News Briefs – February 2007

FOLATE AND ALZHEIMER’S

Higher intake of the nutrient folate may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 did not yield the same benefit, found a study published January 8. The study, led by Jose Luchsinger, PhD of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, looked at 965 people aged 65 and older. Those with higher levels of folate through diet and supplements were less likely to get the devastating brain ailment, the study found.

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly. This was the latest study to indicate folate may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. How? It may be by breaking down an amino acid in the blood called homocysteine. Still, Luchsinger said it was premature to recommend increasing folate intake.

“This is one more study that supports the notion that folate is beneficial. However, there have been cases in the past where what these studies show does not pan out in clinical trials,” Luchsinger said in an interview with Vitality. He was making the point that epidemiological studies such as this one are not as reliable as lab studies, where confounding factors can be controlled. Also the link was not a strong one.
The study was published in the journal, Archives of Neurology.

Folate is a B vitamin the body needs to make healthy new cells. It is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, plus citrus fruits and beans. Folic acid is the name of the nutrient’s synthetic form found in dietary supplements and in fortified foods; the artificial form, folic acid, is more easily metabolized.

Elevated homocysteine levels also are linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. The vitamins linked to lowered homocysteine levels are folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. “We studied whether the dietary intake of the vitamins that are related to homocysteine was also related to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” Luchsinger said. “And what we found was that with folate – but not vitamin B12 and not vitamin B6 – the higher intake was related to lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease over time.”

Between 1992 and 1994, the researchers examined, interviewed and reviewed the diets of 965 people, with an average age near 76, who did not have dementia, and then tracked them for an average of about six years. Of these, 192 people developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Higher folate intake was weakly associated with lower homocysteine levels, the study found. But if a number of further studies confirm the finding or uncover a stronger connection, the implications for Alzheimer’s are considerable.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to reason, learn, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. (Coincidentally, in a separate epidemiological study in the January 2, 2007 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, a possible link has been uncovered between low folate levels and age-related hearing loss.)

OVERWEIGHT? IT’S MORE THAN FOOD

Americans who have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight should start thinking about more than what they eat, a beverage industry survey reported on January 8.

The study found that liquids make up 22 per cent of calories in the average North American’s diet. But most people only count the calories they get from solid foods.

“People just may not be aware how these calories are sneaking into their diet – and they are not understanding what an impact it has on body weight,” said Carolyn O’Neil, a dietitian who is serving as a spokeswoman for the What America Drinks report. On average North Americans drink 38 ounces (0.67 liters) of water a day, which contains no calories. Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and teas were next on the list, at 17.5 ounces a day; and next, was an average 7.5 ounces of milk and 8.9 ounces of coffee on a daily basis.

Soft drinks make up 6.4 percent of total caloric intake but the percentage is even higher for teenagers. Soft drinks account for 10 per cent of the calories in a male teenager’s diet and nearly 9 per cent of a female teenager’s calories.

Some school districts have removed machines that sell full calorie soft drinks from schools. One-third of North Americans are obese by US health standards, which measure a person’s body fat.

HOTTEST NEW SUPPLEMENTATION TREND

The year 2007 has just begun but there’s little doubt what one of the year’s hottest food additives will be: omega-3. The fatty acids found in fish and some nuts and oils are increasingly being added to other foods, often as fish oil or flax seeds.

For instance, Tropicana is about to roll out orange juice fortified with omega-3. Kellogg is putting it into Kashi cereal. Unilever has put it in the margarine, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The Hain Celestial Group puts omega-3 in Health Valley cereal and is about to add it to Earth’s Best infant formula because some studies show it can aid in brain development.

This trend is aimed at the 87 million North American baby boomers because omega-3 has been shown to cut risk of heart disease and possibly other diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Four in 10 adults are seeking more omega-3s in their diets, according to a HealthFocus USA Trend Survey.

How big is the trend? Two years ago, omega-3 showed up in 120 new food products; but in 2006, it appeared in about 250, according to estimates by product research specialists.

The American Heart Association and the Food and Drug Administration applaud the idea of supplementation with omega-3. Some nutritionists encourage consuming omega-3 in food such as salmon, rather than as an additive. Coronary artery disease patients, however, may not be able to get enough omega from food and may benefit from supplementation.

Some of the foods now containing omega-3 as an additive include: orange juice, butter substitutes, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs (the hens are given canola-rich feed), cereal and, yes it’s true, pet foods.

