Public Health Burden
Americans are living longer than ever before. Promoting and preserving the health of older adults is essential for addressing the health-related and economic challenges of an aging society. Because many older Americans turn to complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies to stay fit, treat conditions associated with aging, or manage the symptoms of these conditions, it is important to learn more about the safety and effectiveness of CAM therapies.
Helping Older Americans Stay Fit
Mind-body CAM approaches, such as yoga and meditation, are attractive to older Americans seeking to stay physically and mentally fit. Yet there is little scientific evidence on the safety and effectiveness of these practices, especially as they relate to older people. ARRA-funded grants are building an evidence base about activities that might help people stay healthier longer.
- Yoga is often recommended as a form of total-solution exercise for older adults, although there is little scientific evidence to support this recommendation. One grant will determine the physical demands, efficacy, and overall safety of yoga for older adults, making it possible to develop evidence-based “prescriptions” that will help seniors maximize benefits and minimize risks from practicing yoga.1
- Immune cell aging is an important measure of biological age and a predictor of early mortality. Another ARRA grant is looking at meditation as a means of reducing obesity and stress—both of which are associated with cell aging. By studying the cellular-level effects of meditation, the researchers will develop evidence about a potentially useful practice and also contribute to our understanding of the aging process.2
Addressing Conditions Associated With Aging
A number of health conditions dramatically affect the day-to-day life of thousands of older Americans and place tremendous burdens on patients, their families, and health care resources. ARRA-funded grants are exploring the potential of CAM practices to address these conditions.
- Older persons are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by low bone mass. Although prevention strategies emphasize calcium intake, researchers are looking for ways to enhance calcium’s efficacy. One grant is investigating the potential role of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in balancing bone formation and fat cell formation from bone marrow stem cells. The hope is that CLA as a dietary supplement or food additive can help to prevent osteoporosis, leading to improved quality of life.3
- In people with diabetes, high blood glucose levels sustained over a long period of time contribute to vascular inflammation, which can lead to cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis. The botanical genistein appears to inhibit this inflammation. Another ARRA grant is testing genistein in diabetic mice to determine the specific molecular mechanisms involved in the anti-inflammatory process. The results could lead to development of a cost-effective approach to preventing and treating diabetes-related atherosclerosis.4
- Many postmenopausal women who suffer from hot flashes are reluctant to use hormone therapy—the only currently effective treatment—because of potential risks and side effects. Another grant will study the efficacy of yoga in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes. The researchers will also examine effects on heart rate and cortisol levels, which may be related to hot flashes.5
Advancing the Science on Antioxidants and Omega-3s
ARRA funds are also supporting investigations to build the scientific evidence base for popular biological therapies, with a view to identifying new ways to prevent or treat conditions that affect many older Americans.
- As part of a clinical study of the antioxidant nutritional supplement coenzyme Q10 in Parkinson’s disease, one grant is evaluating several biomarkers (biological measures) of oxidative stress—a condition associated with Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The results may lead to development of new biomarkers that will be useful in evaluating therapies for diseases in which oxidative stress plays a role.6
- Omega-3 fatty acids, derived mainly from fish oil, are popular dietary supplements purported to have beneficial effects against any number of chronic conditions associated with aging. Inflammation is at the root of many of these conditions, and research indicates that omega-3s have potent anti-inflammatory action. However, the mechanisms involved are not fully understood. Another ARRA grant is contributing to this understanding by examining the effects of two chemicals derived from the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in animal models (mice) of stroke. The researchers hope to reveal mechanisms that could lead to development of omega-3 supplements for preventing chronic inflammatory diseases and stroke.7
- 1 R01 AT004869-01—Safe and Effective Yoga Prescription for Older Adults: Biomechanical Considerations. Salem, George E. (CA)
- 5 P01 AT005013-02S1—Metabolic and Immunologic Effects of Meditation-Cell Aging Supplement. Hecht, Frederick M. (CA)
- 3 R21 AT004456-02S1—Synergistic Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Calcium on Bone Mass. Park, Yeonhwa. (MA)
- 3 R21 AT004694-02S1, 5 R21 AT004694-02—Genistein for the Prevention and Treatment of Diabetic Vascular Inflammation. Liu, Dongmin. (VA)
- 3 R21 AT004234-01A2S1—Effectiveness of Integral Yoga on Objective and Subjective Menopausal Hot Flashes. Avis, Nancy E. (NC)
- 1 RC2 AT005927-01—Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress in Parkinson’s Disease. Beal, M. Flint. (NY)
- 1RC2 AT005909-01—Mechanism of Action of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Brain Injury. Bazan, Nicholas Guillermo. (LA)