Do you recognize the situations or stressors that prompt you to overeat? A study from the University of Southern California suggests a way to find out. The researchers theorized that bad eating habits can potentially be broken by focusing not on willpower or goal setting but on avoiding the common cues (such as time of day - for example, reaching for a midnight snack) that underlie the habits. As part of their investigation, they coordinated several experiments to evaluate what cues people to eat popcorn at the movies. In the first, they recruited several hundred people, some who really liked eating popcorn at the movies, some who occasionally did, and some who didn’t care. Half the participants received a bag of freshly popped corn and half received a bag of stale popcorn. The researchers found that habitual popcorn eaters ate the stale stuff while the others didn’t. When they changed the setting to remove the “at the movies” cue, and served a second group of study participants stale popcorn in a meeting room while they watched a film, even habitual popcorn fans didn’t eat it. And when a third group of participants went to the movies and received fresh or stale popcorn and were told to eat only with their non-dominant hand, nobody ate the stale stuff. The possible cue here was the "mindless" reaching. The upshot of all this is that you may be able to break bad eating habits, if you identify and eliminate the cues that prompt overeating. Learn more about compulsive overeating.
Just in time to grace your holiday table, see how to make my famous Roasted Root Vegetables. This simple dish comes together so quickly, you won’t believe how delicious - and good for you - it is! A text version of the recipe can be found here: Roasted Root Vegetables
We’ve long known that high blood pressure is a primary risk factor for stroke, but new research suggests that blood pressure on the high end of normal can be a threat, too. This condition, called prehypertension, is diagnosed when the top blood pressure number (systolic) is between 120 and 139 mmHg and the low number (diastolic) between 80 and 89 mmHg. The new information follows a review of 12 studies that included data on more than 518,000 participants in the United States, Japan, China and India taken from studies that lasted from 2.7 to 32 years. The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego, found that people with prehypertension were 55 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to individuals whose blood pressure was normal. The review also revealed that people younger than 65 with prehypertension had a stroke risk that was 68 percent higher than normal, and that regardless of age those whose blood pressure was in the range of 130 to 139 had a stroke risk 79 percent higher than normal. In the United States, one-third of adults have prehypertension. The study was published online on September 28 in Neurology.
My take? We’ve known for some time that prehypertension can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the studies this report was based on encompassed a lot of people, it was only an analysis, not a study, and the authors appropriately noted that their findings must be confirmed before deciding upon the best approach to treatment. In the meantime, if your blood pressure has been edging up, lifestyle changes - losing weight, getting more exercise, giving up smoking, learning to relax and cutting back on salt, alcohol and caffeine - may help bring it down.
An intriguing study in mice suggests that the aches and pains of arthritis might ease with exercise despite excess weight. It has long been believed that being overweight puts a strain on joints leading to the pain of osteoarthritis. A new study from Duke University Medical Center suggests that may not be the whole story. It found that male mice fed a high-fat diet became fat, processed glucose poorly, and had higher levels of the metabolites related to the chronic inflammation underlying arthritis compared to mice fed regular mouse food. But when the fat mice exercised on running wheels, their glucose tolerance improved and their inflammatory responses that otherwise would lead to arthritis were disrupted. If extra weight on the joints caused arthritis pain, the mice would have done worse, not better, the researchers hypothesized. Their findings are now being tested in humans. The study in mice was published September 27 online in Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Here, a large study involving nearly 51,000 women found that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day appears to lower the long-term risk of depression. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health followed participants in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study to see what effect coffee would have on the risk of depression. At the study’s outset, none of the women reported being depressed, and none were taking antidepressants. As the study progressed, results indicated that women who drank four or more cups of coffee daily had a 20 percent lower risk of depression than those who drank one cup or less daily. Those who consumed two to three cups had a 15 percent lower risk of depression. Too much caffeine can jangle the nerves, boost anxiety levels, and contribute to other health risks, but caffeine does have well-known short-term positive effects on mood - it can provide an energy boost and increase alertness. Until now, however, little has been known about its possible long-term effects on mood. The study was published in the September 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
As we get older, our bodies don’t absorb vitamin B12 as readily as they did during our younger years (B12 is found in animal foods - meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products). And this decreasing absorption may help explain why brain size shrinks with age and seniors develop problems with thinking. Researchers in Chicago checked blood levels of B12 in 121 seniors taking part in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. The investigators also measured vitamin B12 in five metabolites that are considered markers for B12 activity; a protocol, which they said, could give a fuller picture of B12 status. The seniors were asked to complete 17 tests to assess their memory and thinking skills. More than four years later, the study participants underwent MRIs to measure brain volume and to look for other signs of brain atrophy. The research team found that low levels of B12 in the metabolites were associated with poorer thinking skills and smaller brain volume. Because the study was a small one, the investigators said their results must be confirmed by additional research, and cautioned against making dietary changes based on their results. The study was published in the September 27 issues of Neurology.
My take? It is interesting that these researchers concluded that testing B12 levels in the blood isn’t enough to assess its activity in the body, but this is not the first study to associate low levels of B12 with negative changes in brain anatomy and function. A study published in 2008 suggested that seniors with the highest levels of B12 were six times less likely to exhibit brain atrophy than participants whose B12 levels were lower. I recommend that everyone over 50 years of age consume vitamin B12-fortified foods, take a vitamin B12 supplement, or take 50 mcg of B12 as part of a B-complex that contains a full spectrum of B vitamins, including biotin, thiamine, B12, riboflavin and niacin.