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Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills. ...continue reading "Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain"

Another health benefit of coffee! A study found that daily consumption of a few cups of coffee was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of cancer worsening in persons with metastatic colon cancer. These benefits held for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. This is a big deal because metastatic colon (colorectal) cancer only has a 5 year survival rate of 14%.

A group of researchers throughout the US found that in 1171 patients being treated for metastatic colorectal cancer, those who reported drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were more likely to live longer, and had a longer time before their disease worsened - as compared to people who didn't drink coffee. And those drinking more than 4 cups a day (either decaf or regular) had even greater benefits.

Coffee's benefits may be due to its ability to decrease blood insulin levels (it increases insulin sensitivity of tissues), as well as the chemical compounds in coffee having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiangiogenic(anti-blood vessel growth in tumors) effects. It appears that many of the beneficial effects appear to be not from caffeine, but from the chemical compounds in coffee. [Note: avoid caffeinated coffee during pregnancy - then it is linked to health problems.]

By the way, there are many studies showing that colon cancer is linked to diet and lifestyle. Best is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans, lentils). One especially eye-opening study compared the effects of an American high-fat, low fiber diet with a typical low-fat, high fiber diet of South Africa - and found dramatic changes in the colon (specifically in the colonic mucosa) from dietary changes in as little as 2 weeks. Their conclusion: Fiber feeds beneficial microbes in the gut, which results in beneficial changes in the gut (in the mucosa of the colon).

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Coffee associated with improved survival in metastatic colorectal cancer patients

In a large group of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, consumption of a few cups of coffee a day was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of the cancer worsening, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and other organizations report in a new study. ...continue reading "Drinking Coffee Appears To Be Beneficial For Those With Colon Cancer"

Several studies are now suggesting that low vitamin D levels are linked to increased risk of getting COVID-19. And if you get COVID-19, low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk of developing serious symptoms requiring admission to intensive care,  and also not surviving. These studies are observational and don't prove that vitamin D levels are the cause, but a number of studies from countries worldwide and several lines of research are suggesting the same thing.

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but if taking supplements - then take vitamin D3. Researchers, doctors, and medical organizations vary in their recommended dosages, but many (such as Mayo Clinic) suggest 1000 to 2000 IU per day. The minimum daily requirement is 600 IU.

Some studies also suggest that having adequate magnesium is needed for vitamin D to be metabolized well. Good food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), peanut butter, whole grains, beans, leafy vegetables, some fatty fish (halibut, salmon, mackerel), milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, legumes (beans), quinoa, tofu, and bananas. Daily magnesium requirements are 420 mg for men, 320 mg for women. Food is generally considered a better source than supplements.

However, some researchers point out that having a disease (e.g. diabetes) or chronic inflammation results in lowering of vitamin D levels (and not that low vitamin D levels causes disease). We need good double-blind studies (people randomly assigned to groups, and no one knows who is getting what) to understand if it really is vitamin D that's causing beneficial health effects.

Excerpts from Medscape: Low Vitamin D in COVID-19 Predicts ICU Admission, Poor Survival

Having low serum vitamin D levels was an independent risk factor for having symptomatic COVID-19 with respiratory distress requiring admission to intensive care — as opposed to having mild COVID-19 — and for not surviving, in a new study from Italy. ...continue reading "Vitamin D and COVID-19"

Looking for  a reason to stop smoking? How about brain bleeds? A recent study found that cigarette smoking is linked to death from the extremely serious bleeding stroke called subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH).

Researchers in Finland followed 16,282 twin pairs for over 40 years. They found that for both men and women smoking was strongly linked to death from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and was more important than any genetic factors (which had a "modest link" to only a few deaths). They also did not find a link with high blood pressure, or levels of physical activity.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is a type of stroke that results from bleeding in the space between the brain and the thin membrane that covers it (subarachnoid space). A SAH occurs in about 5 to 6% of all strokes. It is a medical emergency that frequently leads to death.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Smoking linked to bleeding in the brain in large, long-term study of twins

An investigation of the Finnish Twin Cohort reaffirmed a link between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a type of bleeding stroke that occurs under the membrane that covers the brain and is frequently fatal. The new study by researchers in Finland is published today in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.  ...continue reading "Smoking Linked To Hemorrhagic Stroke Deaths"

A recent study found that eating higher levels of foods with flavonoids (e.g. berries, apples, and tea) may lower the risk of later development of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related dementias.

Since currently there are no effective drugs that prevent or actual medical treatments for dementia, it is great that what a person eats (the dietary pattern) long-term may be protective. Something we can do to lower our risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias!

Tufts University researchers followed 2801 persons (50 years and older) for 20 years and found that those with the lowest intake of flavonoid rich foods (especially 3 flavonoid classes: flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavonoid polymers) had a 20 to 40% higher chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, when compared to those eating the most flavonoid rich foods. [Note: The lowest intake group averaged  about 1 1/2 apples, but no berries or tea per month.]

Flavonoids are naturally occurring bioactive pigments, of which there are 7 types, that are found in plant-based foods. Some good sources of different types of flavonoids include berries & red wine (anthocyanin rich), onions & apples, pears (flavonol rich), citrus fruits and juices, teas, dark chocolate, parsley, celery,and soy products.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables appears to be best for health benefits. There is no one super-food. Other studies also find that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables (thus flavonoid rich), may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Why are flavonoid containing foods protective, specifically "neuroprotective"? Studies suggest that they do the following: antioxidant effects, protect neurons from neurotoxins and combat neuroinflammation, and favorable changes in brain blood flow,

Excerpts from Science Daily: More berries, apples and tea may have protective benefits against Alzheimer's

Older adults who consumed small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea, were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias over 20 years compared with people whose intake was higher, according to a new study led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University.  ...continue reading "Eating More Fruits and Berries Lowers Risk of Dementia"

Word wildlife numbers are catastrophically plummeting - an average of 68% decline in almost 21,000 wildlife populations between 1970 and 2016 (46 years). Two thirds of all wildlife! This is the conclusion of the Living Planet Report 2020, a collaboration between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International and the Zoological Society of London.

Humans are to blame for the decline.

This catastrophic decline is largely due to environmental destruction (such as deforestation, agricultural expansion, and the illegal wildlife trade), habitat loss, and degradation. The report includes a Living Planet Index (LPI) - which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, as well as contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world.

The report goes on to say that the kinds of steep wildlife population decreases the Earth has seen in recent decades have not been seen for millions of years. It outlines steps that should be immediately taken to stop wildlife declines from progressing further and resulting in extinctions and destruction of ecosystems. One obvious step is stopping further habitat loss. But will this actually happen?

The United Nations warned this year: "Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity." WWF agrees: "... nature is unraveling and our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure."

From World wildlife plummets more than two-thirds in 50 years: index

Global animal, bird and fish populations have plummeted more than two-thirds in less than 50 years due to rampant over-consumption, experts said Thursday in a stark warning to save nature in order to save ourselves.  ...continue reading "We Are To Blame For the Loss of Two Thirds Of All Wildlife In the Last 50 Years"

It turns out that there is another serious source of air pollution in cities that is not usually mentioned - the emissions from roof and road asphalt, especially on hot and sunny days.

Yale University researchers found that asphalt emits a complex mixture of compounds, including hazardous pollutants. The emissions really increase as temperature increases, as well as exposure to solar radiation (sunlight).

The researchers estimate that urban areas are about 45%+ paved, and 20% are roofs. They stated that in a city such as Los Angeles, asphalt's potential to emit secondary organic aerosols is comparable to vehicles.

From Science Daily: Asphalt adds to air pollution, especially on hot, sunny days

Asphalt is a near-ubiquitous substance -- it's found in roads, on roofs and in driveways -- but its chemical emissions rarely figure into urban air quality management plans.  ...continue reading "Asphalt In City Streets and Roofs Emits Air Pollutants"

We use so much plastic that we are now surrounded by plastic. But eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. A few years ago researchers even found microplastics in the feces of people - meaning they ingested microplastics, which traveled through the intestines, and then eventually excreted.

But the big question remained - do some microplastics get absorbed into human tissues?

Two Arizona State University researchers looked into this and found small parts of plastics (plastic monomers) in the tissues of every single person examined. They analyzed 47 human tissue samples (using mass spectrometry) taken from deceased persons who had donated their bodies to science. All had plastic particles in the lungs and adipose (fat) tissue. For example, they found BPA (bisphenol A - an endocrine disruptor) in every single sample. Other examples of plastic particles found were polypropylene and polysterene.

