Consuming polyphenols, a class of antioxidants found in potato extract, may hold promise as a strategy to avoid obesity. This news comes from researchers at Canada's McGill University, who studied the effects these compounds obtained from a variety of potato that is particularly rich in polyphenols. The investigators tested the extract in mice that had been fed a diet high in fat and refined carbohydrates. To begin, they put the mice on a 10-week long diet designed to fatten them up. The animals that started out weighing an average of 25 grams gained about 16 grams on the diet, but a second group of mice on the same diet with potato extract added gained only seven grams. The research team was so surprised at the results that they repeated the study to confirm the outcome. Don't think you can get similar results by upping your intake of potatoes, however. You would need to eat 30 potatoes a day (every day) to get the amount of polyphenols given the mice in the McGill study. The extract needs to be tested in humans to see if it is safe and has similar effects, and researchers will have to determine the optimal dose for men and women. If those studies pan out, the team anticipates making the extract available in supplement form or as an ingredient for cooking.
Here's some good news for men (and for women) worried about hair loss. Researchers in Japan have zeroed in on a substance that may turn out to be an effective treatment to address thinning hair, although so far, it has worked only in mice and has not yet been tested on humans. The substance is propolis, which honeybees use to seal small gaps in their hives. Humans have used propolis and honey from ancient times as treatments for tumors, inflammation and wounds, and these natural substances contain compounds that fight fungal and bacterial infections. More recent research has found that propolis stimulates the activity of cells involved in hair growth. A team from Japan's Hokkaido University tested the substance on mice that had been shaved or waxed and found that the animals treated with propolis had faster fur regrowth than animals that were shaved/waxed and not treated. The scientists also reported that after propolis was applied to shaved mice, the skin cells involved in hair growth increased in number. They also noted that in some cases hair loss is due to abnormal inflammation and that propolis contains anti-inflammatory compounds and might be useful for treating some inflammatory conditions associated with balding. More study is needed to determine whether propolis can help humans regrow hair.
My take: For centuries people have used propolis on wounds and as a remedy for ailments ranging from acne to cancer, osteoporosis, itching, and tuberculosis. Today, it is used in the manufacture of chewing gum, cosmetics, creams, lozenges and ointments. I consider it safe and useful as a home remedy and recommend it as a topical treatment for uncomplicated wounds and, when used as a gargle or in spray form, as a remedy for sores and irritations in the mouth. Tincture of propolis can also be used to treat canker sores and sore throats. You can find it in various forms in health food stores or source it raw from beekeepers. We'll have to wait for clinical trials to see if propolis can actually promote hair growth in humans.
Eating yogurt regularly may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health followed nearly 200,000 adults ages 25 to 75 for up to 30 years, checking in on them regularly through food questionnaires. After adjusting for age, smoking, body mass index and other risk factors, the team concluded that consuming 12 ounces of yogurt daily - three times the usual four-ounce serving - was linked to an 18 percent reduction in the risk for Type 2 diabetes. The study also found that consumption of other dairy products didn't seem to make a difference to the risk of diabetes. Lead author Mu Chen told the New York Times that yogurt's positive effect might be due to the probiotic bacteria it contains, although that remains to be studied. Frank Hu, the study's senior author, was quoted in news reports as saying that the benefits may stem from yogurt's high protein content, which can increase satiety and reduce feelings of hunger, or it could be that regular yogurt consumption is simply a marker for a healthy lifestyle.
Gaining some weight during pregnancy is healthy, but a new study shows that one-third of new mothers whose weight was normal before pregnancy were overweight or obese a year after childbirth. The investigators from the University of Chicago drew on data from 774 low-income women. The participants were interviewed three times in the year following childbirth, and the women's height and weight were measured at six and 12 months after delivery. The researchers reported that their study participants gained an average of 32 pounds during pregnancy and that about 75 percent of the women remained heavier a year after their babies were born than they were before pregnancy. When interviewed a year after their babies were born, 47 percent of the women still weighed at least 10 pounds more than they did pre-pregnancy. Experts note that breastfeeding and moderate exercise can help with weight loss after pregnancy. Study leader Loraine K. Endres, M.D., made the point that "eating for two" should not be interpreted to mean doubling caloric intake. She said that pregnant women should consume only 300 to 400 extra calories per day as long as they're expecting only one baby.
