Archives for November 2015

Nov
28
2015

Diet And Brain Health

The fact that the type of diet you eat has a lot to do with your brain health keeps popping up in the medical literature, and this year has not been any exception.

The Mediterranean diet in particular has been shown to have very positive effects on postponing Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 5 years.

A clinical study on 674 elderly patients (mean age 80.1 years) without dementia, was published in the journal “Neurology”. It examined the question whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet would affect the degree of brain atrophy, which in turn is known to correlate with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings were interesting: a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet led to a higher total brain volume, total grey matter volume and total white matter volume as measured with high-resolution structural MRI scans. Lower meat intake led to higher brain volume and more fish intake caused the mean cortical thickness of the brain to increase. Parts of the brain that are affected in Alzheimer’s patients with atrophy like the cingulate cortex, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and hippocampus showed good volumes with the MRI scans when patients adhered to the Mediterranean diet. These volumes started to shrink when the diet was poor.

Those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet have brains that on MRI scan look 5 years younger and are much less likely to get affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Physicians have known for a long time that people, who eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke and who keep mentally stimulated will generally have healthier brains than people who don’t do these things.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

It involves eating meals that are made up of plants: vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans and nuts. You can eat fish and poultry twice per week. You cut down the amount of meat and dairy you eat, but you can have a glass of wine per day, if you like. Butter is not used for cooking, but olive oil is used instead. Here is more information of what is included in the Mediterranean diet.

Because there is less fat and less high glycemic index carbs in this diet, it is also a diet that lends itself for weight management. You shed a few pounds and reach your ideal body mass index without paying much attention to this.

Apart from the Mediterranean diet another diet, called the MIND diet has also been shown to prevent brain atrophy. This diet is a combination of the DASH diet that was developed for controlling high blood pressure and the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet makes you live longer

The Nurses’ Health Study that has been going on since 1976 showed that telomeres, the caps on chromosomes, were getting shorter in nurses who lived on junk foods, but surprisingly nurses on the Mediterranean diet preserved their telomeres. Longer telomeres are associated with slower aging. And people with longer telomeres reach an older age without diseases like heart attacks, liver disease or cancer.

Exercise on top of the Mediterranean diet

It is not a good idea to just rely on a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet to prevent heart attacks, strokes and other diseases. You need regular exercise as the other ingredient to keep you well. When you combine exercise with a healthy diet your abdominal girth shrinks as this study showed.

Another study showed that when a Mediterranean type diet is combined with regular exercise, adult onset diabetes occurrence could be reduced by 28-59%.

This is quite a significant effect of two simple interventions: a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Don’t smoke

It does not make sense to go on a healthy diet, exercise and then smoke! Interestingly an Iranian study showed that when people became health conscious, adopted a healthy diet and exercised, they also started to quit smoking. People who did all of this, quit smoking, eating healthy and exercising regularly, were also the happiest and most content.

Exercise your brain

The evidence shows that any stimulation of brain activity, particularly anything that requires active and abstract thinking will protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study showed that prevention of Alzheimer’s disease is achieved by quitting smoking, treating high blood pressure, stimulating the brain and treating diabetes.

Diet And Brain Health

Diet And Brain Health

Conclusion

Although the focus here was on diet and brain health, the most success is achieved by following a comprehensive program that involves a review of your lifestyle. This approach will be the most successful way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It starts with quitting smoking. It goes on to starting a Mediterranean diet and staying on it. Regular exercise will take care of preventing heart attacks and strokes, but exercise also ensures that all of your brain cells continue to get oxygen and nutrients, which in turn prevents brain shrinkage. Because the Mediterranean diet has a lower calorie content than the Standard American diet, there will be weight loss until you reach your ideal body mass index. Stimulating your brain by actively working with the computer, doing puzzles, playing a music instrument, phoning friends, reading books etc. will all contribute to preventing Alzheimer’s. Watching TV or movies is not an active mental activity, it is passive thinking, which means it is not as valuable as the other activities. Pick a hobby that enhances your life, and your brain will thank you for it too!

