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How many times have you heard to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes (beans), and seeds? Study after study finds that eating a diet rich in these foods is linked to all sorts of health benefits. A big reason is that they have lots of fiber - which feeds beneficial microbes in our gut. A recently published review of studies in the prestigious journal Lancet examined studies done over the past 40 years and found numerous health benefits.

The researchers found that people consuming high levels of dietary fiber and whole grains have a lower risk of death from heart disease (cardiovascular mortality) and death from any cause. They also have a lower incidence of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer (as compared to those eating less fiber). There was a dose-response effect - in other words, the more fiber eaten daily, the lower the incidence of these diseases and deaths. They also found that a high fiber diet is also linked to lower cholesterol levels, lower weight, and lower blood pressure.

This study viewed 25 to 29 grams per day as a high fiber diet, but said the findings suggest that higher levels of fiber would be even more protective. Which means put down that delicious white bread and sugary cereal and start eating whole grain foods! Nowadays the average person eats less than 20 grams of fiber per day, but guidelines say to eat at least 30 grams per day. The researchers pointed out that getting fiber from real food is best.

From Science Daily: High intake of dietary fiber and whole grains associated with reduced risk of non-communicable diseases

People who eat higher levels of dietary fiber and whole grains have lower rates of non-communicable diseases compared with people who eat lesser amounts, while links for low glycaemic load and low glycaemic index diets are less clear. Observational studies and clinical trials conducted over nearly 40 years reveal the health benefits of eating at least 25g to 29g or more of dietary fiber a day, according to a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses published in The Lancet.  ...continue reading "Eating Lots of Fiber Has Health Benefits"

Another study finding more benefits of exercise was recently published in the journal Neurology. The study by researchers at Duke University found that in older adults who were already experiencing  cognitive (thinking) problems, but did not have dementia - that after just 6 months of exercise they showed improvements in thinking. What were their original thinking problems? The individuals had difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering, but it was not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. However, these persons were considered at risk for progressing to dementia.

The 160 individuals in the study were 55 years or older (mean age 65), mainly women, evenly divided between whites and minorities, were sedentary (didn't exercise), and had heart (cardiovascular) disease or were at risk for heart disease. They were randomly assigned to one of 4 groups: 1) aerobic exercise (with no dietary changes), 2) DASH diet (with no exercise), 3) DASH diet plus exercise, and 4) the control group, who had no dietary or exercise changes - they just received some educational phone calls. The study lasted 6 months, and there were no drop outs.

In the study, the aerobic exercises were done 3 times per week: 10 minutes of warm up exercises followed by 35 minutes of continuous walking or stationary cycling. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet is a heart healthy diet that emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It stresses lowering the intake of salt (sodium), sweets, sugar sweetened beverages, and fatty foods (both trans fats and saturated fats). [Note that in many ways it's similar to the Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and lowering intake of meat. Studies find cognitive benefits from the Mediterranean diet.]

The six months of exercising improved thinking skills called executive function - in both the exercise alone or exercise + DASH diet group. The largest improvements were in the exercise + DASH diet group (as compared to the control group, which actually showed decline in functioning). Executive function is a person's ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals, and was measured in this study with a group of cognitive tests (a "standard battery of neurocognitive tests"). These executive function improvements did not occur in the DASH diet alone group or the control group. The study found no improvement in memory or language fluency in any of the groups. The exercise alone, DASH diet alone, and the combined exercise and DASH group had other health benefits by the end of the study, for example they lowered their risk factors for heart disease. Other improvements: the exercise groups had improvements in insulin levels, and the DASH groups decreased their intake of blood pressure medicines.

To illustrate how amazing these results are: at the start of the study (baseline) all participants scored as if they were in their early 90s on cognitive tests - as if they were on average about 28 years older than their actual chronological age! Then at the end of 6 months, the persons in the exercise + DASH diet showed an improvement of almost 9 years on the tests. In contrast, the control group showed an approximately 6 month worsening performance. When researchers looked at physical markers of the exercisers, they found that physical improvements and improvements in heart disease risk factors (e.g. losing weight, lowering blood pressure) were correlated with executive functioning improvements.

