All Posts tagged professor

Experts find clue to yo-yo dieting

Scientists may have discovered a way of identifying dieters who are prone to piling the pounds back on after weight loss. A study at Maastricht University’s Department of Human Biology found a link between a gene involved in regulating blood pressure and post-diet weight gain in women. Women who regained weight after slimming had a high change in the concentration of a particular protein in their blood during dieting, research showed. Researchers now hope to develop a test to indicate how prone people are to yo-yo dieting.

Edwin Mariman, professor of functional genetics at Maastricht, said: “It was a surprising discovery, because until now there has been no clear link between this protein and obesity. “We do not yet have an explanation for the results, but it does appear that it should be possible within a few years to use this finding to develop a test to show who is at high risk of putting weight back on after a diet.”

Hospitals already conduct tests for the protein, known as the angiotensin I converting enzyme (ACE). But the test is currently carried out to check its activity in regulating blood pressure, rather than its concentration. Up 80% of dieters suffer from the yo-yo effect, returning to their original weight within a year.

The study looked at around 100 women aged 20 to 45, half of whom had maintained their post-diet weight and half of whom had put weight back on. The findings of the research have been published by Dr Ping Wang, a scientist in Professor Mariman’s research group, in the online scientific journal PloS ONE.

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Blueberries reduce Alzheimer’s, more

Eating purple fruits such as blueberries and drinking green tea can help ward off diseases including Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s, a University of Manchester report claims. New research from Professor Douglas Kell, published in the journal Archives of Toxicology, has found that the majority of debilitating illnesses are in part caused by poorly-bound iron which causes the production of dangerous toxins that can react with the components of living systems. These toxins, called hydroxyl radicals, cause degenerative diseases of many kinds in different parts of the body. In order to protect the body from these dangerous varieties of poorly-bound iron, it is vital to take on nutrients, known as iron chelators, which can bind the iron tightly.

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Brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of chelators, as is green tea, with purple fruits considered to have the best chance of binding the iron effectively. However, despite conflicting reports, the widely-publicised benefits of red wine seem to work in a different way, and have no similar benefits, Professor Kell’s paper noted.

This new paper is the first time the link has been made between so many different diseases and the presence of the wrong form of iron, and gives a crucial clue as to how to prevent them or at least slow them down. Professor Kell argues that the means by which poorly-liganded iron accelerates the onset of debilitating diseases shows up areas in which current, traditional thinking is flawed and can be dangerous. For instance, Vitamin C is thought to be of great benefit to the body’s ability to defend itself against toxins and diseases. However Professor Kell, who is Professor of Bioanalytical Science at the University, indicates that excess vitamin C can in fact have the opposite effect to that intended if unliganded iron is present.

Only when iron is suitably and safely bound (“chelated”) will vitamin C work effectively. Professor Kell said: “Much of modern biology has been concerned with the role of different genes in human disease. “The importance of iron may have been missed because there is no gene for iron as such. What I have highlighted in this work is therefore a crucial area for further investigation, as many simple predictions follow from my analysis.

“If true they might change greatly the means by which we seek to prevent and even cure such diseases.”

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Diabetes Plus Depression

Women suffering from diabetes plus depression have a greater risk of dying, especially from heart disease, a new study suggests.In fact, women with both conditions have a twofold increased risk of death, researchers say. “People with both conditions are at very high risk of death,” said lead researcher Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Those are double whammies.” When people are afflicted by both diseases, these conditions can lead to a “vicious cycle,” Hu said. “People with diabetes are more likely to be depressed, because they are under long-term psychosocial stress, which is associated with diabetes complications.”

People with diabetes plus depression are less likely to take care of themselves and effectively manage their diabetes, he added. “That can lead to complications, which increase the risk of mortality.” Hu stressed that it is important to manage both the diabetes and the depression to lower the mortality risk. “It is possible that these two conditions not only influence each other biologically, but also behaviorally,” he said.

Type 2 diabetes plus depression are often related to unhealthy lifestyles, including smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, according to the researchers. In addition, depression may trigger changes in the nervous system that adversely affect the heart, they said.

The report is published in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Luigi Meneghini, an associate professor of clinical medicine and director of the Eleanor and Joseph Kosow Diabetes Treatment Center at the Diabetes Research Institute of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the findings were not surprising.

“The study highlights that there is a clear increase in risk to your health and to your life when you have a combination of diabetes and depression,” he said. Meneghini noted there are many diabetics with undiagnosed depression. “I am willing to bet that there are quite a number of patients with diabetes and depression walking around without a clear diagnosis.” Patients and doctors need to be more aware that depression is an issue, Meneghini added.

For the study, Hu’s team collected data on 78,282 women who were aged 54 to 79 in 2000 and who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study. Over six years of follow-up, 4,654 women died, including 979 who died of cardiovascular disease, the investigators found. Women who had diabetes had about a 35 percent increased risk of dying, and those with depression had about a 44 percent increased risk, compared with women with neither condition, the researchers calculated. Those with both conditions had about twice the risk of dying, the study authors found.

When Hu’s team looked only at deaths from heart disease, they found that women with diabetes had a 67 percent increased risk of dying and those with depression had a 37 percent increased risk of death. But women who had both diabetes and depression had a 2.7-fold increased risk of dying from heart disease, the researchers noted.

In the United States, some 15 million people suffer from depression and 23.5 million have diabetes, the researchers say. Up to one-fourth of people with diabetes also experience depression, which is nearly twice as many as among people who don’t have diabetes, they added. “The combination of diabetes and depression needs to be addressed,” Meneghini concluded. He added that patients need to tell their doctors if they are feeling depressed, and doctors also need to be on the lookout for signs of depression in their diabetic patients.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Luigi Meneghini, M.D., associate professor, clinical medicine and director, Eleanor and Joseph Kosow Diabetes Treatment Center, Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; January 2011, Archives of General Psychiatry

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Placebos may work – even when the patient knows

For most of us, the “placebo effect” is synonymous with the power of positive thinking; it works because you believe you're taking a real drug. But a new study rattles this assumption.Researchers at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have found that placebos work even when administered without the seemingly requisite deception.

Placebos—or dummy pills—are typically used in clinical trials as controls for potential new medications. Even though they contain no active ingredients, patients often respond to them. In fact, data on placebos is so compelling that many American physicians (one study estimates 50 percent) secretly give placebos to unsuspecting patients. Because such “deception” is ethically questionable, HMS associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk teamed up with colleagues at BIDMC to explore whether or not the power of placebos can be harnessed honestly and respectfully.

To do this, 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups: one group, the controls, received no treatment, while the other group received a regimen of placebos—honestly described as “like sugar pills”—which they were instructed to take twice daily. “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle,” says Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

For a three-week period, the patients were monitored. By the end of the trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief as compared to the control group (59 percent vs. 35 percent). Also, on other outcome measures, patients taking the placebo doubled their rates of improvement to a degree roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications. “I didn't think it would work,” says senior author Anthony Lembo, HMS associate professor of medicine at BIDMC and an expert on IBS. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

The authors caution that this study is small and limited in scope and simply opens the door to the notion that placebos are effective even for the fully informed patient—a hypothesis that will need to be confirmed in larger trials. “Nevertheless,” says Kaptchuk, “these findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual. I'm excited about studying this further. Placebo may work even if patients knows it is a placebo.”

This study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School.

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A reversal on carbs

A growing number of top nutritional scientists blame excessive carbohydrates — not fat — for America's ills. They say cutting carbohydrates is the key to reversing obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. “Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

It's a confusing message. For years we've been fed the line that eating fat would make us fat and lead to chronic illnesses. “Dietary fat used to be public enemy No. 1,” says Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. “Now a growing and convincing body of science is pointing the finger at carbs, especially those containing refined flour and sugar.”

Americans, on average, eat 250 to 300 grams of carbs a day, accounting for about 55% of their caloric intake. The most conservative recommendations say they should eat half that amount. Consumption of carbohydrates has increased over the years with the help of a 30-year-old, government-mandated message to cut fat.

And the nation's levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease have risen. “The country's big low-fat message backfired,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”

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Families have unhealthier diets than childless couples

Research by the University of Reading has found that couples with children have a poorer diet than those without. On average, statistics showed that childless couples ate 2kg more fruit and vegetables than families over a fortnight. The results formed part of a study that looked at the uneven distribution of unhealthy diets in the population. It also showed that regional variation in the demand for fruit and vegetables is pronounced, with the highest demand in London and the South East and the lowest in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Professor Richard Tiffin, Director of the Centre for Food Security at the University, said: “There are clear distributional implications for dietary health that arise from these patterns of consumption and also for the health of children. They suggest that targeted interventions are necessary in order to reduce the incidence of diet-related health problems in the future.” The study revealed that the presence of children in a household leads to a lower level of demand for fruit and vegetables and meat, and an increased demand for milk and dairy, cereals and potatoes.

The results also emphasised the role played by low incomes and socio-economic circumstances in poor dietary choices. Comparing an unemployed individual with an otherwise identical individual living in a household of two, the former consumed over 3kg less fruit over a period of two weeks. Similarly, for two identical households, a difference in income of 10 per cent can be expected to lead to a difference in demand for fruit and vegetables of around 500g.

Professor Tiffin said: “Our results imply that households which have a higher level of expenditure will tend to consume proportionately more meat and more fresh fruit and vegetables. Households in London and the South East have higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption while it is reduced by the presence of children. “The dietary components that we have analysed have important implications for policy-makers in tackling diet-related chronic disease, which represents one of the most significant public health challenges of the 21st century.”

The paper, 'The demand for a healthy diet: estimating the almost ideal demand system with infrequency of purchase, by R. Tiffin (University of Reading) and M. Arnoult (Scottish Agricultural College), is published this month in The European Review of Agricultural Economics – http://erae.oxfordjournals.org/content/current

Researchers used the UK government's Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS) for 2003-2004. Participating households voluntarily record food purchases for consumption at home for a two-week period using a food diary. The sample is based on 7,014 households in 672 postcode sectors stratified by Government Office Region, socioeconomic group and car ownership. It is carried out throughout the UK and throughout the year in order to capture seasonal variations.
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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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Chocolate reduces effect of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chocolate reduces effect of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Researchers from the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School have found dark chocolate has a significant effect on reducing the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). The research, published in Nutrition Journal, found that polyphenol rich chocolate eases the condition, with subjects noting significant improvements to their well-being. Chocolate is known to increase neurotransmitters like phenyl ethylamine, serotonin, and anandamide in the brain, but this is the first time that polyphenol rich chocolate in people with CFS has been studied.

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Above: Professor Steve Atkin.

Subjects with CFS having severe fatigue of at least 10 out of 11 on Chalder Fatigue Scale were enrolled on the pilot study. Participants were given one of two types of chocolate, one with a high cocoa content and the other without.

Over an eight week period the volunteers consumed one type of chocolate followed by a two week wash out period and then another eight weeks of eating the other variety. The dark chocolate contained 85% cocoa solids with the alternative containing none. Each individual bar weighed 15g with each volunteer expected to eat three per day, and also told not to consume more or make changes to their diet.

Researchers also noted the weight of subject did not significantly alter despite consuming an extra 245 calories per day for two months.

Professor Steve Atkin who led the study says: “The significance of the results is particularly surprising because of the small number of subjects in the study. A further study is needed to see what the effects would be on a larger group of people, but this is potentially very encouraging news for those who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

This latest finding follows recent research also carried out at the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School where dark chocolate was found to help reduce the risk of heart attacks in people with Type 2 diabetes by increasing the amount of good cholesterol in the blood stream.

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Food Pyramid to be revised

This month the federal Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will release the 2010 dietary guidelines. These guidelines directly impact the eating habits of one in every four Americans whose meals are subsidized by federal programs. The precise timing of the release this month is unknown, according to John Webster, a spokesman for the USDA.

The major question here is whether or not the new guidelines will impact the obesity epidemic that is increasing ever so quickly in our country. Decisions about what to eat are generally made at the supermarket, not while reading federal guidelines. “What we need to do is put more effort into figuring out how to engage people who don’t use nutrition as a major deciding point when buying food,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “We really need to learn more about consumer behavior.’’ Some experts wonder if more nutrition information helps or confuses shoppers.

It is arguable that the guidance needs to be much clearer, more like the wildly popular “Eat This, Not That!,’’ a magazine column, which was then reworked into a book and an iPhone app, that made its mark by telling readers which fast food was nutritionally better than others. Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and an associate professor at the university’s School of Medicine, is an advocate for more specific guidance. For example, 45 to 65 percent of daily calories should come from foods that contain carbohydrates. But “lollipops and lentils are both carbs,’’ Katz says. And while the current federal recommendations do stress eating carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, he adds, “We need to do a better job of specifically defining highly recommended foods.’’

While no one is talking about the final 2010 recommendations before their release, a June advisory report, open for public comment, gives some clues. Cohen of UMass Amherst expects the final guidelines to place even greater emphasis on physical activity and continue to recommend that people include more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, and a suggestion to eat three servings of low-calorie dairy products a day (some argue that calcium supplements should be used in place of the third serving).

 

 

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Eating a sensible diet improves lung health

Steering clear of full-fat, fried, and processed foods is not just good for overall health, it could help prevent chronic lung conditions, a large UK study has revealed.

Led by Seif Shaheen, Professor of Respiratory Epidemiology at Barts and The London School of Medicine, the study – involving 1,551 men and 1,391 women with an average age of 66 – showed that those whose diet favoured fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and wholegrain products had far better lung function than those who chose a diet high in fat, sugar and processed food.

The diets of those involved were investigated to assess what kinds of food they consumed on a regular basis. Their lung function was also tested using a spirometer, a device which measures the amount of air that a person can blow out of their lungs in one second. This simple test illustrates how healthy the lungs are, and determines whether any blockage or obstruction exists in the airways. If the airways are obstructed, the person is diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

The study also revealed that the beneficial effects of the sensible diet were particularly strong in men who smoked.

Lung health in particular may be positively affected by a sensible diet because of the antioxidants contained in fruit and wholegrains, and the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish – that protect the lungs against the adverse effects of smoking.

Professor Shaheen said: “Whilst cessation of smoking is still the number one way to improve lung health, this study is important because it suggests that cases of COPD might be prevented if people, especially male smokers, ate more fruit and vegetables, oily fish and wholegrain cereals, and less white bread, sugar, full fat dairy products, fried food and processed meat. However, the only way to confirm this would be to carry out a randomised controlled trial.”

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