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Once again a study finds health benefits from consuming a Mediterranean style diet - a diet rich in fruits , vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), olive oil, and fish. The US Women's Health Study involved almost 26,000 women who were healthy at the start of the study and were followed for up to 12 years. The researchers found that a higher consumption of a Mediterranean style diet was associated with about a 28% lower risk in cardiovascular disease events (heart attack, stroke, coronary arterial revascularization, cardiovascular death). Based on what they generally ate, they were classified as having a low, middle, or upper intake of a Mediterranean style diet.

From Medical Xpress: Researchers explore what's behind Mediterranean diet and lower cardiovascular risk

A new study by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers insights from a cohort study of women in the U.S. who reported consuming a Mediterranean-type diet. Researchers found about a 25 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among study participants who consumed a diet rich in plants and olive oil and low in meats and sweets. The team also explored why and how a Mediterranean diet might mitigate risk of heart disease and stroke by examining a panel of 40 biomarkers, representing new and established biological contributors to heart disease.   

...continue reading "Mediterranean Diet and Heart Disease"

For years we've been told (and learned in school) that 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is the normal body temperature of humans. But... it turns out it's not. It's actually a bit lower - closer to 97.7 degrees F. It's the lowest around 6:00 in the morning - 97.5 degrees, and it is highest around 4 to 6 pm - 98.5 degrees F. Women tend to be about 0.2 degrees warmer than men. These were the findings of a crowdsourced smartphone study (with 329 people participating) by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital.

It turns out that other research has also said this for 2 decades. Huh? And yet the outdated 98.6 degree temperature persists in our culture. From Scientific American:

Normal Body Temperature Is Surprisingly Less Than 98.6

Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, right? Not so. There is no baseline for humans, and even if there was, it would be closer to 97.7 °F. Temperature also varies across the day, peaking in late afternoon and bottoming out in early morning. It is slightly higher for women than for men as well. For two decades research has debunked the benchmark, set way back in 1868, yet it persists. One important ramification, says Jonathan S. Hausmann, a rheumatologist at Boston Children's Hospital, who led the latest study, is to redefine fever. Most doctors use 100.4 °F or higher, but if “normal” is lower, then the fever threshold should be, too. It also should vary with the daily pattern and be tailored to each individual, Hausmann says: “A child at 99.0 °F at 4 A.M. may be highly abnormal but at 4 P.M. could be within normal limits.” ...continue reading "Our Fluctuating Body Temperature Is Lower Than 98.6 Degrees"

Once again research finds that endocrine disruptors are associated with health effects - this time with earlier puberty in girlsEndocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body's endocrine (or hormone) systems and can produce all sorts of negative health effects, including all sorts of reproductive problems in both males and females. Phthalates, parabens, and phenols (all used in common everyday products) are examples of endocrine disruptors.

The researchers asked the question: Is a baby's exposure before birth or exposure around the time of puberty (peripuberty) to phthalates, parabens, and phenols (which are found in personal care products) associated with the timing of when he or she starts puberty? In other words, does the mother's exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy have an effect on the fetus, which then has an effect years later on the child's puberty? And how about peripubertal exposure? The answer is a strong YES for girls, and minimal effect on boys (but boys did have earlier genital development with propyl paraben exposure).

What is scary is that almost all women (and men) are exposed to these chemicals - which can be measured in the urine. Studies find these chemicals in over 96% of American women. What to do?  One can't totally escape these chemicals, but one can really minimize exposure by reading labels and avoiding personal care products that list phthalates, parabens, phenols, as well as Triclosan (found in some anti-bacterial soaps). Avoid products that include "fragrances" or "scents" (those have a multitude of chemicals in them, including endocrine disruptors). Avoid air fresheners, dryer sheets, scented candles, room deodorizers, essential oils (lavender, tea tree oil). Buy "unscented" or "fragrance free" products.

The good news is that once a person avoids these chemicals, the levels in the body go down. So it's worth the effort minimizing exposure to them. By the way, animal studies find numerous reproductive effects from these chemicals, including timing of puberty. From Medical Xpress:

Chemicals in personal care and household products linked to earlier puberty in girls

Chemicals that are widely used in personal care and household products are linked to girls entering puberty at earlier ages, according to findings from a long-running study of mothers and children published today. The study in Human Reproduction, one of the world's leading reproductive medicine journals, found that chemicals such as phthalates, parabens and phenols were all associated with earlier puberty in girls, although there was no similar association observed in boys.   

...continue reading "Personal Care Products and Puberty"

Are bacteria living in healthy human brains? It has long been thought that the brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier, that the brain is sterile (bacteria are not normally there), and if there are bacteria in the brain, then that means a serious disease (e.g. meningitis).  However, the research team of Rosalind Roberts, Charlene Farmer, and Courtney Walker (at the University of Alabama) found bacteria in the brains they studied with electron microscopes.

