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Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health

We know that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and some research suggests that it lowers the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well. Following this dietary strategy may also help keep your brain younger as you age. A recent study conducted by Columbia University in New York City shows that seniors who had no problems with thinking or memory and adhered to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have larger total brain volume as well as more gray and white matter than those who didn’t always eat the Mediterranean way. The researchers also found that the more fish and less meat their study participants reported eating the more total gray matter their brain scans displayed. The researchers first looked at survey responses about eating habits from 674 seniors and then viewed MRI scans of their brains. All told, the investigators concluded that the difference in brain volume associated with a Mediterranean diet was equivalent to five years of aging – meaning that on the scans the brains of the seniors in the study who followed the Mediterranean diet looked five years younger than the brains of those who didn’t adhere to the diet. While the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between the diet and larger brain volume.

My take: I've long been a proponent of the Mediterranean diet, a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. This new study isn’t the first to associate the Mediterranean diet with better brain health. Earlier this year a study from Spain found that adding olive oil and nuts to a Mediterranean diet slowed declines in cognitive function among 447 healthy seniors who were participating in a larger, ongoing study of the Mediterranean diet. In addition, earlier observational studies have demonstrated better cognitive function and a lower-than-normal risk of dementia among people who follow the Mediterranean diet.



Late Bedtime = Weight Gain

Simply going to bed late on weeknights can set you up for gaining weight, no matter how much you exercise, how many hours of sleep you get or how much time you spend in front of a TV or computer screen. To arrive at this conclusion, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley analyzed data including bedtimes from 3,342 young people participating in a national study of adolescent health that has been ongoing since 1994. The investigators focused on three time periods – the onset of puberty, college-age years and young adulthood. Participants reported both their bedtimes and the number of hours they slept, and the researchers calculated BMIs based on each participant’s height and weight. Losing sleep due to late bedtimes was associated with a 2.1 gain in BMI over a five-year period. The findings suggest that going to bed earlier could set teens’ weight on a healthier track as they reach adulthood, said study leader Lauren Asarnow.


Buying, Using And Storing Herbs: 4 Rules To Follow

Herbs and spices have a prominent position on my Anti-Inflammatory Diet Pyramid because these culinary staples offer not only flavor enhancement to foods, but some are also healthful compounds that can both lower disease risk and alleviate symptoms of existing health concerns.

When it comes to herbs and spices (herbs are typically the leafy, green portions of a plant, while spices are derived from other parts including seeds, berries, fruits, bark and roots), knowing how to buy and store them can help keep them fresher, longer. Use these tips: 

  1. Fresh is best when it comes to flavor. Growing your own herbs is not only cost effective, but offers up freshness to every meal. Even if you have no room for a vegetable garden, a few pots in a sunny window can produce a handful of herbs for you to use. If you simply can't grow them, take advantage of the fresh herbs that are now widely available in the produce section of most supermarkets and natural food stores.
  2. Dried herbs often suffer from muted flavors because the essential oils have volatized away. Two ways to encourage the flavor to return - crush with your fingers or a mortar and pestle just before cooking to release the oils that remain. You can also briefly sauté them with olive oil on low heat.
  3. If you do use dried herbs and spices, store them in tightly covered containers away from light, heat and moisture. Don't sprinkle from a container into a steaming pot - the steam will enter the container and degrade the spice over time. Instead, shake into your palm, away from the steam, before adding to the dish.
  4. Generally speaking, dried, ground herbs and spices are typically good for up to six months.

Vitamin D for Muscle Strength

Vitamin D deficiencies are common in postmenopausal women and can lead to muscle weakness and an increased risk of falling, but new findings from Brazil suggest that women may be able to overcome both those problems by taking a daily supplement of 1000 IUs of vitamin D3. Researchers at Botucatu Medical School at Sao Paulo State University enrolled 160 women, ages 50 to 65, for the 9-month-long double blind, placebo-controlled trial. They estimated the women’s muscle mass via dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. They also tested handgrip strength as well as the ability of the women to rise from a chair. At the study’s end, the researchers reported that the women who received the D3 boosted their muscle strength by 25.3 percent while the women on the placebo actually lost an average of 6.8 percent of their muscle mass during the study period. The investigators also found that the women who took the placebo were nearly twice as likely to fall during the course of the investigation as the ones who were taking the supplement.


Is The "Lemon Water In The Morning" Craze Justified? Find Out!

