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Vegetarian Diet and Digestive Disease

New evidence from Britain suggests that vegetarians are one-third less likely to develop diverticular disease than are meat eaters. This disorder, affects the colon and has been associated with diets that are low in fiber. Symptoms include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea. A research team from the University of Oxford looked at more than 47,000 British adults participating in a European study of cancer and nutrition; more than 15,000 of them reported that they were vegetarians. After more than 11 years of follow up and adjusting for such factors as alcohol consumption, smoking and body mass index (BMI), the investigators found that the rate of diverticular disease among the vegetarians was one-third lower than that of other study participants. They also found that those whose consumption of dietary fiber was about 25 grams a day were at lower risk of being hospitalized or dying from diverticular disease than study participants who consumed less than 14 grams of fiber daily. Diverticular disease may also worsen into a condition known as diverticulitis. The findings were published online on July 19th on the British Medical Journal's website.


Half of Alzheimer's Cases Preventable?

More than half of the cases of Alzheimer's disease worldwide could be prevented if enough people made relatively simple lifestyle changes. Evidence presented at the Alzheimer Association's International Conference in Paris in July illustrated that seven factors are associated with up to half of all Alzheimer's cases:

  1. Low education (possibly because less education means less opportunity to develop neural connections to carry into old age)
  2. Smoking
  3. Untreated or inadequately treated depression
  4. Mid-life high blood pressure
  5. Diabetes
  6. Mid-life obesity

The risk factors were gleaned from research performed by Deborah Barnes, Ph.D., a mental health researcher at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, who analyzed studies from around the world that included data from hundreds of thousands of participants. Researchers estimated that cutting these risk factors by 25 percent could reduce Alzheimer's incidence worldwide by three million cases and by half a million fewer cases in the U.S.

My take? Considering that Alzheimer's cases are expected to triple by 2050 to about 106 million worldwide, it isn't too soon to adopt preventive strategies. Also, consider that most of the lifestyle risk factors associated with Alzheimer's disease, including smoking, inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes and mid-life obesity, also raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Making these changes would be good for your body as well as your brain. As far as low education is concerned, it isn't too late to add to your brain power by challenging your mind. I've long recommended strategies such as reading newspapers and books, learning dance steps, doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, participating in ongoing education and learning a new language.


Pistachios for Weight Control

Pistachios in the shell may not be as popular as traditional choices like carrots for a healthy (practically no-cal) snack, but as one of the lowest calorie nuts, they have another advantage: shelling them slows down snacking - and a growing pile of shells shows may remind you of how much you've eaten. A study from Eastern Illinois University found that students given unshelled pistachios ate 41 percent fewer nuts (an average of 125 calories per sitting) than those were given shelled nuts (they averaged 211 calories per sitting). The researchers also learned that when given a bowl of pistachios and a bowl for the shells for the day, the students ate 22 percent less when the shells accumulated all day than when the bowls were emptied every two hours. This study supports results from earlier investigations suggesting that pistachios can be a healthy "diet" food: UCLA researchers found that snacking on pistachios was better weight-wise than snacking on pretzels. And a U.S. Department of Agriculture study found the body may not completely absorb the fat in pistachios, which would make the nuts even lower in calories than we think.


Better Blueberries

Blueberries are a healthy addition to any diet. Among other benefits, they contain anthocyanins - the pigments that make them blue - which act as potent antioxidants. And now researchers have identified two species of wild blueberries with two to four times the antioxidant activity of those on the market. These wild blueberries grow in the high-elevation Andes' forests, which happen to be one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Researchers from Lehman College in New York and the New York Botanical Garden discovered that these Andes' species pack a powerful antioxidant punch after examining five species of neo-tropical blueberries. The ones that scored highest were Cavendishia grandifolia and Anthopterus wardii. These berries aren’t commercially available at this time, but the researchers suggested that once their nutritional profile is better elucidated, they may be brought to market. The study was published in the April 13, 2011 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


Getting Enough Potassium?

If you're not getting enough potassium, your sodium intake may put you at risk of premature death. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spent nearly 15 years tracking more than 12,000 adults who were taking part in a federal nutrition study. In contrast to the risks associated with sodium in the participants' diets, the CDC team found that heart-related deaths were lower among those whose potassium intakes were highest. All told, they reported that those with the highest ratio of sodium to potassium were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack as those whose ratio of sodium to potassium was lowest. You can even out your sodium to potassium ratio by consuming less sodium (most in the American diet comes from processed or restaurant foods) and ramping up your potassium intake - that means more spinach, bananas, prune juice, plain yogurt and fish. The CDC study was published in the July 11, 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? These results don't surprise me. It is well known that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet and in our systems seems to affect blood pressure and kidney function more than salt levels alone. In addition to avoiding processed and restaurant foods, you can bring your sodium levels down by keeping the saltshaker off the table, and avoiding foods with visible salt such as pretzels, chips and salted nuts. Raising your potassium intake is easy if you add fruits and vegetables to your diet, but you should consult with your physician before considering salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride, and never take potassium supplements unless they're prescribed by a physician.


Do You Like Baby Carrots? (Poll)

A recent Q&A looked at the safety of baby carrots: Are baby carrots unsafe?
Read the article, and then let us know your favorite way to eat carrots!


Diet and Alzheimer's Disease

A small study published in the June 2011 issue of the Archives of Neurology suggests that a diet low in saturated fat that also emphasizes foods low on the glycemic index may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The investigators compared the effects of a diet high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates with those of a diet low in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in 20 older adults who were healthy and 29 seniors who had specific memory problems considered precursors to Alzheimer's disease. After four weeks, they found in the healthy group that the diet high in saturated fat and simple carbs elevated substances measured in blood that indicate presymptomatic Alzheimer's, while the diet low in saturated fats decreased cholesterol levels and other biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease. However, the low saturated fat diet had no such beneficial effects on participants who already had memory problems. The researchers said that the different results of the healthier diet among participants with some memory problems may have been due to the diet's short duration.


Tinted Glasses to Fight Migraines

If you have migraines preceded by a visual aura (such as flashes of light or intense patterns) special precision tinted lenses may help stave off headaches. The lenses have to be custom made for every patient, according to a researcher at Michigan State University who just published results of a small study. The research demonstrated that the specially tinted lenses helped normalize brain activity that occurs when migraine patients experience auras of patterns and light. The clinical trial included only 22 participants, 11 of whom suffered from migraines and 11 who did not. During the study, each participant was asked to wear precision lenses. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the researchers were able to monitor the effects of wearing the lenses on abnormal brain activity (known as hyper-activation) that occurs with the visual patterns associated with migraines. The results showed that the migraine patients reported 70 percent less pain when wearing the special lenses. The study was published in the May 26, 2011 issue of Cephalalgia. Larger studies with more migraine patients are now needed to confirm the positive results seen in this small group. More information on treating migraines.