Friday, April 29, 2016

Peppermint tea can improve long-term and working memory and in healthy adults

Peppermint tea can improve long-term and working memory and in healthy adults.

This is the finding of a study by Dr Mark Moss, Robert Jones and Lucy Moss of Northumbria University who presented their research thist at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Nottingham.

A total of 180 participants were randomly allocated to receive a drink of peppermint tea, chamomile tea or hot water. Before they consumed their drink they completed questionnaires relating to their mood. After a twenty minute rest the participants completed tests that assessed their memory and a range of other cognitive functions. Following the tests participants completed another mood questionnaire.

Analysis of the results showed that peppermint tea significantly improved long term memory, working memory and alertness compared to both chamomile and hot water. Chamomile tea significantly slowed memory and attention speed compared to both peppermint and hot water.

Dr Mark Moss said: "It's interesting to see the contrasting effects on mood and cognition of the two different herbal teas. The enhancing and arousing effects of peppermint and the calming/sedative effects of chamomile observed in this study are in keeping with the claimed properties of these herbs and suggest beneficial effects can be drawn from their use."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Short-term language learning aids mental agility

Mental agility can be boosted by even a short period of learning a language, a study suggests.

Tests carried out on students of all ages suggest that acquiring a new language improves a person's attention, after only a week of study.

Researchers also found that these benefits could be maintained with regular practice.

A team from the University of Edinburgh assessed different aspects of mental alertness in a group of 33 students aged 18 to 78 who had taken part in a one-week Scottish Gaelic course.

Researcher's tracked people's attention levels with a series of listening tests including the ability to concentrate on certain sounds and switch the attention to filter relevant information.

They compared the results with those of people who had completed a one week course - but not involving learning a new language - and with a group who had not completed any course.

After one week, improvements in attention were found in both groups participating in intensive courses, but only those learning a second language were significantly better than those not involved in any courses.

This improvement was found for all ages, from 18 to 78 years, which researchers say demonstrates the benefits of language learning also in later life.

Nine months after the initial course all those who had practised five hours or more per week improved from their baseline performance.

The researchers say this shows the mental skills gained from language learning can be maintained if speakers practise continuously.

Lead researcher, Dr Thomas Bak of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences said the results confirm the cognitive benefits of language learning.

He said: "I think there are three important messages from our study: firstly, it is never too late to start a novel mental activity such as learning a new language. Secondly, even a short intensive course can show beneficial effects on some cognitive functions. Thirdly, this effect can be maintained through practice."

The study was completed with the help of students from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic language and culture on the Isle of Skye, which forms part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of the College said: "I welcome the study's identification of the cognitive benefits gained from learning Gaelic on our short courses. HMI audits have previously found that students have derived social benefits from these courses and this new research confirms that short course study at the College confers threefold benefits - linguistic, cognitive and social."

1 minute of intense exercise produces health benefits

Researchers at McMaster University have found that a single minute of very intense exercise produces health benefits similar to longer, traditional endurance training.

The findings put to rest the common excuse for not getting in shape: there is not enough time.

"This is a very time-efficient workout strategy," says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and lead author on the study. "Brief bursts of intense exercise are remarkably effective."

Scientists set out to determine how sprint interval training (SIT) compared to moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), as recommended in public health guidelines. They examined key health indicators including cardiorespiratory fitness and insulin sensitivity, a measure of how the body regulates blood sugar.

A total of 27 sedentary men were recruited and assigned to perform three weekly sessions of either intense or moderate training for 12 weeks, or to a control group that did not exercise).

The McMaster team has previously shown that the SIT protocol, which involved three 20-second 'all-out' cycle sprints, was effective for boosting fitness. The workout totaled just 10 minutes, including a 2-minute warm-up and 3-minute cool down, and two minutes of easy cycling for recovery between the hard sprints.

The new study compared the SIT protocol with a group who performed 45 minutes of continuous cycling at a moderate pace, plus the same warm-up and cool down. After 12 weeks of training, the results were remarkably similar, even though the MICT protocol involved five times as much exercise and a five-fold greater time commitment.

"Most people cite 'lack of time' as the main reason for not being active", according to Gibala. "Our study shows that an interval-based approach can be more efficient -- you can get health and fitness benefits comparable to the traditional approach, in less time."

Gibala, who has studied has been studying interval training for more than a decade. O, was the first researcher to show that a few minutes per week of intense exercise produced benefits similar to longer, continouous workouts. Over time, his team has experimented with different protocols in an effort to identify the most time-efficient exercise strategies.

"The basic principles apply to many forms of exercise," he says. "Climbing a few flights of stairs on your lunch hour can provide a quick and effective workout. The health benefits are significant."

The findings are published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Rosemary aroma can help older adults to remember to do things

The aroma of rosemary essential oil may improve ability of people over 65 to remember events and to remember to complete tasks at particular times in the future.

This is the finding of a study by post-graduate student Lauren Bussey, Lucy Moss and Dr Mark Moss of Northumbria University who will present their research today, Wednesday 27 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference in Nottingham.

Lauren Bussey said: "In this study we focused on prospective memory. This involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times. It's critical for everyday functioning. For example: when someone needs to remember to post a letter or to take medication at a particular time."

Rosemary and lavender essential oil were diffused in a testing room by placing four drops on an aroma stream fan diffuser and switching this on five minutes before the participants entered the room. A total of 150 people aged over 65 took part in the study and were randomly allocated to either the rosemary/lavender-scented room or another room with no scent.

Once in the room they undertook tests designed to assess their prospective memory functions. These included remembering to pass on a message at a given time during the procedure, and switching tasks when a specific event occurred. These tasks represent the two components of prospective memory: time-based (remembering to do something at a specific time such as watch a TV show) and event-based (remembering to do something due to an environmental cue such as posting a letter after seeing a post box).

Participants also completed mood assessment before and after undertaking tests in the scented or non-scented rooms.

Analysis of the results showed that the rosemary aroma significantly enhanced prospective memory compared to the room with no aroma. In terms of mood, rosemary significantly increased alertness and lavender significantly increased calmness and contentedness compared to the no aroma control condition

Lauren Bussey said: "These findings support previous research indicating that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can enhance cognitive functioning in healthy adults. This is the first time that similar effects have been demonstrated in the healthy over 65's. Further investigation is required to understand the potential beneifts of these aromas throughout the life span."

Working longer may lead to a longer life

Working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.

"It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives," said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study. He conducted the research as part of his master's thesis at OSU, where he is now a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Co-authors include Associate Professor Robert Stawski and Assistant Professor Michelle Odden of OSU and Gwenith Fisher of Colorado State University. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The research was the basis for Wu's master's thesis in human development and family science; he's now pursuing a doctorate in epidemiology.

Wu took an interest in the effects of retirement on health in part because of China's mandatory laws, which are often debated. Retirement age is also an issue for debate elsewhere around the world, including the United States, he said.

"Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement. I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts," Wu said. "People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S."

Wu examined data collected from 1992 through 2010 through the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging. Of the more than 12,000 initial participants in the study, Wu narrowed his focus to 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of the study period in 2010.

Poor health is one reason people retire early and also can lead to earlier death, so researchers wanted to find a way to mitigate a potential bias in that regard.

To do so, they divided the group into unhealthy retirees, or those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire - and healthy retirees, who indicated health was not a factor. About two-thirds of the group fell into the healthy category, while a third were in the unhealthy category.

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants' mortality rate regardless of their health status.

"The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained," said Stawski, senior author of the paper. "The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that."

Additional research is needed to better understand the links between work and health, the researchers said. As people get older their physical health and cognitive function are likely to decline, which could affect both their ability to work and their longevity.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Stawski said. "We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don't know everything about people's lives, health and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity."

Monday, April 25, 2016

'Mediterranean' diet linked to lower risk of heart attacks & strokes in heart patients

A "Mediterranean" diet, high in fruit, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods, is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease, according to a study of over 15,000 people in 39 countries around the world. The research also showed that eating greater amounts of healthy food was more important for these people than avoiding unhealthy foods, such as refined grains, sweets, desserts, sugared drinks and deep-fried food - a "Western" diet.

