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Blueberries. Credit: Wikipedia

We have known for a while that frequently eating berries has health benefits. A recent study found that overweight middle-aged persons eating blueberries daily for 12 weeks resulted in both metabolic and memory improvements.

The researchers stated that the results suggest that frequently eating blueberries could be protective against cognitive decline and lower the risk of dementia later on in life.

The study involved thirty-three overweight prediabetic middle-aged adults who already felt that their memory was not as good as in years past. They were randomly assigned to either the blueberry (whole freeze-dried blueberry powder) group or the placebo group (a similar looking powder that did not contain blueberries). The blueberry powder was equivalent to 1/2 cup whole blueberries and was eaten once a day for 12 weeks. The benefits of blueberries are thought to be from micronutrients and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants.

By the way, all berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, etc.) are slightly different in micronutrients and are viewed as beneficial to health and lowering the risk of chronic diseases, including the risk of dementia. As are colorful fruits and vegetables. Don't focus on just one type of berry - eat them all!

From Medical Xpress: Regular blueberry consumption may reduce risk of dementia, study finds

Researchers led by UC's Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., found that adding blueberries to the daily diets of certain middle-aged populations may lower the chances of developing late-life dementia. ...continue reading "Eating Blueberries Has Health Benefits"

For years people have searched for ways to prevent cancer, which occurs significantly more with age. A recent study conducted in 5 European countries offers hope that some simple steps could reduce the incidence of invasive cancer up to 61 % in older adults (over 70 years of age).

The 3 year long study tested individual and combinations of vitamin D3, marine omega-3, and a simple home strength exercise program and found that the combination of all 3 (vitamin D3 + marine omega-3 supplements + exercise) reduced the incidence of invasive cancer by 61 percent. In other words, it prevented cancer.

What they took: Persons in the double-blind (no one knew who was in what group) study were randomly assigned to one of 8 groups with the intervention alone or combined: daily supplements of 2000 IU of vitamin D3, and/or daily 1 g of marine omega-3s, and/or a simple home strength exercise program compared to a placebo/control group. NOTE: The marine omega-3s supplements used were algae-based (EPA + DHA ratio: 1:2), and not fish oil.

Even though there were over 2000 participants in the study, the numbers were too low to see if there were effects on certain types of cancers. Can only say there was a reduction in invasive cancers when all 3 interventions were combined. Looking at the study report, it is unclear how frequently and how many of the home-strengthening exercises were done each week.

Other studies: As the researchers note - other studies have had mixed results on vitamin D3 and omega-3 supplements, which are typically fish oil. A major review in 2020 of 27 studies using fish oil supplements (for a total of 113,557 participants) found little or no benefit regarding cancer or cancer death, and a 2021 review of 5 studies found increased risk of atrial fibrillation. So once again, we'll see... Three years (the length of this study) is a short time regarding cancer.

Bottom line: While vitamin D3 and fish oil supplements are being debated over their health effects, all studies find health benefits from exercise and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, some fish, and olive oil. Also, vitamin D3 is superior to vitamin D2, and that taking it daily is better than a mega-dose occasionally (e.g., once a month). Getting some sunlight (vitamin D) is also recommended.

From Medical Xpress: A combination of three simple treatments may reduce invasive cancer risk by 61% among adults aged 70+

A new study published in Frontiers in Aging found that a combination of high-dose vitamin D, omega-3s, and a simple home strength exercise program (SHEP) showed a cumulative reduction by 61% in cancer risk in healthy adults aged 70 or older.  ...continue reading "Study Suggests Simple Steps To Reduce Cancer Risk In Older Adults"

The studies are coming fast and furious about how all daily physical activity has health benefits. Ordinary daily activities that cause a person to move, such as housework, vacuuming, washing dishes, gardening, walking, cooking, even showering - all count. (On the other hand, reading and computer use do not.)

A recent study by University of California researchers found a higher rate of heart disease, stroke, and death in older women who have less than 2 hours each day of "daily life movement" (daily physical activities) compared to those who have more than 4 hours per day. At the start of the study 5416 women (63 years or older, and without heart disease) wore an accelerometer to measure their daily movements for 1 week, and then their health was followed for more than 6 years.

The researchers found that higher amounts of daily life movement or "being up and about" were associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular death in older women. In other words - all movement (and not just exercise) counts towards cardiovascular disease prevention.

From Science Daily: Daily activities like washing dishes reduced heart disease risk in senior women

Seniors take note, running or brisk walking is not the only way to reduce the risk of heart disease. Simply being "up and about" performing routine activities, referred to as daily life movement, including housework, gardening, cooking and self-care activities like showering can significantly benefit cardiovascular health. ...continue reading "Ordinary Daily Activities Can Have Health Benefits"

Many people think that only exercises done in a gym, in exercise classes, or with exercise equipment can improve health. But no! Any physical activity is good, which means ordinary walks and household tasks or housework are beneficial. And the more frequently you do them, the more beneficial.