Nov
20
2015

Zero Alcohol In Pregnancy!

The American Academy of Pediatrics warned recently that pregnant women should not drink any alcohol at all to prevent learning disabilities and fetal abnormalities in their children. Even having one drink when pregnant can lead to mental difficulties in the offspring.

Dr. Cheryl Tan, an epidemiologist at the CDC said: “There is no safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. It’s just not worth the risk”. Dr. Tan from the CDC did an extensive phone survey study where drinking behaviors of non-pregnant women and pregnant women were recorded. The results were as follows. 1 in 10 pregnant women said that they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days; also 1 in 33 stated that she had been binge drinking (4 drinks or more).

Pediatricians have found over the years that even one alcoholic drink per day in a pregnant woman will lead to growth retardation in the baby. But this is not all: there are a myriad of problems with the consumption of alcoholic drinks, like problems with hearing and vision, but also heart, kidney and bone deformities. As the nervous tissue is very sensitive to the toxic effect of alcohol, the offspring of mothers who drank when pregnant often have neurodevelopmental issues such as difficulties with abstract reasoning, processing of information and ADHD.

When compared to women who did not drink while pregnant women drinking only in the first trimester were noted to be 12-times more likely having a child with neurodevelopmental issues. Women drinking in the first and the second trimester, but not the third were 61-times more at risk, while women drinking during all three trimesters increased the risk 65-times.

Medical science can be the problem

There was a previous study in only 2010 stating that it would be OK for a pregnant woman to drink one or two glasses of alcoholic drinks as the study showed no neurodevelopmental problems up until the age of 5 of the children born.

But at the end of the study the scientists did note that each mother and child is different in how they metabolize alcohol, and it should be discussed with the obstetrician what to do. This type of study makes no sense at all. It seems to carelessly suggest to women to get pregnant and continue to drink. Remember that all of the nervous tissue has to develop out of a fertilized egg, then form into the neural tube and grow into the cerebellum and the brain. On each of the multiple steps of embryonic development there is enzyme induction that determines the next step in the development and many of these important decision points can be interrupted by alcohol. The newest study from the CDC indicates very clearly that it is not safe to drink at all throughout pregnancy. The reason is that neurodevelopmental development can be seriously compromised.

Previous toxicity studies regarding the fetal alcohol syndrome

A study from Ghana documented that fetal alcohol syndrome exists in this African country, although previously not too much was medically noted. 90% of children with fetal alcohol syndrome were picked up as “failure to thrive”; 80% of these children had heart disease and 50% had hernias.

A study from Poland showed the correlation between prenatal exposure to alcohol and developmental problems in children. The sad results are 2% of 7 to 9 year olds were affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and 0.4% with fetal alcohol syndrome. It was noted that there was a great need in Poland to develop diagnostic skills to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders.

These human findings are mirrored by animal studies using a mouse model where alcohol was administered at certain times during pregnancy. The researchers could not find any safe time period during the pregnancy of mice where alcohol could be administered without causing any congenital abnormality. To the contrary: chromosomal abnormalities developed as a result of alcohol exposure that persisted into life after birth. Fetal alcohol syndrome birth defects could be pinpointed to the exact exposure time of the pregnancy when certain organ formations took place.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

The newest study from a group of pediatricians states unequivocally that no exposure to any alcohol is safe throughout any pregnancy. In 1973 fetal alcohol syndrome was first published with a cluster of genetic abnormalities. Since then it has been recognized that subtler neurodevelopmental syndromes are due to lower alcohol concentrations during pregnancies resulting in what is now called “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders”.

It is the key observation that no neurodevelopmental problems have been observed in women who did not drink a single alcoholic beverage during their pregnancy that led to the strong statement in this research paper.

“The research suggests that the smartest choice for women who are pregnant is to just abstain from alcohol completely,” said Dr. Janet F. Williams, one of the leading authors of the report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Zero Alcohol In Pregnancy!

