News Briefs – February 2016

Eating more home-cooked meals (vs eating out a lot) lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Eating More Home-Made Meals Lowers Risk of Diabetes

According to new research, people who eat more home-cooked meals have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Researchers analyzed data from nearly 58,000 women and more than 41,000 men and followed them for as long as 36 years. None of the participants had diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at the beginning of the study. It was found that people who ate about two homemade meals, whether lunches or dinners, each day (or about 11 – 14 meals a week) had a 13% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to people who ate fewer than six homemade lunches or dinners a week.

Accumulating studies have suggested that eating out, especially in fast food chain restaurants, is associated with lower diet quality and higher body weight in children and young adults. Excess weight and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, which in turn is a major risk factor for heart disease. The trend toward eating commercially prepared meals in restaurants or as take-out has increased significantly over the last 50 years; during the same period, diabetes rates have also increased. Eating meals prepared at home was associated with less weight gain over an eight-year period.

This study was presented November 9-11, 2015 in Orlando at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2015. It should not be considered final until it is eventually published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Soda Pop and Sweet Drinks Boost Heart Failure Risk

Scientists have concluded that individuals who regularly consume soda beverages or sweetened fruit drinks may have a higher risk for heart failure. The researchers found that people who drank two or more servings of sweetened beverages daily should consider reducing their consumption to lower their risk of not only heart failure, but also obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and possibly other diseases.

Heart failure occurs when the heart grows too weak to pump enough blood to meet body needs. Patients tire easily, suffer shortness of breath, and develop fluid build-up in their feet, ankles, and legs. Only about half of those diagnosed with heart failure are still alive five years later. Sweetened drinks have been linked to stroke, diabetes, and obesity, but little study has previously been done on the effects of sugary beverages on heart health.

Researchers tracked 42,400 men, aged 45 to 79, for 12 years. One serving of a sweetened drink was defined as 200 milliliters or nearly 7 ounces, and no distinction was made between drinks sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Unsweetened fruit juices, coffee, and tea were not included in the study. After controlling for all foods that could affect heart risk, the team found that at least two servings of sweetened drinks a day increased heart failure risk by 23%.

This study was posted online by the journal Heart on November 2, 2015 ahead of publication in a later issue. The article can be read at http://tinyurl.com/oj98wq3 free of charge.

Copper Prevents the Spread of Deadly Respiratory Viruses

Scientists have found that contact with copper can effectively prevent the spread of dangerous respiratory viruses linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Animal coronaviruses that host-jump to humans, such as SARS and MERS, result in severe infections with high mortality. A closely-related human coronavirus, called 229E, produces a range of respiratory symptoms (from the common cold to more lethal outcomes such as pneumonia) and can survive on surface materials including ceramic tiles, glass, rubber, and stainless steel for at least five days. However, this virus is rapidly destroyed when it touches a surface made of copper.

While human-to-human transmission is important, infections can be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets from infected individuals, or hand touching, leading to a wider and more rapid spread. Respiratory viruses are responsible for more deaths, globally, than any other infectious agent. The evolution of new respiratory viruses, and the re-emergence of historic virulent strains, poses a significant threat to human health.

On surfaces made of copper or a range of alloys that include copper, the coronavirus was inactivated within a few minutes. Exposure to copper destroyed the virus completely and irreversibly, leading the researchers to conclude that antimicrobial copper surfaces could be employed in communal areas and at any mass gatherings to help reduce the spread of respiratory viruses and protect public health.

The study was published November 10, 2015 by the journal mBio. The full study is now available online at http://tinyurl.com/oe268q9 free of charge.

White Vegetables May Cut the Risk of Stomach Cancer

Researchers pooling the results of 76 previous studies that involved a total of 6,316,385 people have found a link between a reduced risk of stomach cancer and a higher intake of the overall broad category of vegetables known as white vegetables. In general, this includes items such as cabbage, onions, cauliflower, asparagus, chard, celery, endive, leek, and white potatoes. However, the study did not manage to establish a protective effect for any one white vegetable in particular. An analysis of the link between stomach cancer and white potatoes for instance, failed to find any association.

The study found that a high intake of fruit was associated with a 7% reduction in stomach cancer, while eating more white vegetables generally was associated with a 33% lower risk. A diet high in pickled vegetables, processed meats, salted foods, and alcohol was associated with an increased risk of cancer. Stomach or gastric cancer is one of the most common cancers, accounting for almost 10% of cancer deaths. Surprisingly, high tomato intake was associated with an 11% increased risk. Vitamin C showed an 11% reduced risk of cancer, while alcohol showed a 5% risk increase. High salt intake boosted risk 12%.

How many white vegetables should be eaten to have a preventive effect could not be determined from this type of study.

This study was published in the December 2015 issue of European Journal of Cancer and is now posted online at http://tinyurl.com/occyqk6. There is a fee for the full report.

Did You Know…?