Studies show that physical activity from housework tasks (e.g., vacuuming) are associated with improved cognition, increased brain volume, and executive functioning of the brain in older adults, and with less frailty. Higher levels of physical activity are linked to a reduction in early death and heart diseases. Heavy household tasks (e.g. vacuuming, window cleaning, scrubbing, painting) have more benefits than light household tasks (e.g., dusting, ironing, doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking).

I know, I know - no one wants to get up and do such household tasks as vacuuming, but think of it as exercise class replacement.

A commentary (and video) by Dr. Stephan Martin discussing studies showing housework improving health and fitness. From Medscape: Housework Can Increase Brain Volume and Physical Fitness

Physical activity is a panacea: it protects against cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction and stroke. Very active people are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, and the prevalence of dementia is apparently lower for them.  ...continue reading "Physical Activity of Housework Has Health Benefits"

Several recent articles on Medscape (a site for medical professionals) highlight the debate over vitamin D. The question: Does daily vitamin D supplementation have positive health benefits or not? Everyone agrees that if there is an actual deficiency, then it has positive health effects. But how about the average person with levels above the deficiency level?

Numerous observational studies find that low levels of vitamin D are associated with all sorts of health problems (e.g., cancer, heart disease), but randomly controlled trials (RCT) where people are randomly assigned to different groups with no one knowing what they are getting - just aren't finding health benefits. The strongest evidence so far has been for vitamin D supplementation resulting in lower incidence of upper respiratory illnesses.

What is going on? Some suggest that low vitamin D levels are a marker for ill health (the illness reduces the vitamin D levels), and that vitamin D levels go down when there is chronic inflammation. It could also be a proxy for sun exposure (the more sunlight, the higher the vitamin D levels). Note that sunlight may have additional benefits compared to just vitamin D supplementation (e.g, blue light is immune boosting).

John M. Mandrola, MD writes for Medscape, and his articles tend to be thought-provoking. Some excerpts of a Commentary by Dr. John Mandrola from Medscape: Why Is Vitamin D Hype So Impervious to Evidence?

The vitamin D story exudes teaching points: it offers a master class in critical appraisal, connecting the concepts of biologic plausibility, flawed surrogate markers, confounded observational studies, and slews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) showing no benefits on health outcomes.

Yet despite the utter lack of benefit seen in trials, the hype continues....

My questions are simple: Why doesn't the evidence persuade people? How many nonsignificant trials do we need before researchers stop studying vitamin D, doctors stop (routinely) measuring levels, and patients stop wasting money on the unhelpful supplement? What are the implications for this lack of persuasion?  ...continue reading "Some Large Studies Find No Benefit From Vitamin D Supplements"

Prunes

A study has given further support to the view that eating prunes (dried plums) has health benefits. Penn State University researchers reviewed studies and found that eating prunes may help protect against bone loss in postmenopausal women, as well as having anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects. All good!

A good amount to eat (according to the studies reviewed) is about 100 grams or 10 prunes (dried plums) each day.

But... don't just focus on eating prunes (dried plums) as a healthy food. Eating several servings of a variety of fruits every day (whether fresh, frozen, or dried) has numerous health  benefits and should be part of your regular diet. Fruit is anti-inflammatory, great for the gut microbes, high in fiber, and contains minerals and nutrients. Enjoy!

From Science Daily: Eating prunes may help protect against bone loss in older women

It's already well known that prunes are good for your gut, but new Penn State research suggests they may be good for bone health, too. ...continue reading "Adding Prunes to the Diet Has Health Benefits"

Eye. Credit: Wikipedia

Eating a handful of dried goji berries appears to have health benefits for the eyes - they may prevent or slow down age related macular degeneration (AMD). Goji berries contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids are essential components for eye health, and are associated with a reduced risk of cataract development and AMD.

University of California researchers found that 14 healthy middle-aged adults  eating a handful (28 grams or 1 ounce) of dried goji berries 5 days a week for 90 days increased the density of protective pigments in their eyes (macular pigment optical density or MPOD). This is an optical biomarker for AMD. Their skin carotene scores also increased.

However, the 13 persons taking lutein and zeaxanthin in the form of dietary supplements (6 mg lutein and 4 mg zeaxanthin) did not have these beneficial changes in the eye. Their skin carotene scores also did not increase. These results are similar to many studies finding the same thing - eating actual foods has many health benefits, but not dietary supplements.

Dried goji berries. Wikipedia

Bottom line: Eat more servings of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin.

