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Thursday
Nov132014

How to Get More Good Brown Fat

Unlike white fat cells that store calories for energy and expand as we gain weight, brown fat cells burn calories and generate heat to maintain body temperature. The trouble is, we don’t have many of them. If we had more of these metabolically active cells, we might be slimmer and healthier. A newly published study suggests that sleeping in a chilly room might boost our individual supplies of brown fat. This strategy worked in five healthy young men who agreed to sleep in climate-controlled chambers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for four months. By day, the men went about their normal lives and reported to NIH at 8 p.m. During the first month, bedroom temperatures were set at 75 degrees; the next month the thermostats were turned down to 66 degrees, which the researchers suspected could lead to a gain in brown fat. It worked: the volume of brown fat in the men’s bodies almost doubled. The bedroom temperatures were reset at 75 degrees for the third month and to 81 degrees for the fourth month in order to bring the men’s brown fat levels back to where they had been at the study’s start. Over time, tinkering with bedroom temperature could boost your brown fat stores, which might help lower your risk of diabetes and other metabolic problems and burn some extra calories, according to senior study author Francesco S. Celi. In this particular study, the temporary change was not enough to affect the weight of the men during the four weeks they slept in chilly room.

Sources:
Francesco S. Celi et al “Temperature-acclimated brown adipose tissue modulates insulin sensitivity in humans.” Diabetes, June 22, 2014

Tuesday
Nov112014

Sitting is Unhealthy … Unless You’re Physically Fit

Here’s some good news for a change about the health risks of prolonged sitting: a new study has found that it’s not so bad for you if you’re physically fit. Prolonged sitting at your desk, on your couch and in your car has previously been linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and premature death. The study, at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, enrolled 1,304 men between 1981 and 2012. The participants reported on how much time they spent watching TV and sitting in their cars and took a treadmill test to determine their physical fitness. Results showed that once physical fitness was factored in, prolonged sitting was associated only with a higher ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, not the long list of health problems identified in earlier studies. This undoubtedly won’t be the last word on the subject, but it does hint that for those with desk jobs, long commutes and some TV time, the impact of sitting on health may not be as negative as earlier studies suggested.

Sources:
Kerem Shuval et al, “Sedentary Behavior, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Physical Activity, and Cardiometabolic Risk in Men: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, doi 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.04.026

Monday
Nov102014

Surprising Stress Effect on Weight Gain

Stress can send you straight to the ice cream in the freezer or the pizza joint on the way home, but new research has found that the subsequent weight gain is more complex than just packing in extra calories. A study at Ohio State found that you actually burn fewer calories when eating under stress than someone who eats the exact same thing but isn’t stressed out. A group of 58 women, average age 53, participated in the study. They were provided with three standardized meals. The test meal provided 930 calories, including 60 grams of fat, and consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy, the caloric equivalent of a fast food meal of a two-patty burger and an order of fries. They were asked to fast for 12 hours before they returned to the Clinical Research Center. They then reported on any stress they had encountered in the past 24 hours. After the standardized meal, measurements of the women’s metabolic rate (how fast they burned the calories) showed that the participants who reported the most stress burned 104 fewer calories than the others. The researchers estimated that the daily effect of this pattern could add up to 11 pounds per year.

My take? We’ve long known that stress can trigger binge eating and lead to weight gain, and this study gives us a window into one of the possible mechanisms involved. The biochemical aspects linking stress and metabolism have yet to be worked out, and may eventually provide a target for intervention, but if you want to decrease the impact of stress in your life and on your weight, you should start by getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep. Incorporate meditation and relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Breathing exercises, particularly performing the 4-7-8 Breath, will help bring calmness throughout your body. Practice it at least twice a day, and try it every time you feel anxious or upset.

Sources:
Janice K. Kielcolt-Glaser et al, “Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity,” Biological Psychiatry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.018

Friday
Nov072014

What’s Your View of the Hygiene Hypothesis? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the frequency of children getting sick from attending school: Sick of Preschool? Check out the article and let us know what you think about the hygiene hypothesis.

Thursday
Nov062014

Another Good Reason to Eat Avocados

If you add avocado to the menu when you’re enjoying tomato sauce or carrots, you’ll better absorb vitamin A precursors, which include alpha- and beta-carotene. The participants of a study suggesting this were 12 healthy men and women who ate a fresh avocado with tomato sauce high in beta-carotene. The volunteers next consumed the same amount of avocado plus raw carrots. The aim of the study was to see if the avocado would promote the absorption of provitamin A carotenoids, and support the conversion of these carotenoids to an active form of vitamin A, which is involved in reproductive health, growth promotion, skin health, immune function and vision. The study found that eating avocado with the tomato sauce more than doubled beta-carotene absorption and more than quadrupled conversion of provitamin A (an inactive vitamin form) to vitamin A (an active vitamin form). Eating avocado and raw carrots increased beta-carotene absorption 6.6 times, more than quadrupled alpha-carotene absorption, and increased conversion of inactive vitamin A to active vitamin A by more than 12 times. The research was supported by the Haas Avocado Board and published online on June 4, 2014 by The Journal of Nutrition.

Sources:
R.E. Kopec et al,“Avocado Consumption Enhances Human Postprandial Provitamin A Absorption and Conversion from a Novel High-β-Carotene Tomato Sauce and from Carrots.” Journal of Nutrition, June 4, 2014 [Epub ahead of print]

Tuesday
Nov042014

Surprising News About Your Eyes

The more educated you are, the greater the odds that you’re nearsighted. German researchers came to this interesting conclusion after checking the eyes of 4,685 men and women ages 33 to 74. They found nearsightedness (myopia) among 60.3 percent of those who graduated from the 13-year German secondary school system compared with 41.6 percent of those who spent only 10 years in school, 27.2 percent of those who graduated after nine years, and 26.9 of those who didn’t graduate. They also reported that the percentage of nearsighted people was higher among university grads in general than among graduates of vocational schools or those who had no professional training. The investigators concluded that the effect of education on nearsightedness was much greater than that predicted by genetics, and hypothesized that environmental factors play a much bigger role in myopia than previously thought. They reported that the strong association between nearsightedness and education remained even after they adjusted for age, gender and variation in DNA sequences associated with myopia.

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Sources:
Alireza Mirshahi et al, “Myopia and Level of Education.” Ophthalmology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ophtha.2014.04.017

Monday
Nov032014

Good News About Organic Fruits and Vegetables

Aside from the fact that they enable you to avoid pesticides used on conventionally grown produce, a new review has found that organic fruits and vegetables often provide higher levels of health-protective antioxidants. While the authors haven’t claimed that organic fruits and vegetables are necessarily better for your health than conventionally grown produce, they did point out the antioxidants have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and other diseases in previous studies. This contradicts the results of earlier reports that found no nutritional advantage to organic fruits and vegetables. The new investigation is a statistical “meta-analysis” of the findings from 343 previously published studies. It concluded that overall, organic crops contained 17 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown crops and that levels of flavanones (a nutrient abundant in citrus fruits) were 69 percent higher in organic produce. Surprisingly, the review also found that organically grown foods, particularly grains, were lower in cadmium, a toxic metal that sometimes contaminates conventional fertilizers.

My take? While this review's authors made no claims for the health benefits of organic foods, their conclusions illuminate the potential differences between organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. We haven’t had many studies that directly compared organic and conventionally grown foods and found that that one is better than the other. We know there is evidence of pesticide residues in 71 to 90 percent of conventionally produced foods, however, compared to 13 to 23 percent of organically grown foods, and pesticides are definitely not good for you.

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Sources:
Carlo Leifert et al, “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.” British Journal of Nutrition, June 2014 26:1-18. [Epub ahead of print]

Friday
Oct312014

What Flavor Do You Prefer? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed how food flavor affects our health, specifically bitter flavor: Bet on Bitter? Check out the article and let us know what flavor your prefer the most.