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Vitamins play an important role in everyone's health and life, but could vitamin supplements specifically protect colon health and help patients with Parkinson's disease? Two new studies made some exciting findings.

We all need adequate levels of vitamins and minerals to optimize our health. New scientific studies show how supplements can guard against chronic diseases as well. 

Vitamin B3 Protects Colon Health

Research has already shown that a high-fiber diet helps prevent colon cancer and inflammation. Now, a team from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University has published a study that shows why this is the case. The study, co-authored by Dr Vadivel Ganapathy and published in the journal Immunity, suggests that vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) also contributes to colon health. Niacin is already used to correct cholesterol levels, and the team's mouse study reveals that it might be used to protect against colon cancer and inflammation in people with low-fiber diets

The research the team conducted on mouse subjects made it clear that mice that lack a receptor known as "Gpr109a" are at a higher risk of developing both colon inflammation and colon cancer.

Mice whose friendly colon bacteria had been destroyed by antibiotics benefited from niacin, which triggered their immune systems to go into anti-inflammatory mode. 

How does it work? Friendly colon bacteria thrive in people who eat high-fiber diets. The short-chain fatty acid butyrate is produced during the digestion of fiber, and it in turn activates Gpr109a. Immune cells make anti-inflammatory molecules when Gpr109a is triggered, and this creates a chain reaction in which T cells also fight inflammation. What's more, butyrate also causes the epithelial cells that line the colon to create proteins that encourage wound healing

Dr Singh notes that this whole process is essential for the healing of colon inflammation caused by digestive-tract disorders like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Where does vitamin B3 or niacin come into this? In order to benefit from colon protection, a person needs to have the Gpr109a receptor and a high fiber intake. 

Large doses of niacin appear to have the same effect, meaning that people on low-fiber diets can still protect their colon health. 

Dr Sigh explains: "We think mega-doses of niacin may be useful in the treatment and/or prevention of ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and colorectal cancer as well as familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP, a genetic condition that causes polyps to develop throughout the gastrointestinal tract."

Clinical trials are the logical next step. These could examine if a niacin prescription benefits the colon health of individuals who already use it for cardiovascular reasons. 

Vitamin D Helps Parkinson's Patients?

Vitamin B3 might have great benefits for people at risk of colon problems, but vitamin D is already known to be essential for bone health. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, but individuals who are prone to osteoporosis (brittle bones) are advised to take a supplement as well. Yet another new study, in which Dr Amie L Peterson of the Oregon Health and Sciences University participated, shows that vitamin D may also help Parkinson's disease patients.

Nearly a third of people suffering from Parkinson's have cognitive impairment or dementia. Many also struggle with depressive symptoms. 

The research team points out that previous studies have revealed that vitamin D is essential for central nervous system functions including mitrochondrial stabilization and neurodevelopment. They wanted to test how the "sunshine vitamin" impacted Parkinson's patients and found 286 of them to participate in the study. All of them went through a whole battery of tests that checked their global cognitive function, verbal memory, semantic verbal fluency, executive function and depression — as well as vitamin D levels. 

A grand total of 225 patients were found to suffer from dementia, while only 15 didn't. The patients who had higher vitamin D levels could recall names more easily, and listed objects on verbal learning tests more accurately.

If the patients were grouped into dementia and non-dementia categories, higher vitamin D levels appeared to influence the fluency and verbal learning of only those in the non-dementia category. 

The researchers declared their study to be non-conclusive, but Dr Peterson comments: "The fact that the relationship between vitamin D concentration and cognitive performance seemed more robust in the non-demented subset suggests that earlier intervention before dementia is present may be more effective."

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