The study, which is published today (Monday) in the European Heart Journal [1], showed that for every 100 people eating the highest proportion of healthy "Mediterranean" foods, there were three fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths compared to 100 people eating the least amount of healthy foods during nearly four years of follow-up from the time the participants joined the study.

The researchers asked 15,482 people with stable coronary artery disease and an average age of 67 to complete a lifestyle questionnaire when they joined the STABILITY trial [2], which was looking at whether a drug called darapladib reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes and deaths. The questionnaire included simple questions on diet; participants were asked how many times a week they consumed servings from food groups such meat, fish, dairy foods, whole grains or refined grains, vegetables (excluding potatoes), fruit, desserts, sweets, sugary drinks, deep-fried foods and alcohol. Depending on their answers, they were given a "Mediterranean diet score" (MDS), which assigned more points for increased consumption of healthy foods with a total range of 0-24; a "Western diet score" (WDS) assigned points for increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

After 3.7 years of follow-up, a major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE) - heart attack, stroke or death - had occurred in a total of 1588 (10.1%) of the study participants. MACE occurred in 7.3% of the 2,885 people with an MDS score of 15 or over (who ate the most amount of healthy foods), 10.5% of 4,018 people with an MDS of 13-14, and 10.8% of 8,579 people with an MDS of 12 or lower.

Professor Ralph Stewart, from Auckland City Hospital, University of Auckland, New Zealand, who led the study, said: "After adjusting for other factors that might affect the results, we found that every one unit increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score was associated with a seven percent reduction In the risk of heart attacks, strokes or death from cardiovascular or other causes in patients with existing heart disease. In contrast, greater consumption of foods thought be less healthy and more typical of Western diets, was not associated with an increase in these adverse events, which we had not expected."

The findings were consistent across all the geographical regions involved in the study [3].

He continued: "The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods."

However, he warned that this did not mean that people could eat unhealthy foods with impunity.

"The main message is that some foods - and particularly fruit and vegetables - seem to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and this benefit is not explained by traditional risk factors such as good and bad cholesterol or blood pressure. If you eat more of these foods in preference to others, you may lower your risk. The study found no evidence of harm from modest consumption of foods such as refined carbohydrates, deep fried foods, sugars and deserts. However, because the assessments were relatively crude, some harm cannot be excluded. Also, the study did not assess the total intake of calories, which is a major determinant of obesity-related health problems, and we were unable to assess good fats and bad fats, so we can not comment of their importance to health."

The researchers did not specify what a "serving" of food might be and relied on people's interpretation of it; this usually meant that a serving might be an individual piece of fruit, a portion of meat, fish, vegetables or grains that would be enough for one person. This is a limitation of the study, but also a strength.

Prof Stewart said: "We did not specify what a serving meant because we needed to make the questionnaire very simple and intuitive, so that it would be easy and quick to complete. This is a limitation because the estimates of foods eaten are relatively crude and imprecise, but also a strength because we were able to show that even though diet is very complex, a few simple questions can identify a dietary pattern associated with a lower risk of recurrent heart attacks or strokes."

Friday, April 22, 2016

Older adults need better blood pressure and cholesterol control to prevent cardiovascular disease

The leading cause of death in the elderly, the fastest growing segment of the population, is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Prevention of cardiovascular events in elderly patients presents a therapeutic challenge because this age group is generally underrepresented in clinical trials, and doctors often assume that it is too late to initiate preventive therapy in the elderly. A review by clinical experts of the best available evidence concluded that cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure-controlling therapy are the most effective treatments for reducing cardiovascular events in older adults, but that treatment needs to be individualized, reports the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

"Primary prevention trials in younger populations demonstrate small absolute risk reductions over many years, which is difficult to extrapolate to older patients," explained senior author Michelle M. Graham, MD, FRCPC, Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. "Some assume elderly individuals may not have the life expectancy to derive benefit from preventive cardiovascular therapy; however, their baseline level of risk, and subsequent relative risk reduction with appropriate therapy, may actually be higher than in younger patients."

The review provided substantial evidence that:

  • Statin therapy reduces the risk of both myocardial infarction and stroke, although close monitoring of adverse events is needed. Evidence does not support an association between cholesterol-lowering statin therapy and either cognitive impairment or cancer. Adverse effects, like muscle problems and diabetes, do not appear to be elevated in elderly patients.
  • Potential drug-drug interactions are an important consideration when prescribing statin therapy in older patients because they have a high burden of concurrent medical conditions and are often taking multiple medications. Patients should also be made aware of over-the-counter supplements that may interact with statin therapy.
  • Blood pressure control is paramount to prevent cardiovascular events and mortality in elderly patients, although the target should be individualized to the patient. Current evidence supports a moderate blood pressure target (systolic blood pressure of 120-150 mmHg) as safe and effective in elderly patients; however, this target should be individualized based on frailty and comorbidities.
  • Antiplatelet therapy should not be recommended due to a lack of net clinical benefit.
  • Other interventions shown to reduce the risk of CVD in elderly patients include smoking cessation, physical activity, and maintaining a normal body weight.

"Primary prevention of CVD can improve health and reduce future healthcare costs. Prevention of a first cardiovascular event in elderly patients should be individualized based on consideration of the current evidence, as well as goals of therapy, functionality and/or frailty, comorbidities, and concomitant medications," stated Dr. Graham.

Higher risk of cardiovascular disease observed in sleep-deprived people

Lack of sleep has previously been found to impact the activation of the immune system, inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism and the hormones that regulate appetite. Now University of Helsinki researchers have found that sleep loss also influences cholesterol metabolism.

The study examined the impact of cumulative sleep deprivation on cholesterol metabolism in terms of both gene expression and blood lipoprotein levels. With state-of-the-art methods, a small blood sample can simultaneously yield information about the activation of all genes as well as the amounts of hundreds of different metabolites. This means it is possible to seek new regulating factors and metabolic pathways which participate in a particular function of the body.

"In this case, we examined what changes sleep loss caused to the functions of the body and which of these changes could be partially responsible for the elevated risk for illness," explains Vilma Aho, researcher from the Sleep Team Helsinki research group.

The study established that the genes which participate in the regulation of cholesterol transport are less active in persons suffering from sleep loss than with those getting sufficient sleep. This was found both in the laboratory-induced sleep loss experiment and on the population level.

While analysing the different metabolites, the researchers found that in the population-level data, persons suffering from sleep loss had fewer high-density HDL lipoproteins, commonly known as the good cholesterol transport proteins, than persons who slept sufficiently.

Together with other risk factors, these results help explain the higher risk of cardiovascular disease observed in sleep-deprived people and help understand the mechanisms through which lack of sleep increases this risk.

"It is particularly interesting that these factors contributing to the onset of atherosclerosis, that is to say, inflammatory reactions and changes to cholesterol metabolism, were found both in the experimental study and in the epidemiological data," Aho says.

The results highlight the health impact of good sleep. The researchers emphasise that health education should focus on the significance of good, sufficient sleep in preventing common diseases, in addition to healthy food and exercise. Even a small reduction in illnesses, or even postponing the onset of an illness, would result in significant cost savings for society at large.

"The experimental study proved that just one week of insufficient sleep begins to change the body's immune response and metabolism. Our next goal is to determine how minor the sleep deficiency can be while still causing such changes," Aho states.


The Sleep Team Helsinki research group, led by Dr. Tarja Porkka-Heiskanen (Stenberg), is studying the impact of sleep loss on immune defence and metabolism, particularly lipid and cholesterol metabolism. It has previously been established through epidemiological studies that people who sleep less than they should have a higher risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases, a higher risk of mortality from cardiovascular diseases, and a higher overall mortality over a set time span.

Cardiovascular diseases are known to be linked to both metabolism and the immune system. Sleep loss has been demonstrated to cause low-grade inflammatory state in the body, and this may contribute to the higher risk of disease. Carbohydrate metabolism has also been found to alter in sleep deficiency in ways that resemble type 2 diabetes.

Fructose alters hundreds of brain genes, which can lead to a wide range of diseases

A range of diseases -- from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, and from Alzheimer's disease to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- are linked to changes to genes in the brain. A new study by UCLA life scientists has found that hundreds of those genes can be damaged by fructose, a sugar that's common in the Western diet, in a way that could lead to those diseases.

However, the researchers discovered good news as well: An omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, seems to reverse the harmful changes produced by fructose.

"DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable," said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology. "And we can see why it has such a powerful effect."

DHA occurs naturally in the membranes of our brain cells, but not in a large enough quantity to help fight diseases.

"The brain and the body are deficient in the machinery to make DHA; it has to come through our diet," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and of integrative biology and physiology, and co-senior author of the paper.

DHA strengthens synapses in the brain and enhances learning and memory. It is abundant in wild salmon (but not in farmed salmon) and, to a lesser extent, in other fish and fish oil, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and fruits and vegetables, said Gomez-Pinilla, who also is a member of UCLA's Brain Injury Research Center.

Americans get most of their fructose in foods that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener made from corn starch, and from sweetened drinks, syrups, honey and desserts. The Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consumed an average of about 27 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup in 2014. Fructose is also found is in most baby food and in fruit, although the fiber in fruit substantially slows the body's absorption of the sugar -- and fruit contains other healthy components that protect the brain and body, Yang said.

To test the effects of fructose and DHA, the researchers trained rats to escape from a maze, and then randomly divided the animals into three groups. For the next six weeks, one group of rats drank water with an amount of fructose that would be roughly equivalent to a person drinking a liter of soda per day. The second group was given fructose water and a diet rich in DHA. The third received water without fructose and no DHA.

After the six weeks, the rats were put through the maze again. The animals that had been given only the fructose navigated the maze about half as fast than the rats that drank only water -- indicating that the fructose diet had impaired their memory. The rats that had been given fructose and DHA, however, showed very similar results to those that only drank water -- which strongly suggests that the DHA eliminated fructose's harmful effects.

Other tests on the rats revealed more major differences: The rats receiving a high-fructose diet had much higher blood glucose, triglycerides and insulin levels than the other two groups. Those results are significant because in humans, elevated glucose, triglycerides and insulin are linked to obesity, diabetes and many other diseases.

The research team sequenced more than 20,000 genes in the rats' brains, and identified more than 700 genes in the hypothalamus (the brain's major metabolic control center) and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus (which helps regulate learning and memory) that were altered by the fructose. The altered genes they identified, the vast majority of which are comparable to genes in humans, are among those that interact to regulate metabolism, cell communication and inflammation. Among the conditions that can be caused by alterations to those genes are Parkinson's disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and other brain diseases, said Yang, who also is a member of UCLA's Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences.

Of the 900 genes they identified, the researchers found that two in particular, called Bgn and Fmod, appear to be among the first genes in the brain that are affected by fructose. Once those genes are altered, they can set off a cascade effect that eventually alters hundreds of others, Yang said.

That could mean that Bgn and Fmod would be potential targets for new drugs to treat diseases that are caused by altered genes in the brain, she added.

The research also uncovered new details about the mechanism fructose uses to disrupt genes. The scientists found that fructose removes or adds a biochemical group to cytosine, one of the four nucleotides that make up DNA. (The others are adenine, thymine and guanine.) This type of modification plays a critical role in turning genes "on" or "off."

The research is published online in EBioMedicine, a journal published jointly by Cell and The Lancet. It is the first genomics study of all the genes, pathways and gene networks affected by fructose consumption in the regions of the brain that control metabolism and brain function.

Previous research led by Gomez-Pinilla found that fructose damages communication between brain cells and increases toxic molecules in the brain; and that a long-term high-fructose diet diminishes the brain's ability to learn and remember information.

"Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain," said Gomez-Pinilla. He recommends avoiding sugary soft drinks, cutting down on desserts and generally consuming less sugar and saturated fat.

Although DHA appears to be quite beneficial, Yang said it is not a magic bullet for curing diseases. Additional research will be needed to determine the extent of its ability to reverse damage to human genes.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fatty diets lead to daytime sleepiness, poor sleep

University of Adelaide researchers have found that men who consume diets high in fat are more likely to feel sleepy during the day, to report sleep problems at night, and are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

This is the result of the Men Androgen Inflammation Lifestyle Environment and Stress (MAILES) study looking at the association between fatty diets and sleep, conducted by the University of Adelaide's Population Research and Outcome Studies unit in the School of Medicine and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health.

The results - based on data of more than 1800 Australian men aged 35-80, including their dietary habits over a 12-month period - have been published this month in the journal Nutrients.

"After adjusting for other demographic and lifestyle factors, and chronic diseases, we found that those who consumed the highest fat intake were more likely to experience excessive daytime sleepiness," says study author and University of Adelaide PhD student Yingting Cao, who is also based at SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute).

"This has significant implications for alertness and concentration, which would be of particular concern to workers," Ms Cao says. "High fat intake was also strongly associated with sleep apnea."

In total, among those with available dietary and sleep data, 41% of the men surveyed had reported experiencing daytime sleepiness, while 47% of them had poor sleep quality at night.

About 54% had mild-to-moderate sleep apnea, and 25% had moderate-to-severe sleep apnea, which was assessed by a sleep study among those who did not have a previous diagnosis of sleep apnea.

"Poor sleep and feeling sleepy during the day means you have less energy, but this in turn is known to increase people's cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, which is then associated with poor sleep outcomes. So the poor diet-and-sleep pattern can become a vicious cycle," Ms Cao says.

"The simple message is a commonsense one, but we need more people to pay attention to it: we need to eat better; a good sleep the night before is best."

Ms Cao says quality of sleep is often not taken into consideration in studies investigating the effects of varying diets on weight loss.

"We hope our work could help to inform future intervention studies, enabling people to achieve healthy weight loss while also improving their quality of sleep," she says.

Strength training helps older adults live longer

Older adults who met twice-weekly strength-training guidelines had lower odds of dying in a new analysis by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Columbia University. The study is the first to demonstrate the association in a large, nationally representative sample over an extended time period, particularly in an older population.

Many studies have previously found that older adults who are physically active have better quality of life and a lower risk of mortality. Regular exercise is associated with prevention of early death, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

But although the health rewards of physical activity and aerobic exercise are well established, less data have been collected on strength training.

One reason for this lack of data could be that strength-training guidelines are newer than recommendations for aerobic activity. Although the American College of Sports Medicine first issued aerobic exercise guidelines decades ago, it was not until 2007 that the organization and the American Heart Association released a joint guideline recommending that all adults strength train at least twice a week.

"This doesn't mean that strength training wasn't a part of what people had been doing for a long time as exercise, but it wasn't until recently that it was solidified in this way as a recommendation," said Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences, Penn State College of Medicine.

Over the past decade, researchers have begun to demonstrate benefits of strength training for strength, muscle mass and physical function, as well as for improvements in chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, low back pain and obesity. Small studies have observed that greater amounts of muscle strength are associated with lower risk of death.

To look at the mortality effects on older adults who meet strength-training guidelines, Kraschnewski examined data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) linked to death certificate data through 2011. Researchers published their results in Preventive Medicine.

The NHIS collects overall health, disease and disability data of the U.S. population from a nationally representative sampling of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 1997-2001 survey included more than 30,000 adults age 65 and older.

During the survey period, more than 9 percent of older adults reported strength training at least twice a week.

"That's only a small fraction of the population, but it's actually higher than we had anticipated," Kraschnewski said.

The researchers followed the respondents for 15 years through death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics National Death Index. About a third of respondents had died by 2011.

Older adults who strength trained at least twice a week had 46 percent lower odds of death for any reason than those who did not. They also had 41 percent lower odds of cardiac death and 19 percent lower odds of dying from cancer.

Older adults who met strength-training guidelines were, on average, slightly younger, and were more likely to be married white males with higher levels of education. They were also more likely to have normal body weight, to engage in aerobic exercise and to abstain from alcohol and tobacco.

When the researchers adjusted for demographic variables, health behaviors and health conditions, a statistically significant effect on mortality remained.

Although the effects on cardiac and cancer mortality were no longer statistically significant, the data still pointed to a benefit.

