Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Go nuts: Study ties nuts to a lower risk of death, including from heart disease or cancer

Marilynn Marchione, The Associated Press     Wednesday, November 20, 2013
 
DALLAS – Help yourself to some nuts this holiday season: Regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease – in fact, were less likely to die of any cause – during a 30-year Harvard study.

Nuts have long been called heart-healthy, and the study is the largest ever done on whether eating them affects mortality.

Researchers tracked 119,000 men and women and found that those who ate nuts roughly every day were 20 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those who never ate nuts. Eating nuts less often lowered the death risk too, in direct proportion to consumption.

The risk of dying of heart disease dropped 29 per cent and the risk of dying of cancer fell 11 per cent among those who had nuts seven or more times a week compared with people who never ate them.

The benefits were seen from peanuts as well as from pistachios, almonds, walnuts and other tree nuts. The researchers did not look at how the nuts were prepared – oiled or salted, raw or roasted.

A bonus: Nut eaters stayed slimmer.

“There’s a general perception that if you eat more nuts you’re going to get fat. Our results show the opposite,” said Dr. Ying Bao of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

She led the study, published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine. The National Institutes of Health and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation sponsored the study, but the nut group had no role in designing it or reporting the results.

Researchers don’t know why nuts may boost health. It could be that their unsaturated fatty acids, minerals and other nutrients lower cholesterol and inflammation and reduce other problems, as earlier studies seemed to show.

Observational studies like this one can’t prove cause and effect, only suggest a connection. Research on diets is especially tough, because it can be difficult to single out the effects of any one food.

People who eat more nuts may eat them on salads, for example, and some of the benefit may come from the leafy greens, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a University of Colorado cardiologist and former president of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Ralph Sacco, a University of Miami neurologist who also is a former heart association president, agreed.

“Sometimes when you eat nuts you eat less of something else like potato chips,” so the benefit may come from avoiding an unhealthy food, Sacco said.

The Harvard group has long been known for solid science on diets. Its findings build on a major study earlier this year – a rigorous experiment that found a Mediterranean-style diet supplemented with nuts cuts the chance of heart-related problems, especially strokes, in older people at high risk of them.

Many previous studies tie nut consumption to lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and other maladies.

In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration said a fistful of nuts a day as part of a low-fat diet may reduce the risk of heart disease. The heart association recommends four servings of unsalted, unoiled nuts a week and warns against eating too many, since they are dense in calories.

The new research combines two studies that started in the 1980s on 76,464 female nurses and 42,498 male health professionals. They filled out surveys on food and lifestyle habits every two to four years, including how often they ate a serving (1 ounce) of nuts.

Study participants who often ate nuts were healthier – they weighed less, exercised more and were less likely to smoke, among other things. After taking these and other things into account, researchers still saw a strong benefit from nuts.

Compared with people who never ate nuts, those who had them less than once a week reduced their risk of death 7 per cent; once a week, 11 per cent; two to four times a week, 13 per cent; and seven or more times a week, 20 per cent.

“I’m very confident” the observations reflect a true benefit, Bao said. “We did so many analyses, very sophisticated ones,” to eliminate other possible explanations.

For example, they did separate analyses on smokers and non-smokers, heavy and light exercisers, and people with and without diabetes, and saw a consistent benefit from nuts.

At a heart association conference in Dallas this week, Penny Kris-Etheron, a Pennsylvania State University nutrition scientist, reviewed previous studies on this topic.

“We’re seeing benefits of nut consumption on cardiovascular disease as well as body weight and diabetes,” said Kris-Etherton, who has consulted for nut makers and also served on many scientific panels on dietary guidelines.

“We don’t know exactly what it is” about nuts that boosts health or which ones are best, she said. “I tell people to eat mixed nuts.”

source: www.ctvnews.ca

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‘Healthy Obesity’ Is a Myth, Report Says

Researchers weigh results of 8 studies, find excess pounds raise death risk over time

By Steven Reinberg    HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 2, 2013 (HealthDay News) – The notion that some people can be overweight or obese and still remain healthy is a myth, according to a new Canadian study.

Even without high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues, overweight and obese people have higher rates of death, heart attack and stroke after 10 years compared with their thinner counterparts, the researchers found.

“These data suggest that increased body weight is not a benign condition, even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities, and argue against the concept of healthy obesity or benign obesity,” said researcher Dr. Ravi Retnakaran, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

The terms healthy obesity and benign obesity have been used to describe people who are obese but don’t have the abnormalities that typically accompany obesity, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol, Retnakaran explained.

