NEWS BRIEFS – May 2014Michael Downey May 1, 2014
The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health & Anti-Aging From Around the World
(This study does not prove a causal link but suggests that probiotics might be found to help inhibit Crohn’s disease.)
These findings were published in the March 12, 2014 issue of the journal Cell Host and Microbe. The full text of the study can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/nru67gf free of charge.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF DARK CHOCOLATE EXPLAINED
A study has uncovered the mechanisms by which dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease. (Dark chocolate has been shown in a host of studies to improve cardiovascular factors and reduce the risk of heart disease. Dark chocolate has a much greater cocoa content than light or white chocolate, providing a much richer intake of the potent antioxidants found in cocoa.)
The scientists analyzed 44 middle-aged overweight men over two periods of four weeks as they consumed 70 grams of chocolate per day. The men received either specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content or dark chocolate that was regularly produced. Both chocolates had the same cocoa content. Before and after both intervention periods, researchers performed a variety of measurements that are important indicators of vascular health.
The researchers found that dark chocolate works by helping to restore beneficial flexibility to arteries, while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
They also found that the higher flavanol content of dark chocolate did not affect vascular health in any way. However, the increased flavanol level clearly affected taste and appeared to motivate people to eat more of the dark chocolate.
This study was published in the March 2014 issue of the FASEB Journal. It has now been made available online at https://tinyurl.com/mch8snu with access fee.
HIGHER OMEGA-3 DHA IN CHILDREN MAY PROVIDE BETTER SLEEP
A research team has just found a significant association between higher levels of both the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA and the omega-6 fatty acid called AA on one hand, and improved sleep length and quality on the other. (DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is a group of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in seafood and algae. It is also found in the human brain. Children have previously been found to have generally low overall levels of DHA. This is the first study to investigate possible links between sleep and fatty acid status in healthy children.)
In this placebo-controlled study, all children studied were 7 to 9 years old. Half of the 362 children studied were given placebos, and the rest took 600 mg of DHA from algae daily, for 16 weeks and sleep patterns were assessed before and after the study. Also, 43 of the children were also fitted with wrist sensors to monitor their movements in bed over five nights.
Results indicated that supplemented children got 58 minutes more sleep per night and had seven fewer waking episodes nightly. Blood levels of DHA were also tested and the findings indicated that higher blood levels of DHA were significantly associated with better sleep and less bedtime resistance, parasomnias (abnormal movements, perceptions, and dreams during sleep), and total sleep disturbance. This finding was dose-dependent, meaning the association was strongly correlated. The study also found that higher ratios of DHA in relation to the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) were also associated with fewer sleep problems. The study will be published in a future issue of the Journal of Sleep Research, but it has not yet been released to the public.
DID YOU KNOW…?
A newly released 20-year study has found that a diet high in meat and cheese makes you 300% more likely to die of cancer and 74% more likely to die early from any cause. The study was published in the March 4, 2014 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.
SERIOUS DIARRHEA CASES IN CHILDREN TRACED TO ANTIBIOTIC USE
A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the majority of children who develop Clostridium difficile infections, which cause severe diarrhea and can be life-threatening, are those who recently took antibiotics prescribed by their doctor for other conditions. (Taking antibiotics is the most important risk factor for developing C. difficile infections for both adults and children. When a person takes antibiotics, beneficial bacteria that protect against infection can be altered or even eliminated for several weeks to months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or from a healthcare provider. Previous studies show that at least 50% of antibiotics prescribed by doctors for children are for respiratory infections. C. difficile, which causes at least 250,000 infections in hospitalized patients and 14,000 deaths every year among children and adults, remains at all-time high levels.)
The researchers found that 71% of the cases of C. difficile infection identified among children aged one through 17 years were community-associated, meaning not associated with an overnight stay in a healthcare facility. By contrast, two-thirds of the C. difficile infections in adults were associated with hospital stays. Among the community-associated pediatric cases, 73% were prescribed antibiotics during the 12 weeks prior to their illness, usually in an outpatient setting such as the office of a doctor. Most of the children who received antibiotics were being treated for ear, sinus, or upper respiratory infections, which are not helped by antibiotics. According to preliminary CDC data, an estimated 17,000 children aged one through 17 years get C. difficile infections every year. The highest infection numbers were seen between the ages of 12 and 23 months.