Importantly, after the researchers controlled for physical activity level, people who reported strength exercises appeared to see a greater mortality benefit than those who reported physical activity alone.

The study is strong evidence that strength training in older adults is beneficial beyond improving muscle strength and physical function, the researchers said.

"We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from just under 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our older adults who are engaged in these activities," Kraschnewski said.

Senior adults can see health benefits from dog walking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults of all ages should engage in 150 or more minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Among adults 60 years of age or more, walking is the most common form of leisure-time physical activity because it is self-paced, low impact and does not require equipment. Researchers at the University of Missouri have determined that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. Dog walking is associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise and an increase in social benefits for seniors.

"Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults," said Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. "This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample."

The study analyzed 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The study included data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and health outcomes of the participants.

"Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults," said Johnson, who also serves as director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU. "These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population."

Results from the study also indicated that people with higher degrees of pet bonding were more likely to walk their dogs and to spend more time walking their dogs each time than those who reported weaker bonds. Additionally, the study showed that pet walking offers a means to socialize with pet owners and others.

Retirement communities also could be encouraged to incorporate more pet-friendly policies such as including dog walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents could have access to the health benefits, Johnson said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

High saturated fat intake linked to aggressive prostate cancer, statns help

Eating a diet higher in saturated fat, a type of fat found commonly in foods such as fatty beef and cheese, was linked to more aggressive prostate cancer, a study by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers and collaborators has found. The preliminary results were presented Monday, April 18 at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

"We show that high dietary saturated fat content is associated with increased prostate cancer aggressiveness," said Emma H. Allott, PhD, a research assistant professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. "This may suggest that limiting dietary saturated fat content, which we know is important for overall health and cardiovascular disease prevention, may also have a role in prostate cancer."

The results were drawn from a survey of 1,854 men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2004 and 2009 in North Carolina and in Louisiana as part of a larger study called the North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project.

Men were asked a series of questions about their diet and other factors at the time of diagnosis with prostate cancer, and then researchers examined the association between saturated fat intake and the aggressiveness of the men's tumor at diagnosis. They adjusted dietary saturated fat for total fat intake in their statistical models in order to tease apart the effects of saturated fat from total fat intake. They gauged aggressiveness using the results of the patients' prostate cancer-specific antigen, or PSA, tests, as well as the clinical stage of their cancer and Gleason grade.

They found that higher saturated fat intake was linked to increased prostate cancer aggressiveness. Allott said that high saturated fat content in the diet contributes to raised blood cholesterol levels, and the researchers also found in the study that men taking statins, which are drugs used to control cholesterol levels, had weaker associations between saturated fat intake and prostate cancer aggressiveness.

These findings may suggest that statins counteract, but do not completely reverse, the effects of high saturated fat intake on prostate cancer aggressiveness. In addition, they found that higher levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are found in foods such as fish and nuts, were linked to lower levels of prostate cancer aggressiveness.

Eating dark chocolate as a daily snack could help boost athletic performance

Dark chocolate has already been hailed for its positive effects on cardiovascular health -- and now a study undertaken at London's Kingston University has found the tasty treat could help give sports enthusiasts an extra edge in their fitness training.

A team led by postgraduate research student Rishikesh Kankesh Patel discovered that dark chocolate provides similar benefits to beetroot juice, now taken regularly by elite athletes after studies showed it can improve performance. "Beetroot juice is rich in nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption -- allowing athletes to go further for longer," Mr Patel explained.

The team from the British university wanted to find out whether dark chocolate could provide a similar boost, as it contains a substance called epicatechin -- a type of flavanol found in the cacao bean, that also increases nitric oxide production in the body.

To test the theory, Mr Patel carried out a study with a group of nine amateur cyclists. The 23 year old researcher was supervised by sport science field leader Dr Owen Spendiff and senior lecturer in sport analysis James Brouner.

After undergoing initial fitness tests to establish a baseline for comparison, the participants were then split into two groups. The first group was asked to replace one of its normal daily snacks with 40g of a dark chocolate known to be rich in flavanols for a fortnight, while the other participants substituted 40g of white chocolate for one of their daily snacks as a control.

The effects of the athletes' daily chocolate consumption were then measured in a series of cycling exercise tests in the sports performance laboratory at the University's Penrhyn Road campus. The cyclists' heart rates and oxygen consumption levels were measured during moderate exercise and in time trials. After a seven-day interval, the groups then switched chocolate types and the two-week trial and subsequent exercise tests were repeated.

The study, which has now been published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that after eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.

"We want to see whether the boost in performance is a short term effect -- you eat a bar and within a day it works -- or whether it takes slightly longer, which is what the initial research is showing," Mr Patel said. "We are also investigating the optimal level of flavanols. At the moment there is not a lot of consistency in flavanol levels in commercially-available chocolate. Once we've found the optimal chocolate dose and duration, we'll compare its effects to those of beetroot juice, and also test the influence of combining consumption of both, as they produce an increase in nitric oxide in slightly different ways."

Dr Owen Spendiff, who has conducted studies around beetroot juice and athletic performance, said that Mr Patel's work showcased some of the cutting-edge research being carried out within Kingston University's sport science facilities. "Rishikesh's findings are really interesting, as he has proven the exercise benefits of dark chocolate for the first time," he said. "The fact he began his research into dark chocolate as an undergraduate and is now carrying that forward at postgraduate level here really demonstrates what our sport science students can achieve."

Meanwhile sport analysis lecturer James Brouner -- who in his spare time pounds the pavements as an ultra-distance runner -- said that the research suggested dark chocolate could offer particular benefits to endurance athletes.

"From a performance perspective, making an athlete more efficient can have major advantages in long duration steady-state exercise," he said. "With so many athletes consuming beetroot juice to achieve this gain but complaining of the palatability, dark chocolate could have a similar effect but with the additional benefit of tasting good too. "When performing endurance-based activity, being as economical as possible in energy provision is key to enhancing your performance. From our results, the consumption of dark chocolate has altered the participants' response to the activity and therefore could enhance their endurance performance."

Aspirin use may help prevent bile duct cancer


A team of current and former Mayo Clinic researchers has discovered that aspirin use is associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma. The results are published in Hepatology.

"Our study found that individuals who took aspirin had a more than a two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half-fold lesser chance of developing bile duct cancer, compared to individuals who did not take aspirin," says Lewis Roberts, M.B. Ch.B., Ph.D., the study's senior author and a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Mayo Clinic.

Bile duct cancer is an uncommon cancer that forms in the slender tubes (bile ducts) that carry digestive fluid through the liver. The disease occurs mostly in people over 50 and can cause symptoms, such as yellowing of the skin and eyes, intense itchiness of the skin, and white stools. Bile duct cancer is an aggressive type of cancer that progresses quickly and is difficult to treat.

"We know that continuous unremitting inflammation is one of the main factors that promotes cancer of the bile ducts," Dr. Roberts says. "Aspirin, with it's an anti-inflammatory properties, may reduce the risk of bile duct cancer by lessening inflammation through inhibition of an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase (COX), which is known to promote inflammation."

In addition to the COX enzyme pathway, Dr. Roberts says other studies have shown that aspirin blocks additional cell-signaling cascades that promote cancer development. "The evidence has been accumulating that regular, long-term use of aspirin is associated with a decreased risk of a number of different cancer types, particularly gastrointestinal cancers," he says.

But, it is not certain that aspirin is safe to use for cancer prevention. Dr. Roberts and his colleagues say additional confirmatory studies are needed before aspirin can be recommended for use in preventing bile duct cancer. Future plans will include population-based studies designed to confirm the associations of aspirin with decreased risk of developing bile duct cancer and clinical trials of aspirin in people at high risk for developing bile duct cancer.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Brain scans link physical changes to cognitive risks of widely used class of drugs

Older adults might want to avoid a using class of drugs commonly used in over-the-counter products such as nighttime cold medicines due to their links to cognitive impairment, a research team led by scientists at Indiana University School of Medicine has recommended.

Using brain imaging techniques, the researchers found lower metabolism and reduced brain sizes among study participants taking the drugs known to have an anticholinergic effect, meaning they block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter.