The brains showed no inflammation (thus the bacteria were not pathogenic), and modern tests (genetic sequencing) showed that they were gut bacteria. Which  means they got there from the gut. If further research supports their findings, then this would be a paradigm shift -  a new way of thinking about the brain and microbes.

Two good articles discuss this research - the first is in Science, and the second is a fascinating interview of Rosalind Roberts about this research. Excerpts from the article written by Michael Segal in Nautilus:

Are There Bacteria in Your Brain?

...continue reading "Are Bacteria Living In Healthy Brains?"

Pregnant women have been advised to keep their consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages (tea, sodas, cocoa, energy drinks), and chocolate containing foods to a minimum for decades. Currently the American College of Obstetrics recommends that women consume less than 200 mg of caffeine (from any source) per day during pregnancy. This is less than 2 cups of regular coffee  or 4 cups of regular black tea. But a recent  study's findings suggest that the levels should be kept much lower.

The study of 941 mother/baby pairs in Ireland found that each 100 mg increase of caffeine per day was associated with a lower birth weight, shorter length of pregnancy (gestational age), shorter birth length of the baby, and smaller head circumference of the baby at birth. The strongest associations between those who consumed the most caffeine (when compared to those who consumed the least) was with lower birth weight. The researchers think this occurs because caffeine crosses the placenta easily, but during pregnancy there is a slowed metabolism of caffeine (so it takes longer to get it out of the body). Similar results have been found in other recent studies. [On the other hand, for not pregnant women - coffee and tea are linked to all sorts of health benefits - here, here.]

From Medical Xpress: Caffeinated beverages during pregnancy linked to lower birth weight babies

...continue reading "Keep Caffeine To A Minimum During Pregnancy"

Very interesting - that infections may be a trigger for a coronary heart disease event such as heart attack or ischemic stroke, within the next 3 months. [Ischemic strokes are strokes caused by a blood clot.] A recent study found that the association held for both inpatient (in hospital) and outpatient infections, but was stronger for inpatient infections . The most common infections before a heart attack or stroke were urinary tract infections (≈29%), pneumonia/respiratory infections (≈27%), skin and subcutaneous infections, and blood infections.

From Medical Xpress: Infections may be a trigger for heart attack, stroke

Diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol are well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But what about just getting sick? Could picking up some type of bug increase your chance of having a stroke or heart attack?  A new study suggests it could. 

...continue reading "Infections A Trigger For Heart Attack Or Stroke?"

Another reason to eat fruits and vegetables daily - cognitive and memory functioning in later life. A large US study of 27,842 men found that a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and orange juice for many years is linked to a lower risk of poor cognitive functioning in later years of life (70s and beyond). The study specifically looked at subjective cognitive function - a measure of earliest changes in cognitive functioning, including memory. This is the stage before "mild cognitive impairment". The study started in 1986 when the average age was 51 years, and continued till 2012. The men studied were all health professionals (e.g. dentists)

What was a high intake of fruits and vegetables? For vegetables: about 5.7 servings per day (while the lowest intake was 1.7 servings per day). For fruit: high intake was 3.1 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .5 servings per day). For fruit juice (orange juice): high intake was 1.5 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .1 servings per day). A serving of fruit is considered one cup of fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is considered one cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens.

The researchers found that green leafy vegetables, carotenoid-rich vegetables (esp. tomatoes and peppers), cantalope, berries, and orange juice to be especially protective. They point out that many antioxidant nutrients and bioactive substances (including vitamins A,B, C, and E, carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols) are all found naturally in vegetables, fruits, and juices. These are thought to reduce brain oxidative stress, improve cognitive performance, and to prevent neuronal damage. In other words, all good things for the brain. From Science Daily:

Orange juice, leafy greens and berries may be tied to decreased memory loss in men

Eating leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and drinking orange juice may be associated with a lower risk of memory loss over time in men, according to a study published in the November 21, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.  ...continue reading "Eat Fruits And Vegetables Every Day!"

In the US and other developed countries it is generally accepted that blood pressure increases with age -  that a blood pressure rise starts in childhood and that it's a normal part of aging. However, a new study found that this is not true - a South American rainforest tribe (the Yanomami) who do not eat a western diet (at all!) and have an active lifestyle, have the exact same blood pressure throughout life. This was true for all the individuals studied - from age 1 to 60. A nearby village of the Yekwana tribe have some western influences on lifestyle and diet, had the same low blood pressure in childhood, but showed increases with age.

The researchers feel that a Western diet and lifestyle play a role in the blood pressure increasing over the life span. They are now looking at the gut microbes of the two tribes to see what role they have in these blood pressure differences. Bottom line: get off your butt  and get active, and eat a high fiber, whole food diet (to feed the beneficial microbes) -  and avoid highly processed foods if you can. Easier said than done. From Science Daily:

Study of two tribes sheds light on role of Western-influenced diet in blood pressure

...continue reading "Blood Pressure Doesn’t Always Increase With Age"

A benefit (perhaps) of having the appendix taken out in childhood - it is associated with a lower rate of Parkinson's disease decades later in life, according to an international study that looked at health records of 1.7 million people in Sweden. Other main findings is that this finding is especially strong for individuals living in rural areas (and not urban areas), and that removing the appendix also delayed the age of Parkinson's disease onset in those who got the disease. But if you read further, there were other interesting findings in the study, even though much is still unknown - it's still a big puzzle with lots of pieces still to be filled in.

By the way, other recent research also supports the view that Parkinson's disease gets its start in the gut - and not in the brain, which is what everyone thought for years. But note that there are other risk factors such as certain pesticide exposure or drug use, or trauma to the head that are linked to Parkinson's disease. Many studies find that rural living is associated with a higher risk for Parkinson's disease, and it is thought this is probably due to higher exposure to pesticides, which then somehow contributes to the development of Parkinson's disease. From Medical Xpress:

Appendix removal is linked to lower risk of Parkinson's

Scientists have found a new clue that Parkinson's disease may get its start not in the brain but in the gut—maybe in the appendix. People who had their appendix removed early in life had a lower risk of getting the tremor-inducing brain disease decades later, researchers reported Wednesday.

Why? A peek at surgically removed appendix tissue shows this tiny organ, often considered useless, seems to be a storage depot for an abnormal protein—one that, if it somehow makes its way into the brain, becomes a hallmark of Parkinson's ...continue reading "Appendix Removal and Parkinson’s Disease"

Whoa.... a recent study examined food microbiomes (community of microbes) of some foods and found that the foods contained many species of microbes - hundreds of species! The foods examined were a variety of masala spice mixes, cilantro, smoked salmon, cucumbers, and mung bean sprouts. Other studies have also found large numbers of bacterial species in all sorts of foods, including raw fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and fermented foods, such as kimchi. There are also bacterial differences between conventional and organic foods. No wonder it's good to eat a diverse diet - all those microbes that you're ingesting! A diverse gut microbial community in humans is considered healthy by researchers.

The researchers (all associated with the US FDA - Food and Drug Administration) looked at the bacterial "species richness" (number of different bacterial species) normally found on the 5 types of foods. They used modern genetic sequencing methods to analyze the food microbiomes and found a LOT of bacterial species ("high bacterial diversity"), as well as species unique to the different foods sampled - whether animal or plant based foods. They found not only beneficial species, but also species associated with food spoilage. Every food had some bacteria that could eventually lead to food spoilage (which makes sense - eventually all foods can spoil). Also, how the food was handled and packaged, as well as moisture levels, influenced the bacterial species found in the foods.

The masala spice mixes were especially rich in bacterial species (from from 968 to 1097) and in unique species (19), but the mixes also contained as many as 17 ingredients. Cucumbers had between 227 and 423 bacterial species, and 216 to 573 species for cilantro. Smoked salmon samples had fewer species - ranging from 89 to 181 species. An example of the diversity is that the cucumber microbiome is comprised of species within Proteobacteria (45 to 85%), Firmicutes (2 to 40%), Actinobacteria (8 to 31%), and Bacteroidetes (0 to 2%).

I don't know if one can ever replenish all the bacteria lost from years of antibiotics (e.g. for sinus infections - both chronic and acute sinusitis), but this is a good reason to eat a variety of foods - for all the species of bacteria. These bacterial species are not found in general probiotic pills - one must eat the foods to ingest the variety and richness of microbes. The researchers wrote: "Once established, the most likely source of new microbes joining our GI microbiome is the food we eat: each food stuff and commodity we consume likely contains a microbiome that passes through our bodies while nutritional ingredients and components are digested."

It is unknown how many of these microbes stick around in our body, but lots of research finds that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, some fish and meat (including poultry), some dairy - are beneficial to our gut microbiome, along with numerous health benefits. The fiber in these foods is also beneficial in that it feeds beneficial microbes. [see category NUTRITION for research, also Feeding Your Gut Microbes page.]

Excerpts from research by Karen G. jarvis et al in Frontiers In Microbiology:

Microbiomes Associated With Foods From Plant and Animal Sources

...continue reading "Common Foods Contain Hundreds Of Diverse Bacterial Species"