“We found that metabolically healthy obese individuals are indeed at increased risk for death and cardiovascular events over the long term as compared with metabolically healthy normal-weight individuals,” he added.

It’s possible that obese people who appear metabolically healthy have low levels of some risk factors that worsen over time, the researchers suggest in the report, published online Dec. 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, welcomed the report. “Given the recent attention to the ‘obesity paradox’ in the professional literature and pop culture alike, this is a very timely and important paper,” Katz said. (The obesity paradox holds that certain people benefit from chronic obesity.)

Some obese people appear healthy because not all weight gain is harmful, Katz said. “It depends partly on genes, partly on the source of calories, partly on activity levels, partly on hormone levels. Weight gain in the lower extremities among younger women tends to be metabolically harmless; weight gain as fat in the liver can be harmful at very low levels,” Katz said.


A number of things, however, work to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and death over time, he added.

“In particular, fat in the liver interferes with its function and insulin sensitivity,” Katz said. This starts a domino effect, he explained. “Insensitivity to insulin causes the pancreas to compensate by raising insulin output. Higher insulin levels affect other hormones in a cascade that causes inflammation. Fight-or-flight hormones are affected, raising blood pressure. Liver dysfunction also impairs blood cholesterol levels,” Katz said.

In general the things people do to make themselves fitter and healthier tend to make them less fat, he added.

“Lifestyle practices conducive to weight control over the long term are generally conducive to better overall health as well. I favor a focus on finding health over a focus on losing weight,” Katz noted.

For the study, Retnakaran’s team reviewed eight studies that looked at differences between obese or overweight people and slimmer people in terms of their health and risk for heart attack, stroke and death. These studies included more than 61,000 people overall.

In studies with follow-ups of a decade or more, those who were overweight or obese but didn’t have high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes still had a 24 percent increased risk for heart attack, stroke and death over 10 years or more, compared with normal-weight people, the researchers found.

Greater risk for heart attack, stroke and death was seen among all those with metabolic disease (such as high cholesterol and high blood sugar) regardless of weight, the researchers noted.

As a result, doctors should consider both body mass and metabolic tests when evaluating someone’s health risks, the researchers concluded.


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“Hidden Caves” in the Brain Open Up During Sleep to Wash Away Toxins

A new study published in the prestigious journal, Science, has found that the brain may wash away toxins built up over the day during sleep.

The research discovered “hidden caves” inside the brain, which open up during sleep, allowing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flush out potential neurotoxins, like β-amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

To reach their discovery, researchers injected mice’s brains with a dye and monitored the flow while they were awake, asleep and anaesthetised (Xie et al., 2013).

One of the study’s authors, Dr Maiken Nedergaard, explained the results:

    “We were surprised by how little flow there was into the brain when the mice were awake. It suggested that the space between brain cells changed greatly between conscious and unconscious states.”

For a long time the real physiological purpose of sleep has remained a mystery.

We know that lack of sleep causes all kinds of psychological problems like poor learning, decision-making and so on.

We also know that animals that are chronically deprived of sleep will eventually die: flies or rodents in days to weeks, humans within months or years.

Everyone who has ever enjoyed a blissfully good night’s sleep knows just how restorative it can be, but the actual physiological process wasn’t clear.

This study, though, suggests that the flushing out of toxins by the CSF may be central to sleep’s wondrous powers.

The interstitial spaces in the mouse’s brain took up only 14% of the brain’s volume while it was awake. Yet, while it slept, this increased by almost two-thirds to take up fully 23% of the brain’s total volume.

The difference might seem slight, but the actual physiological effects are profound.

During the day, the CSF mostly covers the surface of the brain. During sleep, though, the CSF is able to move deep inside.

The effect is that potential neurotoxins, like β-amyloid, are cleared twice as fast during sleep as during waking.

The results of this study–if they hold in humans–may help to explain why many neurological diseases, like strokes and dementia, are associated with problems sleeping.

It could be that lack of sleep, and restriction of the brain’s cleaning system, may cause toxic metabolites to building up, leading to long-term damage.

source: PsyBlog


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Vitamin B May Lower Stroke Risk

September 19th, 2013

New evidence suggests taking vitamin B supplements may help reduce the risk of stroke.

