Not Exercising? That’s as Bad as Smoking…

Not Exercising? That’s as Bad as Smoking…

When you see someone smoking, you might question “Why would you do that to yourself when you know it could kill you?” Do you react the same way when you know someone doesn’t exercise? You should.

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When I was at a recent medical conference, one of the presenters reminded the audience that research has shown physical inactivity to be as deadly as smoking. I was shocked at this when I first heard it a couple of years ago, but I think I was just as shocked hearing it the second time. My guess is you are too. It’s hard to imagine being inactive could be comparable to smoking, but it is. You wouldn’t dream of smoking (and if you do smoke, you’re likely trying to quit), so why poison yourself with inactivity? But many of us do.

Nearly 80% of us don’t get the recommended amount of exercise. Many experts agree the inactivity epidemic is more concerning than the obesity epidemic. The benefits of exercise are numerous and irrefutable. It helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, dementia, depression, and more. If you exercise, chances are you’ll live a longer, healthier life. Period.

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What’s so powerful about exercise?

Take heart disease, for example. Heart disease is associated with inflammation in the body. Exercise is a natural inflammation fighter. When you move, your muscles send out anti-inflammatory chemicals. Also, every time you get up and move, your blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides improve. When you sit down, they get worse. It’s just about moving more. If you’re not active now, I’m sure it sounds overwhelming to start an exercise program.

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The good news is you can see health benefits with even a small amount of activity. Even taking a daily 5 minute walk around the office will improve your health. Slowly build up from there. Ultimately, you want your goal to be 30 minutes at least 5 days a week of moderate exercise. We’re talking about a brisk walk– hard enough that you can talk comfortably but not able to sing. But take your time getting there. Throw in resistance exercises a couple of days a week, and you’re on track.

If you’ve tried exercise before and didn’t lose weight, don’t be discouraged. You are still getting health benefits even if you’re not shedding weight. If you’re overweight but active and fit, you can expect to live as long and healthy as someone who is normal weight and fit. Even if you’re obese, being active helps you live a longer, healthier life than a normal weight person who isn’t active.

Think you’re too old for it to matter? Hardly. Regardless of your age, getting active has enormous benefits even in your 80s and beyond. We’re not just talking about living longer, but living better with a higher quality of life. As British-American anthropologist Ashley Montagu once said, “The idea is to die young as late as possible.”

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Source: WebMD 2014 by Michael Smith, MD, CPT

Provided by Sheri Gilbert of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the January 2015 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Improved Mental Health Linked to Nature Group Walks

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Walking through nature in a group sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but can it lower depression? According to a new study from the University of Michigan, the answer is yes, suggesting potential health benefits of national outdoor group walk programs. Although it is well known that outdoor walking groups encourage interaction with nature, social engagement and physical activity, until now, little has been known about how effective they are at promoting mental, emotional and social well-being.

A recent study published in April suggested that walking boosts creative thinking, while another from July suggested brisk walking is  therapeutic for people with Parkinson’s disease. Though the health benefits of going for a good walk are wide ranging, researchers
from this latest study focused on the mental benefits of the activity. Their results are published in the journal Ecopsychology.

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To conduct their study, the team, led by Dr. Sara Warber, associated professor of family medicine, evaluated nearly 2,000 participants
from the Walking for Health Program in the UK, which organizes almost 3,000 weekly walks each year. “We hear people say they feel better
after a walk or going outside, but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says Dr. Warber.

Results from their study show that group nature walks are linked with “significantly” lower depression, less stress and better mental health and well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates.  Additionally, people from the study who had recently encountered
stressful life events—such as a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation or unemployment—experienced a mood boost
after outdoor group walks.

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Commenting on their findings, Dr. Warber says, “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise, and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

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The team cites an increase in mental health issues and physical inactivity in the developed world for why they seek to explore new ways
to help improve quality of life and well-being. “The present study identifies the mental and emotional well-being benefits from participation
in group walks in nature and offers useful information about the potential health contribution of national outdoor group walk programs,” the researchers conclude.

Source: WebMD, Inc.