Currently it is unknown if there are health consequences from plastic particles being absorbed into our tissues. However, wildlife and animal research has linked microplastic and nanoplastic exposure to infertility, inflammation, and cancer. Once plastic is absorbed by tissues, it will stay there - it will not biodegrade. Whether there are human health effects is a very important issue because more and more plastic is produced each year, which means exposure to more plastic particles over time, and accumulation in our bodies.

Note that microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in diameter (many can be seen by the human eye), while nanoplastics are even smaller with diameters of less than 0.050 millimeters (these can not be seen by the human eye).

Excerpts from an American Chemical Society press release about research presented to the American Chemical Society in August 2020: Micro- and nanoplastics detectable in human tissues

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2020 — Plastic pollution of land, water and air is a global problem. Even when plastic bags or water bottles break down to the point at which they are no longer an eyesore, tiny fragments can still contaminate the environment. Animals and humans can ingest the particles, with uncertain health consequences. Now, scientists report that they are among the first to examine micro- and nanoplastics in human organs and tissues.   ...continue reading "Plastic Particles Detected in Human Lungs and Other Tissues"

Pregnant women receive all sorts of advice on what to do or not do during pregnancy. For years medical guidelines in both the US and Europe have been that moderate (up to 200 mg) ingestion of caffeine during pregnancy is OK, which means about 2 cups of regular coffee a day.

However, a recent review of studies by Reykjavik University Professor Jack E. James found that ingesting caffeine during pregnancy is linked to health problems and that there is no safe level during pregnancy. In other words,  caffeine and caffeinated beverages should be avoided during pregnancy and when trying to conceive.

Health problems associated with caffeine intake during pregnancy are miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, childhood leukemia, and childhood overweight and obesity. Studies typically found a dose-response effect - the more caffeine is ingested, the more negative health effects.

Human studies looking at this issue are observational, but negative health effects are supported by animal research going back more than four decades. Caffeine crosses the placenta and goes to the baby. Negative health effects occur because the fetus can not clear the caffeine well because it lacks an enzyme that metabolizes caffeine.

Professor James points out that the industry established and funded the group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute) which successfully fought any FDA warnings about caffeine and pregnancy, and which attacked any research suggesting it could be harmful to pregnancy or the fetus. [Why am I not surprised about the success of the industry group? And that they published their own "research" showing caffeine was benign in response to scientific research showing negative health effects.]

Excerpts from Science Daily: No safe level of caffeine consumption for pregnant women and would-be mothers

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should be advised to avoid caffeine because the evidence suggests that maternal caffeine consumption is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes and that there is no safe level of consumption, finds an analysis of observational studies published in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.   ...continue reading "Avoid Consuming Caffeine During Pregnancy"

A recent study found that giving daily vitamin D supplements to children with severe asthma and low vitamin D levels did not prevent severe asthma attacks, reduce the time to an asthmatic attack, or enable the children to reduce the maintenance dose of an inhaled corticosteroid. Very disappointing!

As of 2018, it is estimated that 5.5 million children in the US have asthma, and that asthma led to more than 546,000 emergency department visits and 80,000 hospitalizations. So the researchers started the study hoping that vitamin D3 supplements could help with asthma attacks.

The well-done year long study recruited children (6 to 16 years old) from 7 US medical centers. They were assigned randomly to different groups (vitamin D or placebo), and with no one knowing who got vitamin D and who didn't. The children took 4000 IU/day of vitamin D3 or a placebo for 48 weeks, and all were maintained with a low-dose of inhaled corticosteroid (fluticasone propionate).

The findings contrast with earlier observational studies (basically a snap-shot of  groups of people) that found a link with severe asthma and lower vitamin D levels. Meanwhile, other well-done studies (women assigned randomly to different groups, etc) have found no protective effect from vitamin D3 supplementation during pregnancy - that is, it did not protect children up to the age of 6 from asthma.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Compared to placebo, vitamin D has no benefit for severe asthma attacks, study finds

Contrary to earlier results, vitamin D supplements do not prevent severe asthma attacks in at-risk children, according to the first placebo-controlled clinical trial to test this relationship.  ...continue reading "Children With Severe Asthma Not Helped By Vitamin D Supplements"