News Briefs – June 2014Michael Downey June 1, 2014
The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health & Anti-Aging From Around the World
SEVEN DAILY FRUIT-VEG PORTIONS LOWER DEATH FROM ALL CAUSES
Together, two new studies have suggested that eating at least seven daily portions of fruit and vegetables may confer the best chance of staving off death from any cause. The researchers analyzed lifestyle data for more than 65,000 randomly selected adults aged at least 35, and they tracked recorded deaths from among the sample for an average of 7.5 years. The analysis revealed that eating fruit and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer, and of death overall. Showing dose dependence, the higher the intake of fruit and vegetables, the greater the protective effects seemed to be.
Eating at least seven daily portions was linked to a 42% lower risk of death from all causes, a 25% lower risk of death from cancer, and a 31% lower risk of death from heart disease. Two to three daily portions of vegetables were linked to a 19% lower risk of death, but the two to three daily portions of fruit were linked to just a 10% lower risk of death. A single portion of salad or vegetables seemed to confer a 12 to 15% lower risk of death overall. Surprisingly, one portion of frozen or canned fruit seemed to increase death risk by 17%, which might be related to added sugars.
These two studies were published March 31 by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. They can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/m45pqnj
WHEY PROTEIN CONSUMPTION LINKED TO LEANER BODY MASS
Researchers have found that whey protein provides men and women with benefits related to body composition, resulting in effective weight maintenance, greater lean body mass, lower weight circumference, and reduced fat mass. This holds true whether the whey is taken as a supplement in addition to resistance exercise or as part of a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet.
(The results do not apply to other forms of protein and indicate that there is something unique about whey protein, compared to other protein sources and carbohydrates, when it comes to building lean body mass and maintaining or losing weight. Whey protein is a high-quality protein naturally found in dairy and is rapidly digestible. Whey protein is one of the best sources of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, which are almost exclusively taken up and used by muscle. And whey protein contains one of the highest levels of leucine, which has been shown to influence muscle growth.)
This study was a meta-analysis that combined data from 14 earlier, randomized controlled trials. When researchers analyzed those weight loss studies that used whey protein to replace calories in the diet, participants had a decrease in body weight of 9.2 pounds (4.2 kg) on average compared to baseline values with whey protein intake. Participants had statistically significant increases in lean body mass of 4.9 pounds (2.24 kg), on average, when whey protein was used in conjunction with resistance exercise. This study was posted online April 14, 2014, and published in the March-April 2014 print issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The full report can be downloaded at https://tinyurl.com/ovaxz63 with access fee.
STRESS AND ALLERGY FLARE-UPS LINKED
A study has found that allergy sufferers with persistent stress experience more allergy flare-ups. Research-ers analyzed 179 allergy patients for 12 weeks. Thirty-nine percent had more than one allergy flare-up, and this group had higher stress than the group without allergy symptoms. While there were no significant findings between allergy flare-ups and stress on the same day, a number of sufferers reported allergy flare-ups within days of increased daily stress. (Stress can cause several negative effects on the body but is not a known cause of allergies. Alleviating stress is not known to cure allergies. The findings should not be viewed as implying that stress increases the frequency of allergic episodes; it may be the other way around.)
The researchers warned that symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers and may even be the root of stress for some; however alleviating stress may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms. This may be done, they suggested, by meditating and breathing deeply, reducing life stressors, learning to cope better, seeking help, making time for fun and relaxation, and adopting a healthy lifestyle by eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking care of health conditions.
This study was published in the April 2014 issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. It can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/pcudx2a for an access fee.
DEPRESSION INCREASES HEART FAILURE RISK BY 40 PERCENT
Scientists have released findings of a study demonstrating that moderate to severe depression increases the risk of heart failure by 40%. The study of nearly 63,000 Norwegian volunteers in a county of 97,000 inhabitants has shown this association to be dose-dependent, meaning that the more depressed you feel, the more you are at risk; this suggests a close relationship. (Clinical depression may be the origin for some people losing interest in things they used to enjoy, such as reading or watching television. It is a good idea to see your doctor in these early stages for some advice on how to reduce your depression levels.)
Compared to residents with no symptoms of depression, people with mild symptoms had a 5% increased risk of developing heart failure. Those with moderate to severe symptoms had a 40% increased risk. Depressed people have less healthy lifestyles, so this analysis adjusted for factors such as obesity and smoking that could cause both depression and heart failure. This means scientists can be confident that these factors did not cause the association.
Depression triggers stress hormones, which induce inflammation and atherosclerosis, which in turn may accelerate heart diseases. It may also be that depressed people find it more difficult to follow advice about how to take medications, improve their diet, stop smoking, or exercise more. The researchers suggested that patients at all hospitals should be screened for depression to potentially help them recover from existing physical illnesses.
These findings were presented for the first time in Stavanger, Norway on April 4, 2014 at EuroHeartCare, the annual meeting of the Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professions of the European Society of Cardiology. They have not yet been published.