Zero Alcohol In Pregnancy!

Conclusion

The old question whether it is safe to drink a bit of alcohol when pregnant has finally been clearly answered: When a woman is pregnant she should refrain from all forms of alcohol for the sake of giving birth to a healthy baby. Despite the definition of fetal alcohol syndrome in 1973 it has taken until 2015 before clear guidance from the health care profession and the CDC has emerged regarding drinking and pregnancy. How can we expect to have a healthy next generation both physically and neurodevelopmentally, if we do not take responsibility during the next generation’s pregnancy? This is the responsibility of the mother, the father and society at large.

Nov
10
2015

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Dr. Frank Hu and colleagues have recently re-examined the old question of what sugary soda drinks do to you. They usually contain high fructose corn syrup, a mixture of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This sugar mix can be found in sugary soda drinks as well as in many processed foods like fruit spreads. Dr. Hu’s publication is listed in PubMed , but details can be found in this summary.

The study found that one or two cans of sugary soda drinks per day lead to

  • As high as a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes,
  • A 35 percent greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease, and
  • A 16 percent increased risk of stroke.

The study also found that there is a difference of how glucose, the main sugar that the body uses for energy is metabolized versus fructose from high fructose corn syrup or the breakdown of table sugar, a disaccharide consisting of glucose and fructose combined as one molecule. Glucose gets directly absorbed from the gut into the blood circulation and with the help of insulin gets further absorbed directly into body cells. In contrast the liver metabolizes fructose into triglycerides, which can cause fatty liver disease and also insulin resistance. Fructose also raises the bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). This in turn is a risk factor for developing diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

It is fructose in sugary drinks and processed foods that are largely responsible for weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The newest finding: heart failure can also be caused by high fructose corn syrup

A study in Sweden has recently shown that sugary drinks can cause heart failure. 4200 Swedish men were followed for 12 years in regards to food habits. The study found that the men who drank at least two sweetened drinks per day had a 23% higher risk of developing heart failure. Dr. Susanna Larsson, a co-author of the study, said: “The takeaway message is that people who regularly consume sweetened beverages should consider limiting their consumption to reduce their risk of heart failure”. Heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. It develops either on its own in persons with inadequately treated high blood pressure or in people who had a previous heart attack. It is a condition, which disables the heart to effectively pump enough blood with nutrients and oxygen into the tissues. People who are affected by this condition feel the symptoms: they get short of breath with minimal activity. They also may wake up short of breath in the middle of the night. It is a miserable life, as people with heart failure are severely limited in their activities. Even walking a flight of stairs becomes a struggle or even an impossible task. Total disability is the next step.The key is prevention: do not use high fructose corn syrup, and stay away from sugar in any form; instead use stevia to sweeten your food when needed.

Be careful how you replace saturated fatty acids

Dr. Frank Hu has also participated in a study that spanned over 24 to 30 years and examined the replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), monounsaturated fatty acids and whole grain carbohydrates. The study involved 84,628 women (Nurses’ Health Study, 1980 to 2010), and 42,908 men (Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 1986 to 2010). The diet was assessed with detailed questionnaires every 4 years. 7,667 cases of cardiovascular disease (CHD) occurred during the long observation times. Compared to controls that did not change their diet with respect to saturated fatty acid intake, those who replaced with PUFA had 25% less CHD, those who replaced with monounsaturated fatty acids had 15% less CHD and those who replaced saturated fatty intake with whole grains had 9% less CHD. In contrast, a subgroup that had replaced saturated fatty acid intake with carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars ended up with a 10% increase of CHD.

Cutting fructose out of diet lowers cholesterol and weight

A new study by Dr. Robert Lustig and colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco showed on 43 children that a change of diet reducing dietary sugar from 28% to 10% and replacing it with other complex carbohydrates led to a significant reduction in triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure.

