Monday's Health Notes

Here's some health-related news making headlines:

  • Candice Choi of the Associated Press reports many hospitals are turning to technology to ensure patients are eating right during hospital stays.
  • According to Charnicia E. Huggins of Reuters a new study links television watching to obesity in some children.
  • WTOP reports a new study claims teenagers using fad diets to slim down may end up gaining pounds in the long run.

Research: Mediterranean Diet Cuts Alzheimer's Risk

According to the Associated Press a study published in the Annals of Neurology claims the dissipating Mediterranean diet, thought also to ward off heart disease, may reduce risk of Alzheimers. Lead author Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas explains the research:

The diet he tested includes eating lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and fish, while limiting intake of meat and dairy products, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and emphasizing monounsaturated fats, such as in olive oil, over saturated fats. Previous research has suggested that such an approach can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Prior research has also suggested that certain components of the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's, Scarmeas said. But he said the previous work has tended to focus on individual nutrients like vitamin C or foods like fish. By studying a comprehensive diet instead, the new research could take possible interactions between specific foods and nutrients into account, he said.

Spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association Dr. Marilyn Albert believes the study's message is clear:

The kinds of things we associate with being bad for our heart turn out to be bad for our brain.

Before you rush off to buy a vat of olive oil, consider Dr. Fuhrman's thoughts on the Mediterranean Diet. From his book Eat to Live:

Even two of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Mediterranean diet, epidemiologist Martin Katan of the Wageningan Agricultural University in the Netherlands and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, concede that the Mediterranean diet is viable only for people who are close to their ideal weight.1 That excludes the majority of Americans. How can a diet revolving around a fattening, nutrient-deficient food like oil be healthy?

Ounce for ounce, olive oil is one of the most fattening, calorically dense foods on the plant; it packs even more calories per pound than butter (butter: 3,200 calories; olive oil: 4,200). The bottom line is that oil will add fat to our already plump waistlines, heightening the risk of disease, including diabetes and heart attacks.

A recent edition of Dr. Fuhrman's Healthy Times newsletter (they are archived in the member center) addresses Alzheimer's. This is from the main article:

Alzheimer's dementia is an irreversible brain disorder that typically develops in the elderly. It leads to memory loss, personality changes, and a general decline in cognitive function.

With the high incidence of Alzheimer's disease in our aging population, more and more research is underway to come up with novel treatments for this brain disease. Given the large distortion of brain architecture that occurs in Alzheimer's, it is unlikely that drug treatment will offer a solution to this debilitating problem.

Growing evidence has implicated vascular risk factors, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol in the etiology of Alzheimer's disease. Cerebral ischemia (lack of blood flow secondary to lipid deposits), aided by marginal nutritional deficiencies, promotes the development of the pathology seen in Alzheimer's.2

Recent studies conducted in the United States have revealed that just as in heart disease, strokes, and vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease is the end result of nutritional inadequacy earlier in life. Patients with Alzheimer's, compared with controls, showed deficiencies of multiple vitamins, especially the antioxidants found in vegetables and fruits.

Green vegetable consumption was low and animal fat consumption was high in the past histories of Alzheimer's patients.3,4 Japanese studies have found the same relationships: individuals with low consumption of vegetables and high consumption of meat were found to be the ones most likely to develop Alzheimer's.5

Just as in the case of heart disease, the world's leading researchers on the subject consider diets high in animal fat to be the major factor in the causation of Alzheimer's. Oxidative stress to our brain tissue from the combination of a diet rich in saturated fat and low in the antioxidants and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables lays the groundwork for brain damage later in life. Deficiencies of DHA (a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) which often are found in Alzheimer's patients, also have been shown to promote dementia.6 Inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in flax and hemp seeds, walnuts, leafy greens,and certain fish also are implicated in the etiology of Alzheimer's.

Aluminum Connection
The aluminum present in processed foods also may play a role in accelerating the development of Alzheimer's. Recent evidence has shown that high body stores of aluminum can potentiate the damage to brain DNA from a low body load of antioxidants.7,8 Aluminum calcium sulfate is used as an anti-caking agent so dry ingredients flow freely. Aluminum sulfate is used as a bleaching agent in flour and cheese. Aluminum stearate is used as a chewing gum base and as a defoaming component in the processing of sugar. Aluminum chloride and aluminum sulfate are used as leavening agents in baked goods. Cookies, cakes, cold cereals, and pancakes are all high in aluminum.

Fortunately, when you eat a diet low in processed foods and rich in vegetables, beans, fresh fruit, and nuts and seeds, you dramatically decrease your dietary exposure to aluminum and increase the level of antioxidant compounds in your brain.

Isolated nutrients
Taking vitamin E, vitamin C, or other isolated nutrients has been shown to be only slightly useful and cannot be expected to offer you a significant degree of protection against dementia. That is because vitamins are only a small part of the antioxidant story. For example, the vitamin C in an apple accounts for less than one half of one percent of the antioxidant activity in a whole apple. Most of the antioxidant activity in the apple (and in fruits and vegetables in general) is the result of phenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and other compounds that work additively and synergistically to protect you against disease.

Multifactorial Causes
The development of Alzheimer's follows the same basic pattern seen in almost every disease affecting aging Americans. Diseases are multifactorial and develop as a result of environmental stresses, the most damaging of which are almost always nutritional excesses and deficiencies. Once these stresses have taken their overall toll, you develop one disease and not another, based on your inherited genetic tendencies and your inherent resistance to certain degenerative processes.

Recipe for Protection
The bottom line is that if you follow the Eat To Live dietary recommendations, you need not fear developing dementia later in life. A comprehensive nutritional program throughout life that includes the following important features can assure freedom from both heart disease and dementia as you age:
1. a vegetable-based diet;
2. high intake of greens, both raw
and cooked, and in soups containing
3. at least four fresh fruits a day;
4. daily consumption of raw nuts and seeds or avocado as your major fat source;
5. dramatic reduction or elimination of processed foods, sugar, white
flour, and animal products;
6. limited consumption of grains, in favor of colorful vegetables;
7. supplementation to assure adequate levels of vitamins D and
B12, iodine, and DHA fatty acids;
8. blood evaluation of homocysteine and, if needed, supplementation
to normalize.

Continue Reading...

Restricted Calorie Diet Discussed on NPR

Talk of the Nation's Science Friday interviewed Eric Ravussin, chief of the division of Health and Performance Enhancement at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. The discussed Ravussin's research, published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which investigated calorie restriction diets in non-obese humans. After six months, they found indications of better longevity. Click here to listen online.

As he has blogged about before, Dr. Fuhrman believes there is a powerful message behind this kind of science (and advocates taking advantage of this benefit not with tiny portions of the same old unhealthy food, but with lots of foods that have lots of nutrition and very few calories, like fruit and vegetables):

Scientists have known for over sixty years that if you reduce caloric intake below a certain set point while maintaining adequate nutrition you can extend life. This experiment has been performed on numerous species, including primates (we are primates too). In each case, the average animal lifespan was increased 25 - 50 percent. Reducing calories not only extends life it delays the onset of old age. You literally live younger longer. In all clinical studies published to date, animals fed reduced calorie diets were also more disease resistant. Evidence for increased lifespan by caloric restriction is enormous and irrefutable. Calorically-restricted animals are not only more cancer resistant, but oxidative stress is inhibited and youthful features of young tissue are retained with aging.

What is clear is that health and longevity are inversely proportional to caloric intake. Calorie reduction is the closest thing that science has to a fountain of youth. Typical studies suggest that you would have to reduce calories by about 30% to achieve significant life-extending benefits. This means that someone who would normally require 2200 Calories would need to reduce intake to 1800 calories in order to achieve life-extending benefits.

However, it must be noted that if one eats less food that is low or deficient in nutrients and as a result consumes less calories in a low nutrient environment, diseases will appear that will destroy the dramatic effects of caloric restriction.

By the way, Science Friday also had an interesting discussion of something that has come up on this blog a lot: mercury in fish. You can read about that, and listen to it online too.


Teenage Girls Not Getting Their Calcium

According to Healthday News a new study claims teenage girls, especially black girls, aren't consuming enough calcium. Study lead author Richard Forshee discovered this calcium deficiency when analyzing national data from 1994 through 2002. Robert Preidt reports:

They found that calcium intake increased for most age/gender categories, including adolescent females. Despite the increase, calcium intake among adolescent girls and young women remained well below recommended levels.

The adequate intake for calcium is 1,300 milligrams per day for females ages 9 to 18, but this study found average consumption in this age group was only 814 milligrams per day. Low calcium intake is especially serious among black females.

The study calls for ways to incorporate more calcium into teens' diets. Dr. Fuhrman's simple solution, green vegetables! Most people don't know that cruciferous (green) vegetables are excellent sources of calcium, iron, and protein. Click here for the nutrient density of green vegetables.

"Beans, Beans, a Wonderful Fruit..."

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reports bean consumption�especially early in life�can lead to lower body weight and a decreased risk of obesity. Click here for more.

I'm Not Fat

Dr. Fuhrman begins his book Eat to Live with this observation of America's dietary indiscretions:

Americans have been among the first people worldwide to have the luxury of bombarding themselves with nutrient-deficient, high-calorie food, often called empty-calorie. By "empty-calorie," I mean food that is deficient in nutrients and fiber. More Americans than ever before are eating these rich, high-calorie foods while remaining inactive�a dangerous combination.

Unfortunately millions of people don't acknowledge the consequences of these habits. Notably obesity. According to Dr. Fuhrman the effect of the standard American diet (SAD) is like digging our graves with forks and knives.

To make matters worse the Associated Press reports a new study reveals many obese people don't categorize themselves as such. A dangerous mistake when you consider the increased health risks associated with being obese. Tim Whitmire reports:

"If somebody doesn't perceive themselves to be obese, they are most likely not going to pay attention to any public health information about the consequences of obesity," said Kim Truesdale, a nutrition researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Among those consequences are heightened risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.

The study of 104 adults, ages 45 to 64, showed that only 15 percent of people who fit the body type for obese correctly classified themselves that way.

A Hefty Amount of News

America's weight problem is reported on weekly�if not daily. News of new complications and proposed solutions are everywhere. Here's some of this week's press coverage:

  • According to the Associated Press a new study shows the number of overweight women in the United States is leveling off, but men and children are still gaining.
  • Medical News Today reports over 250,000 American children under the age of six can't fit into car seats designed for their age group.

The New York Times was especially busy this week:

  • The Times reports in an attempt to improve the nutrition of New York public schools, apples slices will be sold as healthy alternatives to chips and other snack foods.
  • Another article from The New York Times explains that the obesity epidemic in children may start as early as age two.
  • According to The New York Times an amendment to the National School Lunch Act would require all food sold in schools to meet higher nutritional standards.

Soy's Anti-Cancer Effects

A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests soy consumption may be linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer. Amanda Gardner of The Healthday News reports:

Asian women have lower breast cancer rates (39 per 100,000) than Western women (133 per 100,000) and, when Asian women migrate to the United States, their breast cancer rates tend to go up. This suggests that an environmental factor, perhaps related to diet, is at play.

Attention has zeroed in on soy products (consumed more in Asia) as they contain high quantities of isoflavones, molecules that affect pathways that could change breast cancer risk. Indeed, more and more women are taking high-dose soy or isoflavone supplements because of their perceived benefits, which include lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

The questionnaire style of data collection makes some researchers leery. Nevertheless, the results are certainly interesting:

When the data was pooled, researchers found a 14 percent relative reduction in the risk of breast cancer among women who had a high soy intake. The association was somewhat higher in premenopausal women.

The scientists quoted didn't endorse soy supplements or refined soy products, but suggested foods like soy nuts and tofu may offer cancer protection.

You can read a lot about Dr. Fuhrman's thoughts on soy in these posts: