Addiction researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a risk for alcoholism also may put individuals at risk for obesity. The researchers noted that the association between a family history of alcoholism and obesity risk has become more pronounced in recent years. Both men and women with such a family history were more likely to be obese in 2002 than members of that same high-risk group had been in 1992. “In addiction research, we often look at what we call cross-heritability, which addresses the question of whether the predisposition to one condition also might contribute to other conditions,” says first author Richard A. Grucza, PhD. “For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are cross-heritable. This new study demonstrates a cross-heritability between alcoholism and obesity, but it also says — and this is very important — that some of the risks must be a function of the environment. The environment is what changed between the 1990s and the 2000s. It wasn’t people’s genes.”
Obesity in the United States has doubled in recent decades from 15 percent of the population in the late 1970s to 33 percent in 2004. Obese people – those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more – have an elevated risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Reporting in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Grucza and his team say individuals with a family history of alcoholism, particularly women, have an elevated obesity risk. In addition, that risk seems to be growing. He speculates that may result from changes in the food we eat and the availability of more foods that interact with the same brain areas as addictive drugs. “Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories than the food we ate in the 1970s and 1980s, but it also contains the sorts of calories — particularly a combination of sugar, salt and fat — that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain,” says Grucza, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “Alcohol and drugs affect those same parts of the brain, and our thinking was that because the same brain structures are being stimulated, overconsumption of those foods might be greater in people with a predisposition to addiction.”
Grucza hypothesized that as Americans consumed more high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods, those with a genetic risk for addiction would face an elevated risk from because of the effects of those foods on the reward centers in the brain. His team analyzed data from two large alcoholism surveys from the last two decades. The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey was conducted in 1991 and 1992. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was conducted in 2001 and 2002. Almost 80,000 people took part in the two surveys.
“We looked particularly at family history of alcoholism as a marker of risk,” Grucza explains. “And we found that in 2001 and 2002, women with that history were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without a family history of alcoholism. We also noticed a relationship in men, but it was not as striking in men as in women.” Grucza says a possible explanation for obesity in those with a family history of alcoholism is that some individuals may substitute one addiction for another. After seeing a close relative deal with alcohol problems, a person may shy away from drinking, but high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods also can stimulate the reward centers in their brains and give them effects similar to what they might experience from alcohol.
“Ironically, people with alcoholism tend not to be obese,” Grucza says. “They tend to be malnourished, or at least under-nourished because many replace their food intake with alcohol. One might think that the excess calories associated with alcohol consumption could, in theory, contribute to obesity, but that’s not what we saw in these individuals.” Grucza says other variables, from smoking, to alcohol intake, to demographic factors like age and education levels don’t seem to explain the association between alcoholism risk and obesity. “It really does appear to be a change in the environment,” he says. “I would speculate, although I can’t really prove this, that a change in the food environment brought this association about. There is a whole slew of literature out there suggesting these hyper-palatable foods appeal to people with addictive tendencies, and I would guess that’s what we’re seeing in our study.” The results, he says, suggest there should be more cross-talk between alcohol and addiction researchers and those who study obesity. He says there may be some people for whom treating one of those disorders also might aid the other.
Experts have suggested that an intensive lifestyle intervention helps individuals with type 2 diabetes lose weight and keep it off, along with improving fitness, control of blood glucose levels and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Improving blood glucose control and cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes is critical in preventing long-term complications of the disease.
The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Research Group conducted a multicenter randomized clinical trial comparing the effects of an intensive lifestyle intervention to diabetes support and education among 5,145 overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Of these, 2,570 were assigned to the lifestyle intervention, a combination of diet modification and physical activity designed to induce a 7 percent weight loss in the first year and maintain it in subsequent years. The 2,575 individuals assigned to the diabetes support and education group were invited to three group sessions each year. On average, across the four-year period, individuals in the lifestyle intervention group lost a significantly larger percentage of their weight than did those in the diabetes support group.
They also experienced greater improvements in fitness, hemoglobin A1c level (a measure of blood glucose), blood pressure and levels of high-density lipoprotein. Individuals in the diabetes support group, on the other hand, experienced greater reductions in low-density lipoprotein, owing to greater use of cholesterol-lowering medications in this group.
The report was published in the September 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Individuals with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes know that maintaining a nutritious diet is one of the most important things they can do to control their disease. The findings of a new study suggest that the services of a registered dietitian may help individuals accomplish this goal.
A team of investigators from the American Dietetic Association reviewed evidence from previous research and summarized their findings in a report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
In their write-up, researchers laid out a set of exhaustive dietary guidelines for individuals affected by diabetes. Researchers said that the services of registered dietitians may be key in helping individuals follow the guidelines, which could help them significantly improve their condition.
“The evidence is strong that medical nutrition therapy provided by registered dietitians is an effective and essential therapy in the management of diabetes. Registered Dietitians are uniquely skilled in this process,” said Marion Franz, who led the investigation.
The guidelines developed by the research team lay out 29 nutritional points that can help diabetics improve their blood sugar control.
Dr. Gu and her colleagues studied a cohort of 2148 elderly subjects 65 years and older living in New York City. All subjects were healthy and free of dementia at study entry. Their dietary habits were obtained via questionnaire, and they were prospectively evaluated with the same standardized neurologic and neuropsychological measures approximately every 1.5 years for an average of 4 years.
The researchers used reduced rank regression to calculate dietary patterns according to their effect on 7 nutrients previously shown in the literature to be related to Alzheimer's disease: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and folate.
During the follow-up, 253 individuals developed Alzheimer's disease. The study found that one dietary pattern — characterized by higher intakes of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and a lower intake of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter — was significantly associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Compared with subjects in the lowest tertile of adherence to this pattern, the Alzheimer's disease hazard ratio (95% confidence interval) for subjects in the highest tertile was 0.62 (0.43 – 0.89) after multivariable adjustment (P for trend = .01).
The study also found that subjects who were older, less educated, and current smokers tended to be less adherent to the protective diet. Hispanic individuals adhered less than white and black individuals (P = .02), and women tended to adhere more than men (P = .05).
“The dietary pattern that was most protective against Alzheimer's reflected a diet rich in ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and folate but poor in saturated fatty acids and vitamin B12,” commented Dr. Gu. “The combination of nutrients in this dietary pattern reflects multiple pathways in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
“For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on the disease through their ability to lower circulating homocysteine levels,” she said. “Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant, and the fatty acids may be linked to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis, or inflammation. Fatty acids may also affect brain development and membrane functioning.”
She added that the study has several limitations. “We used a single measurement of the diet, and this might not have captured the long-term dietary habits of the subjects. We also excluded subjects from the final analysis because they were lost to follow-up, and this might have introduced selection bias. We also can't completely rule out the possibility that the reduced risk associated with this protective diet was due to residual confounding.”
Further studies are planned, Dr. Gu said. “We cannot say based on this study alone that this type of dietary pattern prevents Alzheimer's disease, but many studies have consistently shown that fruits and vegetables and unsaturated fatty acids are associated with a lower risk. We want to repeat these findings in different populations and see if they can be confirmed in other studies.”
Commenting on this study for Medscape Neurology, David Knopman, MD, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and a member of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, said that, despite the study authors' best efforts, it is still not clear whether diet alone makes a difference.
“Dietary habits, which often are lifelong, are certainly part of the array of health behaviors that contribute to better cognitive health in late life. However, diet and other health behaviors are intertwined. Because a healthy diet contributes to better cardiac health, lower weight, lower blood pressure and a lower risk for diabetes, there are many reasons to view the dietary habits described by Dr. Gu and colleagues as beneficial.”
The study was supported by federal National Institute on Aging grants. Dr. Gu and Dr. Knopman have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Arch Neurol. Published online April 12, 2010.
To tackle immunosenescene the team targeted the gastrointestinal tract, which is the main entry for bacteria cells into the body through food and drink and is also the site where 70% of vital immunoglobulin cells are created.
The team asked volunteers aged between 72 and 103, all of which lived in the same care home, to eat one slice of either placebo or probiotic Gouda cheese with their breakfast for four weeks. Blood tests where then carried out to discover the effect of probiotic bacteria contained within the cheese on the immune system.
The results revealed a clear enhancement of natural and acquired immunity through the activation of NK blood cells and an increase in phagocytic activity.
“The aim of our study was to see if specific probiotic bacteria in cheese would have immune enhancing effects on healthy older individuals in a nursing home setting,” concluded Ibrahim. “We have demonstrated that the regular intake of probiotic cheese can help to boost the immune system and that including it in a regular diet may help to improve an elderly person's immune response to external challenges.
HIV disease tends to progress at a faster rate in infected individuals who consume two or more alcoholic drinks a day, according to a new study in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
The article, entitled “Alcohol Use Accelerates HIV Disease Progression,” clearly demonstrates that frequent alcohol use, defined as two or more drinks daily, is associated with declining CD4+ cell counts (which indicate a weakened immune system) in individuals with HIV disease who either are or are not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Based on the results of a 30-month prospective study, the authors, Marianna Baum, Carlin Rafie, Sabrina Sales, and Adriana Campa, from Florida International University (Miami), Shenghan Lai, from Johns Hopkins University, and John Bryan Page, from University of Miami, Florida, conclude that alcohol has a direct effect on CD4 cells and that the accelerated decline in CD4+ cell counts in frequent alcohol users is not simply due to poorer adherence to ART in this population.
Another article by Natascha Ching, Karin Nielsen-Saines, Jaime Deville, Lian Wei, Eileen Garratty, and Yvonne Bryson, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, demonstrated that children who were infected with HIV while in utero via maternal-fetal transmission, were subsequently given antiretroviral therapy, and had no detectable HIV in their blood, still produced neutralizing antibodies against HIV, suggesting that low levels of viral replication might still be occurring despite drug therapy. In the article, the authors present data to support their conclusion that the children's CD4 T-cells may contain latent HIV reservoirs that formed early in life before antiretroviral therapy was initiated.
“It is important that HIV infected individuals make informed decisions relating to alcohol consumption. This article will help to achieve that goal,” says Thomas Hope, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL.