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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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Food Allergies Anxiety And Loneliness

Children who are allergic to food are found to be suffering from anxiety and are increasingly more lonely; One allergic child out of five never attends peers’ parties, while one in four always brings along “safe” food. The burden of food allergies and the risk they can escalate to life-threatening diseases is particularly heavy on children, whose normally active and sociable lifestyle can be severely limited and frustrated by the effort to keep them away from potentially dangerous food.

According to a study presented at the 2011 Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), held Feb 17-19 in Venice, Italy, 23 percent of allergic children are no longer curious to try new food to vary their diet, considered too monotonous by most of them. A child out of ten also gives up crucial physical activity for fear of anaphylactic shock triggered by exercise.

“About 17 percent of allergic children, regardless of their age, never go to a party or a picnic with friends, while 24 percent are forced to bring along something to eat,” says Prof. Maria Antonella Muraro, Chair of the EAACI Meeting. The study, headed by Prof. Muraro, was carried out by the Center for the study and treatment of allergies and food intolerances at the hospital of the University of Padua, Italy on 107 young patients and their mothers.

“Also, 5 to 15 per cent of cases of anaphylactic shock can be triggered by physical activity following the consumption of small amounts of allergenic food that would otherwise be harmless, so one allergic child out of ten also stops every kind of exercise,” Prof. Muraro added. “Allergies are often downplayed as a minor problem, but the life of an allergic person can be hell. Allergic children show to be more afraid of being sick and a higher level of anxiety about food than children with diabetes. The constant alarm surrounding them is taking a toll on their development and well-being.”

Another worrisome problem adding to the poor quality of life of allergic patients, especially the younger ones, is the need to carry life-saving devices at all times, such as epinephrine auto-injectors, “loaded” with enough drug to prevent death in case of severe anaphylactic shock. They are easy to use, light to carry and discreet, but one out of three patients still leaves home without them.

“Within 8 or 10 minutes the shot reverses the symptoms, ranging from urticaria to respiratory distress, cardiovascular collapse and gastrointestinal problems including vomiting and diarrhoea,” explains Prof. Muraro. “It can cause minor side effects, such as irritability or tremors that end as soon as the adrenaline is processed by the body, generally within a couple of hours. Patients should not be scared, even those who have a heart disease: the possible side effects are negligible in comparison to the opportunity to save your life.”

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Craving for alcohol linked to obesity

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.

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Olive oil and veggies help the heart

It's no secret that eating well is good for both body and mind, so it may not come as a surprise that a new study finds women who eat more olive oil and leafy vegetables such as salads and cooked spinach are significantly less likely to develop heart disease.A group of Italian researchers found that women who ate at least 1 serving of leafy vegetables per day were more than 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease over an average of eight years, relative to women who ate two or fewer portions of those vegetables each week. Women who downed at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily – such as in salad dressing – were also 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease, compared to women who ate the least olive oil.

It's not exactly clear why specifically leafy vegetables and olive oil may protect the heart, said study author Dr. Domenico Palli of the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute in Florence. “Probably the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of plant-origin foods on cardiovascular diseases involve micronutrients such as folate, antioxidant vitamins and potassium, all present in green leafy vegetables.” Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, Palli explained, which is thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by damaging the inner lining of arteries. Other studies have shown people who eat more potassium have lower blood pressure, which can protect the cardiovascular system. Virgin olive oil may be particularly effective at lowering heart disease risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, he added.

This is not the first study to link olive oil or vegetables to good heart health. Most famously, the traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables and monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat from meat and dairy — has been tied to a decreased risk of heart disease. Mediterranean-style eating has also been credited with lowering risk for some cancers, diabetes, and, more recently, with slowing brain aging. Cardiovascular disease is a major killer, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths worldwide and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

To look more closely at the role of foods in protecting against heart disease, Palli and colleagues reviewed dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 Italian women participating in a large national health study. Researchers followed the women, whose mean age was 50 at the beginning of the study, for an average of 8 years, noting who developed heart disease. In that time, the women experienced 144 major heart disease-related events, such as heart attack or bypass surgery, the authors report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Women who ate at least one daily serving (about two ounces) of leafy vegetables – such as raw lettuce or endives, or cooked vegetables like spinach or chard — had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than women who ate at most two portions per week. Consuming at least an ounce of olive oil per day lowered their risk by 44 percent relative to women who consumed a half-ounce or less daily, the authors found.

