The pot plants that could clean up the air in your home: Scientists reveal which species act as air filters

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Research have revealed popular plants may absorb toxins from the air

Their leaves remove volatile organic compounds released around them

Some plants are better at leeching the compounds from the environment
Bromeliads were seen to remove the VOCs from their living space

They brighten up our homes and cheer up our offices. But house plants also clean up the air that we breathe.

Research has shown that popular pot plants also absorb dangerous chemicals, leaving the air cleaner for us to breathe.

One of the best ‘natural air fresheners’ is Guzmania lingulata, or the scarlet star, a colourful and tropical type of bromeliad which blooms for months indoors.

A study has found that popular house plants do more than brighten up their surroundings, they may also absorb dangerous chemicals, leaving the air cleaner for us to breathe

HOUSE PLANTS ACT AS LIVING AIR FILTERS

Researchers from the State University of New York have revealed popular plants may absorb toxins from the air.

The plants remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released around them by a variety of sources.

However, some plants were found to be better at leeching the compounds from the environment than others.

Bromeliads were seen to remove the VOCs from their living space.

Others include the corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) which boasts long, variegated leaves that are particularly good at mopping up acetone, the pungent chemical in nail varnish remover.

The work comes amid mounting concern about the damage done by indoor air pollution, including toxins called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which released by everything from paint and printers to cleaning chemicals and dry-cleaned clothes.

The Royal College of Physicians has estimated that indoor air pollution contributes to 99,000 deaths in Europe every year.

Plus, many people believe they suffer from ‘sick building syndrome’, in which stagnant, polluted air is blamed for triggering everything from headaches to skin allergies and fatigue.

The State University of New York researchers said: ‘Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high you can smell them.’

Researchers revealed that one of the best ¿natural air fresheners¿ was Guzmania lingulata, or the scarlet star (pictured), a colourful and tropical type of bromeliad which blooms for months indoors

THREE OF THE BEST HOUSE PLANTS FOR AIR QUALITY

As part of the study, the team looked at the ability of five species to remove volatile organic compounds from their surroundings.

Top plants included the Scarlet star (Guzmania lingulata), a tropical flowering plant from South and Central America which produces striking red flowers in the shape of a star (when viewed from above).

The Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) is another office stable and African native which thrive in the sheltered light of indoors, andwas shown to greatly improve air quality. Due to their adaptations to the heat and extended dry periods, these hardy plants can deal with a degree of drying out in between watering.

Most office workers and home owners will be familiar with the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). A native of the African continent, the hardy plant has found great success as an indoor house plant due to its ease of care, but which the study found also removes VOCs from the air.

The remaining two species looked at in the study were the Jade plant (Crassula ovata) and the Caribbean tree cactus (Consolea falcata).

The scientists placed five different pot plants in a sealed chamber pumped full of VOCs and monitored how levels of the chemicals changed over time.

Tests involving five common house plants and eight VOCs found that certain plants are better at absorbing specific compounds.

For example, all five could remove acetone, the pungent chemical abundant at nail salons, but the dracaena plant took up the most, around 94 per cent of the chemical.

The best all-rounder was the scarlet star, a member of the bromeliad family.

Study leader Dr Vadoud Niri said: ‘Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations.

‘To illustrate, the bromeliad plant was very good at removing six out of eight studied VOCs – it was able to take up more than 80 per cent of each of those compounds – over the twelve hour sampling period.

House plants remove volatile organic compounds released around them by a variety of sources. However, some plants were found to be better at leeching the compounds from the environment than others (stock image used)

‘So it could be a good plant to have sitting around in the household or workplace.’

The other three plants studied were the jade plant (Crassula argentea), the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and the Caribbean tree cactus (Consolea falcata), an American Chemical Society conference heard.

The Royal Horticultural Society said that pot plants confer multiple benefits.

