Obesity May Cause Cognitive Decline

A recent study involving 250 people has revealed that obesity during senior years may trigger mental decline, and not only physical as previously believed. The study participants, aging through 60s and 70s, were tested over the course of five years. Those with higher body fat levels were less successful in mental ability exams during that time.

The study, conducted by scientists from Seoul National University, measured the waists and BMI levels of each participant regularly, analyzing the information along with the results from ‘Mini Mental State Examinations.’ These short tests included simple questions in math, orientation and memory.

As the researchers predicted, the participants with lower body fat achieved higher scores in the exams. Interestingly, the gap narrowed in people over 70 years of age.

Dae Hyun Yoon, the lead author of the study, said: “Our findings have important public health implications. The prevention of obesity, particularly central obesity, might be important for the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia.”

The UK Alzheimer’s Society said “We have all heard how a high BMI is bad for our heart but this research suggests it could also be bad for the head.” The organization added that dementia wasn’t observed in the study. However, past research has implied that risk factors for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease can also cause dementia. Of

According to the Society, a third of people over the age of 65 will die with dementia. Still, this study, as well as others, has suggested that a balanced diet, regular exercise, and healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels can change the odds.

Tricia Leahey Ph.D. Finds Ripple Effect with Weight Loss

Pick your friends well, and find a group with whom to lose weight. These are the findings of researchers from The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.  In their recent study with lead author Tricia Leahey Ph.D. of The Miriam and Alpert Medical School, they found that shedding pounds can have a ripple effect.

Published in the online journal Obesity, the study showed that, just as obesity can be socially influenced, so too can weight loss.  As Dr. Leahey said,

“We know that obesity can be socially contagious, but now we know that social networks play a significant role in weight loss as well, particularly team-based weight loss competitions. In our study, weight loss clearly clustered within teams, which suggests that teammates influenced each other, perhaps by providing accountability, setting expectations of weight loss, and providing encouragement and support.”

Today, there are many group-based weight loss programs from Weight Watchers to the television show The Biggest Loser.  The question that Leahey's team examined was if having weight-loss teammates and social influence actually makes a difference for an individual's weight loss.

The findings for their research came from a 2009 Shape Up Rhode Island (SURI) campaign that included a 12 week statewide online weight loss competition. It was designed by the study co-author Arjiv Kumar, M.D.  It included 3330 overweight and obese people with 987 teams that averaged between 5 and 11 people each.  There were three parts to the competition including weight loss, pedometer steps and physical activity.

As Leahey explained,

“This is the first study to show that in these team-based campaigns, who’s on your team really matters. Being surrounded by others with similar health goals all working to achieve the same thing may have really helped people with their weight loss efforts.”

She added, “We’re all influenced by the people around us, so if we can harness this positive peer pressure and these positive social influences, we can create a social environment to help encourage additional weight loss.”

Additional co-authors of the study with Leahey included: Rena R. Wing, Ph.D., director of The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Alpert Medical School; and Brad M. Weinberg, M.D. and Rajiv Kumar, M.D. co-founders of ShapeUp, Inc.

 

Blueberries and Other Fruits Linked to Type 2 Diabetes Prevention

A recent study has found a tentative link between blueberries, apples and pears and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fruits such as these contain flavonoids, a compound which has been associated with other health benefits as well, such as lower risk of cancer and heart disease.

An Pan, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, said “People who ate a higher amount of blueberries or apples tended to have a low risk of type 2 diabetes.” He was careful to state, however, that the study’s findings do not prove that the fruits prevent diabetes.

The research was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A similar study, published last year, claimed that foods rich in flavonoids, including fruits, vegetables and grains, lowered the risk of high blood pressure as well.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It is often noninsulin-dependent. This condition usually develops slowly, over long periods of time. Those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are often overweight, or elderly. Genetics, family history, lack of physical activity and a poor diet are some of the leading causes of this condition.

Diabetes can lead to increased levels of sugar in the blood, which is called hyperglycemia. Though fruit sugars, found in all fruits, raise glucose levels dramatically, the fibers and pectin they contain may in fact have diabetes-related health benefits.

Dr. Loren Greene, a professor of medicine not involved in the study added that the research “argues very nicely for the consumption of whole fruit rather than fruit juices.”

What Do You Say About This, First Lady Michelle Obama?

The medical world is filled today with dietary advice.  One day you hear that drinking red wine is good for you; the next day it’s a killer. It’s hard to know which mantra to follow and who to believe. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has gotten into the mix with the Let’s Move! Program and the government’s MyPlate plan.

Now, a new study is putting MyPlate to shame. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes “lean meats, poultry, fish…” and many other items.  An Pan, the lead author of the new study published online Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, said, “Any read meat you eat contributes to the risk” of dying.

Looking at the Facts

The study looked at 110,000 adults for more than 20 years who filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. The Harvard researchers found dramatic results about eating red meat.  Eating a serving of nuts rather than a serving of beef or pork was associated with a 10% lower risk of death during the 20 year study; substituting poultry or whole grains instead of the meat showed a 14% reduction in mortality risk; using low-fat dairy or legumes showed a 10% decrease and fish offered a 7% decrease.

In the reverse, adding one extra serving a day of processed red meat, which would include such things as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, increased the risk of death by 20% in the course of the study!

In addition, researchers did not find a distinction between processed and unprocessed meats. They thought that only processed meats would lead to increased risks, but were shocked to find that both created the risk equally.

The Critics Step In

Certainly, there are critics of the study like Carol Koprowski at the USC Keck School of Medicine who say that the research has room for error.  However, many are taking note.

Cattle and pig farmers will, undoubtedly, have much to say about the new study coming from Harvard. Bloggers are voicing their opinions on all sides as well. As one rather cranky writer, Nicholas Lezard, for the Guardian, wrote,

“Give me a stern vegetarian with strong social and ethical principles against the raising and eating of livestock any day of the week, rather than this meek and wowserish approach to eating, and to life.”

Spring Cleaning (For Your Skin)

 

Spring is arriving and with it an awakened urge to revamp your image and general lifestyle. The first step to freshening up your look is giving your skin a boost. The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it serves as a barrier between internal systems and the body’s surroundings. Which implies, of course, that the skin is exposed to harsh conditions such as heat, sunlight, wind etc.

Winter is an especially rough season for the skin, because the conditions vary greatly. You walk from indoor central heating into frigid, harsh air, stripping your skin of moisture and reducing its flexibility. Though the face is often the most sensitive, the entire body can become dull, dry, and itchy. Winter is also a time of comfort food and very little exercise, which also affects the skin and the body as a whole.

How can you fix it?

Now that spring approaches, there are a few things you can do to help your skin renew itself. The first is exfoliation.

Emma Hardie, a celebrity facialist, explains: “The skin, like all our organs, slows down during winter as the body conserves energy. The decrease in cell renewal can give the complexion a rough, lifeless appearance.”

Exfoliation means removing the layer of dead skin cells and encouraging the growth of a newer, healthier layer. Dermatologists suggest chemical exfoliants such as glycolic and salicylic acid. Many face washes and shower gels include these ingredients. Others prefer mechanical exfoliants, such as loofahs, sponges and other shower accessories that remove dead skin with their rough surfaces. Many soaps and creams come with small grains, or beads, which work in a way similar to loofahs. These often combine both mechanical and chemical exfoliants. Baking soda can be added to a regular shower gel and achieves the same result.

Next, be sure to moisturize. Many people underestimate the power of moisturizer, but the right formula can be the key element to a clear, healthy complexion. If your skin is oily and prone to blemishes, be sure to choose a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer that is absorbed quickly. Always use a formula that serves as protection from the sun’s UV rays, and protect your eyes with sunglasses as well. The long months without sun exposure can result in a certain sensitivity, and it is important to ease your skin back into the sun in a gradual manner.

Third, the season’s cold temperatures result in slower blood circulation. This can make the skin look pale, dull, and sometimes even gives it a bluish tinge, which is especially common around the eyes. Any kind of exercise can stimulate blood flow and boost circulation, which spreads oxygen to the cells and helps eliminate toxins and inflammation. Facial massage is also an option, according to many face specialists.

Paolo Lai, a facial reflexologist of Neville Hair and Beauty, said “Massaging the face for a few minutes a day can instantly reduce puffiness and banish dullness.

“Using your middle and index finger, firmly massage the skin and underlying muscles in circles. Work upwards and outwards, starting at the chin and moving towards the forehead.”

Lastly, keep an eye on nutrition. Starches and sugars are common winter foods, but they do little for your skin, energy levels, metabolism, immune system, and general health.

Nutritionist Susie Perry Debice recommends stocking up on seasonal fruits and vegetables.

“Stock up on vitmamin C-rich greens to boost the formation of fresh collagen. Cabbage and kale are also in season- their sulphur content helps cleanse the system and restore vitality,” Perry Debice said. Berries, strawberries, and other produce are rich in antioxidants, while omega 3-rich foods will boost the skin from within. Seaweed and green tea are also face-brightening solutions.

And, though it was mentioned before, EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE. The overall health benefits of exercise are overwhelming and too broad to list here. But remember: the healthier the body, the healthier the skin.

A Pill A Day Keeps the Racism Away

In an unusual study from Oxford University published in the journal Psychopharmacology, scientists appear to have isolated an unusual side-effect in a common heart disease drug – it minimizes racism.  Volunteers who took the beta-blocker appears, on a standard psychological test, to be less racist than did those who were given the placebo.

Goodbye Racism

The racism the test looked at was racism at an “implicit” level and what the scientists believe they are showing is that much of racism is based on fear and emotional responses.  Beta blockers suppress fear and can also be used to treat anxiety and panic.  Experimental psychologist Dr. Sylvia Terbeck from Oxford University said, “We wanted to study the neurobiology of prejudice. Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias.”

She continued,

“Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality. Given the key role that such implicit attitudes appear to play in discrimination against other ethnic groups, and the widespread use of propranolol for medical purposes, our findings are also of considerable ethical interest.”

During the study, two groups of 18 white participants took a “racial Implicit Association Test” one or two hours after they took either the propranolol or the placebo.

The researchers discovered that it took placebo volunteers longer to associate pictures of black people with positive words than it took to associate white people’s faces with positive words.

Professor Terbeck explained to the Mail Online that,

“We think this test reveals what a person feels. It looks at the automatic emotional attitude. We found those who took the placebo had a negative racial emotional bias.”

Creating Controversy

The results of the study have definitely stirred up controversy. Co-author Professor Julian Savulescu from the Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy said that the results raise the “tantalizing possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis. However, Dr. Chris Chambers, from the University of Cardiff’s School of Psychology, countered that the results need to be viewed with a great deal of caution.

He said,

“We don’t know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally. And we can’t rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate. So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes.”