POSTMENOPAUSAL WOMEN AT RISK

The December 2006 issue of the journal Menopause reports on the latest position of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS): Postmenopausal women are still not getting enough calcium. Most get 600 mg of calcium a day instead of the recommended 1000-1500 mg. The recommended dietary intake of vitamin D is 400 IU per day for women aged 51 to 70 years and 600 IU a day for women older than age 70 years. The NAMS now suggests an intake of up to 800 IU of vitamin D per day for the following groups:  elderly who get inadequate sunlight exposure; chronically ill, housebound and institutionalized women, or those who live in northern latitudes.

NEWS NOTES:

• Cold remedies lethal to babies? After investigating the deaths of three infants between 1 and 6 months old linked to cough and cold medication use, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are emphasizing that these drugs should be used only after discussing the risks with a physician.

• Low-carb means low-folate: Blood levels of folate in young women are dropping, says a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released January 4, 2007. This disturbing development could lead to increased birth defects and may be due to low-carb diets or the popularity of unfortified whole-grain breads, according to speculation by the CDC report.

•  Diet pill makers fined: Fines of US$25 million were levied on January 4 by the US Federal Trade Commission against marketers of Xenadrine EFX, One A Day Weight Smart, CortiSlim and TrimSpa for making false advertising claims ranging from rapid weight loss to reducing the risk of cancer. The products will remain on store shelves but the companies will have to stop making the false claims.

• Nutrition studies biased: Recent analyses have documented bias in pharmaceutical studies funded by industry. Now, an analysis from Children’s Hospital Boston finds a similar bias in scientific articles about nutrition, particularly in beverage studies. This first systematic review of nutrition studies found beverage studies funded solely by industry were four to eight times more likely to have conclusions favourable to sponsors’ financial interest than were studies with no industry funding. Findings are published online in the January 9 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine; the journal name stands for Public Library of Science.

ENERGY FOR EXERCISE

If you think you need a big lunch to supply you with the energy for your time at the gym, you may be loading up with far more calories than you could ever burn off with that routine. Ever wondered how much food it takes to make up for that workout? Let’s put it in terms of bananas. Bananas contain three natural sugars—sucrose, fructose and glucose—combined with fibre, and give an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Research has shown that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout. So loading up on food isn’t required, before or after the gym.

LITTLE-KNOWN REASONS FOR WEIGHT GAIN

How much you eat is a huge factor in weight gain, of course. But did you know that excess calorie intake and a lack of exercise are not the only factors affecting weight? Some very obscure and little-known factors can cause you to be overweight. Here’s the full list compiled by Vitality, from information supplied by researchers at Yale, Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities:

• Inadequate sleep—less than 7 to 9 hours—increases hunger and appetite and interferes with the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism.

• Endocrine disruptors, which are synthetic chemicals found in some plastics, can enter the body through the food chain and interfere with the work of hormones, which causes fattening in various ways.

• There is some evidence that living in homes and working in offices where the temperature is “comfortable” can contribute to weight gain because the body doesn’t need to use calories to keep warm or cool.

• Nicotine works as an appetite-suppressant, shown by the fact that obesity rates have gone up over the past few decades in league with reduced rates of cigarette smoking.

• Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-diabetics, anti-hypertensives, contraceptives and antihistamines have all been linked to weight gain; beta-blockers can cause weight gain of about 3lb; oral contraceptives cause an average weight gain of 11lb.

• Women tend to put on weight after 35 and after menopause because of hormonal and metabolic changes; men get heavier with age, often due to increased abdominal fat, which is linked to conditions such as diabetes.

• Studies of British children in Britain found a child’s obesity risk increases with the age of the mother; in nine-year-olds, the odds of being obese increased by 14.4 per cent for every five-year increase in maternal age.

• Research suggests low birth weight, and the rapid catch-up in growth that often follows, may increase the risk of obesity. body-mass index (BMI) may be inherited. There is also some evidence that men and women with a genetic predisposition toward greater fatty tissue are reproducing at a higher rate.

• Body-mass index (BMI) may be inherited, say experts, and there is some evidence that men and women with a genetic predisposition toward greater fatty tissue are reproducing at a higher rate.

• Thanks to a phenomenon known as “assertive mating,” people who have a high BMI are more likely to make with each other, thus increasing the number of children being born who are predisposed to obesity.

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