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Friday
Dec272013

How Would You Describe Your Weight? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the effects of genes on weight: Do Your Genes Make You Fat? Check out the article and let us know how you would describe your current weight.

Thursday
Dec262013

Talk to Yourself…It Helps

We used to think that people who walked around talking to themselves were a bit unbalanced. Now we notice the Bluetooth and shrug. But talking to yourself appears to have its uses, at least when you've misplaced something. A team of psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania has reported on a study showing that talking to yourself when you’re looking for something actually helps you find it. First, they asked study participants to look through 20 images and asked them to find a specific one. Sometimes, there was a label telling them what to look for; a teapot, for example. Later, the participants were asked to search again while saying the word of the object they had to find. In another experiment the participants were asked to find photos of common supermarket items like apples or peanut butter or a product name, such as Diet Coke. In both experiments, the participants who repeated the names of the objects they were searching for found them faster – and shortening the name to, say “Coke” rather than Diet Coke additionally speeded the searches. Try that the next time you can’t find your keys or your glasses.

Source:
Gary Lupyan, Daniel Swingley. “Self-directed speech affects visual search performance.” The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2011; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2011.647039

Tuesday
Dec242013

How to Knock on Wood...and Why It Helps

According to psychologists, knocking on wood does have positive effectsThe age-old superstitious practice of invoking the help of friendly spirits by knocking on wood may not bring good luck, but according to psychologists who actually tested methods of knocking on wood in a scientific study, it does have positive effects. It turns out that you feel better about a negative ordeal or event you’re facing when you reach forward to knock on wood, rather than knocking upward or toward your body. The researchers who tested this concluded that knocking on wood while reaching away from the body does more to make people think that the knocking negates bad luck, than does knocking toward yourself. The same thing happened when the researchers gave study participants a ball and asked them to hold it or to throw it away from themselves to avoid bad luck. The “away” action seemed to help most, since it was associated with pushing away bad luck. Incidentally, a German study published in 2010 suggested that lucky charms really help when you carry them while performing a challenging task. Here, researchers suggested that what led to improved success was simply feeling more confident and having higher expectations when carrying a lucky charm or performing a ritual before a challenge.

Source:
Yan Zhang Yan, Jane Risen and Christine Hosey, “Reversing One’s Fortune by Pushing Away Bad Luck,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, August 12, 2013

Lysann Damisch et al, “Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance,” doi: 10.1177/0956797610372631

Monday
Dec232013

Almonds for Weight Control

Snacking on 1.5 ounces of almonds daily reduced hunger and didn’t lead to weight gainThe latest news on nuts comes from a Purdue University study showing that snacking on 1.5 ounces of almonds daily reduced hunger and didn’t lead to weight gain, even though participants continued eating their customary daily diets. The investigators also reported that by eating almonds the study participants boosted their vitamin E levels as well as their intake of healthy monounsaturated fats. The research team recruited 137 adults at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and divided them into five groups: a control group, separate breakfast and lunch groups and morning and afternoon snack groups. All of the groups except the controls ate 1.5 ounces of almonds daily, either with meals or as morning or afternoon snacks. (Those in the control group were told not to eat any nuts or seeds for the duration of the four-week study.) All the participants (with the exception of the controls) reported daylong reductions in hunger and the desire to eat, particularly those in the “snack” groups. No one gained weight. The researchers suggested that this might be due to compensating for nut consumption by unconsciously eating less food at meals or to inefficient absorption of calories from the almonds.

My take? We already know that nuts are good for us, and this study shows that eating them daily (in a limited amount) doesn’t cause weight gain and, in the case of almonds, improves intake of vitamin E and monounsaturated fat. Even better, the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health, which is monitoring the health of 86,000 nurses, has found that those who ate more than five ounces of nuts per week (for comparison, airline-size packets are about an ounce) had one third fewer heart attacks than those who rarely or never ate nuts. Other studies have supported these findings. I usually eat a handful of nuts per day - my favorites are cashews, almonds and walnuts.

Source:
Richard Mattes and Y.T. Tan “Appetitive, dietary and health effects of almonds consumed with meals or as snacks: a randomized, controlled trial,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.184

Friday
Dec202013

What’s Your Favorite Alcoholic Drink? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed beer and whether it provides any health benefits: What's Wrong with Beer? Check out the article and let us know what alcoholic beverage you enjoy and include in your diet.

