Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Exercise Can Jog the Memory

It’s well established that exercise substantially changes the human brain, affecting both thinking and emotions. But a sophisticated, multifaceted new study suggests that the effects may be more nuanced than many scientists previously believed. Whether you gain all of the potential cognitive and mood benefits from exercise may depend on when and how often you work out, as well as on the genetic makeup of your brain.

 For the experiment, published last month in Neuroscience, researchers in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., recruited 54 adults, ages 18 to 36, from the college and the surrounding community. The volunteers were healthy but generally sedentary; none exercised regularly.

 During their first visit to the lab, they completed a series of questionnaires about their health and mood, including how anxious they were both at that moment and in general.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Less Couch Means Less Junk Food

Getting that booty off the couch will mean less time eating junk food, according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Experts say small lifestyle changes may have a “domino effect” in helping people lose weight.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine randomly assigned 204 adults one of four different lifestyle treatments. The treatments included increasing fruit and vegetable intake and exercise, decreasing fat and sedentary leisure, decreasing fat and increasing exercise and increasing fruit and vegetable intake and decreasing sedentary behavior. When patients were asked to change one lifestyle behavior, it was easier for them to change others, as well, creating a snowball effect, according to the findings.

“The key take-away is that people can change their unhealthy eating and activity behaviors, contrary to what many health professionals believe. By focusing on just two targets (increasing fruits/vegetables & cutting down leisure screen time) people were able to make large changes in those behaviors rapidly and they also reduced saturated fat intake without even trying,” Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study, told

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Doctor’s Remedy: Biofeedback for Stress

Biofeedback devices typically weigh only a couple of ounces and look something like an iPod. Pressing your thumb to sensors on the devices allows them to take your pulse and measure changes in your heart rate. The devices then use audible cues, flashing lights and graphics to guide you to breathe in a way that has a calming effect.

 Dr. Rosen prefers using the emWave brand of biofeedback devices, which he says helps his nervous patients relax before operations. While he’s used he device successfully on people of all ages, children take to it especially quickly, treating it like a video game. Dr. Rosen said they get a kick out of watching the colors change as their breathing slows.

 “I teach them really simple little breathing techniques, and we work on synchronizing their breathing with their heartbeat,” he said. “When they see the green light show up on the meter, that shows them that they’re doing it effectively. And when they need work, it’s at red. You can teach them how to control their breathing in a way that positively affects their heart rate variability. And not only do they feel more relaxed, but the body’s physiology changes. We can measure hormone levels that show that the body is in a less stressed state.”

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Many Americans Say Doing Taxes Is Easier Than Eating Right

Filing your taxes may be a dreaded task. But eating healthy can be an even bigger struggle for many Americans.

 According to the results of a new survey of more than 1,000 Americans, almost half of us think its harder to eat right than do our taxes. And genderwise, 55 percent of men say it's harder to figure out what you should be eating than it is to figure out how to do your own taxes.

For women, it's slightly lower, at 48 percent. The survey comes from the folks at the International Food Information Council Foundation. Given the confusion, it may not come as a surprise that more than half (55 percent) of Americans are trying to lose weight. But it seems lots of us are not sure how many much we should be eating. In fact, only one in seven Americans can correctly estimate the number of calories they need — a tricky business, we know.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Raw Food Diet for Pets

For years, raw food enthusiasts have touted the health benefits of uncooked food for humans. Now, some veterinarians and pet owners believe that a raw meat diet is best for pets.

 Sharon Misik, an actress who adopted two Siberian huskies in 2008 from a pet rescue organization, is a believer. After adopting the animals, Ms. Misik and her husband, who live in Bradbury, Calif., spent thousands of dollars on specialized diets and trips to veterinarians to treat a mysterious illness that plagued their dogs, which had trouble eating and severe diarrhea and seemed perpetually sick.

 When nothing else worked, she decided to try a raw food diet, even though several veterinarians discouraged it, saying it would expose her dogs to harmful bacteria. A holistic veterinarian encouraged her to start her dogs on a line of raw and freeze-dried chicken and beef foods made by Stella and Chewy’s, a Wisconsin-based pet food company.

