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Can Turkey Make You “Tryp Out”?

We hear it every Thanksgiving: the turkey on the table, loaded with l-tryptophan, will zonk us out. And there is some truth to that, though the other ingredients of this great American tradition—a giant meal, an inundation of family, a frantic cleaning of a home in anticipation of an inundation of family—may exhaust you as well.

Chemically, the sleep connection comes from tryp’s role in producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood—and serotonin, in turn, is critical for the synthesis of melatonin, a hormone involved in the sleep cycle. As for the mystical Morpheus-drawing quality of the average roasted turkey, one should put that in perspective: There’s plenty of tryp in other poultry, too—plus beef, pork, soy, nuts, and much else—and we barely notice it. (There’s also a freakish amount of the stuff in sea lion kidneys—a food popular among some native Alaskans.)

But tryptophan, one of nine essential amino acids for humans (which the body doesn’t make on its own and therefore have to be obtained from our diets), has some other funky properties beyond the sleep thing. There’s some compelling evidence, for instance, to suggest that tryp might be involved in carbohydrate-craving and the difficulty of keeping weight off. Other studies, meanwhile, are examining tryp’s potential efficacy as an antifungal agent; and as a prognostic indicator in patients with brain cancer (as seen by increased uptake of the amino acid on a PET scan). And a variety of studies are looking at what role the breakdown of tryptophan may play in aging and age-related diseases.

Scientists have been investigating tryptophan-restricted diets for years, mostly in an effort to see what neurological effects they might have. But, for what it’s worth, several studies have shown a correlation between consuming less tryptophan and living longer.

So maybe eat a little less turkey on Thursday. If you’re still hungry, you can always fill up on cranberry sauce. Now, that’s one healthy berry!

I’m off for Thanksgiving and a sleep-restoring Friday. So Brainstorm Health Daily will be back on Monday. In the meantime, you can find an archive of essays here—and please share our subscriber link with anyone you think might enjoy this newsletter.

Sy has the day’s news below.

Clifton Leaf


Juno’s groundbreaking next-gen cancer therapy put on hold after more side effects surface. Juno Therapeutics shares fell nearly 30% in early Wednesday trading after the company announced that it had placed a voluntary clinical hold on its experimental drug JCAR015, part of a new class of therapies called chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) which involve extracting immune cells, re-engineering them to sniff out and destroy cancers, and then pumping them back into patients’ bodies. The treatment was being tested in a type of blood cancer called B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; but two patients in the trial experienced brain swelling. One has died and the other isn’t expected to survive. This is the second time that Juno has had to halt its JCAR015 study over the issue, the first being an externally imposed clinical hold by the Food and Drug Administration in July. The biotech says that trials of its other CAR-T treatments are continuing. (FierceBiotech)

Not having robust Internet access may be making it harder to manage chronic conditions. A new study by researchers at the Oregon State University finds that problems with accessing the Internet may be hurting women who have one or more chronic health conditions. The study authors noted that 35% of women aged 44 and older didn’t even use the Internet, and that out of those who did, most did not use the web to read up on other patients’ experiences managing conditions like hypertension, cancer, anxiety, asthma, and other chronic diseases. The researchers said that the disparities mainly seem to be driven by demographic and socioeconomic factors, with poorer women and minorities having more trouble making robust use of the Internet. That’s unfortunate since reading up on other patients’ experiences on the best ways to manage a chronic condition on a day to day basis can stymie diseases from getting even more serious. (Healthcare IT News)

This company has a neuromodulation device meant to treat balance disorders in soldiers. The U.S. government has extended its contract with Helius Medical Technologies, a firm designing a Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator dubbed the PONS system that it hopes can be used to treat movement and balance disorders that stem from traumatic brain injuries. The system stimulates the brain via the tongue and has also shown promise in treating movement disorders related to multiple sclerosis. “The reason that we chose traumatic brain injury as the 1st indication is that we have a development partnership with the Department of Defense. Of course, the Department of Defense has a huge humanitarian and PR issue with respect to traumatic brain injury in the active duty forces. Out of the 2 million soldiers in the active duty force, unfortunately, 30 thousand of them suffer a traumatic brain injury every year,” said CEO Phil Deschamps in an interview with MassDevice (MassDevice)


Eli Lilly shares slammed as Alzheimer’s drug suffers major trial setback. U.S. pharma giant Eli Lilly faced a devastating clinical setback on Wednesday after announcing that solanezumab, its experimental drug for treating Alzheimer’s disease, failed to significantly halt cognitive decline in a large, late-stage clinical trial. Lilly is now abandoning its plans to seek a Food and Drug Administration approval for the treatment to treat mild dementia, and incoming CEO David Ricks insisted that other drugs in its pipeline (including for diabetes) would still be able to deliver decent sales growth going forward. Still, the news comes as a big blow to companies attempting to develop the first significantly effective medicine for Alzheimer’s—including Biogen, which has its own competing experimental treatment in the space called aducanumab. Some analysts fear that the solanezumab experience bodes poorly for the Biogen drug, which attacks the same plaque-causing protein as Lilly’s therapy does. (Fortune)

Non-adherence to drug regimens costs pharma more than $600 billion in annual sales. Americans don’t always take their medicine. And it’s taking a toll on the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom line, according to a new study by HealthPrize and Capgemini. In fact, non-adherence cost biopharma more than $630 billion per year globally and $250 billion just in the United States. The issue extends well beyond drug sales; the cost of not properly taking medications is estimated to cost the U.S. health system $300 billion in salvageable costs every year, too. So how can drug makers make sure that patients hew to their regimens? For one, by leveraging technology to better communicate with patients about the importance of taking their treatments correctly and on time. (FiercePharma)

Allergan is snapping up an Alzheimer’s biotech. Eli Lilly may have had a big setback in the Alzheimer’s space this morning, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of interest in the field. And serial biotech acquirer Allergan, which has been on a veritable spending spree under the leadership of CEO Brent Saunders, just lined up another significant purchase, this time for Southern California-based Chase Pharmaceuticals. The total deal value is being pegged at $1 billion, including an upfront $125 million cash payment. And it reunited two major players in Allergan’s leadership: Saunders and former Allergan president Doug Ingram, who is now Chase’s CEO. Allergan is hoping to avoid the troubles of Eli Lilly and others in the dementia space by pursuing a drug with more modest ambitions. Rather than focusing on preventing or reversing cognitive decline, the experimental CPC-201 simply aims to allow Alzheimer’s patients to take higher doses of a drug that helps control Alzheimer’s symptoms. (Endpoints)


World Health Organization says Zika is no longer an emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the Zika virus pandemic is no longer a global health emergency, although plenty of work still needs to be done when it comes to fighting the mosquito-borne virus. “We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,” said Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, in an interview with the New York Times. “We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay and the WHO response is here to stay.” Still, the WHO’s decision raised some prominent eyebrows. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), argues that global health agency should have waited at least several more months before declaring the emergency over, given that resurgences of the virus are possible in countries like Brazil and Colombia. (CBS News)

One way that Alaska is trying to cut health insurance premiums. Alaska is taking an innovative approach to control skyrocketing insurance premiums in the state: picking up the medical tabs of its sickest 500 residents, whose health costs are hiking premiums for everyone in the individual market. Insurers have hiked premiums as much as 40% in recent years because Alaska’s individual risk pool isn’t diverse enough to keep the costs of its sickest consumers in check. So, the state will be shelling out $55 million over the next year in order to keep premiums down for the other 22,500 residents with individual health plans. Just how dramatic will the effect be? The projected increase of 40% will be slashed to just 7.3% on average next year. (Wall Street Journal)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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