Previous research found a link between between the anticholinergic drugs and cognitive impairment and increased risk of dementia. The new paper published in the journal JAMA Neurology, is believed to be the first to study the potential underlying biology of those clinical links using neuroimaging measurements of brain metabolism and atrophy.

"These findings provide us with a much better understanding of how this class of drugs may act upon the brain in ways that might raise the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia," said Shannon Risacher, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences, first author of the paper, "Association Between Anticholinergic Medication Use and Cognition, Brain Metabolism, and Brain Atrophy in Cognitively Normal Older Adults."

"Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications if available when working with their older patients," Dr. Risacher said.

Drugs with anticholinergic effects are sold over the counter and by prescription as sleep aids and for many chronic diseases including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A list of anticholinergic drugs and their potential impact is at

Scientists have linked anticholinergic drugs cognitive problems among older adults for at least 10 years. A 2013 study by scientists at the IU Center for Aging Research and the Regenstrief Institute found that drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect cause cognitive problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. Drugs with a weaker effect could cause impairment within 90 days.

The current research project involved 451 participants, 60 of whom were taking at least one medication with medium or high anticholinergic activity. The participants were drawn from a national Alzheimer's research project -- the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative -- and the Indiana Memory and Aging Study.

To identify possible physical and physiological changes that could be associated with the reported effects, researchers assessed the results of memory and other cognitive tests, positron emission tests (PET) measuring brain metabolism, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for brain structure.

The cognitive tests revealed that patients taking anticholinergic drugs performed worse than older adults not taking the drugs on short-term memory and some tests of executive function, which cover a range of activities such as verbal reasoning, planning, and problem solving.

Anticholinergic drug users also showed lower levels of glucose metabolism -- a biomarker for brain activity -- in both the overall brain and in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and which has been identified as affected early by Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers also found significant links between brain structure revealed by the MRI scans and anticholinergic drug use, with the participants using anticholinergic drugs having reduced brain volume and larger ventricles, the cavities inside the brain.

"These findings might give us clues to the biological basis for the cognitive problems associated with anticholinergic drugs, but additional studies are needed if we are to truly understand the mechanisms involved," Dr. Risacher said.

A new study supports the cardiovascular safety of calcium and vitamin D supplementation

The study was based on analysis of the UK Biobank, a very large study comprising 502,664 men and women aged 40-69 years.

Of the total UK Biobank participants, 34,890 individuals (6.94%) reported taking calcium supplements, 20,004 taking vitamin D supplements, and 10,406 taking both (2.1%). The researchers found no associations between the use of calcium supplements and hospital admissions related to ischaemic heart disease (e.g. heart attacks), any cardiovascular event, or death following admission for either admission category. Results were similar for vitamin D and combination supplementation.

Furthemore, regardless of whether participants had a history of cardiovascular disease or not at baseline, calcium supplementation (with or without vitamin D) did not increase the risk of future cardiac events, findings which remained robust after other factors such as age, fatness, medication use and blood pressure were considered.

Presenting author Prof. Nicholas C. Harvey of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, noted, "Calcium supplementation is widely used, including as an adjunct to therapy for osteoporosis. Previous studies have provided inconsistent findings with regard to associations between calcium supplements and cardiovascular events. Our results, using the largest single study to date, provide reassurance that such supplementation appears safe."

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director of the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, added, "This study illustrates the importance for the University of Southampton and MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in leading large, multicentre analyses on this internationally leading UK Biobank dataset. The findings will be built upon in further analyses that capitalise on the genetic and intensive musculoskeletal phenotyping components of the study in which we continue to play an important role."

Friday, April 15, 2016

Low fat diet helps postmenopausal women avoid deadly breast cancers

Women who stayed on a low fat diet for approximately eight years reduced their risk of death from invasive breast cancers and improved their survival rates when compared with women who had not followed the dietary regimen, according to a study presented at a clinical trial plenary session, entitled "Transformative Clinical Trials in Breast Cancer," at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting.

An association between dietary fat intake and breast cancer outcomes was suggested nearly a half-century ago but observational findings have been inconclusive. In order to determine the effects of a low fat dietary pattern on breast cancer, Rowan Chlebowski MD, PhD, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and colleagues from the Women's Health Initiative conducted additional analyses of a randomized clinical trial that had followed 48,835 postmenopausal women.

The women were age 50-79, had no prior breast cancer, had normal mammograms and normal dietary fat intake. Of those, 19,541 women were put on a low fat diet with nutritionist-led group sessions that sought to reduce fat intake reduction to 20% of energy and increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and grain. The other 29,294 women in the trial followed their usual dietary patterns.

After approximately eight years of remaining on the low fat diet, 1,767 of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers found the breast cancer overall survival from diagnosis was higher in the dietary group: 82% versus 78%. The researchers said this reduction is due, in part, to better survival following breast cancer diagnosis.

"This was the first time we had examined the deaths after breast cancer among this group, and we found that a sustained low fat diet increased the survival rates among postmenopausal women after a breast cancer diagnosis," said Dr. Chlebowski, who presented the findings at the conference. "The study also suggests that women would need to remain on the low fat diets to maintain the benefits of the dietary intervention."

The researchers also reported that most breast cancer characteristics -- including size, nodal status, and distribution of poor prognosis, triple negative cancers and HER2 positive cancers -- were similar between the two groups of women. But there were fewer progesterone receptor negative cancers in the dietary group (28.4% versus 33%). In addition, researchers noted lower cardiovascular disease mortality in the dietary group.

Fast food may expose consumers to harmful chemicals called phthalates

People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published today by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The study, one of the first to look at fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals, appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher," says lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH. "Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults."

Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.

Zota and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates--DEHP and DiNP.

Zota and her colleagues found that the more fast food participants in the study ate the higher the exposure to phthalates. People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. And those same fast food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing.

The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Zota says the grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles. She also notes that other studies have also identified grains as an important source of exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

In addition, the researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging--Bisphenol A or BPA. Researchers also believe exposure to BPA can lead to health and behavior problems, especially for young children. This study found no association between total fast food intake and BPA. However, Zota and her colleagues found that people who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast food consumption.

This study fits into a bigger field of ongoing research showing that phthalates are in a wide variety of personal products, toys, perfume and even food. In 2008 Congress banned the use of phthalates in the production of children's toys because of concerns about the health impact of these chemicals.

But Zota notes that DEHP and DiNP are two phthalates still in use despite concerns that they leach out of products and get into the human body. Studies of the health impact of exposure to these chemicals have suggested they can damage the reproductive system and they may lead to infertility.

Large studies that might conclusively link phthalates in fast food and health problems could take years to conduct. In the meantime, Zota offers some common sense advice. She notes that frequent consumption of fast food is not recommended because such foods contain higher amounts of fat, salt and calories. "People concerned about this issue can't go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables and less fast food," Zota suggests. "A diet filled with whole foods offers a variety of health benefits that go far beyond the question of phthalates."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More exposure to vegetation linked with lower mortality rates in women

Women in the U.S. who live in homes surrounded by more vegetation appear to have significantly lower mortality rates than those who live in areas with less vegetation, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital. The study found that women who lived in the greenest surroundings had a 12% lower overall mortality rate than those living in homes in the least green areas.

The study suggests several mechanisms that might be at play in the link between greenness and mortality. Improved mental health, measured through lower levels of depression, was estimated to explain nearly 30% of the benefit from living around greater vegetation. Increased opportunities for social engagement, higher physical activity, and lower exposure to air pollution may also play an important role, the authors said.

The study will be published online April 14, 2016 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. After the embargo lifts the paper will be available here:

"We were surprised to observe such strong associations between increased exposure to greenness and lower mortality rates," said Peter James, research associate in the Harvard Chan School Department of Epidemiology. "We were even more surprised to find evidence that a large proportion of the benefit from high levels of vegetation seems to be connected with improved mental health."

Previous studies have suggested that exposure to vegetation was related to lower mortality rates, but those studies were limited in scope, and some had contradictory findings. The new study is the first to take a nationwide look at the link between greenness and mortality over a period of several years.

The study incorporated data on 108,630 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study across the United States in 2000-2008. The researchers compared the participants' risk of mortality with the level of vegetation surrounding their homes, which was calculated using satellite imagery from different seasons and from different years. The researchers accounted for other mortality risk factors, such as age, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and smoking behaviors.

When the researchers looked at specific causes of death among the study participants, they found that associations between higher amounts of greenness and lower mortality were strongest for respiratory-disease and cancer mortality. Women living in areas with the most vegetation had a 34% lower rate of respiratory disease-related mortality and a 13% lower rate of cancer mortality compared with those with the least vegetation around their homes. These more specific findings were consistent with some of the proposed benefits of greener areas, including that they may buffer air pollution and noise exposures and provide opportunities for physical activity.

"We know that planting vegetation can help the environment by reducing wastewater loads, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Our new findings suggest a potential co-benefit--improving health--that presents planners, landscape architects, and policy makers with an actionable tool to grow healthier places," said James.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) could be impeding error-detection in the brain

It's been known for more than a century that acetaminophen is an effective painkiller, but according to a new U of T study it could also be impeding error-detection in the brain.

The research, authored by a team including postdoctoral fellow Dan Randles and researchers from the University of British Columbia, is the first neurological study to look at how acetaminophen could be inhibiting the brain response associated with making errors.

"Past research tells us physical pain and social rejection share a neural process that we experience as distress, and both have been traced to same part of the brain," says Randles.

Recent research has begun to show how exactly acetaminophen inhibits pain, while behavioural studies suggest it may also inhibit evaluative responses more generally. Randles own past research has found that people are less reactive to uncertain situations when under the effect of acetaminophen.

"The core idea of our study is that we don't fully understand how acetaminophen affects the brain," says Randles. "While there's been recent behavioural research on the effects of acetaminophen, we wanted to have a sense of what's happening neurologically."

To test the idea two groups of 30 were given a target-detection task called the Go or No Go. Participants were asked to hit a Go button every time the letter F flashed on a screen but refrain from hitting the button if an E flashed on the screen. "The trick is you're supposed to move very quickly capturing all the GOs, but hold back when you see a No Go," says Randles.

Each participant was hooked up to an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain. The researchers were looking for a particular wave called Error Related Negativity (ERN) and Error Related Positivity (Pe). Essentially what happens is that when people are hooked up to an EEG and make an error in the task there is a robust increase in ERN and Pe.

One group, which was given 1,000 mg of acetaminophen - the equivalent of a normal maximum dose - showed a smaller Pe when making mistakes than those who didn't receive a dose, suggesting that acetaminophen inhibits our conscious awareness of the error.

"It looks like acetaminophen makes it harder to recognize an error, which may have implications for cognitive control in daily life," says Randles.

Cognitive control is an important neurological function because people are constantly doing cognitive tasks that flow automatically like reading, walking or talking. These tasks require very little cognitive control because they are well mapped out neurological processes, notes Randles.

"Sometimes you need to interrupt your normal processes or they'll lead to a mistake, like when you're talking to a friend while crossing the street, you should still be ready to react to an erratic driver," explains Randles.

"The task we designed is meant to capture that since most of the stimuli were Go, so you end up getting into a routine of automatically hitting the Go button. When you see a No Go, that requires cognitive control because you need to interrupt the process."

The study was double blind, so neither the researcher running the study nor the participant knew whether they had been given a placebo or acetaminophen.

An unexpected and surprise finding that Randles plans to explore more closely is that those who received an acetaminophen dose appeared to miss more of the Go stimuli than they should have. He plans on expanding on the error detection aspect of the research to see whether acetaminophen is possibly causing people to "mind wander" and become distracted.

"An obvious question is if people aren't detecting these errors, are they also making errors more often when taking acetaminophen? This is the first study to address this question, so we need more work and ideally with tasks more closely related to normal daily behaviour."

The research is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sugary beverages, processed food = high prostate cancer risk; high glycemic carbs = higher breast cancer risk

Recent years have brought more attention to the role of carbohydrates in our diets and the differences between healthy and unhealthy carbs, most often in the context of weight control. A new study highlights one more reason to avoid sugary beverages, processed foods and other energy-dense carbohydrate-containing foods -- cutting them may help reduce your risk of cancer.

In the new study, regular consumption of sugary beverages was associated with a 3 times greater risk of prostate cancer and higher intake of processed lunch foods such as pizza, burgers and meat sandwiches doubled prostate cancer risk. By contrast, healthy carbohydrate-containing foods like legumes, non-starchy vegetables, fruits and whole grains were collectively associated with a 67 percent lower risk for breast cancer.

"One of the most important findings here is that the type of carbohydrate-containing foods you consume can impact your cancer risk," said Nour Makarem, a Ph.D. student at New York University and the study's lead author. "It appears that healthy carbohydrate sources, such as legumes, tend to protect us from cancer, but non-healthy ones, such as fast foods and sugary beverages, seem to increase the risk of these cancers."

Makarem will present the research at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2016.

The study is based on the health records of 3,100 volunteers tracked since the early 1970s.

Researchers began tracking participants' diets through detailed food frequency questionnaires starting in 1991. For the new study, Makarem and her colleagues categorized all of the study participants' food sources by glycemic index -- a measure of dietary carbohydrate quality based on an item's relative impact on blood sugar levels as compared to a reference food -- and glycemic load, a measure of both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates in a given food item. They then analyzed the results in relation to volunteers' cancer rates.

After taking into account multiple cancer risk factors, the study found that eating foods with a higher glycemic load was associated with an 88 percent higher prostate cancer risk. Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men.

"Our study showed very strong associations between certain foods and cancer, in particular with prostate cancer," said Makarem. "There had not been very many studies on food sources and prostate cancer previously."

The risk increase was most pronounced for people who regularly consumed processed lunch foods or sugary beverages, a category that includes sugar-sweetened soft drinks in addition to fruit juices, which can be naturally high in sugar and often contain added sugars.

"Americans consume almost half of their added sugars in beverages," said Makarem. "Sugar-sweetened beverages have been shown to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, and our study documents that they may also have a detrimental impact on cancer risk."

By contrast, consuming low-glycemic index foods such as legumes, non-starchy vegetables, most fruits and whole grains was associated with a 67 percent lower breast cancer risk. Breast cancer risk was also reduced among women who had a higher level of carbohydrate intake overall as a proportion of their total calories. However, in this study participants with in the highest level of carbohydrate intake also had higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These findings underscore the idea that the type of carbohydrates matters more than the total amount of carbohydrates, said Makarem.

Among individual foods, legumes such as beans, lentils and peas were associated with 32 percent lower risk of all overweight- and obesity-related cancers, including breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

By nature of the study design, the results point only to associations, not necessarily to cause-and-effect. Nonetheless, the findings are in line with previous studies, which have shown that malignant cancer cells seem to feed on sugar, and that diets high in refined carbohydrates may lead to a range of adverse health effects primarily due to their impacts on body fatness and on the dysregulation of insulin and glucose, both of which are factors that may increase cancer risk.

"Current cancer prevention guidelines recommend avoiding sugary drinks and limiting the consumption of energy-dense foods, which tend to be high in refined carbohydrates," said Makarem. "I think our findings add to the body of evidence behind this recommendation and strengthen the associations between these types of food and cancer."

Presently recommended exercise levels may be much more than needed for significant health benefits

International physical activity guidelines generally recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity, but a critical review of the literature indicates that just half this level of activity may still lead to marked health benefits, say experts in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology. They challenge physical activity and exercise guidelines development groups to update their recommendations to reflect the evidence.

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, accounting for approximately 3.2 million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. Regular physical activity is acknowledged to be an effective primary and secondary preventive strategy. The evidence points to risk reductions of at least 20-30% for more than 25 chronic medical conditions and premature mortality. However, the amount and intensity of recommended exercise are still hotly debated.

"One of the greatest myths perpetuated within physical activity promotion, the exercise sciences, and exercise medicine is the belief that you need to engage in a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to obtain health benefits," explained Darren E.R. Warburton, PhD, and Shannon S. Bredin, PhD, MSc, of the Cardiovascular Physiology and Rehabilitation Laboratory, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. "However, the preponderance of evidence simply does not support this contention. There is compelling evidence that health benefits can be accrued at a lower volume and/or intensity of physical activity. These health benefits are seen in both healthy and clinical populations.

"Marked health benefits can be observed in persons living with disability and/or chronic disease with volumes of activity that are well below the 150 minutes per week threshold. Unfortunately, this arbitrary threshold has too often been included in recommendations related to those living with disability and/or chronic medical conditions," they added.

Dr. Warburton and Dr. Bredin, who were responsible for creating the systematic reviews that informed the 2011 Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults and older adults, attribute the recommendation of the need to reach a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per week to a translation error introduced since the publication of those reviews. "A simple turn of phrase from 'should' to 'must' has had significant impact upon the knowledge translation of the evidence. For instance, promotional materials that state explicitly that individuals 'must' attain 150 minutes per week to achieve health benefits have emerged, along with other messages that imply (or explicitly state) that health benefits cannot be accrued at lower volumes of activity."

In the current article, the authors systematically review the latest studies and recommend that:

  • Public health policies should reduce barriers to physical activity participation such that everyone can reap the benefits of physical activity
  • Physical activity/exercise promotion should be part of an integrated approach to enhance healthy lifestyle behaviors
  • The independent health risks of sedentary time (particularly sitting time) should be highlighted
  • Patients should be provided with an individualized prescription (dosage) that considers their unique characteristics and needs

"It is our sincere hope that this article will help address this significant knowledge translation error, such that all Canadians can reap the health benefits of physical activity." they concluded. "Important, also, is the associated evidence that sedentary time (in particular sitting time) has its own health risk, even for those persons that are physically active. The simple message of 'Move more and sit less' is more understandable by contemporary society and based on a strong body of evidence."

Commenting on this article, James A. Stone, MD, PhD, Clinical Professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Calgary, questioned whether these recommendations are "running on empty," i.e., deriving clinical practice recommendations in the absence of clearly linked high-quality scientific evidence.

"Much of the pertinent information Drs. Warburton and Bredin reference in their review article has only been published in the last few years, and some of it is based on large epidemiologic studies where the available information may be less rigorously researched than the scientific evidence used to produce clinical practical guidelines recommendations," observed Dr. Stone.

"Have the facts really changed? The argument that a lesser dose of physical activity and exercise can still return significant health benefits needs to be vetted and incorporated into evidence-informed clinical practice guidelines. The time has come to update the message regarding physical activity and exercise," commented Dr. Stone. "However, practice implementation messages are not the same as evidence-informed clinical practice recommendations derived from high-quality evidence. More specifically, the message that some physical activity is better than none needs to be researched and validated so it can be incorporated into clinical practice guidelines. So, are current guidelines running blind? Clearly, the correct historical answer is an emphatic no. But with rapidly emerging evidence, we need to expeditiously change all clinical practice guidelines when the facts change," he concluded.

Exercise counteracts sitting time

Office workers can stave off health problems associated with sitting down all day by regularly exercising, a new study has found.

Being physically active may offset some of the deleterious consequences of spending large amounts of time not being active, the paper published in BMC Public Health has revealed.

The study further emphasises the importance of physical activity in the promotion and maintenance of health.

In contrast, people described as 'couch potatoes' are putting their health at risk by spending too much time sat down and not exercising, the paper said. Low sedentary (sitting) time in the absence of physical activity is associated with higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Sedentary behaviour is defined as habitual sitting time. Higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with worse health, whereas higher levels of physical activity are associated with better health. However, the extent to which the combination of these behaviours influence health is less well-known.

The aim of this study was to examine the associations of four categories of physical activity and sedentary time compared with markers of diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers used data from the 2008 Health Survey to paint a nationally representative sample of English adults.

They grouped people into the following categories, including the physically active (those meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity) and low sedentary 'busy bees', the physically active and high sedentary 'sedentary exercisers', the physically inactive (those not meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity) and low sedentary 'light movers' and physically inactive and high sedentary 'couch potatoes'.

Lead researcher Dr Thomas Yates, from the Leicester Diabetes Centre and the University of Leicester, concluded: "We demonstrate that in comparison to adults who are physically inactive with high sedentary time, those who are physically active have a more desirable health profile across multiple cardiometabolic markers even when combined with high sedentary time. In contrast, low sedentary time in the absence of physical activity is associated with higher HDL-cholesterol levels.

"By suggesting that being physically active may offset some of the deleterious consequences of routinely engaging in high levels of sedentary behaviour, this study further emphasises the importance of physical activity in the promotion and maintenance of health.

"However, given the observational design, the relative magnitude of effect of physical activity and sedentary behaviour on health needs further examination through experimental or intervention level research."

University of Leicester researcher Kishan Bakrania, who also worked on the study, added: "This research is significant because it demonstrates yet again why physical activity and exercise is so important. It shows that people who spend large amounts of time not moving either through work, leisure or lifestyle can counteract some of the negative effects of sedentary behaviour by regularly exercising."

The Leicester Diabetes Centre is an international centre of excellence in diabetes research, education and innovation led by Professor Melanie Davies and Professor Kamlesh Khunti. The centre is a partnership between the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and the University of Leicester.

Controlling blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol linked to lower cardiovascular disease

While controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and LDL-cholesterol levels reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, only 7 percent of diabetic participants in three major heart studies had recommended levels of these three factors, according to research from the Heart Disease Prevention Program at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.

The findings illustrate the need for persons with diabetes to better manage their blood pressure, blood sugar and LDL-cholesterol levels, which are prime indicators of future cardiovascular disease. The diabetic participants surveyed in the UCI review were enrolled in the three heart studies between the late '80s and early 2000s, when treatment was not as good as it is now. Still, more recent data show that only 25 percent of Americans with diabetes achieve all three of these targets.

The good news is that those in the heart studies who did control all three factors had a 62 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to Nathan D. Wong, lead author of the UCI report, which appears online in Diabetes Care.

"But we have done a dismal job nationally at getting most of our patients with diabetes controlled for even just these three measures," said Wong, director of the Heart Disease Prevention Program and a cardiology professor at UCI.

"Since cardiovascular diseases - including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure - are leading causes of death for people with diabetes, these findings underscore the value of achieving target or lower levels of these modifiable risk factors," he added.

Wong and colleagues studied 2,018 adults (57 percent female) with diabetes mellitus but without known cardiovascular diseases who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis or the Jackson Heart Study. Fifty-five percent were African American, 30 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.

The researchers compared measurements of the three key factors to American Diabetes Association guidelines that were in effect at the time - blood pressure under 130/80 mmHg, LDL (or bad) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and blood HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin) under 7 percent. Forty-one percent of the study group were on target in one of the three categories; 27 percent had achieved two of the benchmarks; but only 7 percent met the recommended scores in all three.

Study participants' control of individual and composite factors was also examined in relation to the occurrence of new cardiovascular events (including heart attacks, coronary deaths, strokes, heart failure, percutaneous interventions and bypass surgeries) over an average follow-up of 11 years.

Wong said that proper management of any one factor translated to a 36 percent lower risk, proper management of any two factors was linked to a 52 percent lower risk, and proper management of all three factors correlated to a 62 percent lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to those without any factors controlled.

Blood pressure management appeared to benefit African Americans and women more than other ethnic groups or men; however, the converse was true for LDL control.

"Our analysis of three large U.S. cohorts including persons in whom diabetes has been diagnosed shows those who were at target levels for HbA1c, blood pressure and LDL to have substantially lower risks for cardiovascular disease than persons with diabetes who were not at target levels for such factors," Wong said. "These findings emphasize the importance of composite control of these modifiable risk factors to better address the cardiovascular disease risks seen in persons with diabetes, the need for the development of healthcare strategies to better ensure such management, and the need for studies to evaluate and eliminate barriers to risk factor control in persons with diabetes."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fresh fruit associated with lower risk of heart attack and stroke

People who eat fresh fruit on most days are at lower risk of heart attack and stroke than people who rarely eat fresh fruit, according to new research published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings come from a 7-year study of half a million adults in China, where fresh fruit consumption is much lower than in countries like the UK or US.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences conducted a large, nationwide study of 500,000 adults from 10 urban and rural localities across China, tracking health for 7 years through death records and electronic hospital records of illness. The present study was among people who did not have a history of cardiovascular diseases or anti-hypertensive treatments when first joined the study.

