The widespread panic and uncertainty being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means sleep isn’t coming easy for many people right now. But good quality sleep is the bedrock of our lives, consuming about a third of our total time on this planet and dramatically influencing the other two-thirds. That’s why it’s so important that we all get enough good quality sleep on a regular basis. With that in mind, here are five tangible tips to promote better sleep at this difficult time: 1. Get into a routine By getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, you can significantly boost your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. If you get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same times each day, you’ll feel more refreshed and energized than if you follow random patterns. 2. Exercise more In addition to the physical and mental health benefits, regular exercise also helps you sleep better. And while cardiovascular exercise, strength training and yoga are all great for helping you sleep – especially if you do them during the day and not just before bed. 3. Watch your diet For the best sleep, try and eat a balanced diet that contains vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins - like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. 4. Consume less alcohol While some people rely on alcohol to help them fall asleep, studies show that alcohol does not improve sleep. In fact, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be the most restorative kind. 5. Limit gadget use at night Blue light from TVs, smartphones, tablets and other gadgets plays havoc with your circadian rhythm and, as a result, the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is suppressed. For the best night’s sleep, limit your use of gadgets and other visual devices to around one to two hours before bed.
We recently wrote about how avoiding five specific bad habits can significantly extend your life. Now, a new meta-analysis published in The BMJ adds further weight to the argument for eating less salt and being healthier. According to the meta-analysis of 133 clinically randomised trials, lowering salt intake reduces blood pressure – even in individuals who are not yet at risk of hypertension-related conditions. This is important because heart disease is the number one global killer and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease. Furthermore, hypertension is also the leading cause of stroke, heart failure and kidney disease, highlighting how potentially beneficial a low slat diet could be for many people. Interestingly, the research found that the greater the reduction in salt intake, the greater the benefit to blood pressure. At present, U.S. government guidelines advise Americans to not consume more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, the vast majority of U.S. adults are eating more sodium than they should -- average of more than 3,400 mg each day. One of the biggest problems is the amount of salt that is contained in manufactured foods, which is usually added to enhance flavour, texture and colour, as well as improve longevity. So even if you don’t reach for the salt shaker at every mealtime, you could still be consuming too much. It’s good to get into the habit of checking the foods you buy to see how much they all contain. After all, just a small reduction could significantly improve your health and reduce your risk of early mortality. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Feng He, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The totality of evidence in the JACC review and this latest BMJ research shows that reducing our salt intake will be immensely beneficial.”
A new study has revealed five bad health habits which, if avoided, could help you live significantly longer. While the habits themselves are nothing we haven’t heard before, the findings of the study are important as they highlight just how much of an impact the five factors can have on lifespan. So if you want to live years longer, avoid these five behaviours: smoking, not exercising, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and eating an unhealthy diet. Specifically, the study found that women aged 50 who avoided all five risk factors lived 14 years longer than women who did not. Among men, the difference in lifespan was 12 years. Publishing the study findings in the BMJ, senior author Dr. Frank Hu, who chairs the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “We found that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.” Importantly, the results held true even after adjusting the data for age, ethnicity, family medical history and other potentially influential factors – emphasising that everyone stands to benefit from avoiding these five unhealthy habits. Finally, the research also revealed that the five habits had a positive impact for people diagnosed with a disease during the study period. For example, individuals who developed cancer lived an additional 23 years if they adopted four of the five healthy practices. In contrast, among those who didn't change, half only survived an additional 11 years. The same patterns were witnessed for both heart disease and diabetes.
The Mediterranean diet, which features plenty of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans and whole grains, has long been lauded for its heart health benefits. But now a new study shows that it could also improve brain function in elderly people, even when only eaten for a year. According to the research published in the BMJ, following a Mediterranean diet for just 12 months can inhibit production of inflammatory chemicals in elderly individuals that can lead to loss of cognitive function, as well as prevent the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and atherosclerosis. For the study, 612 elderly people from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom has their gut microbiome analysed. Then, 323 of them were put on a special diet, based on Mediterranean principles, for one year, while the rest were asked to eat as they normally would. After 12 months, all of the study participants had their gut microbiome re-analysed. Those who had followed the Mediterranean diet saw beneficial changes to the microbiome in their digestive system. The rate at which bacterial diversity was lost slowed and the production of potentially harmful inflammatory markers was reduced. Furthermore, there was also a growth of beneficial bacteria linked to improved memory and brain function. So-called “keystone” species, critical for a stable “gut ecosystem”, were also boosted, helping to slow signs of frailty, such as walking speed and hand grip strength. “Our findings support the feasibility of changing the habitual diet to modulate the gut microbiota which in turn has the potential to promote healthier aging,” the study authors said.
Sleep apnoea is a disorder that causes some individuals to experience pauses in their breathing while they are sleeping, resulting in them gasping for breath. Said pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds right up to a few minutes. But while sleep apnoea can be alleviated with certain measures, including wearing oral appliances at bedtime, its exact cause has remained open to debate. Now, a new study has revealed that having a fatty tongue could play a part. According to the research by a team from the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, larger, fattier tongues – which are more common among obese individuals – could be a main driver of sleep apnoea. That’s why when overweight and obese people shed the pounds, including fat in their tongues, any sleep apnoea they’ve been experiencing also tends to improve. “You talk, eat and breathe with your tongue - so why is fat deposited there?" said study author Dr Richard Schwab, of Perelman School of Medicine. “It's not clear why - it could be genetic or environmental - but the less fat there is, the less likely the tongue is to collapse during sleep.” The researchers now plan to discover which low-fat diets (if any) are particularly good at reducing fat in the tongue.
It’s now 2020, the start of a New Year, and for many people that means following a set of resolutions, one of the most common of which will be to lose weight over the next 12 months. But if you’re keen to shed some pounds in 2020, don’t try to do it using fad diets because they don’t work and can even be harmful, says NHS England’s top doctor. Speaking about diet pills, "tea-toxes" and appetite suppressant products, Prof Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said they are not quick fixes. Furthermore, they can even cause side effects, such as diarrhea and heart issues, he added. How to spot a fad diet? Well, according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), any diet that promises rapid weight loss of more than 2lbs (0.9kg) of body fat a week should be viewed with caution. If it sounds too good to be true, then it more than likely is – despite any celebrity recommendations it might have. The best way to get in shape safely is through sensible eating and regular exercise. Professor Powis also warned the public against using so-called ‘party drips’ as quick fix hangover cures. These nutrient therapy IV drips are usually made up of saline solution, magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and vitamin C. But some individuals can react badly to them and, in the most serious cases, death can occur due to a toxic overdose.
Experts say that food label warnings about the amount of physical exercise needed to burn off the calories contained in the product work. According to the researchers from Loughborough University in the UK, who looked at 14 separate studies to reach their conclusions, a simple label advising the consumer that it would take four hours to walk off the calories contained in a pizza, or 22 minutes of running to burn off a chocolate bar are effective in making people think twice about purchasing certain foods. They say the labels help people indulge less and could encourage healthier eating habits to fight obesity. Right now, it is estimated that two-thirds of the UK adult population are overweight or obese. Publishing their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers say this simple type of labelling could help cut about 200 calories from a person's daily average intake. The reason it works is because people don’t really appreciate calories when they see them as just numbers. But by elaborating and highlighting how much exercise is needed to burn off a particular food product, the consumer is able to make a much more informed decision. Lead researcher Prof Amanda Daley said: “We know that the public routinely underestimate the number of calories that are in foods. So if you buy a chocolate muffin and it contains 500 calories, for example, then that's about 50 minutes of running.”
So-called ‘Mediterranean diets’ have long been associated with various health benefits. And now new research suggests extra virgin olive oil – a common component of many Mediterranean diets – may protect against certain dementias. The research in mice revealed that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil helps prevent a toxic accumulation of the protein tau, which is a hallmark of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. For the research, Dr. Domenico Praticò, a professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, led a team to study the neurological benefits of extra virgin olive oil. During the study, the team looked at the olive oil's effect on "tauopathies." - age-related neurodegenerative disorders characterized by the deposition of abnormal tau protein in the brain – which can lead to the onset of various forms of dementia. They found that olive oil consumption led to 60% less tau and better cognitive recognition memory performance. “These results strengthen the [healthful] benefits of [extra virgin olive oil] and further support the therapeutic potential of this natural product not only for [Alzheimer's disease] but also for primary tauopathies,” said Dr. Praticò. The team’s findings are published in the journal Aging Cell.
New research suggests that some people have an inherent dislike of certain vegetables. According to the study by Dr Jennifer Smith and colleagues from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine, inheriting two copies of the unpleasant taste gene provides a "ruin-your-day level of bitterness" to foods such as broccoli and sprouts. The research could explain why some people find it really difficult to include certain vegetables in their diets. The team’s findings could also provide some explanation as to why beer, coffee and dark chocolate taste unpleasant to some people. Everyone inherits two copies of a taste gene called TAS2R38, which basically allows us to taste bitterness. However, people can inherit different variants. People who inherit a variant called AVI aren't sensitive at all to bitter tastes. Those who inherit one copy of AVI and another called PAV do experience bitter tastes, but not to extremes. That super-sensitivity for bitter foods is found in people who inherit two copies of the PAV variant - often called "super-tasters". Of the 175 people studied, those with two copies of the bitter taste PAV gene variant ate only small amounts of leafy green vegetables. Speaking to medics at a meeting of the American Heart Association, Dr Smith said: “You have to consider how things taste if you really want your patient to follow nutrition guidelines”.
A compound found only in avocados could help reduce type 2 diabetes, new research suggests. The study by researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada found that a fat molecule called avocatin B, or AvoB - which avocados alone contain – can help strengthen insulin sensitivity and could forestall type 2 diabetes. Initial tests involving mice showed that AvoB slowed weight gain and increased insulin sensitivity by ensuring the complete oxidation of fats. As a result, mice that were given the compound had improved glucose tolerance and utilization. Then, in a separate, double-blind placebo‐controlled human trial, an AvoB supplement was given to people with an average Western diet for 60 days. The researchers found that the participants had tolerated the compound well and no negative effects in the liver, muscles, or kidneys were witnessed. There was also some weight loss among participants that took the supplement, though the authors of the study considered it statistically insignificant. Paul Spagnuolo, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Guelph, said the research team will now design clinical trials to assess AvoB's effectiveness in people. Furthermore, they have already received clearance from Health Canada to sell AvoB in powder and pill forms, perhaps as early as next year.
