HEALTH NEWS: Lifestyle Reverses Aging; Diabetes and Anti-Depressants; Beetroot Lowers Blood Pressure

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Researchers have shown that exercise, good diet, stress management, and social support have the potential to reverse aging on the molecular level and partly restore the vitality of cells. These healthy lifestyle choices were shown to increase the length of telomeres, which are the DNA sequences found at the end of the chromosomes.

This is the first study to show that the benefits of healthy living may extend down to the cellular genetics of an individual. (Telomeres directly affect how cells age and have been associated with an increased risk of premature death and age-related diseases. Norm-ally, as telomeres become shorter and their structural integrity weakens, cells age and die faster. The cause of shorter telomere length has been tied to unhealthy behaviors such as cigarette smoking, chronic emotional stress and poor diet; telomeres can also be caused by diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis, infectious diseases and diabetes.)

The five-year study focused on two small groups of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer that had not been treated. Ten men were asked to make comprehensive life-style changes, while a control group of 25 men maintained their personal status quo. The lifestyle changes focused on four main areas: adoption of a whole-food, plant-based diet that was low in fat and processed carbohydrates; 30-minute walks six days a week; stress management through meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques for an hour a day; and social support via attendance at an hour-long support-group meeting once a week. The researchers took blood samples and measured the length of telomeres at the start of the study, and again after five years.

Men in the control group experienced an average shrinkage of 3% in their telomere length, while the men who made comprehensive lifestyle changes experienced a surprising increase in telomere length, equal to an average of 10% increase. The more positive lifestyle choices someone made, the longer their telomeres grew. The study was not intended to gauge whether lifestyle changes slowed progression of prostate cancer. This study was posted online September 17, 2013 at the site of The Lancet Oncology. It will be published in a future issue of the journal. The entire study can be downloaded at for an access fee.


Researchers have concluded that patients for whom antidepressant medications are prescribed are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, although the study does not suggest the drugs are the direct cause. (Use of antidepressants has risen sharply over recent years, and there are concerns they may have an adverse effect on glucose metabolism. A previous study found antidepressants are now the third most widely prescribed group of drugs. Several studies have linked antidepressant use to diabetes, but results have been conflicting, with some showing a higher, and some showing a lower, risk of diabetes.)

This review assessed data from 22 studies and three earlier reviews, all of which looked at the link between antidepressants and diabetes. The researchers proposed that different types of antidepressants may be linked to different degrees of risk. The team suggested that, because some antidepressants cause patients to add weight, this could in turn increase risk for Type 2 diabetes. But some studies showed a link persisted even when the effects of weight gain were factored out. The study concluded that doctors prescribing antidepressants should monitor patients for diabetes and encourage lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of diabetes. This study was published in the October 2013 issue of Diabetes Care. It is accessible online now at with fee.


New research has found that eating four slices of bread containing beetroot lowers blood pressure and improves the function of blood vessels, significantly improving heart health. (A previous study showed that beetroot in the form of juice or bread works to lower blood pressure.) The researchers provided 24 participants with four slices (200 grams) of bread containing 100 grams of beetroot, or control bread with no beetroot on two separate occasions. They found that, compared to the control group, the diastolic blood pressure (the lower number in the blood pressure reading) of those who consumed beetroot bread was lowered by up to 7 mmHg approximately 3 hours after consumption.

Evidence suggests that a reduction in diastolic blood pressure of only 5-6 mmHg over a five year period could reduce the chances of a stroke by 38% and coronary heart disease by 23%. In addition, prolonged high blood pressure is an important risk factor for the development of heart disease, which is the single biggest killer in Western countries.

The component of beetroot bread thought to be responsible for the beneficial effects on blood vessel function and blood pressure is dietary nitrate, which is a natural component of beetroot and a number of other vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and arugula (also known as rocket). When dietary nitrate is eaten, it produces nitric oxide in the blood vessel wall which causes relaxation of the vessel and increased blood flow. This ultimately results in lowering of blood pressure and an improvement in blood vessel function. This report was published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The full version is available online at for an access fee.


A study has found that oral nutritional supplements provided to patients during hospitalization were associated with significant reductions in length of stay and hospitalization cost. Also, supplements significantly reduced the risk of being re-admitted to the hospital during the 30 days after release. (When used in a hospital setting, oral nutritional supplements are given according to the specific health issues and nutritional status of the patient and prescribed to provide nutrition, protein, and calories. They are relatively inexpensive to provide.)