 The difference was immediate, Ms. Misik says.

 “They were like new dogs,” she said. “They were happy and healthy, and their digestive systems improved dramatically. Since we started them on the raw food, these dogs have not been sick one day.”

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Friday, May 25, 2012

POM Wonderful deceptively advertised health claims in juice ads, judge rules

A federal administrative judge ruled Monday that POM Wonderful deceptively advertised its pomegranate products when the company said the juices could treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

 Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell upheld an earlier complaint from the Federal Trade Commission that was filed in September 2010 against POM and its parent company, Los-Angeles-based Roll International Corp. The company's health claims, such as "The Antioxidant Superpower", are a hallmark of its advertising and are seen as working to convince consumers that they are worth a premium price.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Childhood Obesity Linked to Cesarean Deliveries

Infants delivered via cesarean section have about twice the risk of becoming obese as infants delivered vaginally, according to a new study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Researchers recruited more than 1,250 pregnant women from the Boston area and followed their children until the age of 3. They found that at 3 years old, 15.7 percent of children delivered by C-section were already obese, while only 7.5 percent of children delivered vaginally were obese.

 The mother's body mass index and the baby's weight at birth did not play a big role in predisposing children to obesity, the researchers explained. Previous research, however, has linked maternal obesity to obesity in their children.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Frito-Lay to unleash gluten-free snacks; Lay's, Doritos, Ruffles, Tostitos and Sun Chips to carry no gluten label

Frito-Lay, one of the largest snack makers in the world, has launched an initiative that will see qualifying products carry a gluten-free label.

 With brands that include Lay's, Doritos, Ruffles, Tostitos and Sunchips, the snack food manufacturer has announced plans to develop a multi-year gluten-free validation process that would allow some of its North American products to carry the health claim.

 Foods will not be reformulated but tested in accordance with limitations set by the Food and Drug Administration of 20 parts per million.

 News that the PepsiCo subsidiary has jumped on the gluten-free train could serve as further proof that what some pundits have already dismissed as a fad is a trend that's just gaining steam.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Red meat and butter 'could raise Alzheimer's risk'

US researchers linked to Harvard University found older women who ate lots of food high in saturated fats had worse memories than others.

By contrast, those who ate more monounsaturated fats - found in olive oil, sunflower oil, seeds, nuts and avocados - had better memories.

Dr Oliva Okereke, from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., which is affiliated to Harvard Medical School, said: "When looking at changes in cognitive function, what we found is that the total amount of fat intake did not really matter, but the type of fat did."

She and fellow researchers made their conclusions after looking at results from 6,000 women over 65, who carried out a series of mental tests over four years and answered questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle.

Dr Okereke added: "Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory."

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Obese and Pregnant: Dieting Safe for Mom, Baby

At a time when women are "eating for two," dieting can safely lower the health risks of obesity during pregnancy, according to a new study.

 British researchers reviewed data from 44 trials involving 7,278 women to determine the safety and effectiveness of weight management programs during pregnancy.

 Not only did the moms-to-be gain less weight, they also lowered their risk of dangerous complications. "Dietary interventions were most effective in reducing complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and preterm delivery," the researchers wrote in their report, published Thursday in BMJ.

 Babies benefitted, too, as they were less likely to get stuck in the birth canal despite no difference in birth weight.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Healthy food no more costly than junk food, government finds

Contrary to popular belief, many healthy foods are no more expensive than junk food, according to a large new government analysis.

 In fact, carrots, onions, pinto beans, lettuce, mashed potatoes, bananas and orange juice are all less expensive per portion than soft drinks, ice cream, chocolate candy, French fries, sweet rolls and deep-fat fried chicken patties, the report says.

"We have all heard that eating a healthy diet is expensive, and people have used that as an excuse for not eating a healthy diet, … but healthy foods do not necessarily cost more than less healthy foods," says Andrea Carlson, an economist and co-author of the report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

"The price of potato chips is nearly twice as expensive as the price of carrots by portion size," she says.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Doubt Cast on the ‘Good’ in ‘Good Cholesterol’

The name alone sounds so encouraging: HDL, the “good cholesterol.” The more of it in your blood, the lower your risk of heart disease. So bringing up HDL levels has got to be good for health.

