News Briefs – September 2013

The Latest Research on Nutrition, Health & Anti-Aging From Around the World

A new study reports that a small amount of cocoa may offset the dangerous inflammatory effects that result from a high-fat diet

COCOA MAY CONTROL INFLAMMATION-RELATED DISEASES

A new study reports that a small amount of cocoa may offset the dangerous inflammatory effects that result from a very high-fat diet. This in turn can reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases such as diabetes and may help obese persons to control these disorders. (Although commonly consumed in chocolate, cocoa itself has a low calorie, low fat, and high fibre content.)

In the study, some control mice were fed a low-fat diet (10% of calories from fat). Other control mice were fed a diet containing excessively high fat intake (60% of all calories from fat) plus placebo. Test mice received the excess-fat diet plus a small amount of cocoa.

At the study’s conclusion, it was found that several indicators of inflammation, diabetes, and liver disease in the cocoa-supplemented mice were much lower than those in mice fed the high-fat diet without the cocoa powder, and almost identical to indicators in the low-fat diet group. The cocoa group had about 27% lower plasma insulin levels (reduced diabetes risk), a 32% lower liver triglycerides (indicating reduced fatty liver disease and diabetes risk) level, and a slight but significant drop in the rate of body weight gain.

It is not known how excess fat intake causes inflammation or how cocoa attenuates it, but two theories were suggested. Excess dietary fat may activate a distress signal that causes immune cells to become activated and cause inflammation, and cocoa may reduce the precursors that act as a distress signal to initiate this inflammatory response. Alternatively, excess fat intake may interfere with the ability to keep a bacterial component called endotoxin from entering the bloodstream through gaps between cells in the digestive system and alerting an immune response; cocoa in this case may help improve gut barrier function.

The mice ate the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder (about 4 or 5 cups of hot cocoa) in total during a 10-week period. Future research will be conducted to better identify why the cocoa powder is effective in treating inflammation, as well as to determine if the treatment is suitable for humans. This study was published by the European Journal of Nutrition.

MENTAL ACTIVITY THROUGHOUT LIFE PRESERVES COGNITION IN OLD AGE

Scientists have found that more frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities – such as reading books and writing – throughout life helps preserve memory and cognitive function related to late-life cognitive decline, independent of common neuropathologic conditions such as dementia. For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age.

After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles. People who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime, after adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain. Mental activity accounted for nearly 15% of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain. The rate of decline was reduced by 32% in people with frequent mental activity in late life, compared to people with average mental activity; the rate of decline of those with infrequent activity was 48% faster than those with average activity.

This study was released July 3, 2013 ahead of future publication in the journal Neurology. It can now be read at https://tinyurl.com/mh5bufc with journal subscription or fee.

SATURATED FAT MAY EXPOSE ONE TO HIGHER RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S

New research has found that a diet high in saturated fat can quickly diminish body levels of apolipoprotein E, or ApoE, a key chemical that protects the brain against Alzheimer’s disease by helping to chaperone amyloid beta proteins out of the brain. (Although the origin of this disease is not fully understood, amyloid beta proteins are strongly associated with its development. Amyloid beta proteins left loose in the brain are more likely to form a toxic type of plaque that interferes with neuron function. This plaque is also found in the brains of people with this memory-robbing and always-fatal disease.)

Individuals in their late 60s, some of whom had normal cognition and some of whom had mild thinking impairment, were randomly assigned to diets that contained the same amount of calories but were either high or low in saturated fat. (High-saturated-fat diets had 45% of total energy coming from fat, and more than 25% of the total fat coming from saturated fats. The low-saturated-fat diets had 25% of energy coming from fat, with saturated fat contributing less than 7% to total fat.)

After one month, subjects who received the high fat diet showed reduced ApoE, and had higher levels of amyloid beta in their spinal fluid. Those on a low-saturated-fat diet actually saw a decline in these levels. It is important to recognize that this result does not definitively tie diet to the risk or progression of this disease, but does show diet can affect brain chemistry. Specifically, the average person will receive an anti-AD benefit from an overall dietary reduction in all saturated fats combined. This small study was posted online at the website of the journal JAMA Neurology on June 17, 2013. It will appear in a future issue of the journal, but can be read online now at https://tinyurl.com/klq4lw4

HERB SUPPRESSES APPETITE, INHIBITS FORMATION OF FAT CELLS

A study has concluded that an extract of the herb Caralluma fimbriata may play a role in curbing central obesity, the abdominal-area excess weight that is a key component of metabolic syndrome. (C. fimbriata is an edible succulent that grows wild in India, Africa and Europe. The species has long been eaten in Mediterranean countries, and was cultivated in Britain as far back as 1830. In India, it is widely consumed as a food, appetite suppressant, and treatment for diabetes. Central adiposity is a key component of metabolic syndrome. Earlier research was conducted by the extract manufacturer, but this study was independent, peer-reviewed, and journal-published.)

