Unhealthy foods may diminish positive effects of an otherwise healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, has a positive impact on health, but little is known about the effects of including unhealthy foods in an otherwise healthy diet. Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center have reported diminished benefits of a Mediterranean diet among those with high frequency of eating unhealthy foods. The results of their study were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association on January 7.

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“Eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish and whole grains may positively affects a person’s health,” said Puja Agarwal, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College. “But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat and processed meat, we observed that the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seems to be diminished.”

A Mediterranean diet is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older adults.

The observational study included 5,001 older adults living in Chicago who were part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, an evaluation of cognitive health in adults over the age of 65 conducted from 1993 to 2012. Every three years, the study participants completed a cognitive assessment questionnaire that tested basic information processing skills and memory, and they filled out a questionnaire about the frequency with which they consumed 144 food items.

The researchers analyzed how closely each of the study participants adhered to a Mediterranean diet, which includes daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, potatoes and unrefined cereals, plus moderate wine consumption. They also assessed how much each participant followed a Western diet, which included fried foods, refined grains, sweets, red and processed meats, full-fat dairy products and pizza. They assigned scores of zero to five for each food item to compile a total Mediterranean diet score for each participant along a range from zero to 55.

The researchers then examined the association between Mediterranean diet scores and changes in participants’ global cognitive function, episodic memory and perceptual speed. Participants with slower cognitive decline over the years of follow-up were those who adhered closest to the Mediterranean diet, along with limiting foods that are part of Western diet, whereas participants who ate more of the Western diet had no beneficial effect of healthy food components in slowing cognitive decline.

There was no significant interaction between age, sex, race or education and the association with cognitive decline in either high or low levels of Western diet foods. The study also included models for smoking status, body mass index and other potential variables such as cardiovascular conditions and findings remained the same.

“Western diets may adversely affect cognitive health,” Agarwal said. “Individuals who had a high Mediterranean diet score compared to those who had the lowest score were equivalent to being 5.8 years younger in age cognitively.”

Agarwal said that the results complement other studies showing that a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes and also support previous studies on Mediterranean diet and cognition. The study also notes that most of the dietary patterns that have shown improvement in cognitive function among older adults, including the Mediterranean, MIND, and DASH diets, have a unique scoring matrix based on the amount of servings consumed for each diet component.

“The more we can incorporate green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, olive oil, and fish into our diets, the better it is for our aging brains and bodies. Other studies show that red and processed meat, fried food and low whole grains intake are associated with higher inflammation and faster cognitive decline in older ages,” Agarwal said. “To benefit from diets such as the Mediterranean diet, or MIND diet, we would have to limit our consumption of processed foods and other unhealthy foods such as fried foods and sweets.”

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Weekend Funnies …

Tony

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Wives bore the brunt of child care during the shutdown – Study

Traditional gendered patterns of child care persisted during the COVID-19 shutdown, with more than a third of couples relying on women to provide most or all of it, according to a study from University of Georgia researcher Kristen Shockley.

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Some previous research has found that typical familial patterns may get upended during crises, but that’s not what Shockley and her colleagues found in the early months of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Most people have never undergone anything like this before, where all of a sudden they can’t rely on their normal child care, and most people’s work situation has changed too,” said Shockley, associate professor of psychology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “We thought this would be a chance for men to step in and partake equally in child care, but for many couples we didn’t see that happen.”

In mid-March, as schools and day cares closed and many shifted to remote work, Shockley and her colleagues quickly created a survey targeting dual-earner couples with at least one child under age 6.

“My son was 15 months old when this all started, and I know firsthand that you can’t just plop younger kids in front of a TV or expect them to do their schoolwork,” she said. “We were particularly interested in people who really had to provide active child care.”

The team initially surveyed 274 couples, conducting a follow-up survey with 133 of the same couples in May. The study, which will appear Journal of Applied Psychology, assessed marital tension, health and job performance in addition to child care strategies.

