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Thursday
May212015

Pregnancy: Eating for Two Not a Good Idea

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.

Tuesday
May192015

Less Weight for More Life

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.

Friday
May152015

Why Soy for Hot Flashes Works for Some, Not All

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.

Wednesday
May132015

BPA and Your Blood Pressure

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.

Monday
May112015

Too Many Pounds = Heart Trouble

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.

Thursday
May072015

Statins and Cataracts

New research suggests that statin drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol may increase the risk of cataracts. Canadian researchers used data from the British Columbia Ministry of Health databases from 2000 to 2007, and from the U.S. database IMS LifeLink from 2001 to 2011. In total, the investigators reviewed data from more than 1.3 million individuals (including controls). They reported a 27 percent increased risk of developing cataracts requiring surgery in the British Columbia patients. They also reported a seven percent increased risk in the U.S. patients. Earlier studies had noted an increased risk of cataracts among patients taking statins, but those results had been judged "inconsistent and controversial." The data and results of the new investigation were held to be statistically significant. The researchers wrote that no specific statins were found to pose a larger risk than others, and suggested that the cataract risk was a "class effect" of the drugs. They concluded that "because the relative risk is low and because cataract surgery is both effective and well tolerated, this association should be disclosed but not be considered a deterrent to use of statins when warranted" to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Tuesday
May052015

When You Eat May Matter More than What You Eat

New research from the Salk Institute suggests that the timing of meals and snacks may influence weight control more than the number of calories you consume. This approach hasn't been investigated in humans yet, but studies with mice have shown that limiting food consumption to an eight to 12 hour period during the day resulted in healthier, slimmer mice even when they were fed a high-fat diet. That wasn't so for other mice fed the same diet but allowed to eat any time of day or night. The research has also shown that allowing the mice to eat only during a specified eight-hour period reversed obesity and diabetes. In their latest study, the Salk researchers assigned nearly 400 mice, some of normal weight and some that were obese, to a variety of diets and differing time restrictions. Results showed that the benefits of time-restricted feeding held true regardless of mouse weight, the type of diet and, to some degree, the length of time restriction. The study showed that mice limited to eating during a window of 9 to 12 hours gained less weight than the "controls" that were allowed to eat at will, even though both groups consumed the same number of daily calories. The time-restricted mice also developed more lean muscle mass than the mice that ate without restrictions.

Friday
May012015

Outdoor Workout, Better Results

Engaging in outdoor exercise may be an effective strategy for midlife women who want to become more active - a small Canadian study found that women who did outdoor workouts attended more sessions than those who exercised indoors and exhibited greater tranquility afterward. Sticking to the program wasn't the only benefit - the researchers at the University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke in Quebec reported that women who exercised outdoors showed fewer depressive symptoms than the indoor group. They also tended to become more active in their daily lives, while those who exercised indoors didn't change their activity levels during the three-month course of the study. All 23 women participating in the study were in their 50s or 60s and were sedentary prior to joining the study. The researchers assigned the women at random to outdoor or indoor exercise groups. Both groups met three times per week for sessions that included aerobic exercise and strength training. Before and after their workouts, the women were asked about their moods and how tiring they found the workouts. The researchers reported that on average, the women who exercised outdoors had a greater sense of tranquility after their sessions than did the women who exercised indoors. All told, the outdoor exercise participants attended 97 percent of the 36 sessions compared to 91 percent attendance in the indoor group.

My take? I have always found outdoor exercise to be much more enjoyable than indoor workouts. Nature provides better visual stimulation - particularly when you're exercising in pleasant surroundings, such as in a park or the countryside. You also get the benefit of fresh air and sunshine, which always makes me feel more cheerful and energetic. In addition to physical benefits, just spending time in nature itself has a measurable positive influence on health. Time outdoors can lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that rises when we're under stress. It can also lower blood pressure and pulse rate and trigger a dramatic increase in the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, important components of our immune defenses against infection and cancer.

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