Foods with high levels of both lutein and zeaxanthin include: dried goji berries, parsley, spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, corn, basil, leeks, egg yolks, pistachios, peas, broccoli. Slightly lower levels are in: lettuce, green and red peppers, carrots, kiwi, grapes, squash, pumpkin, corn tortillas, corn chips, Einkorn wheat, and durum wheat.

Most fruits (tangerines, raspberries, papayas, peaches, oranges, cherries, blueberries) also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, but in smaller amounts.

From Science Daily: Dried goji berries may provide protection against age-related vision loss

Regularly eating a small serving of dried goji berries may help prevent or delay the development of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, in healthy middle-aged people, according to a small, randomized trial conducted at the University of California, Davis.  ...continue reading "Goji Berries Benefit Eye Health"

Once again research finds health benefits from consumption of olive oil. A recent large study found that consuming more than 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil per day lowered the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, neurogenerative disease, and respiratory disease.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers also found that increasing intake of olive oil in the diet (replacing margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with 2 1/4 teaspoons or 3/4 tablespoons olive oil) lowers risk of early death in general. The study participants were followed for 28 years, and diet was assessed every 4 years.

Earlier studies found that the best kind of olive oil to consume is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Extra virgin olive oil is considered anti-inflammatory, and contains oleocanthal, which has anticancer effects. Health benefits are both if eaten as is (e.g., dunk bread, in salad dressings) or cooked (e.g. roast vegetables, in sauces, cooking foods) - and this result was also found in this recent study.

From Science Daily: Higher olive oil intake associated with lower risk of CVD mortality

Consuming more than 7 grams (>1/2 tablespoon) of olive oil per day is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, neurodegenerative disease mortality and respiratory disease mortality, according to a study publishing today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study found that replacing about 10 grams/day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil is associated with lower risk of mortality as well.  ...continue reading "Olive Oil Lowers the Risk of Death From Several Diseases"

As we get older, we may notice that we're forgetting things, or we're having trouble remembering names, or... And we wonder if we're starting to "lose our mind" and developing dementia.

A recent study has good news - even in persons labeled as having Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), 2 1/2 years later about half had improved and no longer fit the criteria of mild cognitive impairment. Back to normal! (Other studies have similar results.)

The big question is why do so many improve, and why do others get worse?

This study conducted by Columbia University researchers was part of a long-term study looking at aging in older adults living in New York City (thus the study was "community based"). All 2903 participants (white, black, and Hispanic) did not have Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia at the start of the study (the baseline), were followed for 6 years, and evaluated (including physical and neurological tests) every 18 to 24 months.

After an average 2.4 years follow-up after MCI diagnosis: 12.9% of individuals progressed to dementia, 9.6% declined in functioning (but did not meet the criteria for dementia), 29.6% continued to meet MCI criteria, and 47.9% no longer met MCI criteria. This last group was now "cognitively normal". (!!)

The  researchers found that the presence of the APOE4 gene (which increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease) and having more medical problems ("medical burden") increased the risk of MCI. On the other hand, more years of education, more leisure activities (e.g., reading, socializing, taking walks), and higher income decreased the risk of developing MCI. But MCI across several domains, being a carrier of the APOE4 gene, depressive symptoms, and antidepressant use increased the risk of progression to dementia

Bottom line: Older adults should try to be active, get exercise (walking counts!), have a healthy lifestyle, socialize, and be busy - it's good for mental health. Studies also find participation in arts, crafts, and using computers all lower the risk of older adults developing MCI.

From Medical Xpress: 'Mild cognitive impairment' in older age often disappears, study finds

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) might worry an older adult, who could see it as a stepping stone to dementia. But a new study suggests one does not necessarily lead to the other.  ...continue reading "Mild Cognitive Impairment In Older Adults Can Improve"

All of us want to age well, with as little physical and mental decline as possible. Multivitamins may help. A recent study found that in older adults (over 65 years) taking an ordinary multivitamin daily for at least 3 years is associated with a 60% slowing of cognitive decline. That's huge!

Unfortunately, in this study ingesting cocoa flavanols did not have any beneficial effect. The multivitamins appeared to be most beneficial for persons with heart disease.

What made this study noteworthy were the large number of participants, that there were different groups, and that there was also a control group who got a placebo (in other words - a fake pill). It was an observational study, therefore can't definitely say cause and effect, but still... those are nice results.

From Medscape: Multivitamins, but Not Cocoa, Tied to Slowed Brain Aging

Taking a daily multivitamin for 3 years is associated with a 60% slowing of cognitive aging, with the effects especially pronounced in patients with cardiovascular (CVD) disease, new research suggests. ...continue reading "A Daily Multivitamin Linked to Slower Brain Aging In Older Adults"