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Once again a study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, fish, and extra virgin olive oil is beneficial to the huge numbers of microbes living in our gut (the gut microbiome). This type of fiber-rich dietary pattern is generally called the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet is associated with health in a number of ways: lower frailty in elderly persons, lowered risk of death and a number of diseases, as well as lowered levels of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to cancers and a number of diseases - thus the goal is to keep inflammation levels down.

Researchers found that elderly persons eating a Mediterranean style diet for one year had beneficial effects on their gut microbes (after all, they were feeding the good gut microbes), which in turn resulted in less frailty, better cognitive function (including memory), and lower levels of chronic inflammation. There was an increase in beneficial microbes that are associated with health and lower levels of inflammation.

On the other hand, the group of persons eating their usual Western style diet (low in fiber, high in fats , meats, sugar, highly processed foods) did not show beneficial changes in their gut microbiome. They showed negative changes (deterioration) in the type of gut microbes,  and also higher levels of chronic inflammation. After all, they were feeding the microbes associated with poor health and inflammation.

What was interesting was that they looked at the gut microbial communities of 612 persons (aged 65-79 years) who lived in five different countries (Poland, Netherlands, UK, France and Italy) - both at the start (baseline) and after a year. At baseline they could see that country-specific patterns in dietary habits were also reflected in the microbiome profiles.

And after a year there were similar positive changes in the gut microbes in all of those eating a Mediterranean style diet, especially with an increase in "keystone species" - those that are especially important for gut health, but also linked to better health and better cognitive (mental) functioning.

Some of the beneficial bacteria that increased in the Mediterranean diet group: Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, along with Roseburia (R. hominis), Eubacterium (E. rectaleE. eligensE. xylanophilum), Bacteroides thetaiotaomicronPrevotella copri and Anaerostipes hadrus. A majority of these species are associated with health benefits [e.g. production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and lower risk of frailty] and with anti-inflammatory properties. They also are associated with a lower risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. 

In contrast, the control group that ate a normal Western diet (fats, processed foods, low in fiber, high in meat and sugar) had an increase in  Ruminococcus torquesCollinsella aerofaciensCoprococcus comesDorea formicigeneransClostridium ramosumVeillonella disparFlavonifractor plautii and Actinomyces lingnae. An increase in the abundances of R. torquesC. aerofaciensC. ramosum and V. dispar have been associated with type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer, atherosclerosis, cirrhosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

A key finding was that the findings suggest that eating a Mediterranean style diet "modulates the microbiome in a direction positively associated with health". In other words, the benefit of the diet was that it fed beneficial gut microbes that improved health.

Note that these beneficial microbes are NOT found in any supplements or probiotics. You must eat the fiber-rich whole foods!

From Medical Xpress: Mediterranean diet promotes gut bacteria linked to 'healthy ageing' in older people  ...continue reading "Feed Your Gut Microbes With A Mediterranean Diet"

Today a study was published finding health benefits to frequent (daily!) consumption of cocoa - improved walking in older persons with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Another reason to drink cocoa and eat dark chocolate!

The study, conducted in Chicago, Illinois, randomly assigned persons, over the age of 60 years with PAD, to different groups. Those who drank a cocoa beverage for 6 months (3 times a day) were able to walk further in a 6 minute walk at the 6 month follow-up  (when compared to the placebo/no cocoa group).

The researchers also found that the cocoa significantly improved a number of measures of the calf muscle (e.g. capillary density, calf muscle perfusion), which suggested that there is a durable benefit on the calf muscles from the cocoa beverage. In other words - it's not just a quick sugar-cocoa high that boosted their walking.

On the other hand, the placebo (no cocoa) group deteriorated in how far they could walk over the 6 months, which is consistent with peripheral artery disease. Yes, it typically gets worse over time.

PAD (also called peripheral arterial disease) is a common circulatory problem, due to atherosclerosis, in which there is reduced blood flow to the limbs due to narrowed arteries.Typically the legs don't receive enough blood flow and there is pain when walking (which goes away after resting a bit). Treatments include lifestyle changes (e.g. diet, exercise) and medicines.

What is so beneficial about cocoa? Both regular dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavanols, including epicatechin, which have therapeutic properties and may improve walking in people with PAD. Evidence from other studies of people with and without PAD suggests that cocoa may increase "limb perfusion" and "improve skeletal muscle mitochondrial activity and muscle regeneration".

Can you imagine a prescription for dark chocolate and cocoa on a daily basis? Fantastic! From Medical Xpress: Cocoa could bring sweet relief to walking pain for people with peripheral artery disease   ...continue reading "Enjoy Some Cocoa Or Dark Chocolate Daily"

Taller men have a lower rate of dementia? Apparently a number of studies have found a link between height of men and risk of dementia.