Thursday
Dec192013

How Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Improve Your Looks

Sleep apnea patients coming in for their check-ups looked better than they did before treatmentHere’s a study that developed as a result of staffer observations at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center: they noticed that sleep apnea patients coming in for their check-ups looked better than they did before treatment with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices to help them breathe better during sleep. Sleep apnea causes multiple interruptions of breathing (for at least 10 seconds) during sleep. For the study, done in collaboration with researchers at Michigan Technological University, the investigators took before and after pictures of 20 sleep apnea patients. The study photos were taken under identical conditions before CPAP and a few months later. The researchers then asked a panel of 22 independent raters to look at the photos and rank the individuals for attractiveness, alertness and youthfulness – and to pick which picture they thought showed the patient after sleep apnea treatment. About two-thirds of the time, the panel picked the “after” photos as showing the patient more alert, youthful and attractive; and they also correctly identified “after” pictures two-thirds of the time. The research team said a larger study will be needed to confirm the results.

Source:
Ronald Chervin, et al, “The face of sleepiness: improvement in appearance after treatment of sleep apnea” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine doi: 10.5664/jcsm.2976

Tuesday
Dec172013

Do You Really Know How Much Wine You’re Drinking?

A new study on the subject of wine consumption shows that informal servings differ based on the size of the glass you’re usingUnless you’re measuring carefully, you may not have a clue. A new study on the subject of wine consumption shows that informal servings differ based on the size of the glass you’re using, whether you are holding the glass as you pour or whether you’re pouring red wine or white. Researchers at Cornell University and Iowa State University looked into the wine-serving issue and published their results online on September 12, 2013 in the journal Substance & Abuse. They asked students to do the pouring and here’s what they found: study participants poured about 12 percent more wine into a wide glass than a standard wine glass. They also poured more when they were holding the glass than when it was standing on a table. And when pouring white wine into a clear glass, they poured about 9 percent more than they did when pouring red. (Here, color contrast is believed responsible for the difference.) The researchers also found that wine drinkers focus more on vertical than horizontal measures and tend to consume less when they drink from a narrow glass because the serving appears larger than it actually is. For the record, a standard serving of wine is five ounces. If you want to make sure you don’t over-imbibe here are two tips from the researchers: use narrow wine glasses and pour only when the glass is on a table, not in your hand. Alternatively, measure five ounces of wine into a glass you already own and note the height of the liquid; use that observation as a rough measure in the future.

Source:
Brian Wansink et al “Half Full or Empty: Cues That Lead Wine Drinkers to Unintentionally Overpour,” Substance Use & Misuse, doi:10.3109/10826084.2013.832327

Monday
Dec162013

How Vegetables Can Save Your Life

Eating more vegetables – and fruit – can literally lengthen your lifeEating more vegetables – and fruit – can literally lengthen your life, according to an ongoing study from Europe. Researchers from 10 countries have been following more than 450,000 people for over 13 years, during which time about 26,000 of the study participants have died. An analysis of the data shows that eating about 2.4 cups of vegetables or more daily reduced the risk of death by 10 percent and delayed that risk for 1.12 years compared to the risks of people who consumed less than nine ounces (about one cup) of vegetables and fruit daily. The researchers also reported that for every increase of about one cup in daily vegetable and fruit consumption, the mortality risk drops by six percent, and calculated that if everyone were eating the recommended 2.4 cups of vegetables and fruits daily, the mortality risk could drop by about three percent. Most of the deaths seen in the study were from cardiovascular disease. The highest (between 30 and 40 percent) reduction in the risk of death associated with fruit and vegetable consumption was observed among study participants who also drank alcohol, and a 20 percent risk reduction linked to eating fruits and vegetables was also seen for obese people. Eating a lot of raw vegetables had a big impact, too – high consumption was linked to a 16 percent reduction in the risk of death.

My take? This study’s findings are impressive, especially since the amount of fruits and vegetables that made a difference was relatively low – 2.4 cups a day is not that much. We know from earlier studies that individuals who consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily have a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease or stroke than do those who eat fewer than 1.5 servings per day. Similarly, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Earlier results from this same European study published in 2010 showed no risk reduction for cancer deaths, but the research team didn't look at the effects of specific nutrients on cancer risk. As far as that is concerned, I believe you can benefit from regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, which contain a cancer-preventing compound so potent that it is being investigated as a chemotherapy agent. I also continue to recommend eating berries and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables for their protective phytonutrients and antioxidants. My anti-inflammatory diet calls for four to five servings of vegetables (cooked or raw) and three to four servings of fruit daily.

Source:
Marie-Jose Sánchez-Perez et al, “Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality: European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition,” American Journal of Epidemiology August 15, 2013 doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt006. Epub 2013 Apr 18