In this study, a group of 33 overweight and obese men and women took either a placebo or 500 mg of C. fimbriata extract twice daily, while having their exercise and dietary intake controlled and monitored. At the end of 12 weeks, those who received the herb-extract supplement lost an average of 2.6 inches from their waists, compared to only one inch lost on average from the waistlines of the placebo group. This study was published in the June 2013 issue of the journal, Complementary Therapies in Medicine. It can be downloaded in full at https://tinyurl.com/mzbheew with fee or subscription.

TOO LITTLE, OR TOO MUCH, OMEGA-3 CAN INCREASE ATRIAL FIBRILLATION RISK

A new study has found that the association between fish consumption, or intake of marine omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and atrial fibrillation (AF) reveals what is known as a U-shaped curve, meaning that the previously known reduction in AF risk occurs only with moderate intake levels. While those in the second, third, or fourth quintile of fish omega-3 intake levels saw an AF risk reduction, those in the fifth (highest) quintile of consumption saw a greater AF risk increase than those with no fish oil intake at all. (Atrial fibrillation or AF is a common type of abnormal heartbeat in which the heart rhythm is fast and irregular. Earlier studies have reported that regular consumption of fish can exert beneficial effects in preventing the development of AF.

One study of 4,815 participants found a 28% lower risk of AF for people consuming fish one to four times per week compared with those who ate fish less than once per month. However, some other study results found otherwise.) Compared to no, or close to no, marine omega-3 intake (the lowest quintile), there was a reduced AF risk for those getting between 0.39 and 0.99 grams daily of marine omega-3s (quintiles two, three, and four). The greatest risk was for those getting 1.00-7.22 grams of marine omega-3s daily (quintile five, the highest). This study is believed to explain previous conflicting results for AF; higher intake levels would have obscured the benefits of lower or moderate levels. These findings are also believed to be more reliable, because of the larger number of participants. A total of 57,053 subjects were studied.

This observational study was presented at the EHRA (European Heart Rhythm Association) EUROPACE congress on 25 June, 2013 in Athens, Greece. It will be published and posted online at a later date.

FIVE PRODUCE SERVINGS DAILY ADD THREE YEARS TO LIFESPAN

The first very large study to investigate the subject found that those who consume a daily average of five total servings of fruit and vegetables (FV) live more than three years longer than those who virtually never eat fruit and vegetables. (The association between fruit and vegetable consumption and overall mortality has seldom been investigated in large studies, and findings from the few available studies were inconsistent.) Overall, all-cause mortality was calculated, and compared to the number of fruit and vegetable (FV) servings consumed daily, through a questionnaire in a very large, population-based study of 38,221 men and 33,485 women, aged 45 to 83. In comparison with those consuming five servings of FV per day, those who never consumed FV died 37 months earlier than those who consumed 5 servings of FV daily. When scientists examined consumption of fruit and vegetables separately, they found that those who never consumed fruit died 19 months sooner than those who ate just one serving of fruit a day. Participants who never consumed vegetables died 32 months sooner than those who ate three vegetable servings a day. This study will be published in the August 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It can be accessed online now at https://tinyurl.com/nb464bl with fee or subscription.

REDUCING INFLAMMATION MAY PREVENT OBESITY AND DIABETES

In a newly released study, scientists have demonstrated that blocking inflammation can prevent obesity and the obesity-related symptoms of diabetes. In this experiment, two groups of mice were fed the same amounts of a high-fat diet. One group was also treated with injections of interleukin 10 or IL10. (To block inflammation in test animals, researchers sometimes inject IL10, an immune-regulating molecule naturally produced by the body to control inflammation. The IL10 can reduce inflammation by reducing the activity of macrophages, components of the immune system, that when over-activated by excessive weight gain, can cause significant inflammation.)