“When the wife does it all, not surprisingly, the outcomes are bad for the couple,” Shockley said. “It’s not just bad for the wife, it’s also bad for the husband, including in terms of job performance although his work role presumably hasn’t changed. When one person’s doing it all, there’s a lot of tension in the relationship, and it’s probably spilling over into the husband’s ability to focus at work.”

Though 36.6% of couples relied on the wife to provide most or all child care, 44.5% used more egalitarian strategies, and 18.9% used strategies that were not clearly gendered or egalitarian.

Egalitarian strategies included alternating work days, planning daily mini shifts that included both work and child care for husband and wife, and alternating shifts that changed day to day based on the couple’s work needs.

“When you look at the more egalitarian strategies, we found the best outcomes for people who were able to alternate working days,” Shockley said. “The boundaries are clear. When you’re working, you can really focus on work, and when you’re taking care of the kids, you can really focus on the kids. But not everybody has jobs amenable to that.”

When both people were working at home, planned mini shifts and needs-based alternation had similar well-being outcomes for the couple, but job performance was higher for couples who used needs-based alternation, according to Shockley.

“I think that’s due to the communication that comes with it, and the flexibility within your dyad at home,” she said. “For couples who are continuing to work remotely, I would say needs-based alternation with night-before communication about work needs is probably better than having fixed shifts.”

Although the paper doesn’t include qualitative quotes, Shockley remembers the participants’ comments quite clearly.

“People were saying, ‘I’m at my breaking point,’ and this was just two weeks in. A lot of people said, ‘I’m just not sleeping.’ You could feel people’s struggle, and there was a lot of resentment, particularly when the wife was doing it all,” she said.

“This really highlights some infrastructure issues we have with the way we think about child care in this country. The default becomes, ‘Oh well, the wife is going to pick up the slack.’ It’s not a long-term solution.”

Shockley also noted that the couples surveyed have relatively high incomes.

“Compared to the country, the household income of our study is pretty high,” she said. “This might look different in lower-income samples. We might see totally different strategies emerging, particularly if there’s less possibility for remote work.”

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New evidence of health threat from chemicals in marijuana and tobacco smoke – Study

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have uncovered new evidence of the potential health risks of chemicals in tobacco and marijuana smoke.

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In a study published online by EClinicalMedicine, the researchers report that people who smoked only marijuana had several smoke-related toxic chemicals in their blood and urine, but at lower levels than those who smoked both tobacco and marijuana or tobacco only. Two of those chemicals, acrylonitrile and acrylamide, are known to be toxic at high levels. The investigators also found that exposure to acrolein, a chemical produced by the combustion of a variety of materials, increases with tobacco smoking but not marijuana smoking and contributes to cardiovascular disease in tobacco smokers.

The findings suggest that high acrolein levels may be a sign of increased risk of cardiovascular disease and that reducing exposure to the chemical could lower that risk. This is particularly important for people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, given high rates of tobacco smoking and the increased risk of heart disease in this group.

Marijuana use is on the rise in the United States with a growing number of states legalizing it for medical and nonmedical purposes – including five additional states in the 2020 election. The increase has renewed concerns about the potential health effects of marijuana smoke, which is known to contain some of the same toxic combustion products found in tobacco smoke,” said the senior author of the study, Dana Gabuzda, MD, of Dana-Farber. “This is the first study to compare exposure to acrolein and other harmful smoke-related chemicals over time in exclusive marijuana smokers and tobacco smokers, and to see if those exposures are related to cardiovascular disease.”

The study involved 245 HIV-positive and HIV-negative participants in three studies of HIV infection in the United States. (Studies involving people with HIV infection were used because of high tobacco and marijuana smoking rates in this group.) The researchers collected data from participants’ medical records and survey results and analyzed their blood and urine samples for substances produced by the breakdown of nicotine or the combustion of tobacco or marijuana. Combining these datasets enabled them to trace the presence of specific toxic chemicals to tobacco or marijuana smoking and to see if any were associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

The investigators found that participants who exclusively smoked marijuana had higher blood and urine levels of several smoke-related toxic chemicals such as naphthalene, acrylamide, and acrylonitrile metabolites than non-smokers did. However, the concentrations of these substances were lower in marijuana-only smokers than in tobacco smokers.