A study, published this week in the online issue of Neurology, analyzed 14 randomized clinical trials of vitamin B that included a total of 54,913 participants. All of the studies compared the supplement use with a placebo or a very low-dose B vitamin. The patients were then followed for a minimum of six months.

The purpose of this meta-analysis was to see if vitamin B lowered homocysteine levels in the blood, which are associated with atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries), as well as an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clot formation and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

“Previous studies have conflicting findings regarding the use of vitamin B supplements and stroke or heart attack,” said study author Dr. Xu Yuming, with Zhengzhou University in Zhengzhou, China. “Some studies have even suggested that the supplements may increase the risk of these events.”

The data showed vitamin B lowered homocysteine levels and, therefore, the risk of stroke overall by 7%. But, researchers noted, taking vitamin B supplements did not appear to affect the severity of those strokes or the risk of death from stroke.

Vitamin B is an important nutrient for the body. It can be found naturally in a variety of foods such as beef liver, certain beans, bananas, light turkey meat, halibut and potato skins.


“B vitamins are essential for living,” notes Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietician and the author of “Diet Simple.” “They produce energy in your cells. They are water-soluble vitamins, which means if you take in too much, they are usually excreted by the kidneys. The exception is B12.”

The study authors also found that folic acid, a supplemental form of folate (vitamin B9), which is often found in fortified cereals, appeared to reduce the effect of vitamin B. Researchers did not find a reduction in stroke risk for vitamin B12.

“Based on our results, the ability of vitamin B to reduce stroke risk may be influenced by a number of other factors, such as the body’s absorption rate, the amount of folic acid or vitamin B12 concentration in the blood, and whether a person has kidney disease or high blood pressure,” said Yuming.

Although the scientists admit more research needs to be done, many stroke specialists feel this is a positive step forward.

“I think this is an exciting study, because we need more treatments for stroke,” says Dr. Teshamae Monteith, an assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“I believe safe options are necessary,” Monteith continued, “and this indeed could be that. But I don’t think people should start ingesting large amounts of vitamin B to avoid strokes. We just aren’t there yet.”

Yuming agrees. “Before you begin taking any supplements,” he warns, “you should always talk to your doctor.”

source: CNN


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What Are AGEs?

AGEs are toxic compounds. Their full name is Advanced Glycation Endproducts, and they form naturally in small amounts in our body. Until recently, scientists thought AGEs were just normal byproducts of our metabolic system linked to sugar.


New studies show that AGEs are present in large quantities in most of the foods we eat today. As new modes of food processing, applied by food industries, or popular methods of cooking expose food to dry-heat to make it safe, digestible and tasty, they also help raise AGEs to levels dangerous for the body.


Why do we consume foods that contain substances known to be toxic? It’s simple. AGEs are known to bring to raw nutrients those positive attributes we associate with our favorite meals. AGEs are responsible for the taste, appearance and the smell of foods we enjoy – the grilled burger and pizza and soft drinks and fried chicken; the bacon and corn chips and cookies. AGEs are at work whenever cooked food attracts our attention, awakens our senses and encourages us to take yet another bite, even when we’re already full. How many of us would consider eating these same foods raw? But before you think of thanking AGEs for all the pleasure they have given you over the years, consider this:

More than any other single dietary component, AGEs are now found to be linked to more diseases and health problems, including diabetesheart and kidney disease, but also dementiaAlzheimer’s diseasestrokearthritis,osteoporosisskin aging, poor wound healing, and periodontal disease.


Why are AGEs toxic?

1. AGEs are oxidants. They corrode our body the same way rust damages metal in a machine if it’s allowed to build up. Oxidation depletes our natural reserves of anti-oxidants, which are the “good guys”. Anti-oxidants are the substances that can neutralize the corrosive effects of AGEs, but only up to a point.
2. The body reacts to AGEs the same way it fights an infection, except that its capacity is limited. Our native defenses normally eliminate AGE toxins by mobilizing a low level of generalized inflammation, which is our body’s normal reaction to ”irritants”, such as bacteria. For example, a person with an infection – an “irritant” to the body – may experience a rise in body temperature – a “fever”, which indicates inflammation, but this will go away soon. Food AGEs, like bacteria, can also trigger inflammation but this time – since they come in often – it may not go away soon, and over time it can erode our self-defenses, as AGEs pile up in the body, like junk. And they continue to cause more oxidation (rusting) and inflammation (low “fever”), which may not become noticed for many years.