While many people opt to start their day with a cup of coffee or tea, drinking warm water with lemon juice first thing in the morning - before consuming anything else - may have benefits. A glass of lemon water may:

  • Help With Hydration. Since our bodies go about seven to eight hours without any water overnight, it's essential to drink water first thing in the morning to avoid dehydration. For those who find water boring, lemon juice provides a tasty addition to help stay hydrated.
  • Provide An Immunity Boost. A citrus fruit, lemons are a great source of vitamin C, helping to keep the immune system strong.
  • Rejuvenate Your Skin. The vitamin C lemon juice provides can also help to repair and regenerate tissues, and is essential for synthesis of collagen, a protein that is the chief component of skin.
  • Enhance Your Mood. The scent of a lemon has been found to reduce stress levels, improve moods, and reduce agitation - all good reasons to start the morning off with fresh citrus.

While there is no solid evidence to support lemon water's weight loss claims, there is certainly no downside to starting your day with it. Likely any benefit in the weight department will be more due to how you spend the rest of the day.

Lemons are available year-round, in both sour (Eureka and Lisbon) and sweeter (Meyer) varieties. Look for a lemon that is heavy for its size, which indicates less skin and more flesh. The peel should have a finely grained texture and be fully yellow.



Weight Benefits of Standing

If you can spend at least a quarter of the day standing (and moving) you’re less likely to be obese than if those hours are spent sitting. A new study from the American Cancer Society shows that men who spent a quarter of their waking time on their feet were 32 percent less likely to be obese and those who spent half their daytime standing were 59 percent less likely to be obese than people who don’t stand as much. Women who spent a quarter of their time standing were 35 percent less likely to be have large waist circumferences (abdominal obesity) while the risk was 47 percent lower for those who spent half their time on their feet and 57 percent lower for those who spent three-quarters of the day standing. Researchers came to these conclusions after examining more than 7,000 adults attending the Cooper Clinic in Dallas from 2010 to 2015. They checked each individual’s body mass index, body fat percentage and waist circumference. The study participants also reported on the amount of time they spent on their feet. Those who said they met guidelines to perform 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity daily had even lower risks of obesity. The researchers said that it is unclear whether their study participants were standing still or moving but noted that standing motionless essentially burns no more calories than sitting. 


Why Interrupted Sleep Makes You Grumpy

New parents and on-call health workers know what its like to be awakened multiple times per night. They’re likely to be in a bad mood the next day even when the overall amount of sleep they get equals that of people who go to bed late but sleep through the night. Researchers at Johns Hopkins enrolled 62 healthy men and women for a sleep study that measured their moods after 3 consecutive nights of either forced awakenings, delayed bedtimes or uninterrupted sleep. After the first sleep period, the participants who were awakened eight times during the night and those whose bedtimes were delayed were in bad moods. But after the second night those whose bedtimes were delayed had a 12 percent reduction in positive mood, while those who were awakened had a 31 percent reduction. Tests showed that the participants who were awakened had shorter periods of deep-slow wave sleep compared to those in the delayed bedtime group. This difference had a statistically significant association with the participants’ bad mood. The researchers also reported that interrupted sleep reduced feelings of sympathy and friendliness toward others, as well as energy levels. In addition to new parents and health care workers, insomnia itself often involves interrupted sleep, and an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. adult population is affected. If you can’t blame interrupted sleep on a crying baby or a medical emergency, consider whether heat, light or noise is a factor and take corrective measures. And take a nap the next day if you can.


How Bad Air Affects Your Mind

If your office is a newer, energy efficient one with dedicated ventilation, you might actually be thinking better than your peers who work in typical older efficiency offices, where it turns out indoor pollutants are potentially accumulating at higher levels. This news comes from a Harvard School of Public Health study that tested workers in green vs. “non-green” office conditions. The study was double blinded, meaning neither the participants nor the investigators knew whether the air quality in a controlled environment was bad or good when the tests were run. For the study the researchers evaluated the decision-making performance of 24 professionals including architects, designers, programmers, engineers, creative marketing professionals and managers while the participants worked in a laboratory where the environment could be manipulated and air quality adjusted. The Harvard team wanted to assess the impact of ventilation, chemicals, and carbon dioxide on employees’ cognitive function because as buildings have become more energy efficient, they have also become more airtight, increasing the potential for poor indoor air quality unless ventilation to maintain air quality is part of the design. They reported that when air quality was best the workers scored 131 percent higher in response to crises than when it was poor. Under the same conditions the workers scored 288 percent higher in strategizing and 299 percent higher in information usage.

My take: You probably can’t do much about the indoor environment where you work other than draw attention to the findings of the Harvard study. The improvements in thinking seen when the air was most “clean” should impress managers concerned about the productivity of their workers. If you’re apprehensive about the air quality at home you might read up on the various sources of indoor air pollution and consider incorporating solutions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I often recommend HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters to people who have allergies to pollen, dust, or other particulates and to those who live with smokers or in smoggy urban areas. These devices work by forcing air through screens containing microscopic pores, which remove all airborne particles above a very small size. Over the years, I've found that HEPA filters work very well and aren't too expensive.

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