Lycopene - a natural pigment that gives red fruits and vegetables their colour - is an antioxidant that protects against cell damage, and tomatoes contain plenty of it. In fact, it is estimated that tomatoes account for 80% of the lycopene in the US diet. Now, a new study suggests Lycopene may also help boost sperm quality. According to the research by a team at the University of Sheffield, healthy men who consumed the equivalent of two tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree each day were found to have better quality sperm. During the 12-week trial, 60 men were randomly selected to take 14mg of lactolycopene supplement each day. The reason a supplement was used is because the participants would have had to eat 2kg of tomatoes each day to obtain an equivalent dose of lycopene. The participants’ sperm was tested before, during and after the trial. While there was no difference in sperm concentration, the men who had been taking the lycopene had healthier and faster sperm. Encouraged by the results, the researchers now want to expand the trial to include more men and see if the findings are the same. Lycopene has also been previously linked to other health benefits, including a lowered risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
A new study has found that if people with type-2 diabetes achieve just 10% weight loss within 5 years of being diagnosed, they are twice as likely to experience remission at the 5-year follow-up as those who haven’t lost any weight. The findings of the study by researchers from Cambridge appear in the journal Diabetic Medicine and were obtained through analysis of 867 people aged 40-69 with newly diagnosed type-2 diabetes. Having followed the study participants for 5 years, the researchers found that 257 (30%) had diabetes in remission. Speaking about their findings, first author Hajira Dambha-Miller, Ph.D. said: “Our results suggest that it may be possible to get rid of diabetes, for at least 5 years, with a more modest weight loss of 10%. This will be more motivating and hence more achievable for many people.” The fact diabetes can be sent into remission with just moderate weight loss – and not just the drastic intensive weight loss measures we’ve known about for some time - will be welcome news for many people living with the condition. It reinforces the importance of managing one’s weight through dietary choices and physical exercise. Going forward, the Cambridge team hopes to be able to use the research to help medical professionals better support patients with type-2 diabetes and reduce their symptoms.
Simple educational and motivational text messages can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar better, a new study has found. It is not only an extremely affordable and scalable measure, but one that can be applied globally. According to the six-month Chinese study, diabetes patients who received the text messages and standard care reduced their glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c ) by more than patients who just received standard care. The results showed an average reduction in HbA1c of 2 mmol/mol (0.2%) in patients who received the supportive text messages. The group that did not receive the text messages experienced an average increase in HbA1c of 1 moll/mol (0.1%). For the study, the participants were split into two groups: one that received standard diabetes care and two text messages each month thanking them for their participation, and another group that received standard care and up to six text messages per week containing information on subjects like dietary advice, physical activity, emotional support and blood glucose monitoring. As well as actually reducing their HbA1c, the group receiving the supportive text messages also had a greater proportion of patients who achieved their HbA1C target of less than 7% (69.3% vs. 52.6% in the control group). Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Xiqian Huo, of Beijing's Fuwai Hospital, said: “Lifestyle advice such as strict dietary control may have contributed to glycemic improvements, together with reminders to monitor blood glucose regularly. The messages were designed to provide information and motivation, and help patients set goals and manage stress.” The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology on Saturday, August 31 also appear in journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
People with type-2 diabetes get no benefit from taking omega-3 fish oil supplements, a new study has found. According to researchers from the University of East Anglia, while omega-3 supplements are not harmful for people with type-2 diabetes (this has been a concern previously), they don’t provide any benefit either. This contradicts a common belief that omega-3 can protect against diabetes and even reverse the condition. The study, which involved 58,000 participants, found that people who consumed more omega-3 had the same risk of developing diabetes as individuals who did not. Furthermore, taking omega-3 fish oil did not influence levels of blood glucose, insulin and glycated haemoglobin - all measures of how the body handles sugar. ‘Better to eat fish’ Douglas Twenefour, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK, said: “Eating a healthy, varied diet is incredibly important, and we know that certain foods - including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, yoghurt and cheese - can help to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. “While omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for our overall health, it's generally better for people with type 2 diabetes to get their intake by eating at least two portions of oily fish a week, than by taking supplements." The advice from Dr Lee Hooper, who led the research, is to forego the expensive omega-3 supplements and instead buy oily fish and/or spend your money on physical activity, which will have more of a positive impact when it comes to type-2 diabetes.
It’s widely accepted that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial to a person’s health. But now a new study has firmly and scientifically concluded that eating foods that are rich in flavonoids (like fruits and vegetables) could stave off disease and extend life. According to research by a group of scientists from Edith Cowan University, Australia, people who eat 500mg of flavonoids every day have the lowest risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease-related deaths. So how much do you need to eat to reap these benefits? Well, the scientists say it is important to get the flavonoids from a variety of sources. They say someone can achieve the 500mg of total flavonoids by consuming one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g of blueberries and 100g of broccoli. Interestingly, the study of more than 50,000 adults found that the benefits of consuming 500mg of flavonoids daily were most pronounced in people who smoke and drink more than two alcoholic beverages every day. However, the scientists were quick to point out that consuming flavonoids does not enough to undo the harmful effects of smoking and high alcohol consumption. The study also found that consuming more than 500mg of flavonoids daily was not associated with any additional benefits. The paper appears in the journal Natural Communications.
By adding just a handful of nuts to their daily diet, men could improve their sexual function, a study suggests. The 14-week trial, which involved 83 men split into two groups, found that adding 60 grams of almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts to a Western-style diet benefitted sexual function. Reporting their findings in the journal Nutrients, the authors of the study said the group of men who ate the extra nuts each day showed significant increases in two measures of erectile and sexual function: orgasmic function and sexual desire. A previous analysis of the trial data in 2018 yielded signs that eating more nuts also improves sperm quality. “Including nuts in a regular diet significantly improved auto-reported orgasmic function and sexual desire,” the Spanish researchers concluded. They are now calling for further, large-scale studies to determine the effect of eating nuts on sexual function – especially as separate research found that consuming pistachios helped improve erectile function. The theory is that pistachios, like many other nuts, contain antioxidants and arginine, a powerful compound that increases vasodilatation. So, if you are not easily able to follow a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit, vegetables and nuts, you could still reap some of the sexual function rewards by adding just a handful of nuts to your daily diet.
If you’re looking to lose some weight, eating earlier in the day and intermittently fasting could help, new research suggests. According to a paper published in the journal Obesity, the timing of meals and intermittent fasting influences metabolism, which can have an impact on weight loss. Researchers discovered this following a trial involving 11 men and women, all of who were in good health, aged between 25 and 45 years and carrying some excess weight. The trial participants were split into two groups: one who ate breakfast at 08:00 and then ate their last meal of the day at 14:00, and another who ate breakfast at 08:00 and had their last meal of the day at 20:00. Both groups ate the same meals each day. At the end of the trial, participants underwent a battery of tests in a respiratory chamber to assess their metabolism. The number of calories, fat, carbohydrates and proteins burned were all measured. It was revealed that the participants who ate their last meal of the day at 14:00 and, therefore, fasted longer overnight, burned more fat than the other group. They also had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. “Eating in sync with circadian rhythms by eating early in the daytime appears to reduce body weight and improve metabolic health,” the authors of the paper wrote.
Even though it’s widely accepted that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle, a new study suggests that people who abstain from drinking have the highest levels of wellbeing. And it’s women who stand to benefit the most from giving up the booze. According to the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), men and women who have abstained from drinking alcohol their whole lives had the highest levels of mental wellbeing at the start of the 5-year study. And for females who moderately consumed alcohol (fewer than seven alcoholic drinks per week), quitting was linked with a boost in mental health. Speaking about the findings of the study, Co-author Dr Michael Ni, a brain scientist at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed. Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life. “Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental wellbeing, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
Charcoal-based toothpastes - which claim to help whiten teeth - could actually increase the risk of tooth decay and staining, a review published in the British Dental Journal has found. According to the review, charcoal-based toothpastes often contain little or no fluoride to help protect teeth and the claims they make about whitening are not supported by any evidence. Furthermore, excessive brushing with them can actually do more harm than good because they are often more abrasive than regular toothpastes and can cause damage to tooth enamel and gums. The authors of the paper say people should stick to brushing with a regular fluoride toothpaste and consult their dentist about teeth bleaching/whitening. Speaking about the review, Prof Damien Walmsley, from the British Dental Association, said: “Charcoal-based toothpastes offer no silver bullets for anyone seeking a perfect smile, and come with real risks attached. “So don't believe the hype. Anyone concerned about staining or discoloured teeth that can't be shifted by a change in diet, or improvements to their oral hygiene, should see their dentist.” The bottom line, according to study co-author Dr Joseph Greenwall-Cohen, from the University of Manchester Dental School, is that charcoal-based toothpastes do not provide “a low cost, quick-fix, tooth-whitening option.”
We recently wrote about how just one rasher of bacon a day can increase bowel cancer risk. Now, new research has revealed that replacing red meat with plant protein can reduce heart disease risk. For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, conducted a meta-analysis of trials comparing the effects of meat vs. other diets on our health. The results are published in the journal Circulation. It was an approach that allowed the researchers to not only examine the health effects of red meat, but also see whether substituting red meat for other protein sources brought benefits. Analyzing data from 36 randomized controlled trials, the researchers looked at the blood pressure and blood concentrations of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins of the participants. They then compared these levels with those of people who ate less red meat and more chicken, fish, legumes, soy, nuts, or carbohydrates. They found that while there wasn’t much difference in lipoproteins, blood pressure, or total cholesterol, diets high in red meat did cause an increase in triglyceride concentrations. In addition, diets rich in high-quality plant protein led to lower levels of bad cholesterol. Speaking about the findings of the research, Marta Guasch-Ferré, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: “Previous findings from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of red meat on cardiovascular disease risk factors have been inconsistent. “But, our new study, which makes specific comparisons between diets high in red meat versus diets high in other types of foods, shows that substituting red meat with high-quality protein sources lead to more favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors.”
Consuming even small amounts of red and processed meat each day can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, a new study has found. According to the research led by Oxford University and funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), just one rasher of bacon per day can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Eat three rashers per day (around 50g) and the risk of bowel cancer rises by 20%. While meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, the Department of Health in England advises that anyone who eats more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce their consumption to 70g, the average daily amount consumed in the UK. Processed meat, in particular, has previously been linked to a high likelihood of causing cancer. So foods like bacon, salami, hotdogs and some sausages should not be eaten too much on a daily basis. Also, high temperature cooking, such as on a barbecue, is also thought to increase a person’s risk of cancer due to the carcinogenic chemicals that are created during the cooking process. For the research, the study team analysed health data from almost half a million people in the UK. Speaking about the findings of the research, Emma Shields, information manager at CRUK, said “This study shows the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cancer and obviously the reverse is true - the less you eat the less likely you are to get bowel cancer.”
Many people do not get all the nutrients they need from food and so take supplements to compensate. It’s something that’s worth an absolute fortune to the companies that produce them, with people spending around $30 billion per year on supplements in the United States alone. But new research shows that nutrients from supplements are not as good as those from food and that the latter is linked to a lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer. According to the research paper, published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine, many people would be much better off spending money on fruit and vegetables instead of supplements. By analysing data from 27,725 participants in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA, found that supplements do not afford the same benefits as eating different foods. For example, getting enough vitamin K from leafy greens and magnesium from legumes, nuts and whole grains was associated with a lower mortality rate. However, consuming 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium in supplement form was associated with a higher cancer risk, while getting excess calcium from food wasn’t. Speaking about the findings of the research, Fang Fang Zhang of Tufts University and study senior author, said: “Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.” In other words, while supplements can help people who cannot get certain nutrients from foods due to allergies, they are not a silver bullet for health.
Our daily diets are bigger killers than smoking and account for one in five deaths around the world. In other words, the food you eat could be sending you to an early grave. But which diets are the worst? Well, according to an influential study in The Lancet, salt – whether it be in bread, processed meals or soy sauce – shortens the most lives. The Global Burden of Disease Study used estimates of different countries’ eating habits to determine which diets were shortening the most lives. Here are the three most dangerous diets: Too much salt - three million deaths Too few whole grains - three million deaths Too little fruit - two million deaths Low levels of seeds, nuts, vegetables, fibre and omega-3 from seafood were the other major killers. Speaking to the BBC, Prof Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: “We find that diet is one of the dominant drivers of health around the world, it's really quite profound.” Salt is such a big problem because it significantly increases a person’s blood pressure, which in turn increases their chances of heart attacks and strokes. Around 10 million out of the 11 million diet-related deaths were because of cardiovascular disease, highlighting why diets containing too much salt are such a problem.
We’ve only just written about how a low-carb diet may help relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis and now a new study has revealed that just one hour of brisk walking per week can significantly lower mobility-related disability in people with knee osteoarthritis. According to the research, the findings of which appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just one hour of weekly exercise lowered the risk of mobility-related disability in seniors with knee osteoarthritis by 85% and that of daily living disability by nearly 45%. For the study, a team of researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, IL, led by Dorothy Dunlop, Ph.D., analyzed data from more than 1,500 adults. All of the participants were living with osteoarthritis and experienced aches, pain, and stiffness in their lower extremities as a result. However, none of them had a disability prior to the study. Over a period of four years, the researchers monitored the participants’ levels of physical activity. They found that the seniors who got at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week had no trouble performing a range of daily tasks. However, in seniors who did not engage in this much physical activity, 24% could not walk across a street before the traffic lights changed, and 23% struggled to perform their daily morning tasks. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof. Dunlop said: “We hope this new public health finding will motivate an intermediate physical activity goal. One hour a week is a stepping stone for people who are currently inactive. People can start to work toward that.”
If you or someone you know suffers with knee osteoarthritis, a new study may provide some hope. One of the most widespread forms of arthritis in the United States, osteoarthritis affects around 10% of men and 13% of women over the age of 60. Moreover, some estimates say it affects almost 40% of people over the age of 70. What’s worse is there is currently no cure, with doctors and medical professionals usually prescribing painkillers to help alleviate symptoms. Knee replacement surgery is also an option that’s considered. However, a new study led by Robert Sorge, Ph.D., who is the director of the PAIN Collective in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychology, has found that a diet low in carbohydrates could help relieve knee osteoarthritis symptoms. Having followed either a low-carb or low-fat diet for 12 weeks, the 21 adults aged 65–75 who had knee osteoarthritis and participated in the study were examined to see what the effect had been. The participants’ functional pain levels were analyzed, as well as their serum blood levels for oxidative stress, both at the beginning of the study and at the end. Participants that followed the low-carb diet had reduced functional pain levels and levels of self-reported pain. Furthermore, they also showed less oxidative stress in their serum blood levels. Speaking about the findings of the study, Sorge said: “Our work shows [that] people can reduce their pain with a change in diet.”