Women who breastfeed have a 20% lower risk of getting an aggressive form of breast cancer (called hormone-receptor negative). The full study is available at http://tinyurl.com/pnfjkdm

Loneliness in Seniors Can Increase Risk of Premature Death

A new study has found that for older adults, loneliness (perceived social isolation) is a major health risk that can increase the risk of premature death by 14%. Researchers have long known the dangers of loneliness, but the cellular mechanisms by which loneliness causes adverse health outcomes have not been well understood. After studying humans and rhesus macaques, a highly social primate, researchers have now shed new light on how loneliness triggers physiological responses that can ultimately make us sick. Loneliness leads to fight-or-flight stress signalling, which can ultimately affect the production of white blood cells. In both humans and rhesus macaques, loneliness increases expression of genes involved in inflammation and decreases expression of genes involved in antiviral responses. Essentially, lonely people show less effective immune responses and more inflammation than non-lonely people.

Surprisingly, in an apparent reciprocal relationship, just as loneliness was a predictor of altered gene expression, the resulting altered gene expression also predicted that the individual would feel lonely a year later. These results were specific to loneliness and could not be explained by depression, stress, or lack of social support. This study will be published in a future issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The report was early-posted online on November 23, 2015 athttp://tinyurl.com/q4tlww9

Mind–Body Medicine Reduces Heart Attacks in Cardiac Patients

A study has found that mind-body medicine has the potential to ward off more heart attacks than conventional prevention programs. Mind-body medicine, or MBM, is a holistic approach that embraces relaxation methods and psychological motivation techniques in addition to the usual prevention techniques of exercise and nutrition. Following a systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers concluded that the overall evidence suggests that MBM has positive effects on coronary events, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure in cardiac patients.

In the studies analyzed by the team, coronary events occurred in 68 of the 307 patients who received conventional interventions but in only 33, or half as many, of the 308 on MBM prevention programs. The authors pointed out that, despite this positive effect, MBM does not decrease mortality in cardiac patients. However, the lower incidence of coronary events is still beneficial and they therefore endorse MBM or other comparable programs for lifestyle modification in cardiac patients.

This study was recently published in the journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. The report is now available online at http://tinyurl.com/nab9b5x

Did You Know…?

New research published in the British Journal of Cancer in November 2015 suggests that magnesium may help prevent pancreatic cancer. The full report is available at http://tinyurl.com/zuvgk4e

Vitamin D May Ease Symptoms of IBS

A study has found that people who have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are generally vitamin D-deficient. IBS is a poorly understood, chronic, debilitating, and potentially embarrassing functional disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, involving diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. It affects between 9 and 23% of people worldwide and 10 to 15% of people in the U.S. How it develops is unknown, although dietary factors and stress make symptoms worse.

Out of 51 patients in this research with IBS, 82% had insufficient vitamin D levels. Also, vitamin D status reflected the perceived quality of life for each individual, measured by the extent to which they reported the impact of IBS on life. The researchers suggested that IBS is a complex illness that may occur alongside other conditions which could also benefit from vitamin D supplements. The team plans to conduct a larger clinical trial. This study was posted early online and will appear in a future edition of the journal BMJ Open Gastroenterology. The full-text study can now be read athttp://tinyurl.com/hxdjoo4 without charge.

Special Diet Can Treat Epilepsy Patients

Scientists have found that a particular high-fat diet known as the ketogenic diet acts to block seizures in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy. Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide, and a third of people diagnosed with epilepsy have seizures that are not adequately controlled by current treatments. The ketogenic diet is generally believed beneficial for reversing certain diseases due to ketones, which the body produces when it is forced to burn fat instead of glucose. This study points instead to the effects of the fat itself, at least in cases of epilepsy.

The team identified potent anti-epileptic effects in a specific fatty acid, called decanoic acid, which is a medium chain triglyceride, meaning a chemical containing three fatty acids. Basically, the ketogenic diet is comprised of high levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrate-containing foods. Decanoic acid was observed to outperform drugs currently used for controlling seizures and to possibly have fewer side effects. This will offer a whole new approach to the management of epilepsy in both children and adults.

This study was posted November 25, 2015 in the Early Access section of the journal Brain and will be print-published soon. The report is now available online at http://tinyurl.com/j4o42np without cost.

Greater Purpose in Life Reduces Risk of Death

A new scientific report has found that people who have a higher sense of purpose in life have a lower risk of death and cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms behind the association remain unclear but suggest that strengthening a sense of purpose might improve health and longevity. In a meta-analysis, data from more than 136,000 participants from 10 different studies in the United States and Japan were evaluated with a view to associations with a sense of purpose or meaning in life, or usefulness to others.

The study participants, aged 67 on average, were followed for an average of seven years, during which time over 14,500 died from any cause and over 4,000 suffered cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke. After adjusting for other factors, mortality was about 20% lower for those reporting a strong sense of purpose and they also showed a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular events. Both associations remained significant no matter how purpose in life was measured, and even when studies included participants with pre-existing cardiovascular disease. (The association might be explained physiologically: purpose may buffer body responses to stress or even promote a healthier lifestyle.)

This study was posted December 1, 2015 in the Ahead-of-Print section of the site of Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine. The full study is available for download as a PDF athttp://tinyurl.com/hmbh6za free of charge.

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