While untreated mice fed a high-fat diet gained weight quickly and began to show the early symptoms of diabetes, those on the same diet but treated with IL10 maintained healthy fat levels and showed no signs of insulin resistance. The implication is that any modalities that reduce chronic levels of inflammation in the body may also inhibit development of obesity, as well as diabetes and the many other disorders associated with obesity. This new study was released ahead of publication in a future issue of the journal Molecular Therapy. It is available online at https://tinyurl.com/dxu59c9 for a fee.

ECZEMA MAY BE LINKED TO ANTIBIOTIC USE IN EARLY LIFE

New research has found that children have a 40% greater chance of developing eczema if they are given antibiotics during their first year of life. (Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin disease, described as a persistent inflammation of the epidermis. Atopic eczema is the most common form of the disease and mainly affects children, but can follow later in life or even develop in adulthood. Around 80% of atopic eczema cases develop by 5 years of age, many occurring by the age of one. Some experts believe that eczema is a genetically inherited condition, and in fact, in 2006, experts on genetic skin disorders discovered the gene responsible for atopic eczema.)

This study, which analyzed data from 20 separate studies involving children and young adults aged up to 25, also revealed that each additional course of antibiotics may increase the risk of eczema by a further 7%. The scientists looked at exposure to antibiotics before birth and up to one year after, and the subsequent development of eczema. It was found that infants are more likely to develop eczema if they had antibiotics within their first year of life, but not prenatally. A possible mechanism for this effect, the researchers suggested, is that broad-spectrum antibiotics alter the gut microflora, the bacteria in the intestinal tract, and that this in turn affects the maturing immune system in a way that promotes allergic disease development. This evidence is not conclusive and the researchers are not suggesting that parents should withhold antibiotics from children when doctors feel such treatment is necessary.

This finding was released early by the British Journal of Dermatology, ahead of publication in a future issue. The full text of this study can now be downloaded or read without charge at https://tinyurl.com/l83pz6v

FARM SUBSIDIES CONTRIBUTE TO OBESITY TREND

A new study has concluded that agricultural subsidies are responsible for increasing the affordability of the most-processed and most energy-dense foods that contribute to the epidemic of obesity. (Many factors contribute to obesity, but the ready availability and low cost of unhealthy foods in comparison with healthy alternatives may be crucial. Obesity is closely associated with poverty.)

Reversing the subsidy policies that affect food production costs and availability could be the most widespread preventive measure to address the obesity epidemic, suggests the report. Grocery stores and restaurants sell foods made from cheaper commodities at lower prices, and commodities used in high-fat and sweetened foods are artificially cheaper, because government subsidies have made the crops used to produce them lucrative to grow. The study notes that 96% of North American cropland is dominated by eight main crops, including soybean and corn. Soybean is the source of 70% of the fats and oils consumed and corn is a high-calorie component of soft drinks, sweetened fruit drinks, canned fruits, condiments, baked goods, and ice cream, all of which play a role in obesity. This paper will be published in the September 2013 issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine. There is no fee for accessing the full-text study at https://tinyurl.com/p7htfyz

(Editor’s note:The neonicotinoid pesticides sprayed on corn and soybean crops have now been linked with millions of bee deaths in Ontario. So every time we buy conventionally grown corn or soy, or products sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), we are contributing to the destructive farming practices that are killing our bees. For more info, visit: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/ blogs/geekquinox/honeybee-deaths-linked-insecticides-high-fructose-corn-syrup-160703482.html”>https://bit.ly/1bYpVNA, or https://ca.news.yahoo.com/ blogs/geekquinox/honeybee-deaths-linked-insecticides-high-fructose-corn-syrup-160703482.html)

NUTS LINKED TO LOWER RISK OF DEATH, CANCER AND HEART DISEASE

Research has found that those who eat nuts, especially walnuts, more than an average of three times a week have a lower risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease than those who do not generally eat nuts. Overall, nut-eaters had a 39% lower mortality risk, and walnut-eaters had a 45% lower risk of death. People eating more than three servings of 28 grams of nuts each per week reduced their risk of death due to cardiovascular disease by 55% and cancer by 40%. A similar effect was demonstrated for walnuts. (It is not clear how nuts are able to prevent premature death, or why walnuts would be better than other nuts. Walnuts have particularly high content of alpha-linoleic acid, along with phytochemicals, calcium, magnesium and potassium, which may contribute to their healthy effect.)

The nutrition trial looked at the effect on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease of over 7000 older people, aged 55 to 90, of a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts, compared to a control group following a low-fat (low in nuts and olive oil) diet. In Mediterranean regions, nut consumption is relatively high compared to other countries. People who ate nuts tended to have a lower body-mass index (BMI) and smaller waist. They were also less likely to smoke and were more physically active than those who rarely or never ate nuts. Nut eating was associated with a better diet in general as these people also ate more vegetables, fruit and fish. There were fewer people with type 2 diabetes or people taking medicine for high blood pressure in the people who ate the most nuts.

These findings were released online July 16, 2013 by the journal BMC Medicine. Free access to the entire study is now available at https://tinyurl.com/mcdhh9m

NEW SENSOR DETECTS BLADDER CANCER FROM URINE SAMPLE WITH 100 PERCENT ACCURACY

A new study reports 100% accurate results from a recently developed sensor that can detect the existence of bladder cancer in an individual by measuring certain odours in the urine. (The number of newly diagnosed bladder cancer cases per year is about 8,000 in Canada, 72,000 in the U.S., and 10,000 in Britain. It is costly to detect and to treat, and early detection is crucial. Smoking is considered the leading risk factor.)

Previous reports that dogs have the ability to sniff out certain cancers in humans inspired invention of the sensor. The scientific team created a device, called ODOREADER, which can analyze the gases that chemicals in the urine emit when they are heated, and send the results to a computer for diagnosis. Before it can be used, the sensor must be assessed for accuracy. The team tested the sensor on 98 urine samples, of which 24 came from patients with bladder cancer and 74 came from people with various urological symptoms but no cancer. In earlier studies in which dogs were trained to detect bladder cancer, the dogs showed a 41% success rate, although mere random guessing would show 14% success. The ODOREADER device correctly diagnosed 100% of the 98 patients. Before using the device in hospitals, it must be tested on much larger numbers of people. This report was released online on July 8, 2013 by the journal PLoS ONE. The entire study is available at https://tinyurl.com/l8y6732

DID YOU KNOW…?

Researchers found that one way in which second-hand smoke triggers heart damage in nonsmokers is by inhibiting genes that protect the heart and activating genes that increase heart disease risk, an epigenetic effect that is even stronger among obese nonsmokers.

MUSIC DECREASES PAIN FOR CHILD PATIENTS IN HOSPITAL ER

Newly released findings by medical researchers provide evidence that music decreases perceived sense of pain by children in pediatric emergency departments in hospitals. (The pain and distress from medical procedures can have long-lasting negative effects for children. This study was conducted, because playing music for kids during painful medical procedures would be an inexpensive and easy-to-use intervention in clinical settings.)

The team conducted a clinical research trial of 42 children between the ages of 3 and 11 who came to a pediatric emergency department and needed IVs. Some of the children listened to music while getting an IV, while others did not. Researchers measured the level of distress, perceived pain levels and heart rates, as well as satisfaction levels of parents, and satisfaction levels of health-care providers who administered the IVs. Children in the music group had significantly less pain immediately after the procedure, some demonstrated significantly less distress, and the parents of the child patients were more satisfied with care. In the music group, 76% of healthcare providers said the IVs were easier to administer.

This study was released online July 15, 2013 by the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The full-text report can be accessed now at https://tinyurl.com/mo9etht with subscription or fee.

LIFESTYLE LINKED TO REDUCED RISK OF AGGRESSIVE CANCER

A new study has found that adherence to lifestyle recommendations intended to reduce the risk of cancer generally is associated with a lower risk of highly aggressive prostate cancer in men newly diagnosed with the disease. Scientists examined the association between following the World Cancer Research Fund 2007 lifestyle recommendations and the risk of highly aggressive prostate cancer among 2,212 people 40 to 70 years old and newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. The 2007 recommendations to reduce cancer risk were based on meta-analyses of over 500 studies and included maintaining an optimal weight, daily vigorous physical activity and the consumption of some foods but not others.

The new study found a significant 13% reduction in risk of aggressive cancer with each additional point in the total adherence score. Low adherence resulted in a 36 to 41% higher risk. In particular, significant protection was found by consuming less than 500 grams of red meat per week and limiting calories to 125 or less for every 100 grams of solid food per day. This study was released online July 16, 2013 by the journal Nutrition and Cancer. The full text is now accessible online at the journal website at https://tinyurl.com/mtdu936 with an access fee payment.

To view any of the hundreds of News Briefs written by Michael Downey over the past several years, visit our website at www.vitalitymagazine.com and type his name into the search engine on our home page, or search by topic.

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