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Provided by Rebecca McGonigle of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the November 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Low-Carb Beats Low-Fat for Weight Loss, Study Says

For people who want to lose weight and boost their heart health, cutting down on carbohydrates may work better than trimming dietary fat, a new study suggests.  In a small clinical trial of obese adults, researchers found that those assigned to follow a low-carbohydrate diet lost more
weight over a year than those who followed a low-fat plan. They also had bigger improvements in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, the research teams reports.

“On average, they lost 8 pounds more, and lost more body fat mass,” said researcher Dr. Tian Hu, a doctoral fellow at Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans. And while some experts have raised concerns that low-carbohydrate diets could be less than heart-healthy, these findings suggest otherwise, said Dr. Lydia Bazzano, who also worked on the study. “Low-carb diets have traditionally been seen as potentially risky,” said Bazzano, a professor of nutrition research at Tulane.

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Yet in this study, people on the low-carb diet saw slightly greater improvements in their levels of “good HDL cholesterol and triglycerides— another type of blood fat. That could have been due to the bigger weight loss, Hu said, or to the greater amounts of “good” unsaturated fat in their diets.  But he also noted that the study ran for just one year, and it’s not clear how people on either diet would fare in the long run.

There are other caveats, too, according to a dietitian who was not involved in the study.  For one, people on the low-carbohydrate diet didn’t stick to it all that well. The regimen called for no more than 40 grams of carbohydrates a day—the equivalent of about two slices of bread. But, by the end of the year, people in the low-carbohydrate group were averaging 127 grams of carbohydrates a day, noted Sonya Angelone, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I do think that most people eat too many carbohydrates,” she said. So eating fewer
carbohydrates, and choosing high quality ones—fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains—is a sound idea, according to Angelone.

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But one of the concerns with a low-carbohydrate diet, she said, is that people will not get enough fiber.  A high-fiber diet can help ward off heart disease, and studies suggest it can aid weight loss by making people feel more full. So instead of lowering carbohydrates “too much,” Angelone
said, why not replace refined carbs—like white bread and pasta— with fiber-rich foods?

The current study included 148 adults who were obese but free of diabetes and heart problems. About half were randomly assigned to a
low-carbohydrate diet, while the rest were placed on a low-fat plan.  People in both groups had counseling sessions with a dietitian: The low
-fat group was told to get no more than 30% of their daily calories from fat, while the low-carbohydrate group was given a limit of 40 grams
of carbohydrates per day. At the end of one year, the low-fat group averaged nearly 200 grams of carbohydrate daily compared to about 130
for the low-carb group, according to the study.  In the end, 82% of the low-fat group stuck with the diet for a full year.  The same was true for 79% of the low-carbohydrate group.

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By the one-year mark, people in the low carbohydrate group had lost an average of almost 12 pounds. That compared with only four pounds for the low-fat group. According to Hu, the findings do not mean low-carb is the “best” diet for weight loss.  But, he said, “I think this means it’s a good option.” Bazzano acknowledged, though, that many of the study participants didn’t strictly follow their prescribed low-carbohydrate plan. “It was more moderate than that,” she said. And she agreed that being “careful” about the amount and type of carbohydrates you eat is key—as opposed to setting a rigid carbohydrate limit.

Angelone also pointed to another issue with the study: Sedentary study participants were discouraged from taking up exercise, to isolate the effects of the diet changes. But in real life, people would ideally change their diets and exercise. “Muscles use carbohydrates as fuel,” Angelone said. “it can be hard to exercise on a low-carb diet.”  Plus, she added. People on the low-fat diet, who were eating more carbohydrates, might have shed more weight if they’d been exercising.

Everyone agreed that there is no one-size-fits all diet. When it comes to heart health, for example, there is strong evidence that the Mediterranean diet—high in “good” carbohydrates and heart-healthy fats like olive oil—is a smart option.  Ultimately, people need to make
diet changes they can keep up for the long haul—not just until they lose a certain amount of weight.  The pounds will come back if you go back to your old ways, Angelone said.

Source:  WebMD, Inc.

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the October 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Omega-3s in Diet May Help Ward Off ALS

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help cut your risk for the fatal neuro-degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a new study suggests. These fatty acids—found most commonly in certain fish—are known to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on cells. Both of those processes can damage nerve tissue, according to the study authors. Inflammation and oxidative stress have long been linked with ALS, the study authors said, so any nutrient that fights those processes might be helpful.
In the study, “individuals with higher dietary intake of total omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids—an essential type of dietary fat found in vegetable oils and fish—had a reduced risk for ALS,” said lead researcher Kathryn Fitzgerald of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “We also found that higher dietary intake of alphalinolenic acid, a type of fatty acid found in vegetable oils and nuts, is also associated with lower ALS risk,” she said.

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For the study, Fitzgerald’s team looked at the association between ALS and these fatty acids among almost 1,000 ALS patients. They found that those who ate the most foods containing omega-3 fatty acids had the lowest risk of devel-oping ALS. People ranked in the top 20% in terms of their omega-3 fatty acids intake cut their odds of developing ALS by a third, com-pared to those in the bottom 20%, the study found. Fitzgerald cau-tioned, however, that the study was an observational study, where the researchers look at data from published sources and not from their own randomized trial. “So we can’t say there’s a cause-and-effect relationship, only that there’s an association,” she said. And there was another caveat: This study only looked at the risk of developing ALS. Whether high intake could help treat people who already have the disease isn’t known. “Future studies are needed to establish whether increasing omega-3 intake might be helpful for people with ALS,” Fitzgerald said.

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ALS is a relatively rare disease, she noted. “Currently, there are roughly 20,000 to 30,000 Americans who have ALS, and roughly 5,000 patients are diagnosed with ALS each year,” Fitzgerald said.

Dr. Michael Swash is a British neurologist at the Royal London Hospital and the author of an ac-companying journal editorial. He believes that the new study “is important in that it provides the possibility of an environmental factor [diet] in the complex processes triggering the onset of ALS.” Dietary factors could be such a factor, and this research opens the door a little toward addressing that idea, Swash said. “Maybe we are headed toward two forms of therapy—one preventing the disorder, an ideal solution—the other slowing the progression of the disease, also necessary,” he said.

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Source:  WebMD, Inc.

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the October 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Diet Changes Can Alter Gut Bacteria, Study Says

Diet Changes Can Alter Gut Bacteria, Study Says

Dietary changes can dramatically alter the balance of bacteria in the gut on a daily basis, according to a new study. These fluctuations could lead to monitoring systems that might help detect and ease flare-ups for people with certain chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), the researchers said.

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Trillions of bacteria live in the digestive tract, but their effect on human health isn’t well understood, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists noted. To better understand the role of bacteria in the body, the research team monitored changes in the bacteria of two people over the course of one year. Stool samples were collected daily to monitor the amount and types of bacteria present. The participants also used an iPhone app that tracked lifestyle factors—such as diet, sleep, mood and exercise—that could have an impact on their gut bacteria.

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Both people experienced an event during the study period that had a significant impact on their gut microbiome, or the number and types of bacteria in their digestive tract. One developed diarrhea while on a two-week trip to a developing nation. This person had significant changes in the balance of gut bacteria. After returning home to the U.S., however, the gut bacteria returned to normal, according to the study. Meanwhile, the other participant developed food poisoning from salmonella. As a result, gut salmonella jumped from 10% to nearly 30%. Moreover, populations of helpful bacteria nearly disappeared. After the person recovered from food poisoning, the beneficial bacteria rebounded

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to about 40% of the total microbiome. But the researchers pointed out that most of the strains were different from those originally present.
“On any given day, the amount of one species could change manifold, but after a year, that species would still be at the same median level. To a large extent, the main factor we found that explained a lot of that variance was the diet,” study senior author Eric Alm, an associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, said. Looking ahead, the researchers said they plan to explore why gut bacteria tend to return to their normal levels after fluctuating widely.

Source: WebMD, Inc.

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle of the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) in the September 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter.

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Stressed By Work-Life Balance? Just Exercise

 Stressed By Work-Life Balance? Just Exercise

Feeling conflicted by the push-pull of work and family life? New research suggests that regular exercise can help balance out those feelings. Researchers examined the responses of 476 working adults who were surveyed about their exercise behavior and their confidence in handling work-family conflicts. Those who exercised regularly seemed to experience an increased feeling of competence that carried over into work and home roles, the study authors said.

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“If, for example, you go for a two-mile jog or walk 10 flights of steps at work and feel good about yourself for doing that, it will translate and carry over into other areas of life,” said study author Russell Clayton, an assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University in Florida. “We found that [participants] who exercised felt good about themselves, that they felt that they could accomplish tough tasks, and that carried over into work and family life,” Clayton added.

Volumes of research have shown that exercise lowers mental and physical stress levels, but few studies have focused on whether this stress reduction helps empower individuals to better manage their work-life balance. Clayton said the study originated as a “pet project” after he realized his own adherence to exercise gave him perspective on integrating work and life. Also involved in the study were researchers from Saint Louis University, University of Houston-Victoria and Illinois State University.

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Clayton acknowledged that the research method the study authors used—having respondents answer questions and then tallying the answers through a mathematical technique—did not offer hard numbers for the results. Just over half (55%) of the study participants were women. In addition, the study noted, participants worked an average of 40 hours weekly and their average age was 41. About 29% had at least one child under age 18 living at home. While the study found a link between physical activity and reports of greater empowerment at home and at work, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. “But the associations between exercise and work-life balance are there, and they’re very strong,” Clayton said.

For those who don’t exercise regularly, the idea of adding that regimen to a busy schedule to improve stress levels may seem counterintuitive, Clayton noted. But he advocates the idea of “stolen moments” for exercise that add up, such as climbing the stairs for five minutes or doing jumping jacks in 30-second spurts. “We hope our research can be a grain of sand in the beach of evidence we have to push corporations…to encourage employees to exercise,” he added.

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Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, said the study extends the evidence that physical activity offers benefits beyond the obvious. “People should think of it as a kind of investment. If you put some time into physical activity,” said Muth, “you may be active for 30 minutes a day, but the productivity and mental focus you’re going to get out of it is going to far exceed what you put into it, from a work and family perspective.”

Source: WebMD, Inc.

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle from the June 2014 Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter from Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT)

Fruit And Veg “5 A Day” Advice Backed By New Findings

Fruit And Veg “5 A Day” Advice Backed By New Findings

A large Swedish study finds a link between fruit and vegetable consumption and lifespan. People who ate fewer than the recommended “5 a Day” portions of fruit and vegetables tended not to live as long as people who ate 5 portions a day or more, say the researchers. Alicia Wolk, Professor of Nutrition Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues found no additional benefit, in terms of more years of life, in consuming more than 5 a day.

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In their background information, the authors explain that not many large studies have looked at the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and lifespan (as opposed to the many that have examined links with health and disease.) And where studies have looked at lifespan links to fruit and vegetable intake, the results are somewhat inconsistent. For their study, they looked at the relationship between different amounts of daily fruit and vegetable consumption and timing and rate of deaths in a large population of 71,706 Swedish men and women who completed questionnaires about their food intake as participants in the Swedish Mammography Cohort and the Cohort of Swedish Men.

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The participants, who were followed for 13 years, were aged from 45 to 83, and about half were men. During the follow-up, just under 11,500 of the men and women died. When they analyzed the results, the researchers found that eating fewer than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day was progressively linked to shorter lifespan and higher rates of death in the men and women, compared with those who ate 5 a day. Thus, the less fruits and vegetables they ate under the 5 a day threshold, the shorter their lives.

Those who said they never ate fruit and vegetables had lives cut short by an average of 3 years, and were 53% more likely to die during the follow-up, compared with those who said they ate 5 servings a day or more. The study was not designed to look for cause and effect, so it cannot say for sure that eating fruits and vegetables actually increases lifespan. The cause could be due to other factors that differed between those who ate fruits and vegetables and those who did not.

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Participants who said they ate fewer fruits and vegetables tended to be smokers, with fewer years of education, and bigger eaters of red meat, high-fat dairy goods, snacks and sweets. But in contrast, those who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables tended to consume more calories, says Wolk. However, when the team adjusted the results to take into account possible effects of gender, BMI, exercise, alcohol and smoking, this did not change the results very much.

Source:  WebMD

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle, Wellstyles Newsletter, September 2013, Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT).

Skipping Breakfast a Recipe for Heart Disease: Study

Skipping Breakfast a Recipe for Heart Disease: Study

Men who skip breakfast have a 27% higher risk of suffering a heart attack or developing heart disease than those who start the day with something in their stomach, according to a new study. The study confirms earlier findings that have linked eating habits to elevated risk factors for heart disease, the Harvard researchers said.

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“Men who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, to develop diabetes, to have hypertension and to have high cholesterol,” said Eric Rimm, senior author and associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. For example, breakfast skippers are 15% more likely to gain  a substantial amount of weight and 21% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, earlier studies have reported.

The new study found that these men also indulged more heavily in other unhealthy lifestyle choices. They were more likely to smoke, engage in less exercise and drink alcohol. “We’ve focused so much on the quality of food and what kind of diet everyone should be eating, and we don’t talk as often on the manner of eating,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “This study is not even discussing the type of food. It’s just talking about behavior and lifestyle choice. Part of heart-healthy living is eating breakfast because that prevents you from doing a lot of other unhealthy things.”

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For the new report, researchers analyzed data culled from a 16-year study of nearly 27,000 male health professionals that tracked their eating habits and overall health from 1992 to 2008. During the study period, 1,572 of the men developed heart disease. The study also found a 55% increased risk of heart disease in men who regularly indulge in late-night snacking. However, the researchers did not consider this a public health risk because few men reported eating after they’d gone to bed.

Rimm said there are several possible explanations why skipping breakfast can have such a drastic effect on heart health. The Harvard study found that men who skip breakfast do not pick up another meal later in the day, which Rimm said indicates that they tend to “feast” on higher-calorie meals when they do eat. Previous studies have found that feasting can result in high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, compared with nibbling smaller meals. “It’s the extra strain on the body of eating more calories during the few times in a day they do eat,” he said.

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The type of food that a person consumes during breakfast also might be a factor. “Breakfast is typically a time when people tend to eat a healthy meal,” Rimm said. “By skipping a meal that usually features fiber or fruit or yogurt, you’re missing out on an occasion where people can get healthy nutrients.” Younger men tend to skip breakfast more frequently than older men, the investigators found, which leads to another possible explanation. “It may be in line with the fact that these are men who are rushing out to stressful jobs and not eating along the way,” Rimm said, noting that stress is bed for heart health and is associated with negative lifestyle choices such as drinking or smoking.

The study did not include women, but Steinbaum believes the same pattern likely occurs in women who skip breakfast. “There haven’t been any studies independently on women, but I would suspect we would find the same outcomes,” she said. Rimm said the study reinforces the age-old emphasis on breakfast as a key to good health. “There is so much we know about reducing risk of heart disease, and some things like exercise or quitting smoking take quite a bit of effort,” Rimm said. “But it is easy without a big huge financial or time commitment to have breakfast, even if it is a bowl of oatmeal or a bit of cereal before you start the day.”

Source: Copyright 2005-2013, WebMD, Inc.

Provided by the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) from their August 2013 Monthly Wellstyles Newsletter, by Rebecca McGonigle.

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Drinking Coffee May Delay Alzheimer’s Disease

Drinking Coffee May Delay Alzheimer’s Disease

Study Adds to Growing List of Health Benefits Associated With Coffee
By 
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

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June 7, 2012 — Drinking three cups of coffee per day may help turn the tide against Alzheimer’s disease among older adults who are already showing signs of memory problems, a new study shows.

According to the findings, people older than 65 who had higher blood levels of caffeine developed Alzheimer’s disease two to four years later than their counterparts with lower caffeine levels. The findings will appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Symptoms include serious memory loss, confusion, and mood changes that develop gradually and worsen with time.

The new study included 124 people aged 65 to 88 who had mild cognitive impairment, which is the medical term for mild memory loss. About 15% of people with MCI develop full-blown Alzheimer’s disease each year.

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In the study, blood levels of caffeine were more than 50% lower among people with MCI who developed Alzheimer’s during follow-up, when compared with their counterparts who did not worsen. Coffee was the main, or only source, of caffeine among people in the study.

No one with mild memory loss who later developed Alzheimer’s had initial blood caffeine levels above 1,200 ng/ml. This is equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before giving blood. People whose memory loss did not progress all had blood caffeine levels higher than this level, the study shows.

“Continue to drink coffee,” says researcher Chuanhai Cao, PhD. He is a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida’s College of Pharmacy and Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa. “There is no reason to stop if you are experiencing memory problems.”

There may even be a reason to start for people in their late 30s and up, he says. “Aim for an average of three, 8-ounce cups of coffee per day in the morning after eating breakfast.”

 Coffee May Lower Alzheimer’s Risk

Exactly how coffee helps delay the development of Alzheimer’s is not known, but Cao has a theory. It involves beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease.

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“Beta-amyloid doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s,” he says. “We are born with this protein in our brains.”

So what goes wrong? This protein accumulates or aggregates in the brain because it is no longer sufficiently metabolized with advancing age. “Your system can’t handle all of it and leftover protein accumulates in the brain.”

Enter your daily cups of joe. “Caffeine inhibits the production of beta-amyloid, so your system only metabolizes all of the available protein,” Cao says.

Put another way: There are no leftovers.

Coffee may have other important health benefits as well. Research has shown that it can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s diseasestroketype 2 diabetes, and breast cancer.

am Gandy, MD, PhD, reviewed the new findings for WebMD. He is the Mount Sinai chair in Alzheimer’s disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

“There is some support for this observation,” he says via email.

“There are basic science studies from our lab and from other labs showing that a substance called cyclic AMP can reduce formation of amyloid, and it is well known that caffeine elevates cyclic AMP levels.”

What’s more, “attention is a key component of memory, and it is well established that caffeine increases attention. Thus, it is conceivable that caffeine improves memory by virtue of its effects on memory.”

But, Gandy adds, the jury is still out on how or if caffeine affects risk for Alzheimer’s. “Before we can recommend any drug (even caffeine), we must test the drug in randomized clinical trials. That would be the obvious next step for the caffeine story.”

Berry Habit May Help Women Avoid Heart Attacks

Young and middle-aged women who eat blueberries and strawberries regularly may help lower their risk of a heart attach later. In a new study, researchers wanted to focus on whether substances known as anthocyanins are good for the heart. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, substances found in plants that protect and repair cells from damage. Anthocyanins provide the red, blue, and purple colors found in strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits and vegetables.

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The study followed more than 93,000 women for 18 years. The women, ages 25 to 42 when they joined the study, reported on their diet every four years. A trend toward lower risk of heart attack was found in women who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries weekly, compared to those who ate fewer servings. A serving is roughly half a cup.

“Substances naturally present in red/blue colored fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of a heart attack 32% in young and middle-aged women,” says Aedin Cassidy, PhD, a researcher at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. The new findings echo those of other studies showing that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked with lower heart disease, says C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Merz says the study is observational, meaning it does not prove that berries help with heart health. Women who eat berries may also have other healthy habits that could prevent heart attacks, she says.

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Researchers chose blueberries and strawberries because they are among the most commonly eaten berries. They divided the women into five groups based on how much of the fruits they ate. Women who ate the most berries had the greatest impact on their heart attack risk. Cassidy and her team also looked at other factors that are known to raise heart attack risk. These included age, high blood pressure, a family history of heart attack, being overweight or obese, exercise habits, smoking, and drinking caffeine and alcohol. Women who ate more of the fruits also reported other heart-healthy habits, such as being less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise.

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Cassidy says the study focused on younger women because there is not much research on preventing heart attacks in that age group. Although the actual drop in the number of heart attacks was small, Cassidy believes that eating anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables early on could pay off later, when heart attack risks rise with age. The substances may work by improving HDL “good” cholesterol, the researchers say. They may also lessen inflammation, which is linked with heart attack risk.

Although the study focused on blueberries and strawberries, many other fruits and vegetables are rich in the anthocyanins, Cassidy says. Among them: eggplant, raspberries, black currants, plums, and cherries. Eating more of these fruits and vegetables “could have a significant effect on prevention efforts,” says Cassidy.

Source: Copyright 2005-2012, WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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Reposted from Wellstyles Monthly Newsletter by Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT) from Rebecca McGonigle