As obesity rates across the world continue to rise, understanding exactly why we put on weight has never been more important. That’s why the findings of a new study, which looked at whether there is an association between when we eat and how much weight we gain, could be very significant. Presenting their findings at the ENDO 2019 conference, which took place in New Orleans, the scientists from the University of Colorado in Denver said there is a link between eating later in the day and having a higher BMI, as well as more body fat. For the study, 31 adults who were either overweight or obese and had an average age of 36 years were closely monitored to assess their sleep, levels of activity, and diet. Interestingly, the study also showed that the participants who ate later in the day still had an average of 7 hours sleep each night, suggesting that lack of sleep may not promote obesity after all. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr. Adnin Zaman, lead author, said “These findings support our overall study, which will look at whether restricting the eating window to earlier on in the day will lower obesity risk.”
Following a low-calorie diet – even for just a few months – can arrest type-2 diabetes for at least two years, new research suggests. The findings of the study highlight that type-2 diabetes might not necessarily be the life sentence we previously thought. Nearly 300 people with type-2 diabetes in Scotland and Tyneside (in the UK) participated in the study. Half were given standard diabetes care, while the other half were put on a structured weight management programme. After 12 months, 46% of those on the low-calorie programme had successfully reversed their type-2 diabetes. In comparison, just 4% of the study participants given the standard treatment had gone into remission. Two years later, 36% of the study participants on the structured weight management programme were still in remission. “People with type 2 diabetes and healthcare professionals have told us their top research priority is: ‘Can the condition be reversed or cured?’ We can now say, with respect to reversal, that yes it can. Now we must focus on helping people maintain their weight loss and stay in remission for life,” said Prof Mike Lean from Glasgow University, who led the study with Taylor. Type-2 diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise and can lead to serious complications such as amputations, visual problems and heart disease. It is thought that one in 16 adults in the UK is currently living with type-2 diabetes, a condition that is fuelled by obesity. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]
People all over the world routinely sit down to eat breakfast every day. And while menus and traditions vary depending on where you are, many people are in agreement that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” That’s because it provides the body with the energy and nutrients needed to start the day. But what bearing does eating breakfast each day have when you are trying to lose weight? Well, according to a new study – the findings of which were published in the BMJ - the answer is not a lot at all. In fact, not only did the study find no evidence that eating breakfast aids weight loss, it also found that skipping breakfast doesn’t have a negative effect and isn’t linked to people feeling hungrier. For the study, the team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, analyzed 13 randomized controlled trials. They found that daily calorie intake was higher in individuals who ate breakfast than in those who didn’t. The authors concluded: “Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect.” In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Eating or skipping breakfast has different effects depending on the person’s unique metabolism.
Cutting down on meat is something many people say they are striving to do nowadays. Initiatives like Veganuary and Meat-free Mondays are helping to drive the trend and highlight the benefits of consuming less meat. But what’s the reality? Has meat consumption gone up or down over the past 50 years? Well, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization data, meat production today is nearly five times higher than it was in the 1960s. That is down to two main factors: first, there are more people to feed today. Second, people around the world have become richer, which is associated with a rise in meat consumption. In a nutshell, there are more people in the world and more of those people can afford to eat meat. This is highlighted when you consider the countries that eat the most meat. For example, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina all have annual meat consumption levels of more than 100kg per person. In fact, most countries in Western Europe have annual meat consumption levels of between 80kg and 90kg per person, while individuals in lower-income nations eat considerably less meat. For example, annual meat consumption levels in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigerians are 7kg, 8kg and 9kg per person respectively. The bottom line is that meat is still a luxury in many countries today. So, despite the initiatives and the seeming shift to people consuming less meat, the reality is that meat consumption isn’t falling. One point that is worthy of note, however, is that meat eating habits are changing. For example, in the West, people are eating more poultry and less red meat (namely beef and pork). Have your meat eating habits changed in recent times? If they have, was it a conscious decision on your part? [Related reading: Major study finds eating processed meat raises risk of breast cancer]
The health benefits of eating fiber have long been hailed, but how much fiber should we all be eating to prevent chronic disease and premature death? A new study reveals just that… Commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research is the culmination of a meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that took place over almost 40 years. The results appear in the journal The Lancet. One of the objectives of the research was to help in the development of new guidelines for dietary fiber consumption, as well as discover which carbs protect us the most against noncommunicable diseases. So how much fiber should we be eating? Well, the research found that a daily intake of 25–29 grams of fiber is ideal. People who consumed this amount of fiber each day were 15–30 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause and had a 16–24 percent lower incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The researchers also say that consuming more than 29 grams of fiber per day could lead to even more health benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, said: “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology, and effects on metabolism. “Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. “The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer.” Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and pulses, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Are you consuming enough fiber?
The New Year is here and for many that means attempting to stick to one or a bunch of resolutions. Eating more healthily, doing more exercise and quitting smoking will be at the top of the list for many people. If one of your goals for 2019 is eating more healthily, perhaps you should consider following a Mediterranean diet. While it varies depending on where you go, a Mediterranean diet, in a nutshell, is one that incorporates all of the healthy eating habits of people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain - so more vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, grains, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. And less meat and dairy foods. As well as being linked with better health, including a healthier heart, a Mediterranean diet also promotes healthy brain aging, according to new research. A recent study involving 116 healthy adults aged 65–75 years, conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, found that participants who ate a Mediterranean diet performed better in memory, general intelligence, and executive function tests. “Our study suggests that diet and nutrition moderate the association between network efficiency and cognitive performance,” said Aron Barbey, a psychology professor at The University of Illinois.
Christmas Day is less than two weeks away and that means many of us will soon be gorging ourselves on all sorts of culinary delights. It’s a reality that will see a lot of people piling on the pounds this month ahead of the inevitable January fitness drive. But what if there was a simple way to limit the impact of Christmas feasting on our waistlines? A new study by the Universities of Birmingham and Loughborough in the UK suggests there is. According to the study involving 272 volunteers, regular home weigh-ins coupled with simple weight-loss tips can prevent people from putting on weight over the festive period. For the study, the volunteers were divided into two groups. One group weighed themselves regularly and were given dietary advice, including information on how many calories they needed to burn to negate Christmas food. The other group didn’t weight themselves and were only given a small amount of healthy lifestyle advice. The group that weighed themselves and had access to the additional information weighed 0.49kg less than the "comparison" group come the end of the study. Study lead author, Frances Mason, of the University of Birmingham's Institute of Applied Health Research, said “People gain a kilo of weight on average annually. Often this weight gain happens at Christmas, and is never fully lost. This could possibly be a factor driving the obesity epidemic.” In other words, by simply keeping track of your weight and understanding the impact the foods you are eating are having on your waistline, you stand a better chance of avoiding weight gain at a time of year that’s traditionally associated with piling on the pounds. [Related reading: Why being overweight increases your risk of cancer]
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is a “global epidemic” that must be tackled if we are to prevent its ill effects. In the United States, nearly 40% of adults and 18.5% of children aged 2 to 19 are obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. That’s why finding effective ways to treat the condition is paramount. But now scientists say they are on the verge of creating a pill that could make obesity a thing of the past - without the need for diet and exercise. Sounds too good to be true, right? Nevertheless, the team at Flinders University in South Australia say that they key to curbing obesity could lie in a single gene known as RCAN1. The team found that when RCAN1 was removed in mice and they were then fed a high fat diet, they did not gain weight. In fact, they could eat as much food as they wanted over a prolonged period of time, the researchers say. Damien Keating, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Flinders, and leader of the research team, said blocking RCAN1 allows the body to transform unhealthy white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. Stunning pictures of the mice used for the trial highlight the difference when RCAN1 was blocked and when it wasn’t. The results of the research are published in the journal EMBO Reports.
A major study has found that eating processed meat, like bacon and sausages, may raise the risk of breast cancer in women. According to the review of studies involving more than one million women, eating higher levels of processed meat could result in a 9% greater risk of developing breast cancer. The research by a team from Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health reviewed 15 related studies. It supports previous findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which suggest processed meats cause cancer. However, while the study has identified a potential link between processed meat and breast cancer, there is no clear evidence to show these types of foods are actually the cause. Furthermore, as outlined by the study authors in the International Journal of Cancer, their findings only relate to processed meat, not red meat. Bacon, sausages, salami, ham, hot dogs and corned beef are all examples of processed meat. And while it is not fully known why these foods are associated with a greater risk of cancer, it is thought that preservatives, like salt, may react with protein in the meat turning it carcinogenic. But rather than eliminating processed meat from your diet completely, the advice is simply to cut down. At present, current NHS guidelines recommend eating no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. If you’re eating more than that on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to make some dietary changes.
Diets that are low in carbohydrates, such as the Atkins Diet, have become increasingly popular among people wanting to lose weight. But while some swear that cutting carbs is the key to weight loss and a long, healthy life, a new study suggests it could actually shorten your life expectancy by up to four years. The 25-year study in the US found that moderate carbohydrate consumption and/or replacing meat with plant-based protein and fats is healthier than a low-carb diet. Based on questionnaires completed by some 15,400 people and published in The Lancet Public Health journal, the study found that individuals who got around half of their energy from carbohydrates had a slightly lower risk of death compared to people who had low and high card intakes. From the age of 50, people in the moderate carb group were expected to live, on average, for another 33 years, the researchers found. That’s four years more than the individuals in the extra low-carb group and 2.3 years more than the low-card group. Dr Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist from Boston and leader of the study, said: “Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight-loss strategy. “However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged. “Instead, if one chooses to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy ageing in the long term.” [Recommended reading: Serving food on smaller plates doesn't fool hungry people - study]
It’s a widely accepted fact that cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are good for the gut, but scientists say they have now discovered why. The work by the team from the Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre in London, focussed on the way cruciferous vegetables alter the lining of the intestines. As they are digested, anti-cancer chemicals, including indole-3-carbinol, are produced. Indole-3-carbinol changes the behaviour of stem cells in the lower bowel and the study involving mice showed it protected them from cancer – even mice whose genes put them at a very high risk of developing the disease. Speaking about the findings of the study, one of the researchers, Dr Gitta Stockinger, said: “Even when the mice started developing tumours and we switched them to the appropriate diet, it halted tumour progression.” Prof Tim Key, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Further studies will help find out whether the molecules in these vegetables have the same effect in people, but in the meantime there are already plenty of good reasons to eat more vegetables.” Interestingly, Dr Stockinger added that cruciferous vegetables should not be overcooked to get the most benefit. According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, affecting almost 42,000 people every year.
If you’re trying desperately to lose weight, you’ll know that diets are difficult. But did you also know that the old trick of using a smaller plate when you eat to reduce portion sizes also (apparently) doesn’t work? That’s the finding of a new study that analysed how tricking the brain with a smaller plate doesn’t work when someone is hungry. According to the study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), “plate size doesn’t matter as much as we think it does” – especially when people are food deprived. For the study, the results of which were published in the peer-reviewed journal Appetite, the researchers set to out to see if people could identify pizza portion sizes when they were placed on plates of differing sizes. They found that people who had not eaten for at least three hours prior to the test were more likely to identify the pizza portions on both smaller and larger plates than their counterparts who were not hungry. Interestingly, this only happened when applied to food, with both groups similarly inaccurate when asked to compare the size of black circles placed within different sized circles. The researchers say this shows that hunger plays a role in heightening the analytical abilities of individuals. "Over the last decade, restaurants and other food businesses have been using progressively smaller dishes to conform to the perceptual bias that it will reduce food consumption," says Dr. Ganel, head of the Laboratory for Visual Perception and Action in BGU's Department of Psychology. "This study debunks that notion. When people are hungry, especially when dieting, they are less likely to be fooled by the plate size, more likely to realize they are eating less and more prone to overeating later."
Do you take supplements containing omega-3 fish oil in the belief they are helping to protect your heart? A new study suggests you could be wasting your money. Researchers from Cochrane analysed trials involving more than 100,000 people and discovered little proof that omega-3 supplements prevented heart disease. In fact, they say the chance of getting any benefits from such supplements is one in 1,000. However, despite this, the researchers still maintain that eating oily fish as part of a healthy diet is beneficial. Indeed, NHS guidelines state that people should try to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which, ideally, should be oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or fresh tuna. This is so they get enough “good” fats. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Tim Chico, a cardiologist from Sheffield University, said: “There was a period where people who had suffered a heart attack were prescribed these on the NHS. This stopped some years ago. “Such supplements come with a significant cost, so my advice to anyone buying them in the hope that they reduce the risk of heart disease, I'd advise them to spend their money on vegetables instead.” Dr Lee Hooper, from the University of East Anglia, said: “The most trustworthy studies consistently showed little or no effect of long-chain omega-3 fats on cardiovascular health.” Nevertheless, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the UK’s Health and Food Supplements Information Service said supplements containing omega-3 can still play an important role for people who don’t eat oily fish – especially as omega-3 also benefits the brain, eyes and immune function.
A new study suggests that eating nuts regularly can improve both a man’s sperm count and the quality of the sperm produced. Experts say the finding is significant given that sperm counts across the Western world are in decline, a reality that’s been attributed to pollution, smoking and diet. At present, around one in seven couples have difficulty getting pregnant and figures show that 40-50% of infertility cases are attributable to men. For the study, scientists randomly split 119 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 35 into two groups. One group had 60 grams (2oz) of nuts added to their normal diet each day, while the other continued to eat as they always had done. The group that had the nuts added to their diet were found to have improved sperm – 14% greater count, 4% better vitality, 6% better motility (movement) and 1% better morphology (shape and size) – all of which are considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be measures of sperm quality. Dr Albert Salas-Huetos, from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain, who led the study, said: "Evidence is accumulating in the literature that healthy lifestyle changes such as following a healthy dietary pattern might help conception”. The results of the study were recently presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona.
Have you ever encountered someone who calls themself ‘fat but fit’? It’s not uncommon to meet people who are clearly overweight, yet not perturbed by their situation because they consider themselves to be fit and healthy. However, a large study conducted in America has found that women who are overweight or obese but otherwise healthy are still at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). For the study, researchers from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke tracked the health of some 90,257 women in the US over a 30-year period. They found that women who were overweight or obese, but had none of the typical cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, excess cholesterol and diabetes, were 20% and 39% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their normal weight and metabolically healthy peers. Speaking about the findings of the study, Prof Matthias Schulze, who led it, said: "Our large cohort study confirms that metabolically healthy obesity is not a harmless condition, and even women who remain free of metabolic diseases for decades face an increased risk of cardiovascular events.” The study also found women who were of normal weight, but metabolically unhealthy, were over two-times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their peers of the same weight who were metabolically healthy. Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, added: "This large scale study confirms that obesity, even if unaccompanied by other warning signs, increases risk of cardiovascular disease in women."