Investigators also found that acrolein metabolites – substances generated by the breaking down of acrolein – were elevated in tobacco smokers but not marijuana smokers. This increase was associated with cardiovascular disease regardless of whether individuals smoked tobacco or had other risk factors.

“Our findings suggest that high acrolein levels may be used to identify patients with increased cardiovascular risk,” Gabuzda said, “and that reducing acrolein exposure from tobacco smoking and other sources could be a strategy for reducing risk.”

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Exercise guidelines for you – AHA

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January 12, 2021 · 12:02 am

Artificial intelligence finds new uses for existing medications

Scientists crunch data to “screen” candidates for drug repurposing

Scientists have developed a machine-learning method that crunches massive amounts of data to help determine which existing medications could improve outcomes in diseases for which they are not prescribed.

The intent of this work is to speed up drug repurposing, which is not a new concept – think Botox injections, first approved to treat crossed eyes and now a migraine treatment and top cosmetic strategy to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

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But getting to those new uses typically involves a mix of serendipity and time-consuming and expensive randomized clinical trials to ensure that a drug deemed effective for one disorder will be useful as a treatment for something else.

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Smart food choices

Following these tips can help you maintain a healthy weight, get the nutrients you need, and lower your risk of chronic disease.

  • Try to eat and drink from these food groups each day: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Variety is an important part of eating healthfully!
  • Cut back on foods and beverages that are high in calories and added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. Shift to healthier options like fresh fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Instead of high-calorie snacks, such as potato chips, try nutrient-dense snacks, such as carrots.
  • Instead of fruit products with added sugars, such as fig cookies, try fresh fruit, such as a peach.
  • Instead of regular cola, try water flavored with fruits or vegetables.
  • Use a food diary to help you keep track of your total daily calories, carbs, protein, etc., and see if you are making healthy choices. Understand how many calories you need based on your level of daily activity.
  • Choose a variety of foods that are packed with nutrients and low in calories.
  • Check the food labels to understand what foods will meet your nutritional needs each day.

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Self-controlled children tend to be healthier middle-aged adults – Study

Self-control, the ability to contain one’s own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and to work toward goals with a plan, is one of the personality traits that makes a child ready for school. And, it turns out, ready for life as well.

In a large study that has tracked a thousand people from birth through age 45 in New Zealand, researchers have determined that people who had higher levels of self-control as children were aging more slowly than their peers at age 45. Their bodies and brains were healthier and biologically younger.

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In interviews, the higher self-control group also showed they may be better equipped to handle the health, financial and social challenges of later life as well. The researchers used structured interviews and credit checks to assess financial preparedness. High childhood self-control participants expressed more positive views of aging and felt more satisfied with life in middle age.

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Weekend funnies …

I hope your first week of 2021 has been a pleasant one so far. Maybe these will help ease you into the first weekend of the New Year.

Tony

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Sweat, bleach and gym air quality – Study

One sweaty, huffing, exercising person emits as many chemicals from their body as up to five sedentary people, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study. And notably, those human emissions, including amino acids from sweat or acetone from breath, chemically combine with bleach cleaners to form new airborne chemicals with unknown impacts to indoor air quality.

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“Humans are a large source of indoor emissions,” said Zachary Finewax, CIRES research scientist and lead author of the new study out in the current edition of Indoor Air. “And chemicals in indoor air, whether from our bodies or cleaning products, don’t just disappear, they linger and travel around spaces like gyms, reacting with other chemicals.”

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Walking: Key To Staying Active and Independent – Tufts

Some years ago, I described walking as the Cinderella of the exercise world – totally unappreciated. Thankfully, more and more people are stepping up and stepping out. Here is what the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter has to say about walking.