If you've been thinking about your New Year's resolutions and have put weight loss at the top of your list, take it seriously. A Canadian research team examined the relationship between body weight and life expectancy and calculated that being overweight or obese can steal up to eight years of your life. Worse, they concluded that because those excess pounds often lead to diabetes or cardiovascular disease earlier in life, they could deprive you of nearly two decades of good health. The team used data from 4,000 people included in the 2003 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Their lifestyles were used to develop a model estimating the annual risk diabetes and cardiovascular disease pose to individuals, and it revealed how different body weights affect life expectancy and years of healthy life lost. They found that the very obese could lose up to eight years of life, the obese up to six years, and the overweight up to three years. In addition, healthy life-years lost were two to four times higher for overweight and obese individuals compared to those whose weight was healthy. They reported that the worst cases were those individuals who gained weight at early ages. Now the team is looking into how weight loss can affect life expectancy.
My take? Obesity remains a widespread medical problem in the U.S. - one third of adults and 17 percent of children are considered obese, and, as a result, at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and kidney and gallbladder disease. Obesity may also increase the risk for developing some types of cancer. And it is strongly associated with osteoarthritis and sleep apnea. So it should be no surprise to learn that being overweight or obese can take years off your life, and make the years you do have less enjoyable. The obvious solution is to lose weight - no easy task although we all know what's involved - avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar; eat foods that are low on the glycemic index and, especially, in glycemic load; cut back on alcohol; avoid stress, frustration and boredom; if you're depressed, seek treatment and get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, five times a week. Your health and life are worth the effort.
Adding whole soy foods to your diet may quell hot flashes, but it's only likely to help if you're one of those women whose bodies produce equol, a soy metabolite. A study published online on November 6, 2014 by the journal Menopause concludes that 20 to 50 percent of North American and European women produce equol. Seattle area researchers surveyed women in a local health care system to identify those who didn't use hormone replacement therapy and who also consumed soy foods at least three times a week. The women who agreed to participate in the study were asked to report on the number and severity of their hot flashes and night sweats. Urine tests showed that only 34 percent of the 357 women volunteers produced equol. Among those women, 76 percent who regularly consumed soy reported a less than average number of hot flashes and night sweats. The researchers noted that measuring equol is done only in research centers, but women can get a reliable indication of whether or not soy foods will help quench their hot flashes by adding them to their diets for four to six weeks. If there's no change, you can assume that soy won't be effective for you. The researchers noted that the positive effect of soy for women who do produce equol still has to be studied and confirmed in larger controlled, randomized studies.
Here's another reason to avoid cans or bottles lined with Bisphenol A (BPA): this chemical can raise your blood pressure. We've long known that BPA from plastic lined containers can leach into food and drink, and now researchers in South Korea have reported that drinking beverages from these containers can bump up your blood pressure by five millimeters (mm) of mercury, enough to cause "clinically significant" problems if you already have high blood pressure or heart disease. The researchers recruited 60 adults, mostly women, and randomized them to drink soymilk from either glass bottles or cans. Two hours later, they checked the women's blood pressure and heart rate and a short while after that checked their urinary concentration of BPA, which they report had increased by up to 1,600 percent among the participants who drank the canned soymilk. The investigators noted that soymilk was the "ideal beverage" for the test because it contains no known ingredient that raises blood pressure. Study author Yun-Chul Hong, M.D., Ph.D., suggested that consumers opt for fresh foods or those that come in glass bottles or jars rather than food and drink that comes in cans. They also noted that a 20 mm of mercury increase in blood pressure doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you're seriously overweight or obese, you are at increased risk of heart failure, period. This remains true whether or not you have any other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. This news comes from a 12-year long study showing that levels of a predictive heart enzyme signal silent damage to the heart among overweight and obese individuals. Researchers from Johns Hopkins tested more than 9,500 men and women ages 53 to 75 who were free of heart disease for the enzyme, troponin T. This blood marker is considered the gold standard for diagnosing ongoing or recent heart attacks in patients who come to emergency rooms with chest pain. After testing, the investigators followed the study participants for more than 12 years. During that time, 869 of the participants developed heart failure. When the investigators looked at the participants' troponin T test results, they saw that levels of this enzyme were much lower than they are in heart attack patients. However, troponin T levels rose as body mass index (BMI) increased, the researchers reported. They found that severely obese individuals with elevated troponin levels were nine times more likely to develop heart failure than study participants of normal weight with undetectable troponin levels, and that this additional risk persisted even after accounting for other possible causes of heart damage.
My take? This interesting study shows that you don't get a free pass for being overweight or obese, even if you're otherwise relatively risk free for heart disease. The findings suggest that obesity alone increases your risk, and the authors made the point that their results are an "alarm bell" for physicians to monitor their obese patients rigorously for emerging signs of heart disease. Bear in mind that heart disease isn't the only threat obesity poses to health - it also increases the risk of stroke, kidney and gallbladder disease, some types of cancer as well as osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.