Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?

Just in case you need another reason to cut back on junk food, it now turns out that Alzheimer’s could well be a form of diet-induced diabetes. That’s the bad news. The good news is that laying off soda, doughnuts, processed meats and fries could allow you to keep your mind intact until your body fails you.

We used to think there were two types of diabetes: the type you’re born with (Type 1) and the type you “get.” That’s called Type 2, and was called “adult onset” until it started ravaging kids. Type 2 is brought about by a combination of factors, including overeating, American-style.

The idea that Alzheimer’s might be Type 3 diabetes has been around since 2005, but the connection between poor diet and Alzheimer’s is becoming more convincing, as summarized in a cover story in New Scientist entitled “Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain.” (The graphic — a chocolate brain with a huge piece missing — is creepy. But for the record: chocolate is not the enemy.)

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Exercise Can Help You Master New Skills

Can you improve your body’s ability to remember by making it move? That rather odd-seeming question stimulated researchers at the University of Copenhagen to undertake a reverberant new examination of just how the body creates specific muscle memories and what role, if any, exercise plays in the process.

To do so, they first asked a group of young, healthy right-handed men to master a complicated tracking skill on a computer. Sitting before the screen with their right arm on an armrest and a controller similar to a joystick in their right hand, the men watched a red line squiggle across the screen and had to use the controller to trace the same line with a white cursor. Their aim was to remain as close to the red squiggle as possible, a task that required input from both the muscles and the mind.

The men repeated the task multiple times, until the motion necessary to track the red line became ingrained, almost automatic. They were creating a short-term muscle memory.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

New Anti-Obesity Ads Blaming Overweight Parents Spark Criticism

This week, a new anti-obesity media campaign launched in Minnesota has been getting a lot of attention, and not necessarily the good kind.

One ad features two kids bragging about how much their dads can eat, and trying to one-up each other. A dad walks up, hears the kids, and looks down guiltily at his tray of burgers and fries. Another ad shows an overweight mom wheeling a cart of unhealthy groceries around the store, eventually noticing that her chubby daughter is wheeling a smaller cart but doing the same thing.

The messaging has sparked fresh debate about going after overweight people in the name of taking on the well-documented public health concerns over the country's growing waistlines. The Atlantic places the ads in the "gray area between educating and shaming."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For Weight Loss, Less Exercise May Be More

Most people who start working out in hopes of shedding pounds wind up disappointed, a lamentable circumstance familiar to both exercisers and scientists. Multiple studies, many of them covered in this column, have found that without major changes to diet, exercise typically results in only modest weight loss at best (although it generally makes people much healthier). Quite a few exercisers lose no weight. Some gain.

But there is encouraging news about physical activity and weight loss in a new study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. It found that exercise does seem to contribute to waist-tightening, provided that the amount of exercise is neither too little nor, more strikingly, too much.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Avoiding Sugared Drinks Limits Weight Gain in Two Studies

Amid fervid criticism that New York City risks becoming a nanny state, city health officials this month banned the sale of supersize sugar-laden drinks in restaurants and movie theaters. Now scientists have handed the ban’s advocates a potent weapon: strong evidence that replacing sugared drinks with sugar-free substitutes or water really can slow weight gain in children.

Two-thirds of all American adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. The contribution of sugary sodas and fruit drinks to this epidemic has been hotly disputed. But two new randomized clinical trials published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine lend credence to the idea that limiting access to these beverages may help reduce obesity.

Beverage industry officials denounced the research, which may fuel wider efforts to curb consumption through taxes or other restrictions.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

French scientists question safety of GM corn

A controversial new French study claims that rats fed a diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and/or exposed to the company’s top-selling weedkiller were more likely to die prematurely and develop tumors and organ damage.

The two-year, peer-reviewed study, allegedly the first to look at the long-term effects of genetically engineered corn on animals, was published today in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal. It was backed by the Committee of Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRII-GEN), a French nonprofit known for its opposition to GM foods.

In a telephone conference call with U.S. reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Gilles-Eric Seralini, a biologist at Caen University and the study’s lead author, noted that GM animal studies typically conclude after three months, likely because companies behind genetically modified foods don’t want to know the long-term consequences of their products.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can Food Be Addictive?

The notion that food can be addictive has been debated for some time and largely rejected by both nutrition and addiction researchers. But this spring, the secretary of health, Kathleen Sebelius, said that for some, obesity is “an addiction like smoking.” One month earlier, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, gave a lecture at Rockefeller University, making the case that food and drug addictions have much in common, particularly in the way that both disrupt the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and self-control.

Princeton University and University of Florida researchers have found that sugar-binging rats show signs of opiatelike withdrawal when their sugar is taken away — including chattering teeth, tremoring forepaws and the shakes. When the rats were allowed to resume eating sugar two weeks later, they pressed the food lever so frantically that they consumed 23 percent more than before. Scientists in California and Italy last year reported that the digestive systems of rats on a fatty liquid diet began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced by marijuana use.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Obese Kids Have Less Sensitive Taste Buds

Everyone’s taste buds are different. That’s why some people can swallow the spiciest peppers while others have no fondness for sweet desserts (gasp!). Now a recent study suggests that taste-bud sensitivity may have something to do with the risk of obesity in children.

German researchers report that obese kids have less sensitive taste buds than their normal weight peers, and may therefore eat more food to get the same flavor sensation.

The researchers looked at 193 healthy children aged 6 to 18. Roughly half the kids were normal weight and half were obese. For the study, researchers placed 22 taste strips on the children’s tongues, representing each of the five types of taste — sweet, sour, salty, umami (savory) and bitter — at four levels of intensity, as well as two blank strips. The participants were asked to identify each of the tastes, and also rank each taste strip’s level of intensity.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adult Obesity Rates Could Exceed 60 Percent in 13 States by 2030, According to New Study

The number of obese adults, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on course to increase dramatically in every state in the country over the next 20 years, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012, a report released today by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

For the first time, the annual report includes an analysis that forecasts 2030 adult obesity rates in each state and the likely resulting rise in obesity-related disease rates and health care costs. By contrast, the analysis also shows that states could prevent obesity-related diseases and dramatically reduce health care costs if they reduced the average body mass index of their residents by just 5 percent by 2030.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Study links chemical BPA to obesity in children

Deepening the mystery surrounding the health effects of bisphenol A, a large new study has linked high levels of childhood and adolescent exposure to the industrial chemical to higher rates of obesity — in white children only.

The latest research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., measured bisphenol A, or BPA, levels in the urine of a diverse group of 2,838 Americans ages 6 to 19. Researchers from New York University also reviewed data on the participants' weight, dietary intake, physical activity and socioeconomic backgrounds.

At first blush, the link between BPA and obesity appeared to be powerful: Compared with children and teens with the lowest apparent exposure to the ubiquitous chemical, those with the highest exposure were roughly 2.5 times more likely to be obese.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yogurt Berry Parfait With Steel-Cut Oats

This is a great way to enjoy both steel-cut oats and yogurt, whether or not you use the yogurt for this parfait. The oats soften overnight in the yogurt and thicken the yogurt at the same time. Look for organic yogurt that has no thickeners or gums added to it.

6 tablespoons quick-cooking steel-cut oats

2 cups Greek-style yogurt

1/4 cup clover honey or organic sugar

2 cups blueberries or mixed raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon shelled pistachios, finely chopped

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stressed? Exercise may help ward off anxiety

Exercise not only improves mood, it may help people maintain reduced anxiety in the face of stressful or emotional events, a new study says.

While many studies have shown a link between exercise and better mood, it was not known "whether these positive effects endure when we're faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym," said study researcher J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

In the study, participants engaged in either a 30-minute period of rest, or 30 minutes of cycling on two days. A survey designed to measure anxiety levels was given before and after the activity.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Work Stress Linked to More Heart Attacks

Thank God it’s Friday. A recent review of 13 studies by a group of European researchers links high work stress with an increase in heart attack risk.

 The research team examined data from studies of nearly 200,000 people from seven European countries and found that workers with highly demanding jobs and little control over decision-making were 23% more likely to have a heart attack over the 7.5-year study, compared with their peers with less job stress. This association remained unchanged when the study authors factored in socioeconomic status, gender and age.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

New York OKs nation's first ban on super-sized sugary drinks

New York City passed the first U.S. ban of oversized sugary drinks on Thursday in its latest controversial step to reduce obesity and its deadly complications.

By an 8-0 vote with one abstention, the mayoral-appointed city health board outlawed sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces nearly everywhere they are sold, except groceries and convenience stores. Violators of the ban, which does not include diet sodas, face a $200 fine.

Opponents, who cast the issue as an infringement on personal freedom and called Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed the ban in May, an overbearing nanny, vowed to continue their fight. They may go to court in the hopes of blocking or overturning the measure before it takes effect in March.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

McDonald's Adds Calorie Counts And Maybe Grilled McNuggets To Menu

If you didn't know that a Big Mac has 550 calories, or the Southwest Chicken Salad has 290, those numbers will be hard to miss the next time you visit McDonald's.

That's because the fast-food giant announced today that it will begin posting calories on its menu boards right above customers heads in the restaurant, and at the drive-thru starting next week.

McDonald's USA President Jan Fields says after talking with customers, it's clear they want more information. "They asked us to make it easier to find nutrition information at the restaurants," she says. (In fact, the company has offered nutrition information about its products for decades, if you knew to ask for them or to flip over the paper on your tray.)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Really? Using a Computer Before Bed Can Disrupt Sleep

In today’s gadget-obsessed world, sleep experts often say that for a better night’s rest, Americans should click the “off” buttons on their smartphones and tablets before tucking in for the night. Electronic devices stimulate brain activity, they say, disrupting your ability to drift off to sleep. But according to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed.

Increasingly, researchers are finding that artificial light from some devices at night may tinker with brain chemicals that promote sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle.

In the study, published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, the researchers had volunteers read, play games and watch movies on an iPad, iPad 2 or PC tablet for various amounts of time while measuring the amount of light their eyes received. They found that two hours of exposure to a bright tablet screen at night reduced melatonin levels by about 22 percent.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

More Choice, and More Confusion, in Quest for Healthy Eating

Lisa Todd’s grocery cart reflects the ambivalence of many American shoppers.

Ms. Todd, 31, prowled the aisles of a busy Kroger store here last week. Her cart was a tumble of contradictions: organic cabbage and jar of Skippy peanut butter. A bag of kale and a four-pack of inexpensive white wine. Pineapples for juicing and processed deli meat.

 The chicken, perhaps, summed it up best. A package of fryer parts from Tyson, the world’s largest poultry producer, sat next to a foam tray of organic chicken legs.

 The conventional food was for her boyfriend, the more natural ingredients for her.

 “We’re not 100 percent organic, obviously, but I try to be,” she said. “He doesn’t care, so I’m trying to maintain happiness in the relationship.”

 Like many people who are seeking better-tasting, healthier food, Ms. Todd had heard about a recent study on organic food from Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fish oils 'help slow age decline'

Moderate exercise, and a regular intake of oily fish fatty acids, keeps elderly immobility at bay, a study suggests.

 Findings of a recent trial show that women aged over 65 who received omega-3 fatty acids gained almost twice as much muscle strength following exercise than those taking olive oil.

 A larger trial is planned to confirm these findings and to determine why muscle condition improves.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny

The numbers released quietly by the federal government this year were alarming. A ferocious germ resistant to many types of antibiotics had increased tenfold on chicken breasts, the most commonly eaten meat on the nation’s dinner tables.

 But instead of a learning from a broad national inquiry into a troubling trend, scientists said they were stymied by a lack of the most basic element of research: solid data.

 Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States goes to chicken, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet producers of meat and poultry are not required to report how they use the drugs — which ones, on what types of animal, and in what quantities. This dearth of information makes it difficult to document the precise relationship between routine antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic-resistant infections in people, scientists say.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Experts Issue a Warning as Food Prices Shoot Up

With the worst drought in half a century withering corn across the Midwest, agricultural experts on Tuesday urged international action to prevent the global spike in food prices from causing global hunger.

 The directors of three major United Nations food and agriculture programs sounded the alarm both on the immediate problem of high food prices and the “long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

 Agricultural production has fallen in a number of major crop exporters this summer. Sweltering heat and a severe drought have damaged the corn crop in the United States. Droughts have also hit Russia and Ukraine, hurting the wheat harvest, as well as Brazil, affecting soybean production.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lunch Trays Got Too Lean in City’s Fight Against Fat

Worried that children were losing the war on obesity, New York City began to slim down its school lunch offerings several years ago, replacing fries with baked potato strips and introducing nonfat chocolate milk, whole grain pasta and salad bars, among other tweaks.

 In the process, the city also cut calories. So much so, city officials now acknowledge, that it often served children fewer calories than required by the federal government.

 The Bloomberg administration has often found itself stymied by the powers of Albany or Washington in its policy goals, including enacting congestion pricing, erecting a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, taxing soda or banning the use of food stamps for sugar-sweetened beverages.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Millions of Americans Have Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure: CDC

One-third of Americans have high blood pressure and only half of them have it under control, dramatically increasing their risk for possibly fatal heart attacks and strokes, a new government report shows.

That translates into 67 million Americans with high blood pressure and only 36 million people keeping it at healthy levels through medication or other means, the new data suggests.

 "[About half] of Americans with high blood pressure don't have it under control and because of that, it's public enemy number two," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a Tuesday news conference.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Can Love Handles Kill? Why Having a Paunch May Be Worse Than Being Obese

As new research shows, those who have normal weight but concentrated “central” fat are more than 50% more likely to die earlier from all causes than those who are obese.

 A team of eight scientists presented the research in Munich on Aug. 27 at a European Society of Cardiology meeting. Led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, the scientists examined data for 12,785 Americans who had been tracked for approximately 14 years for a major CDC study. Lopez-Jimenez and his team reviewed information on both body-mass index (BMI)—a measure of how fat you are in proportion to your height—and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), the circumference of your belly in relation to the circumference of your hips. (You can calculate your BMI here and your WHR here.)

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Changing Our Tune on Exercise

What would it take to persuade you to exercise?

A desire to lose weight or improve your figure? To keep heart disease, cancer or diabetes at bay? To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? To protect your bones? To live to a healthy old age?

You’d think any of those reasons would be sufficient to get Americans exercising, but scores of studies have shown otherwise. It seems that public health experts, doctors and exercise devotees in the media — like me — have been using ineffective tactics to entice sedentary people to become, and remain, physically active.

For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.”

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Can You Learn While You're Asleep?

If you're a student, you may have harbored the fantasy of learning lessons while you sleep. Who wouldn't want to stick on a pair of headphones, grab some shut-eye with a lesson about, say, Chinese history playing in his ears — and wake up with newly acquired knowledge of the Ming Dynasty? 

Sadly, it doesn't work. The history lesson either keeps you from going to sleep, or it doesn't — in which case you don't learn it.

 But researchers may have taken the first baby step to making the fantasy come true: In an unusual experiment published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers Anat Arzi, Ilana Hairston and others showed that people are capable of learning simple lessons while fast asleep.

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