ALMONDS REDUCE BAD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS
Researchers have found that eating nearly one-third of a cup of almonds a day, either alone or combined with almost one-quarter cup of dark chocolate and two-and-a-third tablespoons of cocoa a day, may reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood of overweight and obese people. They stressed that how much you eat is key to this benefit. (LDL, known as bad cholesterol, is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, due to the role it plays in clogging arteries. Past studies have shown benefits from eating almonds, dark chocolate, and unsweetened cocoa separately, but this new study tested the benefits of combining these three foods.)
Participants aged 30 to 70 did not eat any of the foods in the study in the first month; they ate 42.5 grams of almonds a day in the second month; they ate 43 grams of dark chocolate combined with 18 grams of cocoa powder a day in the third month; and they ate all three foods every day in the fourth month. Results: Almonds eaten alone lowered LDL cholesterol by 7%. Combining almonds with dark chocolate and cocoa additionally reduced small, dense LDL particles that are a particular risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Eating dark chocolate and cocoa alone did not appear to have a major effect on heart health. (Chocolate does not increase cholesterol levels, but it does not decrease cholesterol levels either.)
This study will be published in the March 15, 2018 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; the report is available now at https://tinyurl.com/y79gqbld free of charge.
SUBSTANTIAL WEIGHT REDUCTION REVERSES TYPE 2 DIABETES
A new trial has found that Type 2 diabetes may be reversed through weight loss. The study recruited 298 people. Half of them simply received standard diabetes care from their GP. The other half were placed on a structured weight-management program that included a low calorie, nutrient-complete diet for three to five months, followed by gradual food reintroduction and long-term professional guidance to support weight loss. The team found that diabetes remission was closely linked with weight loss, with 86% of those who lost 33 pounds (15 kg) or more putting their Type 2 diabetes into complete remission. Also, 57% of those who lost 22 to 33 pounds (10 to 15 kg) also achieved remission. Finally, 34% of those who lost 11 to 22 pounds (5 to 10 kg) also experienced remission of their diabetes. By comparison, only 4% of the control group, which received only standard care and no special diet, achieved remission of their diabetes.
The study author said that these findings could revolutionize the way Type 2 diabetes is treated. Substantial weight loss results in reduced fat inside the liver and pancreas, allowing these organs to return to normal (nondiabetic) function.
This study was released in the Online First section of the website of The Lancet, ahead of eventual print publication in this journal. The full study can be read now at https://tinyurl.com/y8rc9oz5 for a fee.
DIET LINKED TO IMPROVED SYMPTOMS IN MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Scientists have found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may reduce disability and symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). The study involved 6,989 people with all types of MS who had completed questionnaires about their diet for a specific registry. A healthy diet was considered eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains; eating less sugar from desserts and sweetened beverages; and consuming less red and processed meat.
The participants were divided into five groups based on how healthy their diet was classified. Patients in the group with the healthiest diet turned out to be 20% less likely to have more severe physical disability than people in the group with the least healthy diet. The results remained valid even after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect disability, such as age and how long the patient had MS. Individuals with the healthiest diets also were also around 20% less likely to have more severe depression than individuals with the least healthy diet. The healthiest diet included 1.7 servings of whole grains and 3.3 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes daily. One limitation of this type of study is that it cannot prove that healthy diets were the cause of the reduced symptoms.
This study was released December 6, 2017, ahead of publication in the journal Neurology. The full study can be read at https://tinyurl.com/y93u5vpw for a fee.
ONE CUP OF TEA DAILY MAY CUT GLAUCOMA RISK
New research suggests that drinking a cup of hot black tea at least once a day significantly lowers the risk of developing the serious eye condition known as glaucoma. However, this protective effect was found only with regular caffeinated tea. There was no reduction in glaucoma risk when the consumed beverage was decaffeinated tea; nor was there any glaucoma-protective effect from drinking decaffeinated coffee, caffeinated coffee, iced tea, or soft drinks. Green tea was not part of this study. (Glaucoma causes fluid pressure to build up inside the eye, damaging the optic nerve, and it is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. Tea contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective chemicals, which have been associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Oxidation and neurodegeneration may be involved in glaucoma.)
Researchers looked at data from an annual survey of around 10,000 people that included interviews, physical examinations, blood samples, and eye tests for glaucoma. Survey subjects were asked how often and how much they had drank caffeinated and decaffeinated tea and coffee, including soft drinks and iced tea, over the preceding 12 months. After taking into account potentially confounding factors, such as diabetes and smoking, hot (caffeinated) tea-drinkers were 74% less likely to have glaucoma. This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
This study was posted online early, ahead of publication in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. Study details are available at https://tinyurl.com/yaprfss2 for an access fee.
KEY VITAMIN DEFICIENCIES FOUND IN UP TO HALF OF OLDER ADULTS
New research shows that half of all people over the age of 65 have suboptimal blood levels of vitamin D. Moreover, a quarter of these older persons have suboptimal levels of vitamin B12. Other deficiencies among people over 65 were also found in this study. As part of a larger research project, health data on thousands of people in Germany were examined over a 30-year period. Using the micronutrient status information on 1,079 of these individuals aged 65 to 93, the current study analyzed their blood values of certain key nutrients, including vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and iron. Of the older adults, 52% had vitamin D levels that were suboptimal (below 50 nmol/L); 27% had vitamin B12 levels below the cut-off; 11% had deficient iron levels; and almost 9% did not have enough folate.
This is a highly relevant issue, particularly in light of the growing aging population. Notably, most of those with low vitamin D levels were also very old, physically inactive, or frail. The study also showed that regular intake of vitamin-containing supplements helps improve these levels, but that older people must also maintain a nutritious diet. The authors indicated that their next objective is to investigate the metabolic pathways linking supplement intake, micronutrient status, and disease states. This study was published in the December 2017 edition of the journal Nutrients. Study details are available at https://tinyurl.com/yarug7lo free of charge.
SUGARY DRINKS MAY SHORTEN TELOMERES IN CHILDREN
New evidence now shows that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by children between two and three years of age has been linked to shorter telomeres, which is seen as a marker for an increase in aging and which may also boost the risk for chronic illnesses later in life. (Telomeres are the protective end-caps for DNA strands within the chromosomes of each body cell. Telomeres shorten with age and have been associated with metabolic and inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver cirrhosis and ulcerative colitis. Research shows that the length of telomeres typically shortens fastest in the first years of life.)
In the study, researchers measured telomere length in white blood cells from 61 children who consumed beverages such as soda pop, sweetened juices, and Kool-Aid. Measurements were made in infancy and repeated during the preschool years. Researchers found that each serving per month of a sugar-sweetened beverage was associated with a shorter telomere.
This study was posted online, ahead of eventual publication in the journal Childhood Obesity. The full report can be read at http://tinyurl.com/y9m7hvyg with an access fee.
FINE-PARTICLE POLLUTION LINKED TO SMALLER SPERM SIZE
Scientists have reported their finding that men exposed to fine-particle air pollution may risk having smaller, abnormally-shaped sperm, which may result in a significant number of couples with infertility. An analysis of 13-year data for more than 6,400 men and boys aged 15 to 49, found a robust association between a decline in normal sperm and exposure to fine-particle pollution, known as PM 2.5. (PM 2.5 is the term used for air pollution containing the smallest of particles, those measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less. A micron is a millionth of a meter.)
The link was observed for short-term exposure of three months, as well as for long-term exposure of two years. Pollution exposure was measured at the home address of each participant, using NASA satellite data. While sperm shape and size declined, sperm numbers increased, possibly as a compensatory mechanism. The team stressed that the link cannot definitively state that air pollution was the cause of sperm size decline, but it raises concerns about pollutants of this small size.
This study was released early, ahead of publication in the print edition of the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. The full study report can be read now at https://tinyurl.com/y8vk4pfx free of charge.
EXERCISE MAY PROTECT SMOKERS FROM INFLAMMATION, MUSCLE LOSS
New research has found that regular exercise may protect smokers from some of the negative effects associated with smoking, such as muscle loss and inflammation. (Smoking can cause a number of physiological changes in addition to local damage to the lungs. Inflammation that begins in the lungs can spill over into the circulatory system to cause damage to other organs throughout the body by causing muscle to break down more quickly than it’s produced.)
The team studied markers of inflammation in the blood and muscle fibres from two groups of mice that were exposed to cigarette smoke on a long-term basis. One group performed daily running tests on a treadmill for the last eight weeks of the study, while the other group did not exercise. Both smoke-exposed groups were compared to age-matched controls not exposed to smoke. Markers of inflammation increased in the blood and muscle samples of the smoke-exposed groups but improved significantly in the exercise group after introducing the treadmill tests. Both smoke-exposed groups had a lower muscle weight than the control group, but exercise reversed some of this damage in the exercise group.
This study was released early by the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, and it will be published in a future print issue of this journal. The full-text study can be accessed now at https://tinyurl.com/y7926xye free of charge.