Did you get your 10,000 steps today? Many people have adopted this daily walking goal to obtain the recommended amount of physical activity. The 10,000-steps-a-day number comes from the Japanese brand name of a pedometer manufactured in the 1960s, the “10,000 steps meter.” In the Fitbit era, counting daily steps remains appealing to many people as a source of motivation.

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In the US, adults are urged to get the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. Walking is a popular way to meet those recommendations, particularly in older adults or people who are relatively physically inactive.

Although 10,000 steps is a worthy challenge, aiming for more exercise than you normally get—unless you are one of the few who regularly trains for marathons or triathlons—comes with benefits. Any amount or type of physical activity adds to your daily goal. Regularly taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking farther away from your destination, can make a measurable improvement in your health.

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10 Foods For Improved Gut Health – AFPA

Knowing the correct supplements is a must, especially when our food intake decides which kind of microorganisms thrive in our body. Here are 10 foods which can heal leaky gut and be a boon for your gut health, according to the American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA).

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Miso

Miso means fermented beans in Japanese. It is made from fermented soybeans and contains billions of beneficial bacteria. In Japan, many people still begin their day with a hearty bowl of miso soup to stimulate digestion and energize the body. 

Miso is quite rich in essential minerals and a great source of vitamins (B, E, and K) and folic acid. It also adds the fifth element of taste (umami) to dishes like soups, broths, stews, and marinades.

Oryzae is the most important probiotic strain found in miso. Research shows that the probiotics in this condiment may help reduce symptoms linked to digestive problems, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  

Plant-based metabolic enzymes and probiotics, which are abundantly found in miso, can survive the journey through your intestines. They have a higher heat resistance than animal-based probiotics like the ones in most yogurts. 

There’s no wonder that this Japanese superfood is being highly recommended for gut health.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made by lacto-fermentation, which is also responsible for other fermented delicacies like sauerkraut (more on that later!). In the primary stage, cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that eliminates harmful bacteria. 

In the next step, the surviving Lactobacillus bacteria (good bacteria) mentioned earlier as well, convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and imparts flavor.

Gut-friendly bacteria can allow the production of chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, which improves the immune system by keeping it balanced.

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Aim to exceed weekly recommended physical activity level to offset health harms of prolonged sitting

I have written about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle numerous times as well as the benefits of regular exercise.

New additional research shows that increasing physical activity can counter early death risk linked to long periods of sedentary time.

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The health harms associated with prolonged sitting can be offset by exceeding weekly recommended physical activity levels, says the World Health Organization (WHO) in new global guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, published in a special dedicated issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

But all physical activity counts and is good for long term health, say the new guidelines.

It’s the first time that a recommendation of this kind has been made. It reflects a large and growing body of evidence linking extensive sedentary time to serious ill health and a heightened risk of early death.

New data published in the same special issue, show that adults who clock up long hours of sedentary time every day can counter these risks by increasing the amount of physical activity they do.

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Seniors’ positive mood suggests better brain function

Previous research has led to findings that support links between a positive mental outlook and physical health benefits such as lower blood pressure, less heart disease, and healthier blood sugar levels. In a recent study of mood changes in older adults, scientists also have discovered that healthy brain function may result in maintaining a positive outlook.

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For this study, which was funded in part by NIA and published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in September 2020, scientists proposed a potential neurobiological connection between an older adult’s mood with changes, over a period of time, in white brain matter and cognitive ability. White matter is where information is transmitted from one brain region to another. As we age, changes can occur in the white matter that may lead to thinking, walking, and balance problems.

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Test your heart health by climbing stairs

Climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to research presented at EACVI — Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

“The stairs test is an easy way to check your heart health,” said study author Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital A Coruña, Spain. “If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor.”

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This study was conducted to examine the relationship between a daily activity — i.e. climbing stairs — and the results obtained from exercise testing in a laboratory. “The idea was to find a simple and inexpensive method of assessing heart health,” said Dr. Peteiro. “This can help physicians triage patients for more extensive examinations.”

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Weekend funnies …

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2021 leaves 2020 in the dust in every way imaginable.

Tony

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