The latest is an interesting Danish study that measured the height of more than 666,000 young adult men (at the physical exam for the draft) and then looked at the rates of dementia decades later when they were between 55 to 77 years of age. They found that young men that were above average in height had about a 10% lower rate of dementia more than four decades later.

The researchers thought that the early adulthood height was an indicator of early life environment (such as nutrition and childhood diseases).

What were some of the height differences? "Above average in height" was being at least 1 standard deviation above average height. For example, the researchers found that Danish men born in 1959 who had a mean (average) height of 185.6 cm (73.07") had a 10% lower rate of dementia than men of average height (179.1 cm or 70.5").

From Medical Xpress: Study suggests taller young men may have lower dementia risk

Men who are taller in young adulthood, as an indicator of early-life circumstances, may have a lower risk of dementia in old age, suggests a study published today in eLife.   ...continue reading "Tall Men Have A Lower Rate Of Dementia?"

Are you exercising frequently? No? Perhaps you need a good motivating reason. Recent study results provide a good reason (brain health!) for all of us to exercise or do some form of of moderate physical activity for at least 2 1/2 hours per week.

A study conducted in Germany found evidence of an association between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain health, particularly in gray matter volume and total brain volume. The researchers found that higher cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with larger brain volumes in several brain regions that are involved with cognitive functioning.

The study found that exercise (which improves cardiorespiratory fitness) was especially beneficial for older adults. This is because there is some shrinkage of brain volume in normal aging, as well as in some diseases - thus want to prevent brain volume shrinkage as much as possible.

For example, one of the areas of the brain that that had greater volume with cardiorespiratory fitness was the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a central role in memory-related functions and in stress regulation. This is an important finding because shrinking of the hippocampus (atrophy) is associated with several diseases and disorders, such as Alzheimer disease, depression, and schizophrenia.

What exactly is cardiorespiratory fitness? Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen during physical activity. It is a big part of physical fitness and can be improved through regular physical activity, such as exercise. Higher cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with lower risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and so also benefit the brain. After all, we all want to prevent brain volume shrinkage (and cognitive decline) if at all possible. By the way, other studies also find beneficial brain effects from regular physical activity and exercise, even light physical activity.

...continue reading "Physical Activity Is Beneficial For The Brain"

Exercise appears to protect against some cancers. Yes, something so simple as merely getting the recommended amount of 2 1/2 hours per week of exercise (e.g. brisk walks) really lowers the risk of 7 cancers: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The researchers analyzed 9 studies for a total of 755,459 individuals (median age 62 years, 53% females) who were followed for 10.1 years, and found that 50,620 cancers developed. They specifically looked at 15 cancers and found that exercise lowered the risk of 7 cancers. Some, but not all, were lowered in a dose response manner, that is, the more exercise, the bigger the protective effect (e.g. breast, colon, endometrial cancer). How much the cancer risk was lowered with exercise varied by types of cancer: colon (8%-14% lower risk in men), breast (6%-10% lower risk), endometrial (10%-18% lower risk), kidney (11%-17% lower risk), myeloma (14%-19% lower risk), liver (18%-27% lower risk), and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (11%-18% lower risk in women).

How much exercise was needed for a cancer protective effect? About 2 1/2 to 5 hours per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking. The study looked at "leisure-time" exercise, which can include exercise, sports or any recreational activity which is typically "moderate to vigorous intensity".

The Physical Activity Guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Brisk walking is moderate intensity physical activity. Bottom line: get out and move, move, move!

From Medical Xpress: Report links recommended physical activity levels to lower risk of seven cancers   ...continue reading "Exercise May Lower The Risk Of Some Cancers"

Once again a study finds an association between a Western diet (lots of processed meat, red meat, fried food, desserts, low fiber, high in refined grains, sugar sweetened beverages, and high-fat dairy) and a poor health outcome - this time a significantly higher incidence of late-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Interestingly though, a Western dietary pattern did not seem to be associated with whether a person developed early AMD - only with whether it would progress to late-stage AMD. And late-stage AMD is the one that results in loss of central vision (in the retina), which means a person will then be unable to drive.

This study followed 1278 people over an 18 year period. Those who ate a Western style diet (considered unhealthy) had a 3 times higher rate of late-stage AMD as compared to those who had a "prudent" (healthy) dietary pattern. Out of 1278 persons - 117 developed early AMD and 27 developed late AMD (20 of them progressed from no AMD to late AMD over the 18 years, and 7 progressed from early AMD to late AMD).

What kinds of foods seemed especially protective? The researchers said that eating the following  foods appeared protective: cruciferous (e.g. broccoli), foods high in carotene (e.g. carrots), dark green leafy and other vegetables, poultry, fresh fruits, legumes, fish and sea foods - what they called part of a "prudent" diet, but can also be thought of as a Mediterranean dietary pattern.

