Is this too good to be true? Investigators at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland found that eating a little chocolate every day for two weeks reduces levels of stress hormones. The investigators recruited 30 volunteers, male and female ages 18-35, who were interviewed to assess their general anxiety. Those who rated themselves as highly stressed were then asked to consume 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate per day for two weeks. The researchers reported that eating the chocolate appeared to reduce levels of stress hormones in these volunteers. This isn't the first study to suggest that chocolate can ease emotional stress, but it is the first to identify the positive biochemical changes chocolate promotes. The study was published online on October 7, 2009 in the Journal of Proteome Research, a publication of the American Chemical Society. Other studies have shown that antioxidants in chocolate can make blood vessels more flexible and that the flavonoids chocolate contains can reduce the stickiness of platelets, inhibiting blood clotting and possibly reducing the risk of developing coronary artery blockages.
If you get frequent headaches, including migraines, air pollution may to be blame, at least for some of them. Researchers in Chile recently reported on the results of a study in Santiago Province, an area surrounded by the Coastal and Andes mountains and therefore topographically susceptible to pollution. The investigators found that hospital admissions for migraines, as well as for cluster, tension and other types of headaches were highest when pollution levels were high. They evaluated air pollution levels (ozone, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter - tiny particles linked to the combustion of gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels) at seven monitoring stations between 2001 and 2005. At the same time, they were accumulating data on hospitalizations for headaches. The study showed that headaches were linked to pollution during all seasons of the year, regardless of how old the patients were or whether they were male or female. The study was published in the October 15, 2009, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers noted more study is needed in other locales to confirm their findings.
My take? This is a very interesting study, suggesting an environmental cause for headaches. It could help explain why many patients never identify their headache triggers. If further research confirms these findings, the best defense against some headaches may be exploring ways to avoid pollution and supporting efforts to enact public policies that will result in cleaner air.
That's the word from Australian researchers who found that middle-aged women following a low-salt diet to control high blood pressure excreted less calcium than women on a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet. The investigators suggested that the change in urinary excretion of calcium could benefit bones in the long term. For the study, 92 women aged between 45 and 75 with signs of hypertension were randomly assigned to a low-sodium diet or a high-carb, low-fat diet. Both programs provided the women with 800 mg of dietary calcium daily. After 14 weeks, the researchers found that women on the low sodium diet were excreting 26 percent less sodium than they had at the outset and that levels of excreted calcium also dropped. More study will be needed to determine if a low-sodium diet actually slows bone loss. The study was published in the October, 2009, issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
Add this to the benefits of vitamin D: a study from Finland suggests that the higher your levels of "D," the lower your risks for heart disease and stroke. The Finish researchers measured vitamin D blood levels in 2,817 men and 3,402 women (average age 49) and followed the participants for 27 years. During that time, 480 men and 453 women died from heart disease or stroke. The researchers found that those with the lowest levels of "D" had a risk of dying from heart attack and stroke that was 25 percent greater than it was among those with the highest vitamin D levels. They also observed that the risk of death from stroke was twice as high among participants with the lowest levels of vitamin D than it was among those with the highest levels. Despite these findings, the investigators noted that more study will be needed to determine whether low levels of vitamin D contribute directly to heart attack or stroke. The study was published in the Oct. 15, 2009, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
I recommend 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Look for supplements that provide D3 (cholecalciferol) rather than D2 (ergocalciferol). Anyone with vitamin D deficiencies should discuss intake levels with his or her physician.
I'm raising my recommendation of 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day to 2,000 IU per day. Since 2005, when I raised it from 400 to 1,000 IU, clinical evidence has been accumulating to suggest that a higher dose is more appropriate to help maintain optimum health.
Learn more about my reasons for raising my vitamin D dosage recommendation here.
Unemployment can pose an increased risk for asthma and divorce or breaking up with a long-term partner seems to increase chances of developing the disease among women. And now German researchers recently reported that neurotic character traits definitely play a key role in asthma development as well. This summary follows a more-than-eight-year study involving more than 5,000 adult men and women. The investigators defined "neurotic" as the habit of worrying a lot or being prone to frequent emotional ups and downs. The study started with more than 4,500 individuals all of whom were asthma-free, but during more than eight-years of follow up, 63 of them (two percent) developed the disorder. The investigators found that highly neurotic individuals were three times as likely to develop asthma as those who were less neurotic. What's more, breaking off a life partnership, such as marriage, more than doubled the risk of asthma. Earlier evidence from animal studies has shown that chronic stress alters hormone levels, which can inflame airways making it difficult to breathe. The German team suggested that neurotic character traits may have the same effects but added that the "physiological mechanisms by which personality, stress and emotions might influence the development or course of asthma are still not well known." The study was published in the October, 2009, issue of Allergy.
My take? Asthma wouldn't be the first disease to demonstrate a strong mind-body component. In essence, this study's findings are good news. If confirmed, they would appear to offer a way to lower the incidence risk and manage asthma with mind-body techniques rather than with drugs.
More information on treating asthma.
First of all, exercise - even a daily 45 minute walk four days a week - can cut your risks of catching colds. This advice from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is based on findings that people who do that amount of exercise take 25 to 50 percent less time off from work because of illness. What's more, ACSM representative David Nieman says that it's perfectly okay to exercise if you have a head cold (just be sure it hasn’t gone to your chest). But if you do exercise while you’ve got a cold, don't push yourself - walk instead of running. If you’ve got more than the sniffles - the cold has gone to your chest, you have aches and pains are running a fever - go to bed. And give yourself a break when recovering from even a mild bout of illness: take a few weeks off before you begin to exercise again. The ACSM also advises exercising before getting a flu shot. Moderate physical activity will boost your immunity.
Our bodies convert the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in fish oil into a compound called resolvin D2, which helps down regulate inflammation. This discovery, by investigators in London and at Harvard, may explain why fish oil helps with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and many other disorders that are linked to inflammation. The clinicians suggested that resolvin D2 could lead to new treatments for inflammatory conditions - they found that when they added it to white blood cells that stick to the inner lining of blood vessels (the endothelium) the cells making up this lining produced small amounts of nitric oxide, which discourages the white blood cells from adhering. The result: reduction of inflammation. Another advantage: unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, resolvin D2 doesn't suppress the immune system. The researchers also found that resolvin D2 is a powerful chemical, and that effects can be measured with very small quantities. The study was published in the journal Nature on October 29, 2009.