The CDC aims to encourage a reduction in outpatient prescriptions by up to 20% and healthcare-associated C. difficile infections by 50% within five years, which could save 20,000 lives, prevent 150,000 hospitalizations, and cut more than $2 billion in healthcare costs. This study was released March 3, 2014 by the journal Pediatrics ahead of publication in print. The full-text version is now available for viewing online at https://tinyurl.com/opl3mbz
HIGH-PROTEIN BAD FOR THE MIDDLE-AGED, BUT GOOD FOR THE ELDERLY
Scientists have just reported findings showing that middle-aged individuals who consume diets containing the highest levels of protein, particularly animal protein, were more than four times as likely to die of cancer or diabetes, and twice as likely to die of any cause, than middle-aged persons whose diets were lowest in protein. However, elderly individuals who consume diets highest in protein were found to be 60% less likely to die of cancer and 28% less likely to die of any cause than elderly persons whose protein intake was lowest. In other words, the question of low-protein versus high-protein diets comes down to what stage of life you are in.
The 18-year study, involving a database of 6,381 individuals, shows that eating reduced levels of protein from age 50 to 65, and then eating higher levels of protein from that age onward, appears to be a formula for extending life. Other research by the same group suggested that the risks of a high-protein diet also apply to those prior to age 50.
Middle-aged persons following a diet in which protein accounted for 20% or more of daily calories increased their risk of dying during the 18-year study period to levels equal to the mortality effect of smoking cigarettes. Whether the rest of the diet was comprised of fat or carbohydrates made no difference to mortality.
Also, the source of the protein made little difference to the older group, but did make a big difference to the younger group. Middle-aged individuals whose protein sources were heavily plant-based, such as nuts and legumes, had a lower cancer death risk than similarly aged persons whose protein sources were heavily animal-based. And the increased risk of all-cause mortality from high protein intake disappeared altogether in middle-aged persons if their protein came primarily from plants.
Higher protein levels in the elderly group may have reduced mortality by helping to maintain weight and muscle mass during a period of growing frailty and muscle and weight loss.
Also, blood analyses showed that in the younger age group, heavy protein consumption drove up levels of a pivotal hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, that plays a critical role in promoting runaway cancer growth, heart enlargement, and obesity. (While the role of IGF-1 in promoting cancer growth was already known, its link to a high-protein diet is new.)
This study was published in the March 2014 edition of the journal Cell Metabolism. Full details of this research can now be accessed online at https://tinyurl.com/mcxp4ja without charge.
HIGHER INTAKE OF DIET DRINKS LINKED TO HEART TROUBLE IN WOMEN
Researchers have found a link between the intakes of two or more diet drinks a day and a greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems, at least in women. The study only included postmenopausal women aged 62.8 on average with no cardiovascular problems; so the correlation has not yet been shown to exist in men, young adults, or women with heart issues.
Researchers analyzed diet drink intake and cardiovascular risk factors from 59,614 participants who were followed for an average of 8.7 years, making this the largest-ever study to look at the relationship between diet drink consumption, cardiac events, and death. Each drink was defined as the equivalent of a 12-ounce beverage and included both diet sodas and diet fruit drinks. Compared to women who never consume diet soft drinks, those who consumed two or more a day were 30% more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and 50% more likely to die from a cardiovascular-related disease. (These findings extend data from previous studies showing an association between diet drinks and metabolic syndrome.)
The primary outcome measured was a composite of incident coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack, coronary revascularization procedure, ischemic stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and cardiovascular death. This composite outcome occurred in 8.5% of the women consuming two or more diet drinks a day; in 6.9% of the five-to-seven diet drinks per week group; in 6.8% of the one-to-four drinks per week group; and in 7.2% in the zero-to-three per month group. Women who consumed two or more diet drinks daily were younger, more likely to be smokers, and had a higher prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and higher body mass index.