One thing I question is whether "high fat dairy" (which they said was margarine & butter) should have lumped together margarine and butter. After all, margarine is a concoction made with trans fats and linked to health problems, while butter (made from milk/cream) is very different.

From Science Daily: Poor diet linked to age-related macular degeneration  ...continue reading "A Person’s Diet And Age-Related Macular Degeneration"

Several recent studies have highlighted the negative effects of air pollution on the brain, specifically from the tiniest particles in polluted air (called PM 2.5). These tiny particles get to the human brain and cause all sorts of damage. Even at levels within government guidelines.

Two studies found that with higher chronic (daily) exposure to PM2.5 air pollution there were structural changes to the brain. Which is negative to brain health, of course.

With chronic exposure to higher levels of  PM2.5 air pollution: one study found greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer's-like brain atrophy in older women in the USA; and the second study found that higher prenatal exposure was associated with a smaller corpus callosum (a part of the brain) later in childhood. Thus structural changes in the brain!

The tiniest particles are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about 1/30th the width of human hair - and referred to as PM2.5. These fine particles are produced by all sorts of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, agricultural burning, some industrial processes, and forest fires. Typically there is much more exposure to PM2.5 in busy urban streets, and less in quiet suburban streets.

Researchers in Barcelona, Spain found that long-term higher prenatal exposure to PM2.5 particulate matter, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy, is associated with a smaller corpus callosum in children between the ages of 8 and 12 years. This is an important finding because a smaller (reduced volume) corpus callosum is found in ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and hyperactivity. So here we see a structural change in the brain from air pollution at PM2.5 levels that are considered acceptable (within guidelines) by the European Union!

A report called The State of Global Air/2018 stated that studies show that long-term exposure to PM2.5  particles in the air "is the most consistent and robust predictor" of death from heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, and respiratory illnesses. And then there are nitrogen oxides and ozone, which are also linked to death. There are also nanoparticles (e.g., from friction of tires being used) that penetrate deep into the human body.

A 2018 The Guardian article called air pollution "the new tobacco". And that it's time to tackle this epidemic. Yup. Unfortunately, current air pollution standards are being relaxed in all sorts of ways under the current U.S. administration. Beware!

First study. Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Exposure to PM 2.5 pollution linked to brain atrophy, memory decline  ...continue reading "Air Pollution and the Brain, Part 1"

Walking is important for health, but walking speed is also important. It turns out that slow walking speed or gait (particularly when trying to walk as fast as possible) is a problem sign already in mid-life (the 40s). Researchers found that slow walking speed is a sign of "accelerated aging",  and that slow walkers exhibited such signs as reduced brain volume, cortical thinning, and reduced brain surface area.

The Duke University researchers found that a slow walking speed at midlife was associated with poorer mental functioning, and that there was an average difference of 16 IQ points between the slowest and fastest walkers. The researchers point out that this matches other studies showing that there is an association of slow walking speed of older adults and cognitive impairment and risk of dementia. The researchers viewed midlife gait speed as a summary of life-long aging, and felt that some differences were apparent already at the age of three. [This was a 5 decade long study in New Zealand of 904 persons.]

From Medical Xpress: Slower walkers have older brains and bodies at 45

The walking speed of 45-year-olds, particularly their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies ...continue reading "Are You A Slow Or Fast Walker?"

A recently published study found that a strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of dementia. The study of 325 Roman Catholic nuns (75 years or older) in the United States found some differences in the 109 women (33.5%) who developed dementia later in life compared to those who didn't. They found that more years of education was protective. Those speaking 2 or more languages were less likely to develop dementia than women only speaking one language (35% developed dementia) with 4 or more languages the most protective (only 6% of these women developed dementia). However, speaking 2 or more languages did not significantly affect the age at onset of dementia.

But the strongest predictor of later developing dementia was written linguistic ability, especially "idea density". Idea density was viewed as the average number of ideas expressed per 10 written words.180 of the women provided autobiographical essays that they had written decades earlier (in early adulthood) and the researchers looked at the essays for idea density and grammatical complexity. The researchers suggested that written linguistic ability was a measure of "cognitive function" or brain health.

From Science Daily: What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia  ...continue reading "Does Speaking Several Languages Lower the Risk of Dementia?"

This actually may seem obvious to many: that older people cope better in terms of loneliness and depression after a spouse's death or divorce if they have at least 1 pet cat or dog (versus no pets), but it's good to read that an actual study supported this. Other studies support that in general, a companion animal is beneficial for psychological health

The researchers called the pet a "companion animal" and wrote: "In later life, companion animal ownership may buffer against the detrimental consequences of major social losses on psychological health." In the study, depression is measured by  the "depressive symptoms" a person has.

From Medical Xpress: The pet effect: Researchers find furry friends ease depression, loneliness after spousal loss  ...continue reading "Pets Can Help With Loneliness and Depression Following Loss of a Spouse"