DID YOU KNOW…?
While women justifiably fear breast cancer, in reality it is cardiovascular disease that claims the lives of 10 times more women than breast cancer.
BEANS, PEAS, LENTILS REDUCE BAD CHOLESTEROL, LOWER HEART DISEASE RISK
Scientists have found that eating just one serving daily of legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas can significantly reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) and lower the risk of heart disease. (High cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Most chronic disease prevention guidelines recommend consumption of legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas, although they have not made specific recommendations based on direct lipid-lowering benefits. Legume consumption is relatively low in Western diets, with only 13% eating them on any given day.)
The study reviewed 26 previous trials that included 1037 people. Researchers found a 5% reduction in LDL cholesterol in people who ate one serving (three quarters of a cup) of legumes a day. Men had greater reduction in LDL cholesterol than women. The 5% reduction in LDL suggests a potential risk reduction of 5-6% in major vascular events, the study coauthors wrote. The report notes that legume intake may have beneficial effects on other cardiometabolic risk factors, including body weight, blood pressure and glucose control. This study was early-released online April 7, 2014 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in advance of publication in a future issue. The full-text version can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/posnj6v without cost.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY MAY HELP PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
A study of older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease showed that moderate physical activity may protect brain health and stave off shrinkage of the hippocampus – the brain region responsible for memory and spatial orientation that is attacked first in this disease. (While all of us will lose some brain volume as we age, those with an increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease typically show greater hippocampal atrophy over time.)
The research found that being physically active may offer protection from the neurodegeneration associated with genetic risk for this memory-robbing and always-fatal disease by preserving the volume of the hippocampus in those at risk. This means exercise may delay cognitive decline and the onset of symptoms in these individuals.
Scientists tracked four groups of healthy older adults aged 65-89, who had normal cognitive abilities, over an 18-month period and measured the volume of their hippocampus via MRI at the beginning and end of that time period. The groups were classified both for low or high Alzheimer’s risk and for low or high physical activity levels. Of all four of these groups, only those at high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s who also did not exercise experienced a decrease in hippocampal volume (3%) over the 18-month period. All other groups, including those at high risk for Alzheimer’s but who were physically active, maintained the volume of their hippocampus.
(The lead researcher had previously showed that a proper walking exercise intervention for patients with mild cognitive decline improved cognitive function by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory.)
This research was published April 23, 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. The entire study report is available online at https://tinyurl.com/kqhxhhy without cost.
LOW VITAMIN D LINKED TO FATTY LIVER DISEASE
A study has clarified a link between low vitamin D status and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in research on children and has identified a genetic variant associated with disease severity. The investigators retrospectively analyzed the medical records of 120 pediatric patients with NAFLD, cases of which have been increasing substantially among children throughout the western world. (High levels of vitamin D deficiency and increasing numbers of rickets cases are thought to be due to the obesity epidemic, more children increasingly playing indoors, and higher use of sunscreens. NAFLD is the term used to describe fat build-up in liver cells in people who do not drink alcohol excessively, and it is rapidly becoming the most common liver disease worldwide. It affects 10% of children, and 20-30% of the overall population. Identifying a gene that impacts or alters the disease could potentially lead to the development of new treatments or diagnostic techniques.)
Patients were found to have low vitamin D blood levels throughout the entire year, not just in the winter months, plus the majority of samples were found to be deficient or insufficient in vitamin D status compared to national health standards. The study also detected a variant of the NADSYN1 gene, which was associated with NAFLD severity in patients. This report was presented April 13, 2014 at the International Liver Congress 2014 in London. It has not yet been published or posted.
ARSENIC IN CHICKEN AND WOOD
Arsenic, a notorious poison, is legally used in poultry feed to promote growth of chickens and turkeys and to make meat appear pinker and fresher. The European Union is the only country that bans arsenic from poultry feed.
Editor’s note: Another major source of arsenic is pressure treated wood. To learn more, and find the best non-toxic alternatives, contact Eco Building Resource, the GTA’s only green building supply store, at 905-841-3535 (Newmarket, Ont.) or visit: www.eco-building.ca
KEY SOURCE OF MULTI-DRUG-RESISTANT BACTERIA FOUND: KITCHENS
New research has concluded that a critical source for the transmission of multi-drug-resistant bacteria, such as drug-resistant E. coli, is the kitchens of both homes and hospitals. The main culprits in kitchens are cutting boards and the hands of food preparers after poultry has been handled. (The spread of these bacteria has long been associated with hospitals, but these findings suggest that transmission occurs within kitchens both in hospitals and homes. Entero-bacteria, a family of bacteria that includes Salmonella, E. coli, and Klebsiella, become resistant to drugs by producing extended-spectrum beta-lactamase or ESBL.)