The fructose stimulus was taken away, which stimulates a part in the brain, called nucleus accumbens, where the reward center is located. This is the reason why the more sugar you take in, the more addicted to sugar you become. Not surprisingly when the diet was changed, there were not only internal signs of improving with regard to blood tests, but physically the children showed weight loss just within 10 days as their total calorie intake had reduced. Another observation with regard to fructose metabolism is that ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which usually gets suppressed after a meal, will not get suppressed when you drink a sugary drink with fructose in it. The result is that you do not feel satisfied and you keep on consuming fructose containing drinks resulting in weight gain.

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Conclusion

What we eat matters in terms of long-term consequences. This has been shown with refined sugar intake. Don’t lull yourself into the belief that honey is “healthy”. Even though it is a natural product, your body treats it according to its chemical composition: it is sugar, and unfortunately it will get you into health problems naturally. The currently fashionable agave syrup is largely composed of fructose: again, this is bad news for your health! No matter what type of sugar you choose, the long-term consequences have haunting qualities. Consequences of sugar intake are weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. When you look at this, you will agree that is not worth to take any of these risks just to satisfy a sweet tooth. Biting into a crisp, sweet apple is enjoyable and has never harmed anybody. Eating a small helping of fruit salad to top off a meal can be a delicious finale to dinner. If you need a sweetener, you are better served using the plant-derived stevia, which is available as a powder or a liquid. Smallest quantities are adequately sweetening foods. Stevia has no calories and none of the consequences of sugar: you’ll enjoy the sweetness without the bitter aftereffects of tooth decay or heart disease!

Nov
07
2015

Eat Your Avocado

Avocado is in the limelight, because it has been shown to be a super food with many positive effects on people’s health. It helps arthritis, is good for your vision, protects against cardiovascular disease, fights metabolic syndrome, helps in weight maintenance and even protects against some cancers. It contains healthy oils and many vitamins and minerals.

Avocado composition

80% of an avocado is fiber making it a valuable food to prevent colon cancer. Among the minerals it is noteworthy that avocados are rich in boron and potassium. In terms of vitamins it is rich in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K and pantothenic acid. It does not contain cholesterol, but contains monounsaturated fat (oleic acid). Oleic acid is the compound in olive oil responsible for lowering your blood pressure. The oils in avocado contain 71% monounsaturated fatty acids, 13% polyunsaturated fatty acids and 16% saturated fatty acids. This mix promotes healthy blood lipids, but also helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals. In addition to all that avocados contain phytosterols, a number of carotenoids, non-carotenoid antioxidants, alphalinolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and glutathione.

Cardiovascular disease protection

The combination of fiber and folate in avocado help to reduce LDL cholesterol, which when oxidized can lead to hardening of arteries. The folate reduces homocysteine, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Phytosterols that are similar in structure to cholesterol compete with cholesterol absorption in the gut.

In a 2015 study several diets were compared with regard to LDL lowering potential, either a low fat diet, or two forms of medium fat diets, where one contained one avocado per day. The results were surprising: the low fat diet reduced LDL by 7.4 mg/dL while the avocado diet reduced LDL by 13.5 mg/dL.

The oils in avocados also seem to suppress the appetite center in the brain helping people to eat less and controlling obesity and diabetes.

Arthritis prevention

In a 2014 study hip osteoarthritis was examined for 3 years. An extract from avocados and soybeans was used and found to be protective of osteoarthritis. The anti-inflammatory components of avocado like omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, phytosterols and non-carotenoid antioxidants all work together in countering joint inflammation. Boron abundantly contained in avocado also was found to be essential for healthy joints.

Eye protection

Avocado has its own mixture of carotenoids, like alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, neochrome, chrysanthemaxanthin and others. These are contained in the green pulp. They have anti-inflammatory properties. The fatty acid profile of avocados helps to absorb carotenoids, as they are fat-soluble. A two phase clinical study was done that showed that avocado added to salsa or to salad was leading to 5- to 15-fold increased absorption of the carotenoids in salsa and salad when compared to avocado-free salsa and salad.

