Friday, August 29, 2014

Evidence mounting that older adults who volunteer are happier, healthier

Health benefits appear to peak at 100 volunteer hours annually, or 2-3 hours per week

Older adults who stay active by volunteering are getting more out of it than just an altruistic feeling – they are receiving a health boost!

A new study, led by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences and published online August 2014  in Psychological Bulletin, is the first to take a broad-brush look at all the available peer-reviewed evidence regarding the psychosocial health benefits of formal volunteering for older adults.

Lead investigator Dr. Nicole Anderson, together with scientists from Canadian and American academic centres, examined 73 studies published over the last 45 years involving adults aged 50-plus who were in formal volunteering roles.

To be included in the review, studies had to measure psychosocial, physical and/or cognitive outcomes associated with formal volunteering – such as happiness, physical health, depression, cognitive functioning, feelings of social support and life satisfaction.

"Our goal was to obtain a more comprehensive view of the current state of knowledge on the benefits of volunteering among older adults," said Dr. Anderson, a senior scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and associate professor, University of Toronto. "We discovered a number of trends in the results that paint a compelling picture of volunteering as an important lifestyle component for maintaining health and wellbeing in later years."

Among the key findings:

Volunteering is associated with reductions in symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and greater longevity.

Health benefits may depend on a moderate level of volunteering. There appears to be a tipping point after which greater benefits no longer accrue. The "sweet spot" appears to be at about 100 annual hours, or 2-3 hours per week.

More vulnerable seniors (i.e. those with chronic health conditions) may benefit the most from volunteering.

Feeling appreciated or needed as a volunteer appears to amplify the relationship between volunteering and psychosocial wellbeing.

"Taken together, these results suggest that volunteering is associated with health improvements and increased physical activity – changes that one would expect to offer protection against a variety of health conditions," said Dr. Anderson. Indeed, a moderate amount of volunteering has been shown to be related to less hypertension and fewer hip fractures among seniors who volunteer compared to their matched non-volunteering peers.

One troubling finding for the research team was that "very few studies" have examined the benefits of volunteering on cognitive functioning in older adults. The report noted that "not a single study" has examined the association between volunteering and risk of dementia, or the association between volunteering and a host of other health conditions that put seniors at higher risk for dementia, such as diabetes and stroke.

With dementia prevalence projected to double over 20 years, from over 30 million people worldwide today to more than 65 million people in 2030 (Alzheimer's Disease International and World Health Organization, 2012), Dr. Anderson called it a "startling omission" that the field of neuroscience research has yet to investigate the capacity of volunteering to mitigate dementia risk or delay onset.

"We encourage investigators to include more objective measures of cognitive functioning in future studies. Particularly interesting would be the inclusion of a more comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests, so that the association of volunteering with the risks of various forms of dementia and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, could be ascertained," the report concluded.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fighting prostate cancer with a tomato-rich diet

 Men who eat over 10 portions a week of tomatoes have an 18 per cent lower risk of developing prostate cancer, new research suggests.
To assess if following dietary and lifestyle recommendations reduces risk of prostate cancer, researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford looked at the diets and lifestyle of 1,806 men aged between 50 and 69 with prostate cancer and compared with 12,005 cancer-free men.
The NIHR-funded study, published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, is the first study of its kind to develop a prostate cancer 'dietary index' which consists of dietary components – selenium, calcium and foods rich in lycopene – that have been linked to prostate cancer.
Men who had optimal intake of these three dietary components had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Tomatoes and its products – such as tomato juice and baked beans - were shown to be most beneficial, with an 18 per cent reduction in risk found in men eating over 10 portions a week.
This is thought to be due to lycopene, an antioxidant which fights off toxins that can cause DNA and cell damage. Vanessa Er, from the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol and Bristol Nutrition BRU, led the research.
She said: "Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention. However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials. Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active."
The researchers also looked at the recommendations on physical activity, diet and body weight for cancer prevention published by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Only the recommendation on plant foods – high intake of fruits, vegetables and dietary fibre - was found to be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. As these recommendations are not targeted at prostate cancer prevention, researchers concluded that adhering to these recommendations is not sufficient and that additional dietary recommendations should be developed.

Ongoing, comprehensive fitness and nutrition regimens may prevent bone and muscle deterioration, injury and disease

Being physically active may significantly improve musculoskeletal and overall health, and minimize or delay the effects of aging, according to a review of the latest research on senior athletes (ages 65 and up) appearing in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS).

It long has been assumed that aging causes an inevitable deterioration of the body and its ability to function, as well as increased rates of related injuries such as sprains, strains and fractures; diseases, such as obesity and diabetes; and osteoarthritis and other bone and joint conditions. However, recent research on senior, elite athletes suggests usage of comprehensive fitness and nutrition routines helps minimize bone and joint health decline and maintain overall physical health.