Or so the theory went.

Now, a new study that makes use of powerful databases of genetic information has found that raising HDL levels may not make any difference to heart disease risk. People who inherit genes that give them naturally higher HDL levels throughout life have no less heart disease than those who inherit genes that give them slightly lower levels. If HDL were protective, those with genes causing higher levels should have had less heart disease.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

When You Eat May Trump What You Eat for Weight Loss

“Cut back on calories” seems to be the dietary mantra when it comes to reducing weight.

However, a study on mice published Thursday in the Journal of Cell Metabolism suggests that losing weight may have less to do with watching calories — and more to do with watching the clock. “For millions of years, we humans spent our lives as diurnal species — eating most of our calories only in the daytime and fasting overnight,” said Satchin Panda, associate professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., and lead author on the study.

“In the last one hundred years or so, we have started to stay up at night and consume calories at night too. During this time, we have also observed an increase in the cases of diabetes and obesity.” This study found that mice that consumed as many calories as they wanted for eight hours and fasted for the remaining 16 hours were essentially the same as mice that ate a healthy diet when it came to gaining weight, diabetes risk and high cholesterol.

“The gist of this study is that the timing and the number of hours you fast impact your weight gain,” Panda said. “Watch the times of day you eat as opposed to what exactly you eat. You don’t have to be as strict in counting calories.”

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sugar Makes You Stupid, But Omega-3s Will Smarten You Back Up

Though we may not have fully come to terms with it, in theory we know that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an adversary of health. Lots of work has been done looking at its effect on weight, liver function, diabetes risk, and even the growth of cancer cells. But not much has looked at its role in brain function, until now. Researchers have just reported that among the list of bodily ills that HFCS contributes to, it may also “make you dumb.” Luckily, eating a diet rich in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids seems to counteract this phenomenon.

 In the new study, UCLA researchers had mice spend a few days learning to navigate a maze. Then some of the mice ate diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids or deficient in them; some mice also drank a fructose solution in the place of their regular drinking water. After six weeks on their respective diets, the team put the mice back in the maze to see how well they recalled it.

 The mice who had eaten omega-3-deficient diets were slower at completing the maze than the ones who ate diets rich in omega-3s. Those who drank the fructose solution instead of water were the worst-off of all when it came to their cognitive capabilities.

 The mice also had important differences in how their bodies – and brains – were metabolizing sugar and functioning overall. The mice who had eaten diets without omega-3s had higher triglyceride levels as well as higher glucose and insulin levels. In fact the mice seemed to enter a state of insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), but this too was reversed by the addition of omega-3s.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Mathematical Challenge to Obesity

Carson C. Chow deploys mathematics to solve the everyday problems of real life. As an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, he tries to figure out why 1 in 3 Americans are overweight.

We spoke at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where Dr. Chow, 49, gave a presentation on “Illuminating the Obesity Epidemic With Mathematics,” and then later by telephone; a condensed and edited version of the interviews follows. 

You are an M.I.T.-trained mathematician and physicist. How did you come to work on obesity? 

 In 2004, while on the faculty of the math department at the University of Pittsburgh, I married. My wife is a Johns Hopkins ophthalmologist, and she would not move. So I began looking for work in the Beltway area. Through the grapevine, I heard that the N.I.D.D.K., a branch of the National Institutes of Health, was building up its mathematics laboratory to study obesity. At the time, I knew almost nothing of obesity.

 I didn’t even know what a calorie was. I quickly read every scientific paper I could get my hands on.

 I could see the facts on the epidemic were quite astounding. Between 1975 and 2005, the average weight of Americans had increased by about 20 pounds. Since the 1970s, the national obesity rate had jumped from around 20 percent to over 30 percent. The interesting question posed to me when I was hired was, “Why is this happening?”

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Getting More Sleep at Night May Help You Keep Slim Read more:

Getting some extra z’s each night could dampen the effect of genes that predispose you to weight gain, a recent study from University of Washington in Seattle finds.

