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Probiotics for Weight Loss

Probiotics are foods or supplements containing the helpful bacteria that normally inhabit the human digestive tract, where they assist in completing digestion. Although they are usually marketed to support health of the gastrointestinal tract, a recent study performed in Canada suggests that taking probiotics can help women lose weight. The researchers noted that the intestinal flora of obese individuals differs from that of thin people, possibly because diets high in fat and low in fiber promote certain bacteria at the expense of others. For this study, they recruited 125 overweight men and women for a 12-week weight loss diet, followed by 12 weeks of weight maintenance. Throughout the study, half the participants took two pills daily containing a strain of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus while the others received a placebo. The upshot: women in the probiotic group lost 9.7 pounds compared to only 5.7 pounds among the women on the placebo (the men in both groups lost the same amount of weight, which the researchers couldn’t explain). During the maintenance phase, the women who received the probiotics continued to lose weight for a total loss of 11.5 pounds. The researchers also measured a decrease in the appetite-regulating hormone leptin in women who took the probiotics as well as a decline in the concentration of the intestinal bacteria related to obesity.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
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Angelo Tremblay et al, “Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women”, British Journal of Nutrition, 2013; DOI: 10.1017/S0007114513003875 


Benefits of Retail Therapy

Does shopping give you a boost when you’re feeling blue? A new online study from the University of Michigan suggests that retail therapy has emotional benefits. The information supplied by participants suggests that making decisions about purchases can help restore a sense of control and reduce sadness. The research team recruited 100 adults and showed them a movie clip that had been found in earlier research to induce sadness (it was about the death of a boy’s mentor). Afterward, the participants were randomly assigned to either make choices about items to buy or to browse. The “buyers” were asked to imagine spending $100 for a selection of four out of 12 items all priced at $25 and then to drag the four they selected to a shopping cart. The browsers were shown the same 12 products, asked to select the four which would be most useful for travel and then drag them into a box labeled travel items. Afterward, analysis of the data showed that the “buyers” had much lower “sadness scores” than the browsers. The researchers attributed the difference to the sense of control restored by making shopping decisions. Next on the agenda: can buying big ticket items help restore a sense of control among people with chronic emotional problems?

My take? Shopping is known to be a quick fix for transitory emotions, and may help alleviate the melancholy generated by a bad day or tragic event. Other studies have found that a shopping binge can have lasting positive effects on mood and that those who indulge don’t regret or feel guilty about spending to cheer themselves up. I’m not sure it would be as helpful for people struggling with depression, which often entails an inability to enjoy activities that usually hold interest. Of course, spending itself can cause problems and regret for those unable to manage their budgets, suggesting that this approach to mood management has definite, serious limitations. I’ll be curious to see the results of more formal studies of the effects of retail therapy on longer lasting sadness and depression.

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Scott I. Rick et al,  “The benefits of retail therapy: Making purchase decisions reduces residual sadness,” Journal of Consumer Psychology,

Selin Atalay and Margaret G. Meloy et al, “Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood”, Psychology and Marketing, DOI: 10.1002/mar.20404


How Do You Rate Your Chance of Living to 85? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the issue of carrying extra weight as you age: Should Seniors Worry About Weight? Check out the article and let us know what you rate your chance of living to 85.


Restoring Women’s Sex Drive

After menopause the female sex drive often isn’t what it used to be as a result of hormonal changes. But the findings from two new studies may help change that. One looked at whether testosterone – the hormone that fuels both male and female sex drive – can help. Results show that just replacing testosterone to pre-menopausal levels didn’t appear to have a benefit, but a dosage that was five to six times higher did. Researchers didn’t report any adverse effects, except for a statistically insignificant drop in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Nevertheless, they called for additional, well-designed studies to assess any potential long-term cardiovascular and metabolic dangers. The other investigation looked at the effects of the drug flibanserin on women who were distressed about their very low levels of sexual desire. Researchers found that women who took 100 mg of the drug at bedtime reported increases in the number of satisfying sexual encounters. However, 30 percent of the women reported side effects, including dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, and headache, but only eight percent stopped taking the drug as a result.

J.A. Simon et al, “ Efficacy and safety of flibanserin in postmenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: results of the SNOWDROP trial”, Menopause, December 2013

G.  Huang et al, “Testosterone dose-response relationships in hysterectomized women with or without oophorectomy: effects on sexual function, body composition, muscle performance and physical function in a randomized trial.” Menopause, November 2013


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Enjoy Yourself - You’ll Age Better

Are you happy with your life? New research from England has found that people who enjoy life navigate their senior years better able to maintain physical function in daily activities. They also can walk faster than those who enjoy life less. Researchers from the University College London posed questions to 3,199 men and women age 60 or older about how fully they enjoy life and then conducted personal interviews to elicit information about how difficult the study participants found it to get out of bed, dress, bathe or shower. They also subjected the participants a gait test to measure walking speed. Overall, the researchers concluded that older people who are happier and enjoy life more exhibit slower declines in physical function with increasing age. They also found that study participants age 60 to 69 years had higher levels of well-being than older subjects, as did those with higher socioeconomic status and education, and those who were married and working. Predictably, those less likely to report enjoying life were participants with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and depression.

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Andrew Steptoe et al, “Enjoyment of life and declining physical function at older ages: a longitudinal cohort study: Canadian Medical Association Journal, January 2014


What Sedentary Living Does to Your Brain

Being a couch potato can take a toll on your brain. We have long known that physical activity has positive effects on the body, and now a newly published study has shown that lack of exercise can reshape certain neurons in the brain, and not in a good way. Researchers at Wayne State University reported these findings from a study with rats that they said has implications for humans. They put one group of animals in cages with running wheels, and other rats in cages with no rodent gym equipment. The animals who had access to the running wheels took full advantage of them – they ran about three miles a day. After almost three months, the researchers checked the brains of all the rats. They saw no changes in the brains of the animals that received plenty of exercise but potentially dangerous alterations in neurons in the brains of the sedentary rats, including increased numbers of tentacle-like arms on neurons that could over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and lead to high blood pressure and the development of heart disease.

My take? These findings may give us new insight into how inactivity affects human health. Our bodies evolved in very demanding environments and are meant to be used. If they are not used, they deteriorate quickly. Many of the illnesses that plague our society result from underuse of bodies. Clearly, the prevalence of heart and artery disease correlates as much with lack of aerobic exercise as it does with unhealthy diets. Insufficient aerobic activity also predisposes us to musculoskeletal disorders, gastrointestinal problems, nervous and emotional illnesses, and a long list of other ailments.

Eating Anti-Inflammatory Made Simple
Take the guesswork out of a healthful diet with Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging. Our shopping and eating guides, over 300 recipes, tips and videos follow Dr. Weil's recommended anti-inflammatory principles for promoting better health, from head to toe. See what it's about - start your free trial today and save 30% when you join!

Patrick Mueller et al, “Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla.” The Journal of Comparative Neurology, doi: 10.1002/cne.23464


How Often Do You Take Your Pet to the Vet? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed giving pets over the counter medications: Are OTC Human Drugs Safe for Pets? Check out the article and let us know how often you take your pet to the veterinary.