This is an important observation that we should remember: always eat some avocado with any fruit or vegetable that contains carotenoids, as this will improve the absorption of the carotenoids tremendously.

Why is that so important for eye disease? In a 2008 study a total of 1802 women aged 50 to 79 years from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Oregon were followed who had intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin above the 78th percentile. They were compared to women below the 28th percentiles in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study with eye examinations in both groups. The eye specialists examined their eye lenses for nuclear cataracts. The surprising findings was that women with the highest quintile category of diet or serum levels of lutein and zeaxanthin had 32% less nuclear cataracts than women in the lowest quintile of lutein and zeaxanthin.

This shows that carotenoids of avocados have vision protective effects.

Metabolic syndrome and obesity

This 2013 study included 17,567 US adults and part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Comparisons were made between avocado eaters and non-avocado consumers. Interestingly, avocado eaters had a much better overall food quality in their diet: more vegetables, fruit, fiber and less added sugar. Calorie and sodium intake were identical in the two groups. But body weight, body mass index and waist circumference were significantly lower in avocado eaters than in the non-avocado control group. The cardio protective HDL cholesterol was significantly higher in the avocado group. The odds ratio for developing metabolic syndrome, the change in metabolism due to obesity was 50% lower in avocado consumers than in non-consumers. All of this is good news for the consumer, if we eat some avocado.

Skin, beauty and anti-aging

We don’t like to develop too many wrinkles, as they are associated with aging. The oils of avocados have been used for some time in skin care products as they stimulate collagen production in the skin and reduce wrinkles. But when you eat avocados, the carotenoid substances (such as lutein and zeaxanthin) serve for skin protection, protecting you from UV light damage. In addition, vitamin E and glutathione, which are also contained in avocado help to scavenge free radicals; they would otherwise prematurely age and wrinkle the skin. The end result is that the development of wrinkles will be reduced, when you consume avocados. The beneficial effects on your blood vessels in combination with protecting your skin will age your body slower, a point that has been noted in the anti-aging literature.

Cancer blocking properties

In the following I will briefly review the findings of several cancer research groups, but this review is by no means complete.

a) Leukemia:

This 2015 study describes a new chemotherapeutic agent, derived from avocado that they named Avocatin B. Avocatin B is active against the difficult to treat acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). It works by targeting mitochondrial components of AML, but does not affect healthy leukocytes or leukocyte progenitor stem cells.

b) Colon and esophageal cancer:

The authors of this study from Iran describe four phytoextracts of avocado for treatment of patients with esophageal cancer and colon cancer. They noted that the phytoextracts have a much lower toxicity than standard chemotherapeutic agents and significantly slow growth of these cancers. They plan to use these phytoextracts as complementary treatments of esophageal and colon cancers.

c) Oral cancers: this paper describes that avocado extracts were shown to be successful in treating oral cancers.

d) Cancer prevention: In this paper it is discussed that the phytochemicals in avocados arrest cancer cells in their cell division cycle and lead to apoptosis, which is natural cell death. The authors believe that eating avocado regularly can help prevent a whole array of different cancers by this mechanism.

Eat Your Avocado

Eat Your Avocado

Conclusion

Avocados are a super food, which has many beneficial effects. Perhaps one of the outstanding effects is prevention of obesity and the metabolic syndrome as discussed. Women may want to eat it because of the beneficial effects on skin and beauty. We all should be interested in wanting to prevent heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

But who does not want to prevent cataract surgery and keep good vision until a ripe old age? It is possible by eating avocados. And would you not want to prevent osteoarthritis? Eat avocados and add some omega-3 fatty acid from distilled fish oil as well to get the full anti-inflammatory effect. Your joints will thank you and let you swiftly move wherever you want to go.

I thought you should know about the health benefits of eating avocados. They make a nice addition to your food, not only as guacamole, but in a wide variety of dishes: use a few slices on your salad, make a tasty dip, and get inspired by recipes that you can easily find on line.

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