Could salmon and sunshine prevent brain damage?

Brain-damageWant to keep your brain in tip-top condition? Then you may want to put mackerel and mushrooms on your menu or start eating your salmon in the sun!

That’s because a new study led by University of Kentucky researchers suggests that a diet low in vitamin D causes damage to the brain.

In addition to being essential for maintaining bone health, new evidence shows that vitamin D serves important roles in other organs and tissue, including the brain.

The study, published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine showed that middle-aged rats that were fed a diet low in vitamin D for several months developed free radical damage to the brain. Additionally, many different brain proteins were damaged.  The vitamin D deficient rats also showed a significant decrease in cognitive performance on tests of learning and memory.

“Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how during aging from middle-age to old-age how low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain,” said lead author on the paper Allan Butterfield, professor of Chemistry, director of the Center of Membrane Sciences, faculty of Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and director of the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center. “Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences.”

vitamin D bookPreviously, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s also been linked to the development of certain cancers and heart disease.

The elderly are particularly prone to have low vitamin D levels.

Butterfield recommends that people consult their physicians to have their vitamin D levels determined. If they turn out to be low it’s important to normalize them either through diet or sunlight exposure to help protect the brain.

low that they eat foods rich in vitamin D, take vitamin D supplements, and/or get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to ensure that vitamin D levels are normalized and remain so to help protect the brain.
Surprisingly few foods contain vitamin D.  That’s because your body is built to get it from sunlight skin rather than from food. However, if your body has enough, it doesn’t matter whether you got it through your skin or through your stomach.

SalmonThere are three vitamin D super foods:

  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Mackerel (especially wild-caught)
  • Mushrooms (exposed to ultraviolet light)

Other food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna canned in water
  • Sardines canned in oil
  • Milk or yogurt – fortified with vitamin D
  • Beef or calf liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese

sunlightIf all that sounds a little too fishy for you, then you can boost your vitamin D from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day.

I’m off to get mine now!

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A Call to End Religious Nutrition

lowcarbQ: “How can you tell if a friend is on a gluten-free diet?”

A: “They’ll tell you.”

Again and again and again… Same joke goes for paleo, low-carbvegan and pretty much any organized dietary strategy that has a defining name and movement behind it.

Along with politics, gun rights, religion and abortion, is one of those areas where people feel comfortable not only sharing their views but do so with incredible conviction, passion and certainty. And yet, nutrition is anything but certain.  Sure, we know there are patterns of eating that help in minimizing the risk of various chronic diseases, but those patterns are far broader and less drilled down than most nutrition gurus and zealots believe.

So, we were very interested in fellow blogger –Yoni Freedhoff’s – recent blog in which he calls for an end of nutrition as religion.  More so, because Yoni is not just another disillusioned dieter. No siree!  He is the Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa.  Dr. Freedhoff has also been called Canada’s most outspoken obesity expert and his award winning blog, Weighty Matters, has at times been ranked the world’s top health blog by blog ranking service Technorati.

So what does Dr Freedhoff have to say?

First, he suggests that practitioners of dietary religion risk alienating friends through strict adherence to their religious commandments.  Second, he states that diet adherents tend to use their online platform to frown upon any and all dietary strategies beyond their house of worship. To question their program or guru’s plans is akin to questioning their religious beliefs; and yet, unlike actual religious questioning (which would almost certainly lead to a thoughtful discussion), question dietary dogma online, and you can bet it will lead to a highly heated debate where anger and indignation can easily descend into name calling and personal attacks.

jesus toastAnd even if you religiously avoid all cyber nutrition nuts, you may still be at risk. According to Freedhoff, although you may not have a stranger’s zealous scrutiny to watch out for, you’ve still got yourself. Dietary dogma, almost by definition, dictates blind faith and absolute loyalty, where breaking a dietary commandment is akin to committing a sin. And with sin, comes guilt. And if you feel guilt often enough, you might well decide to abandon your entire healthier-living, guilt-inducing effort.

Nutrition as religion demands perfection, yet perfection is an impossible goal. Remember, food is not simply fuel. Since the dawn of humankind, food has been used for comfort and celebration, and if your newly found dietary religion forbids foods you enjoy, my bet is you’re not long for that diet.

diet tapemeasureSo what’s the solution?  Freedhoff advises : the easiest question to evaluate any dietary plan or religion is simply, “Could I happily live like this for the rest of my life?” where the most important word in that question is “happily.” If the answer’s “No,” you’ve either got to get comfortable with adding in some sinning, or find another way to go.

Add in some sinning in the form of thoughtful, “worth-it,” dietary imperfections, and suddenly new lifestyles may transform from the merely tolerable to the actually enjoyable. Enjoy your lifestyle, albeit imperfectly, and maybe you’ll even stick with it.

Nutrition isn’t religion. Eat the healthiest diet that you can enjoy, because if you’re not enjoying it, it isn’t going to last, and tolerable isn’t good enough.

Go on, sin a little, on us. The good doctor will forgive you enough to forgive yourself.

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The Skinny on Childhood MS

Childhood Obesity imageAs we’ve previously reported, childhood obesity is on the increase. Cases have more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children and adolescents aged 6–18 years in the United States who are obese is now estimated to be >18%.

Childhood obesity can cause a number of health complications including diabeteshypertension, high cholesterolasthma  and emotional problems.  This is deeply troubling in and of itself, but now there’s a new cause for concern.

A new study has found that obese children and teenage girls may be more at risk for developing the chronic, debilitating central nervous system disorder – multiple sclerosis (MS).

Kaiser Permanente researchers studied 75 children aged 2 to 18 with pediatric MS, and compared them to more than 900,000 kids without the disease. Fifty percent of the kids with MS were overweight or obese, compared to 36% of the children who didn’t have the disease.

The study also found that the risk of developing multiple sclerosis was one-and-a-half times higher for overweight girls, almost two times higher for moderately obese girls and four times higher for extremely obese girls.

Mary Rensel, MD, who treats pediatric MS patients at Cleveland Clinic offers an explanation for the increased risk. “Fat increases the inflammation in the body. Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune condition where the immune system is set too high. If there’s too much inflammation, it can increase the risk of having a disorder associated with inflammation – like MS.”

Childhood-Obesity-Linked-to-Multiple-SclerosisLead author, Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena  “Even though pediatric MS remains rare, our study suggests that parents or caregivers of obese teenagers should pay attention to symptoms such as tingling and numbness or limb weakness, and bring them to a doctor’s attention,”

The researchers also stress that parents of overweight or obese children should play an active role in controlling their kids’ weight by getting them into the habits of eating healthy and getting enough exercise.

Dr. Rensel agrees, saying, “The good news is now we know. We can educate parents and patients of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to decrease the chance of having consequences of being overweight.”

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Does Belly Fat cause tumors to go Belly Up?

belly_fat6People store fat in two ways – one you can see and one you can’t. The fat you can see is just under the skin in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen. That’s called subcutaneous fat. The fat you can’t see is deeper inside, around the vital organs – heart, lungs, digestive tract, liver as well as in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. That’s called visceral fat.

Many people are self-conscious about the fat they can see. But actually, it’s the hidden visceral fat that may be a bigger problem, even for thin people.  Having too much of it is linked to a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers.

According to a new study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, visceral fat is directly linked to an increased risk for colon cancer.

There has been some skepticism as to whether obesity per se is a bona fide cancer risk factor, rather than the habits that fuel it, including a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Derek M. Huffman, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. “Although those other lifestyle choices play a role, this study unequivocally demonstrates that visceral adiposity is causally linked to intestinal cancer.

Prior research has shown that obesity markedly increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with, and dying from, many cancers. In this animal study, Huffman and his colleagues wanted to see if removing visceral fat in mice genetically prone to developing colon cancer might prevent or lessen the development of these tumors.

To do this they randomly assigned the mice to one of three groups. Mice in the first group underwent a sham surgery and were allowed to eat an unrestricted “buffet style” diet, which resulted in them becoming obese. Those in the second group were also provided an unrestricted diet and became obese, but they had their visceral fat surgically removed at the outset of the study. Mice in the third group underwent a sham surgery, but were then put on a calorie restricted diet causing them to lose visceral fat.

obese mouseOur sham-operated obese mice had the most visceral fat, developed the greatest number of intestinal tumors, and had the worst overall survival,” Huffman said. “However, mice that had less visceral fat, either by surgical removal or a calorie-restricted diet, had a reduction in the number of intestinal tumors. This was particularly remarkable in the case of our group where visceral fat was surgically removed, because these mice were still obese, they just had very little abdominal fat.”

The researchers then subdivided the groups by gender. In female mice, the removal of visceral fat was significantly related to a reduction in intestinal tumors, but calorie restriction was not. In male mice, calorie restriction had a significant effect on intestinal tumors, but removal of visceral fat did not.

abdominalobesityThese finding suggest what most women have known for years i.e., that there are important gender differences when it comes to weight. But it also provided an explanation for how belly fat, diet and cancer risk are linked.  In addition, the study emphasizes the need to promote strategies that reduce abdominal fat in obese individuals.

So how can you get rid of this dangerous deep belly fat?  According to experts, there are four: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.

Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims fat, including visceral fat. It can also slow down the build-up of visceral fat that tends to happen over the years. But forget spot-reducing. There aren’t any moves you can do that specifically target visceral fat. Half an hour of vigorous aerobic exercise, done four times a week is ideal.  Jog, if you’re already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you’re not yet ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective.

Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.  A fiber-rich diet may help. Research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day, without any other diet changes, build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as easy as eating two small apples or a cup of green slimpeas.

Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut eye helps. In one study, people who got six to seven hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or eight or more hours per night.

Stress: It’s unavoidable, but what you do with your stress matters. When you’re stressed you  tend not to make the best food choices when they’re stressed. Getting social support from friends and family, meditating, and exercising can all help to tame stress.

Short on time? If you could only afford the time to do one of these things, exercise probably has the most immediate benefits, because it tackles both obesity and stress.

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Teaching your child the ABC’s of Heart Health

blood pressure heartHeart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is the largest cause of death among adults in the United States. In fact, someone in America dies every 37 seconds from some form of cardiovascular disease.

Certain factors that play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some of these life-style risk factors can be changed, treated, or modified, and some, such as congenital heart disease cannot.

Zachary Stone M.D, a primary care physician at the University of Alabama, agrees that it’s possible to build a future free from cardiovascular disease by starting heart-healthy habits at a young age. Most of the risk factors that affect children can be controlled early in life.

The process of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries and is known to cause heart attacks, strokes and sudden death, has been shown to begin in early childhood,” says Stone. “It’s important to concentrate on healthy lifestyles in children to prevent adult cardiovascular disease.”

kids-heart-healthThe three main areas to watch are diet, activity levels and smoke exposure.

Diet: Good nutrition can help to decrease cardiovascular disease. It can help prevent hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. 1 out of every 3 American adults is obese and obesity is linked to more than 110,000 deaths in the United States each year. Childhood obesity in the United States is also on the rise. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16% and 33% of children and teenagers are obese. Because obese children are more likely to be obese adults, preventing or treating obesity in childhood may reduce the risk of adult obesity.  A young person’s diet should be low in saturated fats and primarily consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Healthy HeartActivity: One easy way to increase physical activity in children is to limit their sedentary activities.  Parents should limit television and multimedia to 1-2 hours per day and ensure that their kids participate in at least one hour of moderate activity daily.

Smoke exposure:  Exposure to smoke is dangerous to the health of a child for many reasons, including that it can increase the risk of developing heart disease as an adult. According to the CDC, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke cigarettes, and nearly 4,000 kids under age 18 try their first cigarette every day.  More than 90,000 people die each year from heart diseases caused by smoking. Among young people who would otherwise have a very low risk of heart disease, cigarette smoking may cause as many as 75% of the cases of heart disease. And, the longer a person smokes, the higher the risk of heart disease. Parents should talk openly to their kids about both the dangers and bad effects of smoking, such as yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, shortness of breath and lung damage.  Parents also need to act as a role model for their children, by not smoking or allowing others around them to smoke, thereby reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke.

Baby_with_HeartKeeping kids heart healthy is an investment in their future and yours, and may be the best gift you can ever give.

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Foiling the Midnight Snack Attack

On-line weight loss programs, calorie-counting apps, and even Nintendo DS weight-loss coaching games are nothing new. But a novel gadget released this month by a Brazilian “diet reeducation program” takes the tactic to a whole new level.

Enter the Virtual Fridge Lock – a high-tech security device designed to foil late night fridge raids!  Subscribers to the Meta Real program can sign up to receive a giant red magnet. They then stick this on their fridge and synch it to their social networks. Once the lock is activated, the device sends a wireless alert to all their social networks whenever the fridge is opened.  By harnessing the power and speed of social media, the idea is that on-line friends will talk you off the dietary ledge by posting words of advice and encouragement. Or if your friends aren’t the supportive type – there’s always the public shame and humiliation approach.  Either way, the Virtual Fridge Lock is meant to help you stave off the midnight munchies and pass on that slice of pizza.

And while the Virtual Fridge Lock is only available to Meta Real clients, there’s a similarly humiliating app available free of charge to the general public: Aherk! offers a “self-blackmailing service” that encourages weight loss in three easy steps.

First, the dieter defines their weight loss goal. Second, in the words of their website ‘you put your ass on the line’ by uploading an unflattering picture of yourself to the site. And lastly, after your goal deadline expires, your on-line friends vote on whether or not you achieved your goal.  If, if their opinion you failed, the picture will be posted to Facebook.

Is public shaming is the key to weight-loss success or is it just a social media marketing sham?  Although, research shows that those trying to lose weight do better with a support network or buddy, we suspect there’s nothing like being publicly outed in front of your friends on Facebook and Twitter to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Stop Brain Shrinkage

Did you resolve to eat healthier this year? If so, SRxA’s Word on Health brings you a couple of very good reasons to stick with it.

According to a study published in the December 28, issue of Neurology, people with diets high in vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to have the brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

People who ate diets high in omega 3 fatty acids and in vitamins B, C, D, E also had higher scores on mental thinking tests than people with diets low in those nutrients.  Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are primarily found in oily fish. The B vitamins and antioxidants C and E are primarily found in fruits and vegetables.

Conversely, the study showed that people with diets high in trans fats were more likely to have brain shrinkage and lower scores on the thinking and memory tests than people with diets low in trans fats. Trans fats are primarily found in packaged, fast, fried and frozen food, baked goods and margarine spreads.

The study included over 104 people, with very few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Blood tests were used to determine the levels of various nutrients in the blood of each participant. Participants also took tests of their memory and thinking skills and underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volume.

The nutrient biomarkers in the blood accounted for a significant amount of the variation in both brain volume and thinking and memory scores. For the thinking and memory scores, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 17% of the variation in the scores. Other factors such as age, number of years of education and high blood pressure accounted for 46% of the variation and, the nutrient biomarkers accounted for 37% of the variation seen in brain volume.

These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet,” said study author Gene Bowman, ND, MPH, of Oregon Health & Science University.

Although the average age of study participants was 87, we’re going to start heeding this advice now. Salmon salad anyone?