exposing them to alcohol significantly reduced the damage.

Interestingly, purified lycopene was protective to brain cells, while whole tomatoes were needed to see similar effects in the liver.

In Dr. Wang’s study, the team used tomato powder at a concentration equal to a 70-kilogramme man consuming 12.46 milligrams of lycopene per day. The average intake in the U.S. is around 9.4 milligrams per day.

But the authors explain that levels such as the one used in their study are easily achievable by “eating four medium-sized tomatoes” or “one third of a cup of tomato sauce” daily.

The best way to avoid the damaging effects of alcohol is, of course, to abstain from drinking it.

However, should you wish to indulge in a drink or two, a daily dose of tomatoes certainly seems to go some way toward protecting your brain and liver – whichever method of consumption you choose.

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