"An increasing amount of evidence demonstrates that we can modulate age-related decline in the musculoskeletal system," said lead study author and orthopaedic surgeon Bryan G. Vopat, MD. "A lot of the deterioration we see with aging can be attributed to a more sedentary lifestyle instead of aging itself."
The positive effects of physical activity on maintaining bone density, muscle mass, ligament and tendon function, and cartilage volume are keys to optimal physical function and health. In addition, the literature recommends a combined physical activity regimen for all adults encompassing resistance, endurance, flexibility and balance training, "as safely allowable for a given person." Among the recommendations:

Resistance training. Prolonged, intense resistance training can increase muscle strength, lean muscle and bone mass more consistently than aerobic exercise alone. Moderately intense resistance regimens also decrease fat mass. Sustained lower and upper body resistance training bolsters bone density and reduces the risk of strains, sprains and acute fractures.

Endurance training. Sustained and at least moderately intensive aerobic training promotes heart health, increases oxygen consumption, and has been linked to other musculoskeletal benefits, including less accumulation of fat mass, maintenance of muscle strength and cartilage volumes. A minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of endurance training, in 10 to 30 minute episodes, for elite senior athletes is recommended. Less vigorous and/or short-duration aerobic regimens may provide limited benefit.

Flexibility and balance. Flexibility exercises are strongly recommended for active older adults to maintain range of motion, optimize performance and limit injury. Two days a week or more of flexibility training—sustained stretches and static/non-ballistic (non-resistant) movements—are recommended for senior athletes. Progressively difficult postures (depending on tolerance and ability) are recommended for improving and maintaining balance.

The study also recommends "proper" nutrition for older, active adults to optimize performance. For senior athletes, a daily protein intake of 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg is recommended, as well as carbohydrate consumption of 6 to 8 g/kg (more than 8 g/kg in the days leading up to an endurance event).

"Regimens must be individualized for older adults according to their baseline level of conditioning and disability, and be instituted gradually and safely, particularly for elderly and poorly conditioned adults," said Dr. Vopat. According to study authors, to improve fitness levels and minimize bone and joint health decline, when safely allowable, patients should be encouraged to continually exceed the minimum exercise recommendations.

Benefits of White Bean Extract

To date, there is limited research on the potential health benefits of white bean extract. However, some studies suggest that white bean extract may help promote weight loss. For instance, the authors of a research review published in Nutrition Journal in 2011 concluded that one proprietary white bean extract product (Phase 2 Carb Controller) may have the "potential to induce weight loss and reduce spikes in blood sugar caused by carbohydrates."
One of the few clinical trials to test the health effects of white bean extract was published in theInternational Journal of Medical Sciences in 2007. The study involved 60 slightly overweight volunteers whose weight had been essentially stable for at least six months. For 30 days, study participants took either 445 mg of white bean extract or a placebo daily (prior to consuming a meal rich in carbohydrates).
At the end of the 30-day period, researchers found that participants who had taken the white bean extract experienced a significantly greater reduction in body weight, fat mass, and waistline size (compared to members of the placebo group). What's more, white bean extract appeared to help the participants maintain lean body mass.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New statin guidelines an improvement, Yale study shows

New national guidelines can improve the way statin drugs are prescribed to patients at risk for cardiovascular disease, a Yale University study has found.
The research, published Aug. 25, 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also showed the new guidelines produce only a modest increase in the number of patients being given the drugs.
Statins are a class of drugs that help lower cholesterol by blocking the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, which the body needs in order to produce cholesterol. Common statin medications include Lipitor, Levacor, Zocor, Pravachol, and Crestor.
In 2013, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology jointly published a new set of standards for the assessment of cardiovascular risk. The standards replaced the 2001 National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III recommendations.
"There has been a great deal of discussion about the new guidelines. People worry whether the new risk equation is accurate," said Dr. Kevin M. Johnson, lead author of the study and associate professor of diagnostic radiology at the Yale School of Medicine. "They are concerned that too many people will be put on statins."
Johnson and co-author Dr. David A. Dowe of Atlantic Medical Imaging, in Galloway, N.J., studied 3,076 subjects. They applied both sets of guidelines to determine whether patients would start statin therapy.
They found that the new guidelines did a better job of discriminating between patients with little or no plaque and those with more plaque. Of patients with heavy plaque, 92% would be assigned to statin therapy under the new method, but only 53% under the old standards.
The biggest difference between the two results, researchers said, was the use of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol targets under the old guidelines. The targets "seriously degraded the accuracy of the NCEP guideline for statin assignment," according to the study.
"The old guidelines emphasized lowering LDL cholesterol to certain target values, but the new guidelines have done away with that approach," Johnson said. "Many doctors are reluctant to give up targets."
Overall, 15% more patients would be put on statins under the new guidelines — considerably fewer than some observers had predicted, he added.

The researchers noted that they used coronary atherosclerotic plaque burden as the determining factor in the study, rather than cardiac events. Further study will be necessary to evaluate the guidelines with outcome data.

My New Health Books

I am pleased to announce my latest venture - Tsadek Press. The first two Tsadek Press books on health are now available:

1. Breast Cancer - Latest Research Reports

Also available as a paperback from Amazon: 

This book offers a fascinating, and possibly, life-saving, review of the latest research on avoiding breast cancer, treating breast cancer, and surviving breast cancer.

2. Prostate Cancer - Latest Research Reports

Also available as a paperback from Amazon:

This book offers a fascinating, and possibly, life-saving , review of the latest research on avoiding prostate cancer, treating prostate cancer, and surviving prostate cancer. There is also similar information on bladder cancer.