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Dark chocolate may help cholesterol

A new study has claimed that an ingredient of dark chocolate could assist in the control of severely high cholesterol levels, a major problem for those suffering from diabetes. Previous research has highlighted that chocolate which contains a high level of cocoa solids rich in polyphenols may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease, and this study, published in the journal Diabetic Medicine, saw a reduction in cholesterol for a small number of diabetics given chocolate that contained a lot of the chemical.

The researchers, from Hull University, examined 12 patients with type 2 diabetes who were given identical chocolate bars, some of which were enriched with polyphenols. The patients that consumed the enriched bars experienced a small improvement in their overall cholesterol rating, with a drop in total cholesterol while the level of good cholesterol increased.

Steve Atkin, who led the study, said “Chocolate with a high cocoa content should be included in the diet of individuals with type 2 diabetes as part of a sensible, balanced approach to diet and lifestyle.” However, the charity Diabetes UK warned that these findings may mislead people into eating too much chocolate, arguing that the high fat and sugar content probably outweighed any benefits.

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, commented “On no account should people take away the message from this study, conducted in only 12 people, that eating even a small amount of dark chocolate is going to help reduce their cholesterol levels.” He added “It would, however, be interesting to see if further research could find a way of testing whether polyphenols could be added to foods which weren’t high in sugar and saturated fat such as chocolate”.

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Low Level of “Good” Cholesterol Associated with Alzheimer’s

A low level of “good” cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. A new study by investigators at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons now suggests that a low level of good cholesterol may also raise the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

“Low levels of 'good' cholesterol (a.k.a. high-density lipoproteins or HDL) are very common in the United States,” says the study's lead author, Christiane Reitz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology (in the Sergievsky Center and Taub Institute). “If raising HDL can lower a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, that means we may be able to significantly reduce the rate of Alzheimer's disease in the population,” Reitz says, though she cautions that the finding still must be confirmed in other studies.

The study, which appears in the December issue of Archives of Neurology, is co-authored with Jose Luchsinger, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, and Richard Mayeux, MD, director of the Gertrude Sergievsky Center and Sergievsky Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology.

Previously, the relationship between HDL and Alzheimer's disease had been unclear. Some studies found an association, but others, including one of Reitz's own, found no connection. The new study, Reitz says, follows subjects for a longer period of time than previous studies, resulting in a more accurate account of the number of subjects who ultimately develop Alzheimer's.

After monitoring 1130 elderly residents of northern Manhattan for an average of four years, the researchers found a 40 percent higher incidence of Alzheimer's in residents with low HDL (less than 55 mg/dl). The reason that low HDL is associated with a higher rate of Alzheimer's isn't understood. One possibility is that it works through stroke. “We know low HDL raises the risk of stroke and that stroke is associated with Alzheimer's, so stroke may be the mediator,” Reitz says. “But there's also evidence that HDL works by itself to clear amyloid proteins [the proteins believed to cause Alzheimer's] from the brain.”

Because the study included a large number of African Americans and Hispanics, unlike previous studies that focused on whites, the finding may indicate that low HDL is linked to a high risk of Alzheimer's in many different ethnicities.

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Children’s sugar and fat easier to reduce than salt

Study details

Bouhlal and co workers reported that salt had an impact on intake but fat did not. They found that in general food intake increased with salt level, noting that compared with the 'normal' salt levels, a suppression of salt induced a 25 per cent decrease in green bean intake, whereas an addition of salt induced a 15 per cent increase in pasta intake. Contrarily to initial beliefs, the researchers observed no increase in food intake with increasing added sugar level. They said the findings indicate that two to three year old children's food intake may not be affected by its added sugar content.

The study data also showed that preschool children with a higher BMI score consumed more pasta when fat level was higher. The authors said this finding may confirm previous results which highlight fatter children prefer high-fat foods. The researcher said their results imply that fat and sugar addition could be avoided in foods for children without having an impact on palatability, allowing the energy density of children's diet to be limited.

“Furthermore, these findings suggest that there is no need to add salt to pasta which is consumed anyway. On the contrary, salt suppression in vegetables, whose intake is to be promoted, should be considered cautiously,” they said.

Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003752
“The impact of salt, fat and sugar levels on toddler food intake”
Authors: S. Bouhlal, S. Issanchou, S. Nicklaus

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Low Vitamin D Levels Linked To Parkinsons

Writing in an editorial in the US journal Archives of Neurology, Marian Evatt, assistant professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, says that health authorities should consider raising the target vitamin D level. “At this point, 30 nanograms per millilitre of blood or more appears optimal for bone health in humans. “However, researchers don't yet know what level is optimal for brain health or at what point vitamin D becomes toxic for humans, and this is a topic that deserves close examination.”

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson's UK, said: “The study provides further clues about the potential environmental factors that may influence or protect against the progression of Parkinson's. “A balanced healthy diet should provide the recommended levels of vitamin D. “Further research is required to find out whether taking a dietary supplement, or increased exposure to sunlight, may have an effect on Parkinson's, and at what stage these would be most beneficial.”

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