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Thursday
Jan012015

How to Reduce Snacking While Watching TV

For those who can’t break a television and snack habit, the trick might be to watch Charlie Rose’s interview program rather than action movies. A new study from Cornell University found that students who watched the 2005 action movie “The Island” on television ate 65 percent more calories (354) than those who watched Charlie Rose (215 calories). The participants who watched "The Island" also consumed nearly twice as much food – 7.3 ounces v. 3.7 ounces - compared to the Charlie Rose crowd. Another group of students assigned to watch “The Island,” but without sound, ate 46 percent more calories than those who watched Charlie Rose, and consumed five ounces of food compared to the 3.7 ounces eaten by those who watched the Rose show. Study leader Aner Tal revealed that the students who watched “The Island” (with sound) ate the most food by weight because they were snacking on baby carrots, which weigh more than, say, popcorn. Tal said that he thinks the students ate more while watching the action movie because they kept pace with the tempo of the film. The not-so-scientific message here may be that if you want to cut the calories you consume while watching TV, stick with slower-paced and more cerebral offerings rather than action-adventure movies or TV shows.

Sources:
Aner Tal et al, “Watch What You Eat Television Action-Related Content Increases Food Intake.” JAMA Internal Medicine doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4098

Tuesday
Dec302014

More Potassium, Please

Potassium from bananas, sweet potatoes and white beans can help protect midlife women from strokes, but most of women in this age group don’t consume nearly enough potassium-rich foods. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York followed more than 90,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 for an average of 11 years and determined that those whose diets included the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke and 16 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke (the most common type where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off) than were women whose potassium intake was lowest. They also found that the women who received the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than women who consumed the least, and that the risk of ischemic stroke was reduced by 27 percent among those who did not have high blood pressure and whose potassium consumption was highest. The risk of all types of stroke was 21 percent lower among these women than among those whose potassium intake was lowest. Women who had high blood pressure and consumed the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but not a reduced risk of stroke compared to those whose diets contained the least potassium, a result that speaks to high blood pressure as a primary risk factor for stroke. Only 2.8 percent of women in the study get at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily, the amount recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Only 16.6 percent of the women consumed at least 3,510 mg or more as recommended by the World Health Organization. The study results were based on potassium intake from food, not supplements.

Sources:
Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller et al, “Potassium Intake and Risk of Stroke in Women With Hypertension and Nonhypertension in the Women's Health Initiative.” Stroke, September 4, 2014.

Monday
Dec292014

Bad News About Energy Drinks

New research conducted in France suggests that consuming energy drinks can lead to heart problems including angina (chest pain that follows decreased blood flow to the heart), irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. The main problem with these drinks is the caffeine they contain. Of the 212 adverse effects connected to energy drinks reported to the French food safety agency between January 1, 2009 and November 30, 2012, 95 were cardiovascular symptoms, 74 psychiatric and 57 neurological symptoms, although these problems sometimes overlapped. Of the heart problems documented in the study, cardiac arrests and sudden or unexplained deaths occurred in at least eight cases, the investigators reported, while 46 people developed heart rhythm disorders and 13 experienced angina. The most common presenting symptoms were diagnosed as “caffeine syndrome” characterized by tachycardia (fast heart rate), tremor, anxiety and headache. Study leader Milou-Daniel Drici, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, advised doctors to alert patients with cardiac conditions to the danger energy drinks can pose, and to ask young patients if they consume them. Dr. Drici presented the report at the European Society of Cardiology 2014 conference on August 31 in Barcelona, Spain.

My take? This new French study expands on what we already know about the health effects of caffeine in energy drinks. Consuming more than 250 mg of caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility (where a person seems unable to use up all their energy) and psychomotor agitation (repeated activity such as pacing or handwringing). Unfortunately, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not listed on the label in the U.S. Prompted in part by the number of adverse effects reported, the FDA has started looking into the addition of caffeine in many products – food as well as drinks - and its effects on children and adolescents. It’s about time.

Tuesday
Dec232014

Medical Marijuana and Drug Overdoses

An apparent benefit of the legalization of medical marijuana has been an unexpected drop in deaths related to overdoses of prescription painkillers. A study that assessed the availability of medical marijuana and analyzed the data on deaths nationwide between 1999 and 2010 found that deaths from prescription painkillers had dropped by 25 percent in states that had legalized medical marijuana (in 2010 only 13 states had done so compared to 23 states today). The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that, in 2010 alone, overdose deaths dropped by about 1,700 in states where medical marijuana had been legalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths related to pain medications have become epidemic over the past two decades and are now the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. The CDC reported that in 2011, 55 percent of drug overdoses stemmed from prescription medications and 75 percent of those involved opiate derived painkillers. One critic of the study suggested that other explanations, such as expanded methadone and buprenorphine programs, might have influenced the drop in overdose deaths, as might the action of the Drug Enforcement Administration in shutting down “pill mills.”

Sources:
Marcus A. Bachhuber, et al, “Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005

Monday
Dec222014

More Tomatoes, Please

Eating lots of tomatoes – a total of 10 servings a week – could cut the risk of prostate cancer by 18 percent, according to new research from Great Britain. Those 10 servings don’t have to be raw tomatoes or tomato salad – they could include the tomatoes in pasta sauce or on pizza, tomato juice and the tomatoes in baked beans, the study found. Researchers from the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge examined the diets of some 14,000 British men ages 50 to 69 to reach these conclusions. They further reported that men who ate five servings or more of fruit or vegetables per day had a prostate cancer risk that was 24 percent lower than that of men whose fruit and vegetable consumption averaged two and a half servings a day or less. The antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes is believed responsible for the lower risk of prostate cancer. In addition, the researchers reported that men whose diets included selenium provided in bread and pasta and calcium from dairy products also had a lower risk of prostate cancer. This study doesn’t conclusively prove that eating lots of tomatoes prevents prostate cancer – just that there is an association between the amount of tomatoes eaten and a lower risk of the disease.

My take? Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant - it is the carotenoid pigment responsible for the red color of tomatoes. In a number of large studies, it has demonstrated a protective role against prostate, colon, and rectal cancer, as well as heart disease. Lycopene is much more available to the body from cooked tomatoes than from raw ones. And since it is fat soluble, you need to eat your cooked tomatoes with some fat to facilitate absorption. That doesn't mean eating all the pizza you can get your hands on. However, it does suggest that homemade marinara sauce would be a healthful staple. I make my marinara with olive oil and keep some on hand in the freezer. If you don’t like tomatoes, you can always obtain lycopene from watermelon, which contains 40 percent more lycopene than an equivalent weight of tomatoes. The lycopene from watermelon is as well-absorbed by the body as the lycopene from tomatoes. (And, fortunately, you don't have to cook watermelon to get the same benefits that you get from tomatoes.)

Sources:
Vanessa Er and Richard M. Martin et al, “Adherence to Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) Trial.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0322

Tuesday
Dec162014

Sidestepping Allergic Reactions to Tree Nuts

If you’re allergic to tree nuts (cashews, walnuts, almonds and others), the best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid eating them. But now researchers are exploring a way to head off the reactions to nuts by changing the shape of their proteins. This could make the nuts allergy-proof – the modified protein wouldn’t be recognized by immunoglobulin E (IgE), antibodies that initiate reactions by latching on to nut (and peanut) proteins. The research was presented on August 11, 2014 at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society by investigators from the Agricultural Research Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Clinical trials to test immunotherapy are underway, but we’re approaching it from an agricultural perspective rather than medical. Can we change the food, instead of treating the person, so we can eliminate or reduce severe reactions?” said researcher Chris Mattison, Ph.D. As things now stand, allergic responses to nuts can range from mild itching in the mouth or skin to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Sources:
Making Cashews Safer for Those with Allergies”, American Chemical Society news release, http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/620620/?sc=mwhn, accessed August 22, 2014

Monday
Dec152014

Is Your Microbiome In Charge?

Is it possible that the hundred trillion microbes that make up the microbiome in the human gut "know" what nutrients they need, and in seeking them influence our dietary choices? This interesting theory holds that, in some cases, our intestinal flora nudges us toward fat or sugar and possibly obesity. A new review of recent scientific literature concludes that our microbes actually can trigger cravings, as their attempts to receive more of the foods they need for growth affect our eating behavior. The authors of the review write that it is “unclear” how the microbes might do this, but suggest that they may influence food choices by releasing signaling molecules into the gut, which has links to the immune system, endocrine system and nervous system. Another possibility: according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico, gut bacteria may sway our eating decisions in part by acting through the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain. On the upside, the reviewers note that our food choices can alter the microbiome within 24 hours. Better yet, the authors write that microbiota “are easily (manipulated) by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes…(offering) a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.”

My take? We know that our individual microbiomes are very different from one another, and it appears our own unique balance of organisms influences our health. Recent research suggests, however, that our microbiomes in general are becoming increasingly unbalanced for a number of reasons, including diets heavy in processed foods and increased exposure to antibiotics via both medical treatments and residues in foods from animals treated with the drugs. This review suggests that it's likely we ultimately have the power to control our own microbiomes, instead of the other way around.

Sources:
“Athena Aktipis, Carlo Maley, Joe Alcock, “Is eating behavior by manipulated the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms.” BioEssays doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071

Tuesday
Dec092014

Does BPA Cause Food Intolerance?

A new study performed in France suggests that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, around the time of birth may lead to food intolerances later in life, at least in rats. The researchers tested the effects of BPA exposure on a group of rats from birth until the animals were weaned at 21 days old. A control group of rats didn’t receive any BPA. When the animals reached adulthood, (which in rats is when they're 45 days old), the researchers fed them ovalbumin, an egg white protein which hadn’t been introduced into their diet previously. The investigators reported that the rats exposed to BPA earlier in life developed an immune reaction to the milk protein. This didn’t occur in the rats that hadn’t been exposed to BPA. Subsequent, repeated feeding of ovalbumin in the rats exposed to BPA led to colonic inflammation, which the researchers noted is a sign of food intolerance. They said their findings testify to the harmful effects of BPA on the immune system at low levels of exposure, and at a particularly vulnerable stage of fetal and newborn life. They added that the results support a French government decision in 2013 to ban the use of BPA in containers of baby food. The French BPA ban will extend to all food-packaging materials in 2015.

Sources:
Sandrine Menard and Eric Houdeau et al “Food intolerance at adulthood after perinatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A.” The FASEB Journal, 2014; DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-255380