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Archive - May 2, 2012

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Black Pepper's Secrets As a Fat Fighter

A new study provides a long-sought explanation for the beneficial fat-fighting effects of black pepper. The research, published online on April 2, 2012 in the ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, pinpoints piperine — the pungent-tasting substance that gives black pepper its characteristic taste, concluding that piperine also can block the formation of new fat cells. Dr. Soo-Jong Um, Dr. Ji-Cheon Jeong, and colleagues describe previous studies indicating that piperine reduces fat levels in the bloodstream and has other beneficial health effects. Black pepper and the black pepper plant, they note, have been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine to treat gastrointestinal distress, pain, inflammation, and other disorders. Despite that long medicinal history, scientists know little about how piperine works on the innermost molecular level. The scientists set out to get that information about piperine's anti-fat effects. Their laboratory studies and computer models found that piperine interferes with the activity of genes that control the formation of new fat cells. In doing so, piperine may also set off a metabolic chain reaction that helps keep fat in check in other ways. The group suggests that the finding may lead to wider use of piperine or black-pepper extracts in fighting obesity and related diseases. [Press release] [Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry abstract]

Huge Study Finds Brain Networks Connected to Drug Abuse by Teenagers

Why do some teenagers start smoking or experimenting with drugs—while others don't? In the largest imaging study of the human brain ever conducted—involving 1,896 14-year-olds—scientists have discovered a number of previously unknown networks that go a long way toward an answer. Dr. Robert Whelan and Dr. Hugh Garavan of the University of Vermont, along with a large group of international colleagues, report that differences in these networks provide strong evidence that some teenagers are at higher risk for drug and alcohol experimentation—simply because their brains work differently, making them more impulsive. Their findings were published online on April 29, 2012 in Nature Neuroscience. This discovery helps answer a long-standing chicken-or-egg question about whether certain brain patterns come before drug use—or are caused by it. "The differences in these networks seem to precede drug use," says Dr. Garavan, Dr. Whelan's colleague in the University of Vermont’s psychiatry department, who also served as the principal investigator of the Irish component of a large European research project, called IMAGEN, that gathered the data about the teens in the new study. In a key finding, diminished activity in a network involving the "orbitofrontal cortex" is associated with experimentation with alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs in early adolescence. (Referential web site: 60-day treatment http://www.rehabs.com/about/60-days-two-months-program/) "These networks are not working as well for some kids as for others," says Dr. Whelan, making them more impulsive. Faced with a choice about smoking or drinking, the 14-year-old with a less functional impulse-regulating network will be more likely to say, "yeah, gimme, gimme, gimme!" says Dr.