Fruit is a rich source of potassium, dietary fibre, antioxidants, and various other potentially active compounds, and contains little sodium or fat and relatively few calories. The study found that fruit consumption (which was mainly apples or oranges) was strongly associated with many other factors, such as education, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and not smoking. But, after allowing for what was known of these and other factors, a 100g portion of fruit per day was associated with about one-third less cardiovascular mortality and the association was similar across different study areas and in both men and women.

Study author Dr Huaidong Du, University of Oxford, UK, said "The association between fruit consumption and cardiovascular risk seems to be stronger in China, where many still eat little fruit, than in high-income countries where daily consumption of fruit is more common." Also, fruit in China is almost exclusively consumed raw, whereas much of the fruit in high-income countries is processed, and many previous studies combined fresh and processed fruit.

Co-author Professor Liming Li, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said "A recent Global Burden of Disease report put low fruit consumption as one of the leading causes of premature death in China. However, this was based on little evidence from China itself."

The senior author, Professor Zhengming Chen, University of Oxford, UK, said "It's difficult to know whether the lower risk in people who eat more fresh fruit is because of a real protective effect. If it is, then widespread consumption of fresh fruit in China could prevent about half a million cardiovascular deaths a year, including 200,000 before age 70, and even larger numbers of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks."

Factors associated with good heart health may also protect kidneys

Achieving the American Heart Association's definition of ideal cardiovascular health may also help prevent chronic kidney disease, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Life's Simple 7 are the ideal cardiovascular health factors/goals that include healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, diet, body weight, enough physical activity and not smoking.

"This study was the first to show that for people who are generally healthy, a higher number of ideal Life's Simple 7 health factors is associated with a reduced risk of new-onset kidney disease," said study author Casey M. Rebholz, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., assistant professor of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

The study included 14,832 adults, aged 45-64. The researchers categorized the adults in each of Life's Simple 7 measures as poor, intermediate or ideal. Participants were followed for an average of 22 years for the development of chronic kidney disease, a sometimes life-threatening condition where the kidneys are damaged and can't filter waste from the body.

Researchers found:

  • Participants with the most Simple 7 health factors had the lowest risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
  • About a third of study participants who had no ideal health factors at the study's start developed chronic kidney disease during follow-up.
  • Only 6.5 percent of participants with six or seven ideal health factors developed chronic kidney disease.
  • Smoking, body mass index, physical activity, blood pressure and blood glucose were associated with chronic kidney disease risk, but diet and blood cholesterol were not.
  • The higher the number of ideal health factors, the lower the risk of chronic kidney disease.
  • There were 2,743 cases of chronic kidney disease during an average of 22 years of follow up.
  • The number of ideal Life's Simple 7 health factors was significantly associated with chronic kidney disease even after accounting for age, sex, race, and a test to gauge kidney function, called glomerular filtration rate (GFR).
  • The narrowing of arteries that underlies heart disease also damages the blood vessels in the kidneys, so that the nephrons - which filter waste out of blood - no longer get the oxygen and nutrients they need to work effectively. In addition, damaged kidneys are less able to produce a hormone needed to regulate blood pressure.
"The shared underlying processes leading to the development of cardiovascular and kidney disease suggests that Life's Simple 7 might also be effective for kidney disease prevention," Rebholz said.

Ideal levels of Life's Simple 7 were defined as: non-smoker or quit more than one year ago; having a healthy weight (body mass index less than 25); performing at least 150 minutes/week of physical activity; having a healthy diet score (high in fruits and vegetables, fish, and fiber-rich whole grains; low in sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages); having a total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL; blood pressure of less than 120/80 mm Hg; and a fasting blood glucose of less than 100 mg/dL.

The findings have far-reaching effects, according to Rebholz.

"Attaining ideal cardiovascular health as defined by the AHA Life's Simple 7 metric may have substantial benefit for preventing the development of kidney disease. Recommending these ideal health factors may be effective as a population-wide strategy for kidney disease prevention," she said.

Oily fish eaten during pregnancy may reduce risk of asthma in offspring

Children born to mothers who eat salmon when pregnant may be less likely to have doctor diagnosed asthma compared to children whose mothers do not eat it, new research has shown.

The study, led by Professor Philip Calder of the University of Southampton, was presented at the recent Experimental Biology Congress in San Diego.

Professor Calder presented the findings after being named as the tenth recipient of the Danone International Prize for Nutrition for his cutting edge research on fatty acid metabolism and functionality, focusing notably on the immune, inflammatory and cardiometabolic systems.

The Salmon in Pregnancy Study was a randomised controlled trial in which a group of women ate salmon twice a week from week 19 of pregnancy. Allergy tests were then performed on the children at six months and then at two to three years of age. Results were compared to a control group whose mothers did not eat salmon during pregnancy.

Professor Calder told the Congress that the early results, which are yet to be published, showed that at six months there was no difference in allergy rate between the two groups of children. However, at age two and half years, children whose mothers ate salmon while pregnant were less likely to have asthma.

These latest results are one example of Professor Calder's ground-breaking research into specific relationships between nutrition and immune-related conditions over the course of the human life course.

A particular strength of his research is its translational approach, extending the results of research in mechanistic and basic nutrition science to studies in humans, including both healthy volunteers and patients, thereby influencing the development of nutritional guidelines and innovative treatments, something with the Prize Committee have recognised.

Professor Calder's research over the years has shown that certain fatty acids - or a lack of them - are involved in a broad spectrum of common diseases ranging from diverse allergies through to atherosclerosis and inflammatory conditions such as Crohn's disease. The work carried out in this area over the last 25 years, to which Professor Calder has made important contributions, has deepened the scientific community's understanding of the underlying mechanisms that explain the relationship between nutrition and immunity, the important first step in the formulation of nutritional advice for better feeding the immune system.

Though fatty acids are at the centre of Professor Calder's work, he has also covered neighbouring areas such as pre- and probiotics, iron deficiency and amino acids, at all times with the objective of channelling the insights of nutrition science into improved public health.

"It is in honour of his pioneering work over the last 25 years, his ground-breaking results and their far-reaching clinical applicability that Professor Calder has been awarded, on the Jury's unanimous decision, the 10th Danone International Prize for Nutrition 2016," said Professor Olivier Goulet, President of the Danone Institute International.

Professor Calder, also of the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, said as he received the award: "It is a great honour to receive the Danone International Prize for Nutrition. To me, it represents recognition by the nutrition community of 25 years of research in nutrition, immunology and omega-3 fatty acid functionality. It is also an encouragement to keep going further along this path. Our new findings from the Salmon in Pregnancy Study indicate that early nutrition interventions, even during pregnancy, can have long lasting effects on health."

The prize, which is one of the most distinguished honours in the field of nutritional science, carries with it a donation of 120,000 €. It is awarded every two years to reward internationally outstanding researchers and promote their work in this field. This is not the first time that a Southampton professor has received the award. In 2005 Professor David Barker, was the recipient, for the Barker Early Origins Hypothesis, also known as the fetal origins hypothesis or the thrifty phenotype hypothesis.

Promoting research, education and training in the field of nutritional health is the mission of the Danone Institute International. "Through multi-faceted support to research and educational programmes the Danone Institutes and their projects actively and independently contribute to Danone's commitments to nutrition and health. With increasing obesity rates, an ageing population and severe malnutrition issues, maintaining a healthy population is a huge task," said Danone CEO, Emmanuel Faber.

"At Danone, we believe it is crucial to support academic research in the field of nutrition as it enables to unlock new approaches and efficient solutions to address these growing challenges. We have proudly been supporting the Danone Institutes for 25 years with the Danone International Prize for Nutrition as a key initiative helping us to meet our mission: bringing health trough food as many people as possible."