At worst, if inflammation is prolonged it will slowly damage every organ in the body – Most chronic diseases are associated with inflammation and high levels of AGEs. At best, AGEs speed up our body’s and mind’s aging

3. Animal fats are easily oxidized by AGEs.   When this happens, AGE-lipids from our food tend to stick to our arteries and cause blockage, high blood pressure or heart trouble. Or they settle in our waistline as AGE-fat, causing inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when insulin, a vital hormone, becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar and its levels become abnormally high. Excessive body weight is closely associated with this condition, frequently leading to diabetes.
4. AGEs also can cause proteins to stick together. With years, AGE-proteins become rigid. This is one reason why joints, muscles and tendons become stiff and inflexible over time. This is why blood vessels become thick and inelastic, a condition we call “hardening of the arteries”, which leads to high blood pressure and heart disease.


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Common meds with caffeine may be linked to stroke

By Kathryn Doyle   NEW YORK   Tue Jun 25, 2013

(Reuters Health) – Taking medications containing caffeine was tied to a doubled or even tripled risk of having a stroke in a new Korean study that might seem to contradict recent evidence suggesting coffee and tea exert protective effects.

But the results may in fact be in line with that research, according to the study authors, who point out that people who drank the least coffee were most at risk when taking caffeinated drugs.

The products included mostly over the counter pain relievers, cold medicines and alertness aids containing small amounts of caffeine. 

“Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, causing blood vessels to tighten and increasing the pressure of the blood flow,” Nam-Kyong Choi of Seoul National University College of Medicine, who co-led the study, told Reuters Health in an email

That effect on blood pressure could explain the possible link to strokes, but the study didn’t investigate the mechanism, Choi said.

The researchers selected 940 adult patients who had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, wherein a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds heavily.

They then compared those patients to a group of similar people who had not suffered a stroke but had been hospitalized, and to a third group who had neither suffered a stroke nor been hospitalized.

The team interviewed all the participants about all medications they had taken in the preceding two weeks.

They found that overall, those who had taken a medication containing caffeine were about two and a half times more likely to suffer a stroke, according to the results published in the journal Stroke.

Five percent of people who had had strokes had taken a caffeine medication, compared to 2.3 percent of the no-stroke groups.

But when the researchers factored in coffee consumption, the participants who took caffeine-containing medications but didn’t drink coffee on a daily basis were closer to three times more likely to have strokes than people not taking the medications.

And those who drank plenty of coffee daily did not seem to be at any greater risk.

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“Even though caffeine-containing medicines appear to increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, it doesn’t appear to be the ‘caffeine’ dose,” said Dr. Daniel Woo, associate professor of Neurology at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, who was not involved in the study.

“Folks who drank 3 cups of coffee per day didn’t seem to have a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke,” said Woo, who is also an associate editor of the Journal for Stroke Research and Treatment.

Since the risk of stroke didn’t go up in parallel to caffeine consumption, there was no “dose response relationship” and it’s unlikely that caffeine causes strokes, according to Dr. Susanna Larsson, a nutritional epidemiologist who studies caffeine at the National Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Moderate consumption of coffee (1-3 cups/day), which is the main source of caffeine in most populations, has been associated with lower risk of all types of stroke,” Larsson told Reuters Health by email.

One cup of coffee contains about 130 milligrams of caffeine, much higher than the 35 milligrams per day the study subjects got, on average, from caffeine meds.

Total daily caffeine intake from coffee, teas and sodas in the U.S. averages 250 to 300 milligrams daily per person, so an additional 35 milligrams from medications would be unlikely to have any effect, Larsson said.

Choi believes caffeine sources like coffee, tea and chocolate may contain other beneficial compounds that mitigate the effects of caffeine.

The new results might differ from the norm for two important reasons, Woo said: one, there’s an inherent bias when doing recall studies with stroke patients, in that the study could only include those patients who still had the mental capacity to consent and answer questions, so the study group didn’t represent stroke patients as a whole. 

Two, in Korea cold remedies and other medications may still contain phenylpropanolamine, a chemical removed from medications in the U.S. in the early 2000s when a study linked it with an increased risk of stroke. 

The patients may have been taking medicines with phenylpropanolamine, or ephedrine, which is common in cold remedies and raises blood pressure, which might have caused the strokes, Woo said. 

Choi agreed that medications containing phenylpropanolamine and caffeine deserve extra caution. 

SOURCE: Reuters    bit.ly/13TBYZ4   Stroke, online June 6, 2013.


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Pour on the olive oil: Big study finds Mediterranean-style diet cuts heart attack, stroke risk

MARILYNN MARCHIONE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS    FEBRUARY 25, 2013

Pour on the olive oil, preferably over fish and vegetables: One of the longest and most scientific tests of a Mediterranean diet suggests this style of eating can cut the chance of suffering heart-related problems, especially strokes, in older people at high risk of them.

The study lasted five years and involved about 7,500 people in Spain. Those who ate Mediterranean-style with lots of olive oil or nuts had a 30 per cent lower risk of major cardiovascular problems compared to those who were told to follow a low-fat diet but who in reality, didn’t cut fat very much. Mediterranean meant lots of fruit, fish, chicken, beans, tomato sauce, salads, and wine and little baked goods and pastries.

Mediterranean diets have long been touted as heart-healthy, but that’s based on observational studies that can’t prove the point. The new research is much stronger because people were assigned diets to follow for a long time and carefully monitored. Doctors even did lab tests to verify that the Mediterranean diet folks were consuming more olive oil or nuts as recommended.

Most of these people were taking medicines for high cholesterol and blood pressure, and researchers did not alter those proven treatments, said one study leader, Dr. Ramon Estruch of Hospital Clinic in Barcelona.

But as a first step to prevent heart problems, “we think diet is better than a drug” because it has few if any side effects, Estruch said. “Diet works.”

Results were published online Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine and were discussed at a nutrition conference in Loma Linda, Calif.

People in the study were not given rigid menus or calorie goals because weight loss was not the aim. That could be why they found the “diets” easy to stick with — only about 7 per cent dropped out within two years. There were twice as many dropouts in the low-fat group than among those eating Mediterranean-style.

Researchers also provided the nuts and olive oil, so it didn’t cost participants anything to use these relatively pricey ingredients. The type of oil may have mattered — they used extra-virgin olive oil, which is minimally processed and richer than regular or light olive oil in the chemicals and nutrients that earlier studies have suggested are beneficial.

The study involved people ages 55 to 80, just over half of them women. All were free of heart disease at the start but were at high risk for it because of health problems — half had diabetes and most were overweight and had high cholesterol and blood pressure.

They were assigned to one of three groups: Two followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons a day) or with walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds (a fistful a day). The third group was urged to eat a low-fat diet heavy on bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables and fish and light on baked goods, nuts, oils and red meat.


Independent monitors stopped the study after nearly five years when they saw fewer problems in the two groups on Mediterranean diets.

Doctors tracked a composite of heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths. There were 96 of these in the Mediterranean-olive oil group, 83 in the Mediterranean-nut group and 109 in the low-fat group.

Looked at individually, stroke was the only problem where type of diet made a big difference. Diet had no effect on death rates overall.

The Mediterranean diet proved better even though its followers ate about 200 calories more per day than the low-fat group did. The study leaders now are analyzing how each of the diets affected weight gain or loss and body mass index.

The Spanish government’s health research agency initiated and paid for the study, and foods were supplied by olive oil and nut producers in Spain and the California Walnut Commission. Many of the authors have extensive financial ties to food, wine and other industry groups but said the sponsors had no role in designing the study or analyzing and reporting its results.

Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont professor who heads the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, said the study is very strong because of the lab tests to verify oil and nut consumption and because researchers tracked actual heart attacks, strokes and deaths — not just changes in risk factors such as high cholesterol.

“At the end of the day, what we care about is whether or not disease develops,” she said. “It’s an important study.”

Rena Wing, a weight-loss expert at Brown University, noted that researchers provided the oil and nuts, and said “it’s not clear if people could get the same results from self-designed Mediterranean diets” — or if Americans would stick to them more than Europeans who are used to such foods.

Dr. George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., said he would give the study “a positive — even glowing — comment” and called it “the best and certainly one of the largest prospective dietary trials ever done.”

“The data are sufficiently strong to convince me to move my dietary pattern closer to the Mediterranean Diet that they outline,” he added.

Another independent expert also praised the study as evidence diet can lower heart risks.

“The risk reduction is close to that achieved with statins,” cholesterol-lowering drugs, said Dr. Robert Eckel, a diet and heart disease expert at the University of Colorado.

“But this study was not carried out or intended to compare diet to statins or blood pressure medicines,” he warned. “I don’t think people should think now they can quit taking their medicines.”

source: