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Pecans Can Prevent Heart Disease

A new research study from Loma Linda University (LLU) demonstrates that naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention; the results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E — known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. The nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. The findings illustrate that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. Oxidized LDLs may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems. “Our tests show that eating pecans increases the amount of healthy antioxidants in the body,” says LLU researcher Ella Haddad, DrPH, associate professor in the School of Public Health department of nutrition. “This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”

These findings are from a research project designed to further evaluate the health benefits of pecans, according to Dr. Haddad. She analyzed biomarkers in blood and urine samples from study participants (a total of 16 men and women between the ages 23 and 44) who ate a sequence of three diets composed of whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a control meal of equivalent nutrient composition. The pecan meals contained about three ounces of the nut. Samples were taken prior to meals and at intervals up to 24 hours after eating. Following the test meals composed of whole pecans and blended pecans, researchers found that amounts of gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) in the body doubled eight hours after both meals, and oxygen radical absorbance capabilities (ORAC — a scientific method for measuring antioxidant power in the blood) increased 12 and 10 percent respectively two hours after the meals. In addition, following the whole-pecan meal, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30 percent (after 2 hours), 33 percent (after 3 hours), and 26 percent (after 8 hours).

“This study is another piece of evidence that pecans are a healthy food,” says Dr. Haddad. “Previous research has shown that pecans contain antioxidant factors. Our study shows these antioxidants are indeed absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against diseases.” Research from Loma Linda University published earlier in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a pecan-enriched diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent — more than twice the American Heart Association’s Step I diet, which was used as the control diet in that study. Similarly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol levels by 11.3 percent (also twice as much as the Step I diet).

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Diet Cola Sucks Calcium Out of Wormen’s Bones

In an earlier investigation, the researchers had looked at the hormonal effects of diet cola ingestion on parathyroid hormone, calcium, phosphorus, insulin, alkaline phosphotase, and ghrelin.

The researchers thought that because of the phosphorus load, PTH would surge, but they found exactly the opposite, “which was that it comes down and sort of comes back to baseline; alkaline phosphatase increases also,” Larson said. “We thought, 'Well, that suggests there's some turnover of bone going on, and maybe there's some calcium being mobilized and it's going out in the urine and that might partially account for the fracture risk and decreased bone density that's being described.”

With results from that earlier study as the impetus, Larson and colleagues undertook the current study, for which they recruited 20 healthy women, ages 18 to 40.

Exclusion criteria were fracture within the prior six months, known bone disease or vitamin D deficiency, steroid or diuretic use, breast-feeding, and vitamin D supplementation above the current U.S. recommended daily allowance.

The participants were randomized to drink 24 ounces of either water or diet cola on two study days. Urine was collected for three hours after ingestion of the designated beverage and assayed for calcium, phosphorous, and creatinine using standard assays.

Data were analyzed on 16 participants; four were excluded because of lab error or failure to comply with the study protocol, the researchers said.

In addition to the higher calcium and phosphorus excretion, the investigators also found that normalized calcium and phosphorous excretion per gram of creatinine showed a trend in the same direction as total calcium and phosphorous per three hours. That figure did not achieve statistical significance, however.

Although the study was small, “it does look like there was a statistically significant rise in urine calcium,” said Larson. “The important part about that is that Diet Coke has no calcium content.”

Compared with milk, which also causes a rise in urine calcium but is replacing calcium at the same time, diet colas “would [create] an overall negative body calcium balance and that could partially explain why they appear to be bad for bones,” she said.

Although the study is too small to draw any firm conclusions, “certainly my personal practice among adolescent girls who tend to be concerned about their weight — and who drink diet beverages while they are in that critical period of bone formation — is to just try and counsel them to set habits of drinking calcium-containing beverages and maintaining adequate vitamin D,” said Larson.

Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, MD, of the University of California San Diego, called the study “fabulous.”

Barrett-Connor, who was not involved in the study, said that although it was a small and short-term trial, “it fits with all my preconceived ideas” about the nutritional problems with diet soda. “This [is new] but it just makes sense.”

The study was funded by the Walter Reed Department of Clinical Investigations.

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Food Advertising Promotes Imbalanced Diets

Researchers analyzed 84 hours of primetime and 12 hours of Saturday morning broadcast television over a 28-day period in 2004. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC were sampled on a rotating basis to develop a complete profile of each network. The Saturday-morning cartoon segment (from 8:00 am to 11:00 am) was included to capture food advertisements marketed primarily to children.

All 96 hours of observations were videotaped and reviewed later to identify food advertisements and specific food items being promoted. Only food items that were clearly promoted for sale during an advertisement were recorded. Each food item was then analyzed for nutritional content. Observed portion sizes were converted to the number of servings.

The article indicates that the observed food items fail to comply with Food Guide Pyramid recommendations in every food group except grains. The average observed food item contained excessive servings of sugars, fat, and meat and inadequate servings of dairy, fruit and vegetables. The situation was similar for essential nutrients, with the observed foods oversupplying eight nutrients: protein, selenium, sodium, niacin, total fat, saturated fat, thiamin and cholesterol. These same foods undersupplied 12 nutrients: iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, potassium, pantothenic acid, fiber, and vitamin D.

The authors advocate nutritional warnings for imbalanced foods similar to those mandated on direct-to-consumer drug advertisements. They recommend investigating health promotion strategies that target consumers, the food industry, public media, and regulation focusing on a three-pronged approach.

“First, the public should be informed about the nature and extent of the bias in televised food advertisements. Educational efforts should identify the specific nutrients that tend to be oversupplied and undersupplied in advertised foods and should specify the single food items that surpass an entire day's worth of sugar and fat servings. Second, educational efforts should also provide consumers with skills for distinguishing balanced food selections from imbalanced food selections. For example, interactive websites could be developed that test a participant's ability to identify imbalanced food selections from a list of options. This type of game-based approach would likely appeal to youth and adults. Third, the public should be directed to established nutritional guidelines and other credible resources for making healthful food choices.”

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Overtime is bad for the heart

Working overtime puts people at increased risk of coronary heart disease, according to a new study published in the European Heart Journal. CHD occurs when plaque builds up in and narrows the arteries through which blood reaches the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. Specifically, working three to four hours extra (amounting to an 11- or 12-hour work day) was associated with a 1.56-fold increased risk of CHD.

Previous studies have also shown that overtime work is linked to hypertension, sleep problems and depression.

The European researchers followed 6,014 British civil servants aged 39 to 61 for 11 years. Just less than half worked at least one hour of overtime a day, or up to four hours. Those who worked overtime were more often young, male, married or living with a partner, and in more prestigious occupations. The risk of CHD increased in tandem with the number of extra hours worked.

Overtime workers slept less, and reported higher rates of “psychological distress,” according to the study. They often exhibited “Type A behaviour,” which the researchers define as “a chronic, incessant struggle to achieve more and more in less and less time, and is also believed to be characterized by aggressiveness and irritability,” which is also a risk factor for CHD. The researchers also speculate that overtime workers ignore illness, which may aggravate health problems over the long-term.

Perhaps surprisingly, these participants did not exhibit other behaviours that would compromise their heart health: Overtime workers did not drink excessively, smoke or have diabetes. In fact, they actually had better habits—consuming more fruits and vegetables and exercising more often—than those workers who never clocked overtime hours.

In an accompanying editorial entitled “Overtime is bad for the heart,” Gordon McInnes of the University of Glasgow concludes with a quotation from English philosopher Bertrand Russell: “If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considers work important.”

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High Fat Diet Can Make Asthma Symptoms Worse

Avoid eating meals high in fat, especially if you suffer from asthma, urges Australian researchers after finding the fat leads to inflamed breathing passages and hinders drug interventions.

Lisa Wood, PhD, research fellow and lecturer in the biomedical sciences and pharmacy department of Hunter Medical Research Institute, at the University of Newcastle, led the study with a team of researchers and presented their findings at ATS 2010, the international meeting of the American Thoracic Society, in New Orleans.

The researchers challenged 14 non-obese asthmatics and 16 obese participants to a high-fat diet (1,000 calories with 52%/60g of fat) of burgers and fried potatoes and another group of 16 non-obese asthmatics to eat a low-fat yogurt diet (200 calories, 13%/3g fat). “Induced sputum samples were collected at baseline and at 4 hours” according to the study's abstract.

“Subjects who had consumed the high-fat meal had an increase in airway neutrophils and TLR4 mRNA gene expression from sputum cells, that didn't occur following the low fat meal, ” said Wood.

She continued, “The high fat meal impaired the asthmatic response to albuterol. In subjects who had consumed a high fat meal, the post-albuterol improvement in lung function at three and four hours was suppressed.”

The researchers were surprised to find that the fatty diet also impacted the effectiveness of asthma medications, like albuterol. Wood added, “This is the first study to show that a high fat meal increases airway inflammation, so this is a very important finding. The observation that a high fat meal changes the asthmatic response to albuterol was unexpected as we hadn't considered the possibility that this would occur.”

It's unclear how and why fat not only inflames the airways but also prevents known asthma therapies from working. The researchers intend to design “more studies to investigate this effect. We are also investigating whether drugs that modify fat metabolism could suppress the negative effects of a high fat meal in the airways. If these results can be confirmed by further research, this suggests that strategies aimed at reducing dietary fat intake may be useful in managing asthma.”

Whether you have asthma or not is becoming increasingly more important for heart and now lung health to avoid the fat.

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Be Good to Yourself

Due to loss of loved ones, health problems, trouble paying bills, or other reasons, many older people feel lonely, sad, or stressed in their daily lives. Feelings like these may cause you to lose energy, not feel like doing anything, not eat enough, or overeat. Being good to yourself may help you to cope with your feelings and improve your energy level, eating habits, and health. Here are some ideas for being good to yourself:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Stay connected with family and friends.
  • Join a walking group, or other social group.
  • Surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy.Volunteer or get active with groups in your community.
  • Try a part-time job at a place you would enjoy working for a few hours a week.
  • Watch a funny movie and laugh.
  • Take up a hobby such as playing cards, gardening, cooking, or dancing.

Remember, it's never too late to improve your eating plan, be more physically active, and be good to yourself for a healthier life. If you need to talk, make an appointment to see Nastaran.

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