The women's intake of other types of vegetables, such as roots and cabbages, and their consumption of tomatoes or fruit did not seem to be linked to their risk for major heart events. Both fruits and vegetables have been associated with heart benefits in past studies conducted elsewhere in Europe and in North America. The authors caution that the apparent lack of positive effect from high fruit consumption in their results may have something to do with a different attitude toward fruit in Italy. It is cheap, varied and easily available, so eating a lot of fruit is a widespread habit but it does not necessarily signal that the rest of someone's diet is as healthy, the authors wrote. Another issue with the study, Palli noted, is that women had to report how much they ate of various items, and some may not have remembered their diets accurately, or may have changed their eating habits during the study period. In addition, people sometimes over-estimate their healthy behaviors, believing they eat healthier than they really do.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online December 22, 2010.

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Fructose Intolerance

Researchers have a new theory on why some kids get unexplained tummy aches.

In some people, the small intestine is unable to efficiently break down fructose (and sometimes other forms of sugar). This problem is sometimes referred to as fructose intolerance. The undigested fructose passes into the large intestine, where it is broken down by bacteria. A by-product of this process is the creation of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. These two gases build up in the intestine, causing bloating, gas, pain and diarrhea. In some cases, the problem can affect absorption of important nutrients, like calcium and iron.

Researchers estimate about 33 percent of Americans have some level of sensitivity to sugar, most commonly to fructose, but the symptoms are often vague. Some people with fructose intolerance can eat small amounts of the sugar and not have any problems, making diagnosis even trickier.

Daniel Lustig, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center in Tacoma, WA, says patients with chronic digestive problems should have a physician’s evaluation to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. Once those conditions have been ruled out, he recommends a diagnostic tool called the breath hydrogen test.

A patient is given a dose of fructose. Then, periodically, he/she breathes into an air collection bag. The gases from the bag are retrieved and analyzed for the presence of hydrogen (one of the gases given off when fructose is broken down in the large intestine). Patients whose hydrogen levels exceed 20 points beyond a baseline reading are likely to be fructose intolerant.

Lustig explains the main treatment of fructose intolerance is avoidance of foods containing fructose. That includes fruits, fruit juices, sodas and processed foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup. Since fructose is in so many foods, it can be tricky to find and hard to avoid.

Lustig recently performed a study to look at possible fructose intolerance in 245 children and adolescents (ages 2 to 18) with unexplained chronic abdominal pain, gas or bloating. The breath hydrogen test found that nearly 54 percent of the participants tested positive for fructose intolerance. Lustig says the problem appeared to be especially high among teen girls.

Those who were judged to be fructose intolerant were given advice on using a low-fructose diet. The investigators found that nearly 68 percent of those who followed the recommended diet had an improvement or resolution in their symptoms.

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Infant obesity widespread in the USA

A study led by Brian Moss of Wayne State University’s School of Social Work reveals that one third of infants in the U.S. are obese or at risk of obesity. In addition, of the 8,000 infants studied, those found to be obese at 9 months had a higher risk of being obese at 2 years. Other studies have revealed that Infant obesity increases the risk for later childhood obesity and could lead to other obesity-related health problems like heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood and infant obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

Moss, in collaboration with William H. Yeaton from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, published their analysis, “Young Children’s Weight Trajectories and Associated Risk Factors: Results from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B),” in the January/February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. The ECLS-B draws from a representative sample of American children born in 2001 with diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds. It is one of the first studies to monitor weight status changes of a nationally representative sample of very young children.

For their study, Moss and Yeaton used results from ECLS-B to follow the trajectory of the infants’ weight status at 9 months and 2 years, then performed statistical analyses to examine whether weight persistence, loss or gain was linked to demographic characteristics such as sex, race/ethnicity, geographic region or socioeconomic status. Children above the 95th percentile on standard growth charts were considered to have infant obesity, children in the 85th to 95th percentile were considered at risk for obesity.

Some of their results show that:
• 31.9 percent of 9-month-olds were at risk or obese;
• 34.3 percent of 2-year-olds were obese or at risk for obesity;
• 17 percent of the infants were obese at 9 months, rising to 20 percent at 2 years;
• 44 percent of the infants who were obese at 9 months remained obese at 2 years;
• Hispanic and low-income children were at greater risk for weight status gain;
• Females and Asian/Pacific Islanders were at lower risk for undesirable weight changes;
• 40 percent of 2-year-olds from the lowest income homes were at risk or obese compared to 27 percent of those from the highest income homes.

“This study shows that a significant proportion of very young children in the United States is at risk or is obese,” said Moss. The team notes a consistent pattern of obesity starting early in life. “As obesity becomes an increasing public health concern, these findings will help guide health practitioners by targeting high risk populations and foster culturally sensitive interventions aimed at prevention and treatment of obesity,” Moss said.

“We are not saying that overweight babies are doomed to be obese adults. However, we have found evidence that being overweight at 9 months puts you on track for being overweight or obese later in childhood.”

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Mediterranean diet cuts Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease, a major form of dementia, has no cure. Luckily, diet and lifestyle can be modified to reduce the risk. For instance, Mediterranean diet and physical activity may each independently reduce the risk of the condition, according to a study in the Aug 2009 issue of Journal of American Medical Association. Dr. N. Scarmeas and colleagues of Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and Department of Neurology at Columbia University Medical Center found men and women those who adhered most closely to Mediterranean diet were 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during a average of 5.4-year follow-up, compared to those who adhered to the diet least closely.

The researchers also found those who most actively engaged in physical activity were up to 33 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s compared with those who were least active. For the study, Scarneas et al. followed 1880 community-dwelling elderly people who lived without dementia at baseline in New York for their dietary habits and physical activity.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was assessed on a scale of 0-9, or trichotomized into low, middle, or high and dichotomized into low and high. Physical activity was trichotomized into no physical activity, some, and much and dichotomized into low and high. Neurological and neuropsychological measures were conducted about every 1.5 years from 1992 to 2006. During the 5.4-year follow-up, 282 incident cases of Alzheimer’s were identified.

Those who adhered to the Mediterranean diet with a high score were at 40 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer, compared to those on the diet with a low score. A Mediterranean diet with a middle score did not seem to help compared to a diet with a low score. Those who engaged in some physical activity or much physical activity were at a 25 percent or 33 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, respectively, compared with those who did no physical activity. Men and women who had neither followed Mediterranean diet nor much physical activity had an absolute Alzheimer’s risk of 19 percent. This is compared to 12 percent for those who followed both high scored Mediterranean diet and engaged in much physical activity – a difference of 45 percent.

The researchers concluded “both higher Mediterranean-type diet adherence and higher physical activity were independently associated with reduced risk for AD (Alzheimer’s disease).”

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Teen soft drinks risk heart disease

Excessive intake of sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks and fruit juices that offer no nutritional value other than calories to the diet of teenagers can elevate their risk of heart disease in later life, claims a new study. According to health experts, there is growing evidence of the link between excess sugar consumption among youngsters and a number of health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, elevated triglycerides that are considered markers for heart disease. Lead author of the study, Jean Welsh, post-doctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta stated, “We need to be aware of sugar consumption. “It’s a significant contributor of calories to our diet and there are these associations that may prove to be very negative. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and sodas are the major contributor of added sugar and are a major source of calories without other important nutrients. “Parents and adolescents need to become aware of the amount of added sugar they are consuming and be aware that there may be some negative health implications if not now, then down the line.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations, a teenager who requires 2,200 calories may have an upper limit of 150 calories from added sugar while someone with an energy requirement of 1,800 calories per day should limit added sugar to 100 calories. However, the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) of 2,157 teenagers aged 12 to 18 years found that the average teenager consumes close to 500 calories added sugars each day. “Adolescents are eating 20 per cent of their daily calories in sugars that provide few if any other nutrients,” said Jean Welsh.

In order to get an insight into the impact of high sugar consumption in adolescence on the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life the researchers studied 646 teenagers. For the purpose of the study, they analyzed the 24-hour dietary recall by teens with data from the US Department of Agriculture on sugar content in foods. It was noted that the teens’ average daily consumption of added sugars was three to five times higher that the limit acceptable by the AHA.

The study found, that teens who consumed 30 percent or more of total calories from added sugars exhibited lower levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, compared to those who ate less than 10 percent of added sugar. In addition, it was observed that obese and overweight teenagers who consumed more sugar also had the most insulin resistance.

Although the study hints at a possible association between added sugar intake and poor cholesterol profiles as well as other heart disease risk factors, researchers feel there is need for more research to substantiate the findings. Welsh stated, “We need controlled studies to really understand the role of added sugars in cardiovascular disease. But it is important to be aware of the added sugar in the foods we all eat.”

The study is published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal ‘Circulation.’

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Your Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis

A popular pastime for many older people is to try and figure out their chances of getting one ailment or another. Mayo Clinic researchers have simplified it – they have figured out the lifetime risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and six other autoimmune rheumatic diseases for both men and women. “We estimated the lifetime risk for rheumatic disease for both sexes, something that had not been done before — separately or collectively,” says Cynthia Crowson Mayo Clinic biostatistician and first author. “Prevalence and incidence rates existed, but prevalence figures underestimate individual risk and incidence rates express only a yearly estimate.”

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The researchers were looking for an accurate basis to offer an easy-to-understand average risk over a person’s lifetime, knowing that risk changes at almost every age. They used data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a long-term epidemiology resource based on patients in Olmsted County, Minn. The cohort of 1179, consisted of patients diagnosed between 1955 and 2007, allowed the team to extrapolate the nationwide estimates.

The adult lifetime risk in the United States of having some kind of inflammatory autoimmune disease is 8.4 percent for women and 5.1 percent for men. Based on year 2000 population figures, that means one woman in 12 and one man in 20 will develop one of the conditions in their lifetime. The authors consider that a substantial risk and say their findings should encourage more research on the value of early diagnosis and intervention for people with increased genetic risk of arthritis. They hope the new figures will help in counseling patients and in fundraising efforts to find improved treatments.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

 

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Social ties help breast cancer

Breast cancer patients who have a strong social support system in the first year after diagnosis are less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer, according to new research from investigators at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine. The study, led by first author Meira Epplein, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine, was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

 

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Patients in the study were enrolled in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survivor Study, a large, population-based review of female breast cancer survivors in China, which Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine have carried out since 2002 under the leadership of principal investigator Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine, and senior author of the study.

From 2002 to 2004, a total of 2,230 breast cancer survivors completed a quality of life survey six months after diagnosis and a majority responded to a follow-up survey 36 months postdiagnosis. The women were asked about physical issues like sleep, eating, pain, psychological well-being, social support and material well-being. The answers were converted to an overall quality of life score. During a median follow-up of 4.8 years after the quality of life assessment, the investigators documented participants who had died or been diagnosed with a cancer recurrence.

Six months after diagnosis, only greater social well-being was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence. Compared to women with the lowest scores, women who scored highest on the social well-being quality of life scale had a 48 percent reduction in their risk of a cancer recurrence and a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death.

Among the facets that comprise the social well-being domain, emotional support was the strongest predictor of cancer recurrence. Specifically, women reporting the highest satisfaction with marriage and family had a 43 percent risk reduction, while those with strong social support had a 40 percent risk reduction and those with favorable interpersonal relationships had a 35 percent risk reduction.

“We found that social well-being in the first year after cancer diagnosis is an important prognostic factor for breast cancer recurrence or death,” said Epplein. “This suggests that the opportunity exists for the design of treatment interventions to maintain or enhance social support soon after diagnosis to improve disease outcomes.” While a strong social support network influenced cancer recurrence and mortality during the first year, the association tapered off and was no longer statistically significant by the third year after diagnosis.

This may be related to a smaller sample size of patients who answered the questionnaire, or other factors beyond quality of life that take precedence in the later years of survival. The study was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and the National Cancer Institute.

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