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Friday
Mar202015

How Alcohol Can Help Your Brain

If you're age 60 or older and still have your wits about you, having a cocktail or two may enhance your episodic memory - the ability to remember events, whether they're recent or happened years ago. An example of useful episodic memory is the ability to remember where you parked your car. A new study from researchers in Texas, Kentucky and Maryland found that moderate alcohol consumption is also associated with a larger hippocampus, the brain area considered critical for episodic memory. Data from surveys of 660 patients enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort revealed the link through the review of the participants' alcohol consumption, demographics, neuropsychological evaluations, MRIs of their brains and whether or not they were genetically at risk for Alzheimer's disease. The researchers noted that results of earlier animal studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may promote generation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. They added, however, that having five or more drinks on any single occasion would do your brain more harm than good.

Wednesday
Mar182015

Walnuts to Slow Alzheimer's

Eating a few walnuts a day may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and even slow the progression of the disease, at least in mice. A new study from the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities found that adding walnuts to the diets of mice with the mouse version of Alzheimer's boosted the animals' learning skills, memory, reduced anxiety and improved motor development. The amount of walnuts added to the mouse diet was the equivalent of a human portion of one ounce to one and a half ounces per day. The researchers performed this study following laboratory findings that walnut extracts showed activity against the oxidative damage caused by amyloid protein, the major component of amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. The investigators said that the high antioxidant content of walnuts may have helped protect the mouse brain from the degeneration seen with Alzheimer's. The study also suggested that adding walnuts to their diet delayed the onset or prevented Alzheimer's in the mice.

Monday
Mar162015

Drinking Soda May Accelerate Aging

We know that habitually sipping sugary sodas can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but new research suggests that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks daily may have a negative effect on telomeres, the repeating DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age. Investigators from the University of California, San Francisco looked at telomeres in the white blood cells of stored DNA from 5,309 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2002. They calculated that the telomere shortening observed among individuals who consumed one 20-ounce soda daily was comparable to the effect of smoking. Over time, these changes were associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. In addition to the link between short telomeres and decreased human lifespan, the length of telomeres within white blood cells has been associated with development of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Study leader Elissa Epel, Ph.D., noted that the association between drinking sugar-sweetened soda and telomere shortening "held regardless of age, race, income and education level."

My take? These new findings don't surprise me. Earlier research has shown that drinking a single sugar-containing soda per day is linked to weight gain. A daily soda habit also increases a woman's risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent compared to women who have less than one sweetened drink per month. Sodas of any kind don't belong in a healthy, well-balanced diet. Opt instead for filtered water, tea or sparkling water mixed with natural fruit juice.

Thursday
Mar122015

Trying to Lose Weight? Read This

Eating out too often can interfere with your diet, lead to weight gain and an unhealthy boost in your cholesterol levels. This finding, from a study at Queens College in New York City, doesn't come as a big surprise since restaurant meals are often high in calories and fat, and the portion sizes are much larger than you might serve yourself at home. Between 2005 and 2010 the researchers collected information from more than 8,300 adults. Their analysis of this data showed that individuals who ate six or more meals a week away from home had a higher body mass index, lower levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower blood concentrations of vitamins C and E. While the researchers found that men eat more meals in restaurants than women, the negative effects of too many restaurant meals hit women harder, and were also more marked in individuals older than age 50. The study team reported that men who ate meals in restaurants frequently were in their 20s and 30s and had college degrees and higher incomes than occasional restaurant patrons. Nutritionists not involved with the study were quoted in news reports as saying that some restaurant portion sizes often have three to four servings-worth of calories.

Tuesday
Mar102015

Change Your Walk, Change Your Mood?

Did you know that your walk reflects your mood? Trudge along slump-shouldered and you appear depressed. Put a little pep in your step and you look happy. Interestingly, it appears the reverse may be true as well. Changing your walking style can affect your mood for better or worse, according to new research from Canada's Queen's University. Building on the knowledge that how we feel affects the way we walk, the investigators wanted to find out if changing the way we walk can affect mood. They put volunteers on treadmills and prompted some of them to walk in a depressed style and others to walk as if they were happy. To begin, the study participants were shown a list of positive and negative words such as "pretty," "afraid" and "anxious." While the volunteers were on the treadmill their gait and posture were tracked. After the treadmill test, the volunteers were asked to write down as many words as they remembered from the list they were shown earlier. The responses revealed that those whose walking style was depressed remembered more negative words, and that a depressed walking style did create a more depressed mood. Breaking this cycle might help with treatment of depressed patients, the researchers suggested.

Friday
Mar062015

What Does 250 Calories Mean to You?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that posting signs about how many miles customers would have to walk or run to burn off the 250 calories a sugary drink contains was enough to encourage some teens to opt for healthier choices. The study, performed in Baltimore corner stores, was designed to show that simply posting the calorie counts for sweet drinks doesn't change any habits, but that providing real world information on how those calories translate to miles of walking or running can make an impression great enough to influence behavior. Before the signs were put up, the researchers reported that 98 percent of drink purchases by teens in the stores were sugary beverages. Afterward, regardless of the type of sign, the percentage of sugary drink purchases dropped to 89 percent. The investigators found that the most effective sign was the one informing teens that they would have to walk five miles to burn off 250 calories. Of the 35 percent of the teens who said they saw the signs, 59 percent said they believed them, and 40 percent of them said that they bought something else - a smaller drink or water or nothing at all - as a result. The investigators observed 3,098 purchases, mostly by African Americans between the ages of 12 and 18.

My take? A few similar studies along these lines have been completed in the past and showed that providing information on how much activity is required to work off calories in foods apparently can make a difference. If you're interested in knowing more about how much exercise it takes to burn off a set amount of calories, you can find any number of online calculators that will give you calories burned per hour for many different activities for someone of your height and weight. Learning how much effort is involved in eliminating excess calories is worthwhile - it may stop you from overindulging in the first place, and can also help motivate you to get more exercise.

Wednesday
Mar042015

Good News: We're Living Longer

 

Life expectancy in the United States increased as of 2012, (the last year for which there is data). Babies born in 2012 have an average life expectancy of 78.8 years, although baby girls can expect to outlive baby boys by almost five years, the same additional span as babies born in 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which released the new statistics. (Baby girls born in 2012 have a life expectancy of 81.2 years while boys can look forward to an average of 76.4 years). The reason for the uptick: declines in mortality rates for the two leading causes of death - heart disease and cancer. These two diseases now account for 46.5 percent of all deaths. The CDC also determined that a woman who was 65 in 2012 could expect to live 20.5 more years while men who were 65 in 2012 could look forward to 17.9 more years. In other good news, the CDC reported that the infant mortality rate dropped by 1.5 percent in 2012 to a historic low of 597.8 infant deaths per 100,000 live births.

Monday
Mar022015

Trying to Cut Back on Salt and Calories? Here's the Secret

You might want to reconsider the sandwiches in your life if your goal is to lower your sodium intake and cut calories. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that on any given day, 49 percent of adults in the U.S. eat at least one sandwich and that sandwiches account for one fifth of total daily sodium intake. The sandwiches included classics like ham and cheese with mayo, burgers, franks, and just about any concoction you're likely to eat between two slices of bread or on a roll of any kind. The USDA researchers identified sandwiches as sources of too much salt and too many calories after analyzing data from a survey called "What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2010." Participants in the survey reported on everything they ate and drank the previous day. The data showed that people who ate sandwiches took in significantly more calories - about an additional 300 - than those who didn't eat meals between bread. They also consumed about 600 mg more sodium daily than those who didn't eat sandwiches. Bottom line: for every 1,000-calorie sandwich you enjoy, you also get 1,700-1,800 mg of sodium.