In the study, investigators were able to determine differences in length of stay and costs by comparing hospital stays where oral nutritional supplements were prescribed to patients with similar conditions – to hospital stays where nutritional supplements were not prescribed. The study analyzed more than one million adult inpatient cases and found that patients provided nutritional supplements during hospitalization benefited from a 21%, or 2.3 day, reduction in length of stay; and a 21.6%, or $4,734, reduction in patient hospitalization cost. There was a 6.7% reduction in the probability of a 30-day readmission in patients who were provided supplements during the first hospitalization.

This study was presented September 7, 2013 at the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) annual congress in Leipzig, Germany.


Scientists have found that those who are both obese and exposed to tobacco smoke, whether active or second-hand smoke, face additional health problems that extend well beyond the other well-known risks of each of these factors alone. (Both obesity and smoking are associated with a number of higher health risks, including cancer, stroke, and heart attack. In North America, obesity afflicts about 80 million people, and about 50 million still smoke, so considerable overlap occurs, with millions of people both obese and smokers.)

This study found that obesity and smoke together greatly intensify the cancer-causing potential and other risks of the toxins in smoke. The result for this combination is a much greater risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes than can be accounted for by adding the risks of either factor separately. Also, the substances in second-hand smoke had a more dramatic impact on the health of obese persons than active smoking itself. The dangerous combination impacts key mechanisms by which both the lung and liver perform metabolism. This has an effect on how the body metabolizes substances from natural toxins to drugs. This could make standard medication dosages too high or too low to be effective in obese people who are exposed to tobacco smoke but require a medication, resulting either in ineffective treatment or overdose. These medications would include oral contraceptives, insulin, heart drugs, and even supplemental doses of nutrients.

The effect of obesity and tobacco smoke combined caused some enzymes to be 100 times more or 100 times less active than when obesity or smoking occurred separately. This report was delivered September 11, 2013 in Indianapolis at the 246th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, but has not yet been published or posted.

DID YOU KNOW…? Every year, over 2 million Americans get infections that are resistant to antibiotics, and over 23,000 people die as a result – the same number that die of the flu – according to a late 2013 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some firms blend tiny amounts of olive oil with various cheap refined oils and slap on labels reading “extra virgin olive oil.” A University of California Davis study found that 69 percent of imported oils labeled “extra virgin” (organic or not) did not qualify as extra virgin olive oil.


New research indicates that men who follow at least five of a set of six healthy habits can substantially reduce their risk of dying of prostate cancer. (Each of the six habits has been previously linked with lowering prostate cancer risk, but this is the first study to examine their joint effect. While one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common type of tumour, most do not die from it. But this research considered only lethal prostate cancers.)

The research included two studies that analyzed information gathered from almost 46,000 men for 25 years. The habits investigated were:

1) eating more tomatoes;

2) eating less processed red meat;

3) not smoking;

4) exercising;

5) eating fatty fish; and

6) having a body-mass index of less than 30.

In one study, those who adopted five or six of the habits showed a 27% lower risk of developing lethal prostate cancer than those who followed none of the habits. In the other study, the risk reduction was 48%. The same scientists are now studying what elements play the most important role in reducing cancer risk.

This study was presented September 28, 2013 in Amsterdam at the European Cancer Congress. It will be published at a later date; further details are not yet available.


Chronic exposure to inflammation significantly reduces the chances of healthy aging, reports a new study. Levels of inflammation were measured by assessing levels of interleukin-6 over a five-year period. (Interleukin-6 is a marker of inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of age-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline. Diet, chronic disease, smoking and other factors can cause inflammation. However, studies on inflammation have generally looked at inflammation at only one point in time, while this study examined repeated occurrences of chronic inflammation.)

Researchers analyzed data on 3,044 persons aged 35 and up, and adjusted for potentially confounding factors. If scientists found a high interleukin-6 level just two times over the 5-year study, those subjects were 47% less likely to be successfully aging at the 10-year follow-up point. They also had a 64% greater risk of future cardiovascular events and a 143% greater risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes.

This study was released September 16, 2013 ahead of publication in a future issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The full version of the report can be accessed online at without cost.


Researchers have reported that among overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis, combining intensive diet and exercise led to decreased knee pain and better function after 18 months than diet or exercise alone. (Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the leading cause of chronic disability among older adults. OA of the knee is the most frequent cause of mobility dependency and diminished quality of life. Obesity is a major risk factor for knee OA. Of OA patients treated with drugs, only about half experience a 30 percent pain reduction, usually without improved function.)