The findings stressed the importance of hand hygiene, not only after handling raw poultry, but also after contact with cutting boards used in poultry preparation. The study examined cutting boards and food preparation gloves from hospitals and private households after the handling of various types of meat, game, poultry, and fish. They tested for ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae and found that the transmission of these drug-resistant bacteria only occurred with poultry. About 6.5% of hospital cutting boards used in preparation of poultry were contaminated with ESBL-producing E. coli. For boards used in households, researchers found ESBL-producing E. coli on 3.5% of these surfaces. And they found that 50% of kitchen gloves were contaminated with this drug-resistant E. coli.
This study was published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, available online at https://tinyurl.com/q7mhwtn
PAINKILLERS LINKED TO IRREGULAR HEARTBEATS IN OLDER ADULTS
A study has found that currently, or recently, using anti-inflammatory pain killers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may be linked to a heightened risk of an irregular heartbeat among older adults. (Known as atrial fibrillation, this type of irregular heartbeat has itself been linked to stroke, heart failure, and reduced life expectancy.)
Using only data gathered since 1990, new and current cases of atrial fibrillation were diagnosed using heart tracer recordings (ECGs) while details of drugs prescribed to study participants were gathered from pharmacies collaborating on the research project. The average age of study participants was 68.5, and 58% were women. Current use was associated with a 76% greater risk of atrial fibrillation than never use, after taking account of other risk factors, such as age, sex, and underlying cardiovascular problems.
Similarly, recent use (within the preceding 30 days) of these drugs was linked to an 84% greater risk of atrial fibrillation. This is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. In other words, it is not apparent from this study whether the NSAIDs cause atrial fibrillation or whether those who need to use NSAIDs tend to have other issues that cause it. NSAIDs may contribute to atrial fibrillation because they inhibit the production of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase (COX), which may increase blood pressure as a result of fluid retention. Alternatively, use by patients of NSAIDs, which are anti-inflammatories, may indicate underlying inflammation, and it may be this inflammation that increases the risk of atrial fibrillation.
This study was released April 8, 2014 by the journal BMJ Open. The full-text study can now be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/nctmbm5 without cost.
STUDY FINDS OBESITY DRIVES THE DRAMATIC RISE IN DIABETES CASES
A new report concludes that the alarming rise in obesity is the key contributor to a dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. Researchers examined the prevalence of diabetes, pre-diabetes, and glycemic control in 43,439 adults followed by a major survey for 17 years. Despite relatively stable demographics, the survey showed that the percentage of the population classed as confirmed diabetes cases rose from 5.5% in 1988 to 1994, to 7.6% in 1999 to 2004, and 9.3% in 2005 to 2010. (The proportion of diabetes cases that went undiagnosed decreased over the study years, which suggests some of the increases in diabetes diagnoses may be due to improvements in screening and diagnoses processes.)
The mean BMI, a measure of weight, also increased significantly over the study period, and prevalence of obesity among persons without diagnosed diabetes increased from 21.2% of the population in 1988 to 1994, to 32% in 2005 to 2010. The authors conclude that the increase in diabetes rates can be directly explained by the increase in obesity.
This study was published online April 15, 2014 by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. It can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/nazqkz9 for a fee.
HYPOGLYCEMIA CAUSES ABNORMAL HEART RHYTHMS IN DIABETICS
Scientists have found that hypoglycemia, which is very low blood sugar, known in people with diabetes Type II may cause potentially dangerous changes in heart rate. (This finding may help explain why a large-scale study previously found that very tight control of blood sugar levels in people with diabetes led to higher-than-expected death rates. It may also help explain why some otherwise healthy people with Type I diabetes died during their sleep without an apparent cause, sometimes called dead-in-bed syndrome.) Periods of hypoglycemia were associated with a high risk of marked slow heart rates, or bradycardia, accompanied by abnormal beats.
Low blood sugar levels are not uncommon in people with diabetes, a disease that can produce dangerously high blood sugar levels. The very treatments that can help prevent high blood sugar levels, and the complications that accompany long-term high blood sugar levels, can cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. During hypoglycemia, the body is low on energy. When hypoglycemia is more severe, the brain, which runs on sugar, can get confused and stop functioning. If the blood sugar gets low enough, hypoglycemia can be fatal. Low blood sugar levels often went unrecognized, according to the study. The risk of a slow heart rate was eight times higher when blood sugar was low at night compared to when it was normal. Slow heart rates did not occur during the day. Other types of abnormal heartbeats, such as arrhythmias, were also significantly higher at night when blood sugar was low compared to when it was normal. Nocturnal hypoglycemia is a major problem, because people are less likely to wake up and treat their hypoglycemia at night. The entire sympathetic response is relatively blunted at night.
While the study found an association between low blood sugar levels and abnormal heart rhythms in people with Type II diabetes, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. In addition to changing target blood sugar goals, the researchers said that the use of a continuous glucose monitor with alarms could also help people avoid low blood sugar levels in the middle of the night.
This study was published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Diabetes. The detailed report is available online at https://tinyurl.com/lfp48oy with access fee.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.