The research team, led by neurologist Nathaniel Watson, looked at the weight and sleeping habits of 1,088 pairs of twins in the University of Washington Twin Registry and found that those who got less sleep — less than 7 hours a night — were not only heavier, but also had less control over their weight than those who got more than 9 hours of shuteye.

Watson’s team found that among twins sleeping less than 7 hours, genes accounted for 70% of the difference in body mass index (BMI), while environment accounted for only 4% of the difference. Conversely, among twins getting more than 9 hours of sleep, genetic influences accounted for 32% of the BMI difference — or less than half the effect found in the short-sleeping twins — while environmental factors like diet and exercise accounted for 51% of the differences in weight.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mixing Weight Training and Aerobics

Is it wise to practice weight training and aerobic exercise on the same day?

That issue is surprisingly contentious in the sports world. Many competitive athletes, their coaches and athletic trainers have come to believe that aerobic exercise, if practiced in close proximity to strength training, reduces the ability of muscles to strengthen and grow. Conversely, many contend that weight training performed on the same day as aerobic exercise blunts the endurance training response.

This phenomenon, known variously as “muscle interference” or “exercise antagonism,” is a frequent topic on fitness-related chat boards. But to date, most of the discussions have been based on anecdotal evidence or simple conjecture. There has been little science supporting or challenging the existence of interference.

So, independently, groups of researchers at McMaster University in Ontario and the Karolinska Institute and other institutions in Sweden recently recruited volunteers to test the idea that you get more physiological benefit from performing only one type of exercise on any given day.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Lighter Weights Can Still Make A Big Fitness Difference

Here's good news for geezers — or for merely middle-aged folks — who'd like to stay fit and independent far into their later years.

You don't have to lift heavy weights to build muscle strength. Lifting lighter weights can be just as effective if you do it right, and you're much less likely to hurt yourself, researchers say.
  That's important information for people exercise expert Stuart Phillips calls "mere mortals" — those with dwindling muscle mass who want stay active, as distinct from body-builders and elite athletes.
Phillips, a professor of kinesthesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, says everybody needs to do some kind of resistance training to build muscle strength as they age. Cardiovascular exercise, while important, isn't enough to maintain muscle mass.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Really? To Lower Your Risk of Diabetes, Eat Breakfast

The benefits of eating a solid breakfast are hard to dispute.

 People who skip that all-important first meal of the day, studies show, suffer setbacks in mood, memory and energy levels. They are also more likely to gain weight, in part because of excess eating later in the day. Research on the habits of people taking part in the National Weight Control Registry, a long-running study of successful dieters, for example, shows that about 80 percent eat breakfast daily.

 But emerging research suggests another advantage to consistently eating breakfast: a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

As Diabetes Rises In Kids, So Do Treatment Challenges

More kids than ever have Type 2 diabetes, the kind that used to be referred to as the adult-onset variety.

It's a sign of our sedentary, calorie-rich times. Childhood obesity, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, is commonplace. For teens, about half of new cases of diabetes are now Type 2 compared with just 3 percent a few decades back.

So what's the best way to treat the growing number of kids? Results from a study, involving nearly 700 children over an average of almost four years, are downright discouraging.

Only about half of the children, ages 10-17 at the study start, were able to control their blood sugar adequately with the generic drug metformin (the only diabetes pill approved for kids) by itself. A combination of metformin and Avandia (a drug whose use has been severely restricted because of safety issues since the study started in 2004) did a little better — about 60 percent got their blood sugar under control.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Facebook Is Urging Members to Add Organ Donor Status

Nearly 7,000 people in the United States die each year while waiting for an organ transplant. It is a number that Facebook hopes to lower with its vast network of 161 million members in this country.

 The company announced a plan on Tuesday morning to encourage everyone on Facebook to start advertising their donor status on their pages, along with their birth dates and schools — a move that it hopes will create peer pressure to nudge more people to add their names to the rolls of registered organ donors.

 It is a rare foray by Facebook into social engineering from social networking, and one with a potentially profound effect, according to experts in the field of organ donation.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

What Will Make The Food Desert Bloom?

There's a battle for better health going on in poor neighborhoods across the country, and part of that battle involves getting people living in so-called food deserts access to healthy food.

But as many activists have learned, it takes a combination of access, innovation, and education to change peoples' habits for the better.

Duane Perry stepped into the struggle by accident twenty years ago. He founded an organization called The Food Trust that set up farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods of Philadelphia. At the time, he wasn't thinking about what makes people healthy or sick. The lack of grocery stores in these neighborhoods just seemed like an issue of basic fairness.
  "We'd go out and hear stories from little kids who'd say, 'My grandmother has to go out to the suburbs; she has to borrow a car from a friend to go once a month to get fresh fruits and vegetable; why is that?'" says Perry.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are You Sitting Yourself to Death?

Do you exercise every day—pounding the pavement, breaking a sweat, raising your heart rate—all in the name of good health? Well, recent studies suggest that when it comes to your risk of premature death, all that physical activity may not matter as much as you think.

Prolonged periods of inactivity—best described as sitting a lot—is unhealthy. Deadly, even. In a survey of some 220,000 adults, those who sat for more than eight hours a day had a 15 percent greater risk of dying within three years than those who sat for fewer than four hours a day, found a March study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This risk still held true for those who spent part of their day exercising. The results were worse for those who sat for 11 hours or more a day. They had a 40 percent greater risk of early death compared to those who sat for under four hours. It should be noted, researchers say, that the study didn't prove that sitting caused this risk. It could very well be that people who tend to sit longer are less healthy or have a condition that makes it difficult to walk or stand. Further studies to clarify the relationship between sitting and mortality are needed.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

High fat diets and depression: a look in mice

Only a few weeks ago I looked at a study on fast food consumption and depression, and only a few days ago I talked about a brand new study looking at high fat diets and protection from heart attack damage. And today, we’ve got another study on high fat diet, this time in mice, and depressive-like behavior. What is the effect of a high fat diet? Well, it appears to be getting more complicated with each new study.

But in this study, at least, it looks like diet-induced obesity might produce depressive-like effects in mice. But how the diet is doing that is not so well defined.

Sharma and Fulton. “Diet-induced obesity promotes depressive-like behaviour that is associated with neural adaptations in brain reward circuitry” International Journal of Obesity, 2012.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Study: Eating Omega-3s May Help Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids — from fish, soy or nuts, for example — may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, the authors of a new study suggest.

The researchers, from Columbia University Medical Center in New York, looked at 1,219 people over age 65 who were free of dementia. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits for the previous 1.2 years. The researchers focused on the participants’ dietary intake of 10 different nutrients, including saturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D.

The researchers also took blood samples from the participants to test for levels of beta amyloid, a protein found in the amyloid plaques in the brain that are a telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Because beta amyloid is difficult to measure in the brain, however, the researchers looked at blood levels instead, which is thought to be a marker for Alzheimer’s risk.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lard Is Back In The Larder, But Hold The Health Claims

What secret ingredient makes the pie crust so crisp and flaky? If you're from the Midwest, you may have guessed: Lard. The pig fat reviled for decades as supremely unhealthy is undergoing a lipid rehabilitation by American chefs and home bakers.

Think lardo, the cured pork fat served in thin slices on bread that's served from the kitchens of trendsetting chef Mario Batali. And farmers markets increasingly sell lard rendered from heritage pigs so you can try a fancy version at home.

And a new cookbook, "Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient", tries to make the case that the world is ready to once again enjoy lemon nut cookies and buttermilk pound cake made with lard. They even suggest it might be good for you, or at least not as bad for you as other stuff.

But, really?

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Prenatal Pesticide Exposure May Harm Kids' Brains

Prenatal exposure to a pesticide used on many crops may be linked with abnormal changes in a child's developing brain, scientists report.

 Compared to children with low prenatal exposure, those with high exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos had abnormalities in the cortex (the outer area of the brain), says Virginia Rauh, ScD, professor and deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The cortex helps govern intelligence, personality, muscle movement, and other tasks.

 "In areas of the cortex, we detected both enlarged and reduced volumes that were significantly different from the normal brain," she tells WebMD. "This suggests the process of normal brain development has been disturbed in some way."

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