Other studies have found related findings, such as higher physical activity and a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower levels of dementia. The researchers point out that there is growing evidence that combining several lifestyle factors (e.g., exercise, not smoking, a healthy diet, lowering salt intake) and not just exercise alone, has the best results for better cognitive functioning among older adults. Bottom line: eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and get exercise. Walking briskly, gardening, housework, walking up stairs - it all counts.  ...continue reading "Can Exercise and Dietary Changes Help Older Adults With Thinking Problems?"

Once again, a study found health benefits from exercise. This time a large review of studies found that the blood pressure lowering effect of exercise for persons with high blood pressure (hypertension) appears to be similar to that of commonly used blood-pressure (antihypertensive) medications. The study was designed to compare the effect of exercise and medications on systolic blood pressure (greater than 140 mmHg). Unfortunately no study directly compared the two, but the researchers were able to draw conclusions from 391 studies that had used randomly controlled trials (people assigned randomly to different conditions).

The American and UK researchers found that all programs of exercise and all blood pressure medications lowered blood pressure. They did find greater reductions in blood pressure in taking blood pressure lowering medications vs just exercise ("structured exercise regimens"), but pointed out that when studies just focused on people with high blood pressure (instead of everyone), then the results looked more impressive. Meaning the higher the blood pressure, the more effective the exercise.

Other findings: They did not observe a dose-response relationship between exercise intensity and blood pressure reduction. They found that even low-intensity exercise may be effective in reducing blood pressure. The researchers stressed the need for studies that directly compare  exercise programs to blood pressure medications, but point out that pharmaceutical companies are the ones doing the vast majority of studies and they don't have any incentive to do such a study (it could mean the loss of profits from medicines!). Many of the studies compared blood pressure medicines + exercise vs just blood pressure medicines. Thus the researchers said the topic of exercise and blood pressure is currently under studied.

Bottom line: get out and move, move, move for your health! All activity and movement is better than none. Yes, it's easier to just take daily pills, but all medications have side-effects and cost money. Exercise is free and the health benefits are many. Some health benefits of exercise from other studies: lowers blood pressure, lower risk of heart (cardiovascular) disease, lower the waist circumference (get rid of belly rolls!), and lowers triglyceride levels (in the blood).

From Science Daily: Exercise may be as effective as prescribed drugs to lower high blood pressure

Exercise may be as effective as prescribed drugs to lower high (140 mm Hg) blood pressure, suggests a pooled analysis of the available data, in what is thought to be the first study of its kind, and published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.   ...continue reading "Can Exercise Be As Effective As Blood Pressure Medications In Lowering Blood Pressure?"

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"

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?"

Many people have chronic low-grade inflammation, which is associated with a number of chronic diseases, and increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Thus there is a lot of interest in things a person could do to lower the inflammation. A number of studies have found a person's general diet may influence chronic low-grade inflammation - either increase it or decrease it, as well as whether they smoke or not. A recent large Swedish study found that persons who ate an anti-inflammatory diet for at least 16 years had a lower risk of dying early from any cause (all cause mortality), as well as dying from cancer, or dying from heart (cardiovascular) disease.

In the study an anti-inflammatory diet was a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, coffee, tea, red wine (low to moderate levels), beer (low to moderate levels), chocolate, nuts, olive and canola oils. These foods are both anti-inflammatory and also rich in anti-oxidants. Pro-inflammatory foods were: red meat, processed red meat, offal, chips, soft drinks. In other studies a pro-inflammatory diet was also one with lots of processed foods, low fiber, and refined grains. From Science Daily:

Anti-inflammatory diet linked to reduced risk of early death

Adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet was associated with lower risks of dying from any cause, dying from cardiovascular causes, and dying from cancer in a recent Journal of Internal Medicine study. ...continue reading "Diet, Inflammation, and Health"

Once again, recent studies found that eating real food (fish) is associated with health benefits, but taking a supplement (omega-3) isn't. Similar findings about fish versus omega-3 fatty acid supplements have also been found in other studies. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and many other nutrients - more than are found in supplements.

