We all know that laughing makes us feel good, but research has never shown exactly how this happens or how laughter fights pain, which it definitely can. An interesting investigation from England has demonstrated that the physical act of laughing - the actual muscle contractions involved - lead to the release of "feel good" endorphins, the same brain chemicals responsible for the runner's "high." Endorphins are also known to influence our perception of pain. Researchers at Oxford University studied reactions to pain both before and after bouts of laughter. Participants agreed to the use of a freezing sleeve slipped over their forearms, a blood pressure cuff that kept tightening and an uncomfortable ski exercise while they watched comedy videos, as well as some videos that weren't funny at all. The results of five sets of studies were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences and confirmed that laughter activates the release of endorphins. The results also indicated that pain thresholds were significantly higher in participants after laughter than in members of control groups who watched factual videos instead of funny ones.
My take? The findings from this study are important. The results help us better understand something we've long observed and that earlier studies have shown: laughter can influence health by relieving pain, lowering stress and even helping protect against heart disease. When you're stressed, nothing works better to counter it than a first-class belly laugh. I recommend seeking out laughter whenever you're stressed or feeling down. Call your funniest friend, rent a video comedy or you can try Laughter Yoga (seriously, there are more than 6,000 clubs in 60 countries). Bottom line: lighten up and laugh! It's good for you.
Yoga is no substitute for the more vigorous exercise which many people with diabetes need in order to lose weight, but a new study suggests that it may offer some of its own benefits. The findings showed that yoga classes (when added to standard diabetes care) helped study participants pare a few pounds and also improved their blood sugar control. A total of 123 middle-aged and older individuals participated in the study, and about half of them took yoga classes several times a week for three months. Compared to the study's control group, the participants who took the yoga classes lost a small amount of weight, but more impressively their blood sugar levels remained under control (indicators of poor sugar control rose among those in the non-yoga group). What's more, researchers found that signs of oxidative stress declined in the yoga group. In fact, levels of body chemicals reflective of this stress decreased by 20 percent. The study was published online August 11 by the journal Diabetes Care.
Here's more good news about diet and cancer: a, recent large study shows that people whose diets included the most folate were 30 percent less likely to develop colon cancer than were those whose intake of this nutrient was low. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute looked at data from diet surveys that reflect the effects of fortification of food with folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) instituted in the late 1990s. They found the lowest risk of colon cancer among individuals whose folate intake was highest (at least 900 micrograms per day) compared to those who got less than 200 mcg daily. The investigators were also looking for links between high levels of folate and higher risks of colon cancer, but found no evidence of a connection. However, this study couldn't rule out the possibility that those who get too much folate through the combination of supplements and fortified foods might be at increased risk for colon cancer, as some other studies have suggested. The findings were published online on August 3 by the American Journal of Nutrition.
A recent Q&A discussed nail care for dogs: Manicures for Dogs? Check out the article and let us know your thoughts and how you maintain your dog's claws!
The latest on links between breast cancer and diet suggests that consuming an abundance of vegetables, fruits and legumes may help women cut their risks of one type of breast cancer. After 26 years of following more than 86,000 nurses in the U.S., researchers have reported that those whose diets were rich in plant foods, while low on meat, sodium and processed carbohydrates had a 20 percent lower risk of developing estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, malignancies that account for about 25 percent of all cases. Here, breast cancer cells lack receptors for estrogen. When estrogen receptors are present, as they are in most cases of breast cancer, treatment can include tamoxifen and other drugs to "block" estrogen's access to cells, thus reducing the risk of recurrence. No drugs are currently available to reduce the risk of recurrence of estrogen receptor negative breast cancer. The dietary findings were published online August 10 by the American Journal of Epidemiology. In other news, a study performed with mice published in the August/September issue of Nutrition and Cancer showed that breast cancer risk dropped significantly when the animals' regular diet included walnuts in an amount that would translate to about 2 ounces a day for humans. Neither of these findings proves that eating vegetables - or walnuts - are directly responsible for the reported risk reductions, but suggest that follow up studies are worth pursuing.
My take? While there's no surefire dietary strategy to prevent breast cancer, we do know that women who gain weight as adults are at higher risk, as are women whose diets include the most meat (compared to women who eat little or no meat). In addition to watching your weight and eating less meat, I also recommend avoiding alcohol (drinking can raise your risk), eating lots of cruciferous vegetables, which give you protective phytonutrients, exercising regularly, which can help lower your risk of many diseases, and avoiding the long term use of estrogen replacement therapy at menopause.
Valerian, an herb used traditionally for insomnia and anxiety, may help some menopausal women conquer sleeping problems. The latest news on this long-popular herb is that it improved sleep in 30 percent of women who received it during a study at Tehran University in Iran. Investigators there recruited 100 postmenopausal women to take two capsules of valerian or a placebo every night for a month. They found that 30 percent of the women who took the herb reported better quality of sleep - they were able to fall asleep faster and woke up less often than they had previously. Only four percent of the women in the placebo group reported these improvements. None of the women complained of side effects from the valerian. The study was reported in the September 2011 issue of the journal Menopause. When buying valerian look for products standardized to 1% valerenic acid. The usual dose is one to two tablets at bedtime or one teaspoon of the tincture in one-quarter cup of water. While side effects are rare, you can become psychologically dependent on valerian.
Of course, the potatoes in question can't be French fries or chips or loaded with butter, cheese or all the other high calorie trimmings that sometimes come with spuds. But if you're partial to potatoes and enjoy eating them steamed or boiled, in moderation, they could be good for your blood pressure, even if you're already taking medication for hypertension. Researchers performing a small study (only 18 participants, mostly overweight or obese) at the University of Scranton reported the results of eating six to eight purple potatoes twice a day. After a month, average diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) among the study group dropped 4.3 percent while average systolic pressure (the top number) fell 3.5 percent. Researcher Joe Vinson, Ph.D., noted that plain potatoes are not particularly fattening (a single one contains about 110 calories), and they're loaded with beneficial phytonutrients, which may be responsible for the blood-pressure lowering effect seen in his study. In a statement he noted that earlier research showed that potatoes contain a substance similar to ACE inhibitors, a group of blood pressure drugs.