This study looked at effects on knee OA of rapid loss of about 10% of weight, using different methods. The study included overweight and obese adults aged 55 or older with painful knee OA. They were divided into three groups: intensive diet-induced weight loss plus exercise, or intensive diet-induced weight loss alone, or exercise alone. They found that average weight loss was least in the exercise-only group, which also had the highest levels of Interleukin 6, an indicator of inflammation. Knee pain was lowest in the diet and exercise group, which also had better knee function, faster walking speed, and better physical health-related quality of life. These findings suggest that intensive diet-induced weight loss combined with exercise can safely achieve a mean long-term weight loss of more than 10%, with an associated improvement in knee osteoarthritis symptoms greater than with either intervention alone.

This study was published September 25, 2013 by the Journal of the American Medical Association. It can be read online at with fee


New research has shown that giving up smoking improves sleep. (Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, and while the numerous health problems directly caused by smoking are well documented, less has been known about the effects of smoking on sleep. This study is the first to examine sleep difficulty by smoking status in a large, nationally representative sample. Insufficient sleep is linked to numerous physical and mental health problems, including depression and diabetes.)

Scientists found that 11.9% of current smokers have trouble falling asleep, 10.6% wake in the night, and 9.5% wake up too early in the morning. The figures for sleep problems among non-smokers were much lower. For each cigarette smoked, total sleep time decreased by 1.2 minutes. The study found that those who had given up smoking saw improvements in their sleep. Smokers may be more susceptible to the illnesses associated with poor sleep along with the more commonly recognized smoke-health problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. This study will be published in a future issue of the journal Psychology, Health and Medicine. The full-text study was posted online September 17, 2013 and can now be accessed at without cost.

DID YOU KNOW…? A 2013 study in Nutrition Journal found that drinking two-thirds of a pint (400 ml) of beer can improve aortic stiffness and blood vessel function – within a couple of hours.


A study has found that omega-3 fish oil might help protect against the type of dementia that is related largely to long-term alcohol abuse. (An earlier analysis, which pooled the results of 143 studies, found that moderate social drinking may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. Moderate drinking is defined as a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Scientists now suspect that alcohol in moderate amounts stresses brain cells and toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia. But too much alcohol overwhelms the cells, leading to inflammation and cell death.)

This study showed that in the brain cells of rats exposed to high levels of alcohol, a fish oil compound known as omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) protected against inflammation and cell death. These test levels translated to the human equivalent of more than four times the legal limit for driving. Researchers found there was about 90% less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells exposed to DHA and alcohol than in the cells exposed to alcohol alone. Further study is required.

The study was presented on September 8, 2013 in Warsaw at the 14th Congress of the European Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. It has not yet been published.


Researchers have found that girls who eat peanut butter or nuts at least twice a week during the ages of 9 to 15 are 39% less likely to develop benign breast disease, which can increase the risk of cancer, by the age of 30 than girls who do not. (Benign breast disease includes lumps or tender spots that turn out to be fibrous tissue or cysts, as well as other conditions like hyperplasia, an overgrowth of the cells that line the ducts in the glandular breast tissue. Although benign breast disease is not cancerous, it can raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Another study published recently in BMC Medicine also suggests eating nuts may cut risk of death from cancer and heart disease. Other studies have found a lower risk for benign breast disease with diets richer in vegetable fats such as those in peanut butter and nuts, but this is the first to compare data from adolescence to follow-up testing, instead of expecting subjects to recall what they ate in high school.)

For their study, scientists looked at health data on over 9,000 American schoolgirls recruited between 1996 and 2001, including detailed information about food consumption. The data also included reports from the girls between 2005 and 2010, when they were 18 to 30 years old that indicated whether they had ever been diagnosed with biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease. The researchers suggested these findings indicate that corn and pulse foods, which include soy and other beans and lentils, may also be linked to reduced risk of benign breast disease, but because they did not feature as much in the diets of these girls, the evidence was not so strong. The researchers also noted that teenage girls with a family history of breast cancer significantly lowered their risk if they consumed these foods or vegetable fat.

This study was published in the September 2013 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. It is now available online in abstract form at without charge, and in full-text form at for a fee.

(Editor’s note: Peanuts are a controversial topic. According to, some peanut butters contain carcinogenic aflatoxins and pesticides: “Peanuts have a very light, porous shell that allows for easy leaching of outside materials into the peanut. And conventionally-grown peanuts have an alarmingly high rate of pesticides and other chemical contamination. The bottom line when it comes to peanut butter and your health: Buy organic to prevent pesticide contamination. Refrigerate your jar to prevent fungal growth. And, if you’re particulary concerned about aflatoxins, buy from top-notch brands like Arrowhead Mills, which claim to be completely aflatoxin-free.”)

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