The first study is a Cochrane review of studies already done. The review provides good evidence that taking long-chain omega 3 (fish oil, EPA or DHA) supplements does not benefit heart health or reduce risk of stroke or death from any cause. In other words, people take the supplements believing it helps heart (cardiovascular) health - but the evidence isn't there.

On the other hand, a large study of people living throughout the US and followed for 16 years found an association with higher fish consumption and lower risk of early death, and death from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, in men - those eating the most fish (as compared to those eating the least) had a lower risk of death from cancer, respiratory disease, and liver disease, and in women - lower risk of death from Alzheimer's disease. However, eating fried fish didn't have those health benefits. The group eating the most fish had 8 oz or more fish per week, while the group having the least had less than 2 oz. per week.

From Science Daily:  Omega 3 supplements have little or no heart or vascular health benefit

New evidence published today shows there is little or no effect of omega 3 supplements on our risk of experiencing heart disease, stroke or death.  ...continue reading "Health Benefits Linked to Eating Fish, Not Supplements"

Full fat dairy products better (healthier) than low-fat or non-fat dairy products? A number of studies have recently suggested this (herehere), and now another one. A large study (from Univ. of Texas, Houston School of Public Health) actually measured different kinds of fatty acids in almost 3000 adults over 65 years of age during a 22 year period. The researchers found no link with whole fat dairy and death (from any cause), coronary heart disease, and stroke. In fact, one type of fatty acid (heptadecanoic acid) found in dairy fat was associated with lower death rate from heart disease, especially death from strokes.

Just note that US nutritional guidelines are still sticking to encouraging low-fat or non-fat dairy foods. Eh... From Science Daily:

New research could banish guilty feeling for consuming whole dairy products

Enjoying full-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and butter is unlikely to send people to an early grave, according to new research by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The study, published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no significant link between dairy fats and cause of death or, more specifically, heart disease and stroke -- two of the country's biggest killers often associated with a diet high in saturated fat. In fact, certain types of dairy fat may help guard against having a severe stroke, the researchers reported. 

...continue reading "Is Full Fat Dairy Healthier Than Low Fat or Non-fat Dairy?"

Two more studies find that drinking coffee is associated with health benefits, which is good news for coffee drinkers. The first study found an association of daily coffee drinking (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) and lower risk of premature mortality (early death) among half a million United Kingdom residents - as compared to those who don't drink coffee. Studies finding an association with daily coffee consumption and health benefits (e.g. lower risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and death from heart disease and stroke) are really adding up. The studies generally find the positive health effects to be dose dependent, usually up to about 4 cups of coffee.

The second study found that in mice, an amount of caffeine equivalent to four cups of coffee was beneficial to mitochondria, improved mitochondria-dependent processes, and protected heart cells from damage. The researchers thought that the same process occurs in humans. What are mitochondria?Mitochondria are the “powerhouses of the cell”. Mitochondria are organelles found in the cells of every complex organism. They produce about 90% of the chemical energy that cells need to survive.

From Medical Xpress: Fresh grounds for coffee: Study shows it may boost longevity

Go ahead and have that cup of coffee, maybe even several more. New research shows it may boost chances for a longer life, even for those who down at least eight cups daily. In a study of nearly half-a-million British adults, coffee drinkers had a slightly lower risk of death over 10 years than abstainers ...continue reading "More Good News About Coffee"

Walk, walk, walk for health - and the faster, the better. The message from a  large study (in Britain and Scotland) is that walking is associated with healthier, longer lives - but if you walk at a fast pace (brisk walking), the effects are even better. Walking at an average or brisk pace reduced death (from any cause) by 20% to 24% - as compared to those walking slowly. Heart disease deaths were reduced by  21% to 24% at an average or brisk pace - when compared to those walking at a slow pace.

Bottom line: average walking pace is good, but getting your heart rate up (and getting a little sweaty) while walking briskly is better. By the wayr, the researchers did not find any effect of walking speed on cancer deaths.  ...continue reading "Walking At a Brisk Pace Is Best For Health"