Dr Tijana Blanusa, the RHS’s principal horticultural scientist, said: ‘Psychological benefits of indoor plants have been shown through the improved mood of people exposed to them, reduced stress levels, increased worker productivity in the working population, and increased pain tolerance, for example, where plants were used in hospital settings.

‘Indoor plants can also elicit a number of physical health benefits, including the removal of airborne pollutants, leading to better indoor air quality and associated improvements in physical health.’

Source: Daily Mail

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Regular nibbling on nuts linked to low inflammation

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(Reuters Health) – Eating a handful of nuts five times per week may reduce inflammation, a condition that contributes to heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic illnesses, say the authors of a recent U.S. study.

This inflammation-dampening effect might be the secret to the health benefits of nuts, the study team writes in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Past research has linked eating nuts to lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, but the exact reason was unknown, senior study author Dr. Ying Bao, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Reuters Health.

“We hypothesized that nuts may exert these health benefits by reducing inflammation,” Bao said by email.

Nuts may lower inflammation because they contain fiber, magnesium, antioxidants and other health-boosting ingredients, the researchers write.

To explore the connection between nuts and inflammation, the researchers analyzed data from two different long-term studies of health professionals, the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS).

The participants filled out questionnaires every four years documenting what they ate between 1986 and 1990 in the NHS and between 1990 and 1994 in the HPFS. The 5,013 people included in the new analysis were free of heart disease and diabetes at the beginning of the study period.

During the last two to three years of each study, blood samples were collected from subjects to look at the presence of three different biomarkers, or characteristic indicators, of inflammation.

People who ate nuts at least five times per week had 20 percent lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) compared to people who never or rarely ate nuts. They also had 16 percent lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), another inflammatory marker.

The results held after researchers accounted for other aspects of diet, as well as exercise, body weight, smoking and other factors that could influence inflammation.

Eating plenty of nuts had no effect on the third inflammatory biomarker the researchers looked at, known as TNFR2, however.

For the study, one serving of nuts was defined as one ounce, or about a handful of peanuts or tree nuts, or one tablespoon of peanut butter.

The apparent benefits of nuts were similar regardless of the type of nuts people ate, though there was no benefit seen for peanut butter.

Researchers also calculated the effects of substituting three servings of nuts per week for three servings of red meat, processed meat, eggs or refined grains. The swap was associated with substantially lower levels of CRP and IL-6. Trading nuts for potatoes or potato chips was only linked to lower CRP.

“Inflammation is the basis of most age-related disorders,” said Dr. Emilio Ros, director of the Lipid Clinic at Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain, by email.

Inflammation can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain and cause heart attacks and strokes, said Ros, who was not involved in the study. He added that inflammation is also linked to dementia, kidney disease, bowel problems and other common diseases.

“Reducing inflammation will prevent or delay the onset of all these conditions,” Ros said.

Less-processed nuts may be more effective, noted Ros, who studies nuts and inflammation. “Importantly, when possible, nuts should be consumed as the raw and unpeeled product, as the skin, which is lost in roasting, is very rich in antioxidants,” he said.

“There may be a concern that frequent nut consumption can result in weight gain,” Bao said, however, eating nuts is actually linked to lower weight gain and less risk of obesity.

“A handful of nuts a day or substituting nuts for meat or refined grains is associated with less inflammation,” Bao said.

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So THAT’S why we sleep: Scientists reveal how hours of shut-eye ‘resets’ the brain to make room for new memories

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imageStudy by University of Freiburg offers first ever imaging of what happens to the brain after a good night’s sleep and after sleep deprivation

When we get to the end of the day our brains ‘are saturated with things’

The synapses in our brain are ‘strong, tense, unable to absorb any more’

Sleep ‘wipes those synapses clean to make room for new things’
We all need to sleep.

In fact, we spend a third of our lives unconscious and paralyzed.

But scientists have long been baffled by what happens during this bizarre activity.

According to a new study published on Tuesday, we now know the answer: sleep resets your brain’s memory connections, leaving us fresh to make new ones.

At the end of the day, the connections in our brains are tense, saturated with all the conversations, images, and facts we absorbed in our 18 or so hours awake.

Sleep weakens those connections, essentially wiping the brain clean to leave a blank canvas.

Why we sleep: At the end of the day, the connections in our brains are saturated, according to a new study. Sleep weakens those connections, wiping them clean to leave a blank canvas

That is according to the University of Freiburg study led by psychiatrist Christoph Nissen.

It is the first ever study to image brain synapses as affected by sleep.

‘The overall strength of connections between neurons increases with time awake, and eventually reaches a level of saturation after prolonged wakefulness or sleep deprivation,’ Nissen explains in the study published by Nature Communications.

‘Without this synaptic downscaling, the brain loses the capacity to form novel connections, impairing the encoding of novel memories.’

The findings have been hailed as the first concrete explanation of sleep to date, paving the way for practical treatments for insomnia, sleep apnea and mental health disorders that stem of sleeplessness.

To investigate the subject, the team monitored 20 students between 19 and 25 years old, all right-handed non-smokers, free of any mental disorder, drug abuse, or medication use.

In one experiment, the participants had a good night’s sleep (of around seven hours) before being screened.

In the next, they stayed awake for 24 hours – playing games, cooking food, but not drinking caffeine – before undergoing the same test.

To screen them, the researchers zapped magnetic waves at the motor cortex – the brain region that controls movement – to trigger a twitch in the left hand.

They found the sleep-deprived participants barely needed any magnetic pulse to trigger a reaction.

Sleep kind of wipes out or cleans up the connections in the brain to enable the novel acquisition of information

That suggests their brain is more ‘excitable’ than those who are well-rested, and therefore the synpases – which connect brain neurons – are stronger.

Professor Nissen than got the groups to carry out word-pair activities that rely on creating new memories.

In these tests, the sleep-deprived participants fared far worse than their well-rested peers.

It suggests that without sleep the brain’s synapses are saturated, tense and strong; filled with all the memories of the day. It makes us tetchy and unable to think clearly.

Just one rough night of sleeplessness, Professor Nissen warns, blocks the brain from resetting, leaving the person foggy, slow and relatively unobservant for the rest of the day.

‘Still we do not really know why we spend such a long time of our lives in this inactive state, so sleep must have a very important function,’ Nissen explained.

‘Otherwise it’s just a very big mistake that evolution made.

‘Our study highlights the importance of sleep, and the notion that sleep is a highly active brain process, not a waste of time.’

Source: Daily Mail

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Depression: A revolution in treatment?

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It’s not very often we get to talk about a revolution in understanding and treating depression and yet now doctors are talking about “one of the strongest discoveries in psychiatry for the last 20 years”.

It is based around the idea that some people are being betrayed by their fiercest protector. That their immune system is altering their brain.

The illness exacts a heavy toll on 350 million people around the world, among them Hayley Mason, from Cambridgeshire:

“My depression gets so bad that I can’t leave the bed, I can’t leave the bedroom, I can’t go downstairs and be with my partner and his kids.

The 30-year-old added: “I can’t have the TV on, I can’t have noise and light, I have suicidal thoughts, I have self-harmed, I can’t leave the house, I can’t drive.

“And just generally I am completely confined to my own home and everything else just feels too much.”

Anti-depressant drugs and psychological treatments, like cognitive behavioural therapy, help the majority of people.

But many don’t respond to existing therapies and so some scientists are now exploring a new frontier – whether the immune system could be causing depression.

“I think we have to be quite radical,” says Prof Ed Bullmore, the head of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.

He’s at the forefront of this new approach: “Recent history is telling us if we want to make therapeutic breakthroughs in an area which remains incredibly important in terms of disability and suffering then we’ve got to think differently.”

The focus is on an errant immune system causing inflammation in the body and altering mood.

And Prof Bullmore argues that’s something we can all relate to, if we just think back to the last time we had a cold or flu.

He said: “Depression and inflammation often go hand in hand, if you have flu, the immune system reacts to that, you become inflamed and very often people find that their mood changes too.

“Their behaviour changes, they may become less sociable, more sleepy, more withdrawn.

“They may begin to have some of the negative ways of thinking that are characteristic of depression and all of that follows an infection.”

It is a subtle and yet significant shift in thinking. The argument is we don’t just feel sorry for ourselves when we are sick, but that the chemicals involved in inflammation are directly affecting our mood.

Find out more

You can listen to The Inflamed Mind documentary on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00 BST and then here on iPlayer.

Inflammation is part of the immune system’s response to danger. It is a hugely complicated process to prepare our body to fight off hostile forces.

If inflammation is too low then an infection can get out of hand. If it is too high, it causes damage.

And for some reason, about one-third of depressed patients have consistently high levels of inflammation. Hayley is one of them: “I do have raised inflammation markers, I think normal is under 0.7 and mine is 40, it’s coming up regularly in blood tests.”

There is now a patchwork quilt of evidence suggesting inflammation is more than something you simply find in some depressed patients, but is actually the cause of their disease. That the immune system can alter the workings of the brain.

Joint pain

To explore this revolutionary new idea in depression, we visited an arthritis clinic at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

It is perhaps an unexpected location, but it was in clinics like this that doctors noticed something unusual.

The immune system attacks the joints in patients with Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the joints. And when patients were given precise anti-inflammatory drugs that calmed down specific parts of the immune response, their mood improved.

Prof Iain McInnes, a consultant rheumatologist, said: “When we give these therapies we see a fairly rapid increase in a sense of well-being, mood state improving quite remarkably often disproportionately given the amount of inflammation we can see in their joints and their skin.”

It suggests the patients were not simply feeling happier as they were in less pain, but that something more profound was going on.

Prof McInnes added: “We scanned the brains of people with rheumatoid arthritis, we then gave them a very specific immune targeted therapy and then we imaged them again afterwards.

“What we are starting to see when we give anti-inflammatory medicines is quite remarkable changes in the neuro-chemical circuitry in the brain.

“The brain pathways involved in mediating depression were favourably changed in people who were given immune interventions.”

One possible explanation is that inflammatory chemicals enter the brain. There they interrupt the production of serotonin – a key neurotransmitter that’s linked to mood.

Could I be depressed?

If you are having trouble understanding any of these questions, or at any point you start to feel distressed, please stop and seek the advice of a medical professional. See the links below for organisations that may be able to help you.

NHS Choices: Stress, anxiety and depression

The Samaritans

Mind, the mental health charity

About the self assessment: The first eight questions are taken from a measure known as the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 or PHQ-9, used by doctors to assess and monitor depression severity. The PHQ-9 was developed by Dr Robert L Spitzer, Dr Janet B W Williams, Dr Kurt Kroenke and colleagues, with an educational grant from Pfizer Inc.

To hear more we visited Carmine Pariante’s laboratory at King’s College London. The professor of biological psychiatry has been piecing together the evidence on inflammation and depression for 20 years.

He told the BBC: “Nearly 30% to 40% of depressed patients have high levels of inflammation and in these people we think it is part of the causal process.

“The evidence supporting this idea is that high levels of inflammation are present even if someone is not depressed, but is at risk of becoming depressed.

“We know from studies that if you have high levels of inflammation today you’re at higher risk of becoming depressed over the next weeks or months even if you are perfectly well.”

He’s shown that not only are depressed patients more likely to have high levels of inflammation, but those with an overactive immune system are also less likely to respond to anti-depressants.

This is a big deal because a third of patients don’t get any benefit from drug treatments.

Jennifer StreetingJen Streeting
But there’s something confusing here. The immune system responds to infection and that doesn’t seem to fit the usual story of depression.

Take Jennifer Streeting, a trainee midwife in London, who traces her mental health problems back to when she was 14.

“My nana passed away and my mum had breast cancer and if you ask my therapist now she puts it down to grief and not really dealing with that at the time, I think there was just a lot going on.”

Prof Pariante argues it is actually these awful moments in our lives that change our immune system, priming it to increase the risk of depression years later.

He said: “We think the immune system is the key mechanism by which early life events produce this long-term effect.

“We have some data showing adult individuals who have a history of early life trauma, even if they have never been depressed, have an activated immune system so they are in a state of risk.”

The hope is that drugs targeting the immune system will provide much needed treatments for patients, particularly for those like Jennifer who seem to have tried them all.

“I had sertraline, I had Prozac, there was another one, I got started on citalopram, I was put on duloxetine, mirtazapine as well. I was on three at one point.”

She is now on a combination of drugs that seem to be working for her, but it has been a long journey.

“It is totally trial and error,” said Prof Pariante.

Prof Carmine Pariante
He added: “We are not able to predict right from the beginning whether someone will respond.

“We think by measuring inflammation in the blood we’ll actually be able to identify individuals that do require more complex, intensive antidepressant treatment, maybe a combination of an antidepressant and and anti-inflammatory.”

Most of us have common anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen at home, but doctors warn against experimenting at home, while clinical trials are taking place to prove whether this will work in patients.

The world’s largest medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, has brought together universities and the pharmaceutical industry.

The aim is to consolidate the evidence to accelerate the field; ultimately they want to find a new treatment for depression and develop a test to identify those who will benefit.

Cambridge University’s Prof Bullmore is leading the consortium. But we interviewed him at his other employer, GlaxoSmithKline.

The company’s immuno-inflammation laboratory is where scientists are developing new molecules which they hope will become effective medicines for inflammatory disorders.

That process will take more than a decade, but Prof Bullmore says there may already be a drug out there.

“One of the exciting things about immunopsychiatry is that because of the success of immunology in other areas of medicine there are already many drugs that are far beyond this stage of development.

“They may already be licensed or in late-stage clinical trials so the timeline from start of work on that project to delivering a medicine that might make a difference to patients could be much shorter.”

Progress

Raiding the cupboards is already showing signs of success. Those early clues in arthritis mean the anti-inflammatory drug sirukomab is now being trialled in depressed patients.

So are drugs targeting the immune system about to transform the treatment of depression?

Prof Bullmore argues: “I don’t think they are going to be a panacea, I don’t think we’re talking about a scenario in future where every patient with symptoms of depression is going to be offered an anti-inflammatory drug.

“I don’t think that makes sense and frankly that sort of blockbuster one-size-fits-all approach to development of drugs for psychiatry has not been helpful to us in the past.

“We have to take a more personalised or stratified approach, not everyone that is depressed is depressed for the same reason.”

That will require a blood test to identify which patients will benefit from immune-based therapies.

BrainF WALSH

Depression is more than just in the mind and it may be more than just in the brain says Prof Pariante
Depression is a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people. Even if anti-inflammatories help just a small proportion of them – that would still be a huge number of patients. But if immunotherapy becomes a success, its biggest impact may be on the way we think about the disease, making people less likely to believe sufferers should just “pull themselves together”.

“I hate that phrase, if I could I would,” says Jennifer.

She adds: “Just as if someone had diabetes and their insulin levels weren’t working correctly, you wouldn’t say, ‘Oh snap out of it, stop having a hypo.’”

Hayley feels the same: “If there was a way to say depression was a physical problem I think it would make a massive difference, I think people would treat depression as something that is not made up and going on in the head.

“It would be seen as a genuine condition, it would validate a lot of people’s feelings.”

Prof Pariante concludes: “It is groundbreaking because, for the first time, we are demonstrating that depression is not only a disorder of the mind, in fact it is not even only a disorder of the brain, it is a disorder of the whole body.”

Source: BBC

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