It is important to note that this is only an association: it should not be inferred that diet drinks necessarily cause these problems. Much more study is needed. This study was presented March 30, 2014 in Washington, DC, at the 63rd Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology. It should be considered preliminary until published soon in a peer-reviewed journal.
OAT COMPOUND FOUND TO HAVE HEART AND ANTI-CANCER BENEFITS
An international team of scientists has revealed several new studies about the antioxidant and heart protective effects of a compound that is found only in oats. (The soluble fiber called beta-glucan, found in oats, has been long recognized for its ability to lower both total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Although this cardiovascular benefit comes from the fiber in oats, the new study addresses the separate cardiovascular and other benefits that come from a phenol that is found in no other food except oats.) The team gathered together growing evidence that the phenolic compound found in oats and known as avenanthramide or AVE delivers potent health advantages that go much further than the well-known effects of the oat fiber beta-glucan and may provide much of the benefit commonly attributed to the fiber. AVE possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, and anti-cancer properties. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties likely protect artery health. AVE suppresses production of inflammatory cytokines associated with fatty streak formation in the arteries. In addition, AVE represses the process associated with the development of atherosclerosis.
The full study will reveal the benefits of eating oats on chronic disease and how oats may improve glucose control and lipid metabolism. Different elements of the studies were presented March 18, 2014 in a session called Physicochemical Properties and Biological Functionality of Oats, at the 247th annual conference of the American Chemical Society in Dallas. Details have not yet been posted online or published.
DID YOU KNOW…?
A study has found that tart cherries, which should not be confused with the sweet cherries found in stores, have the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of any food.
DID YOU KNOW…?
Using commercial mouthwash increases the risk for head and neck cancers, according to findings reported in the Dental Journal, and raises the risk for heart attack and stroke, according to findings reported in Free Radical Biology And Medicine.
MARIJUANA MAY EASE SOME MS SYMPTOMS
A new review and guideline by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that oral marijuana pills and oral marijuana spray may ease MS symptoms of spasticity, pain related to spasticity, and frequent urination. This therapy did not reduce tremor. Long-term safety of medical marijuana use in pill or oral spray is not known. The new guidelines state that there is not enough evidence that actually smoking marijuana is helpful in treating MS symptoms. Medical marijuana in pill or oral spray form may cause side effects, some of which can be serious. Examples are seizures, dizziness, thinking and memory problems as well as psychological problems such as depression. Depression symptoms can be a concern given that some people with MS are at an increased risk for depression or suicide. The guideline looked at complementary and alternative medicine therapies and their effects on MS. Most therapies showed no benefit, but limited evidence suggested that ginkgo biloba or magnetic therapy may possibly help reduce tiredness but not thinking or memory problems and not depression; and limited evidence suggested that reflexology might possibly help ease symptoms such tingling, numbness and other unusual skin sensations. This study was published in the March 25, 2014 issue of the journal Neurology. The full-text version of the report can now be read online at https://tinyurl.com/kweh88p without cost.
SUGAR-SWEETENED BEVERAGES STRONGEST LINK TO TEENAGE OBESITY
Scientists have reported that drinks sweetened with sugar are strongly linked to a greater risk of teenage obesity, although other environmental factors appear to also play a prominent role. They found that other non-nutritious foods such as pizza, french fries, chips, and candies did not correlate with obesity as much as sugar-sweetened soft drinks. (Previous research has suggested that the high concentration of sugar in soft drinks contributes to obesity in adolescents.) The study showed that school food programs affected sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. Students who were moderate consumers of these beverages were 60% less likely to consume them in the schools that followed healthy nutrition guidelines.
The report recommended that schools create an environment that is more conducive to healthy eating, which should strongly support healthy weights among teens. This study was published in the March 26, 2014 issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition. The full-text version can now be read online at https://www.ijbnpa.org/content/11/1/29 free of charge.
Michael Downey is a former columnist with Vitality Magazine.