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Over the course of the last two decades there have been changes in the American diet. A recent study found that Americans now eat more ultra-processed foods than ever (53.5% of calories), and have decreased their consumption of minimally processed foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat). This is not good for health.

Consumption of ultra-processed foods is linked to obesity and some chronic diseases. It is also not good for the gut microbiome (the community of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in the intestines). Ultra-processed foods include sugary breakfast cereals, sweets, frozen pizza, soda, fast food, salty snacks, canned soup. They can contain preservatives, additives, artificial ingredients, and emulsifiers (which are linked to gut inflammation).

The study by New York University researchers found that ultra-processed food consumption grew from 53.5 percent of calories in the beginning of the period studied (2001-2002) to 57 percent at the end (2017-2018). They found that ready-to-eat or just heat meals (e.g., frozen dinners) increased the most, while the intake of some sugary foods and drinks (e.g. soda) declined.

Most of the decrease in minimally processed whole foods (from 32.7 percent to 27.4 percent of calories in two decades) was mostly due to people eating less meat and dairy. And who increased their intake of ultra-processed foods the most during this time? Older adults (age 60 and over), who also decreased their intake of whole foods the most over 2 decades.

Bottom line: try to increase your intake of real whole foods, and decrease your intake of ultra-processed foods. This would benefit your gut microbiome (feed the good gut microbes with whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts) and your health.

From Science Daily - Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods

Consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased over the past two decades across nearly all segments of the U.S. population, according to a new study by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health.  ...continue reading "Americans Are Eating More Ultra-Processed Food Than Ever"

While many doctors encourage routine medical check-ups for healthy adults each year, others have raised doubts whether this is really necessary. There is also the issue of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which  may actually cause harm.

Doubts about any benefits from annual general medical physicals, medical tests, and screenings for healthy adults (who have no symptoms) have been expressed for years by physicians, researchers, and some studies not finding any benefit (e.g., no decreases in heart disease, stroke, and deaths). Other countries also do not recommend all these routine screenings for healthy adults with no symptoms.

I recently came across the following interesting article by Dr. Jeremy Faust, a physician who writes at Inside Medicine. His background: MD, MS, board-certified emergency physician, founding editor of Brief19 (daily reports by physicians on the frontline of COVID-19), researcher, and author. He recommends a primary care doctor, but not an annual check-up for healthy adults (no symptoms), and discusses research supporting this.

Excerpts from Dr. Jeremy Faust at Inside Medicine: Do you really need a routine medical checkup?

Have decades of medical progress since changed the prognosis for routine checkups? To find out, a group of researchers in the United States recently analyzed the results of all the trials performed by other researchers since. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. ...  ...continue reading "Annual Medical Physical May Be Unnecessary for Healthy Adults"

Some mental abilities actually improve with age! This is great news, because the general view is that our brain volume shrinks and mental abilities decline with age (especially after age 70).

A large Georgetown Univ. Medical Center study of 702 participants (58 to 98 years old) found that two important brain functions actually improve with age, probably due to lifelong experience using them. They were attention and executive functions - which allow us to attend to new information and to focus on what's important in a situation. They underlie  memory, decision making, self-control, navigation, language, and reading.

Is this why there is a saying that wisdom comes with age?

From Science Daily: Key mental abilities can actually improve during aging

It's long been believed that advancing age leads to broad declines in our mental abilities. Now new research from Georgetown University Medical Center offers surprisingly good news by countering this view.  ...continue reading "Some Thought Processes Improve With Age"

It has long been known that eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines) has health benefits for the heart. But it also looks like regularly eating sardines may be a good way to lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, as well as improving heart health.

In a study (conducted in Spain) 152 persons at risk for developing type 2 diabetes ("pre-diabetes") were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups for 1 year: Group 1 regularly ate sardines +  followed a diabetes preventive diet, or Group 2 ate the same diabetes preventive diet, but without sardines. All participants were 65 years or older.

They found that after 1 year, the sardine group had greater health improvements than the non-sardine group. Fewer in the sardine group were still in the prediabetes group, and fewer had developed type 2 diabetes. The sardine group also had decreased triglycerides (good), greater increases in healthy HDL cholesterol, reduced insulin resistance, and lower blood pressure, as compared to the non-sardine group.

The sardine group also had higher taurine levels in the blood, as well as increases in nutrients linked to health benefits, including omega-3 EPA and DHA, vitamin D, and fluorine. Taurine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

What was their weekly consumption of sardines? They consumed 200 g of canned sardines in olive oil per week - eaten as 100 g servings twice per week. Which is a little less than eating two of the little 125 g cans of sardines in olive oil available at the grocery store. It was recommended that they eat the entire sardine, including bones, due to their rich content of calcium and vitamin D. [By the way, while the researchers don't discuss this - increased extra virgin olive oil consumption also has health benefits.]

Medscape article: Sardines Linked to Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Eating sardines regularly helps prevent type 2 diabetes

The health benefits of sardines and oily fish are widely known: their high levels of unsaturated fats help to regulate cholesterol levels and prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases. However, the benefits don't end there.  ...continue reading "Eating Sardines Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk"

There is another great reason to try to lose weight if you are overweight or obese - being overweight or obese lowers blood flow to the brain in older adults. Yikes! However, one bit of good news from a study of 495 adults (average age 69) was that increased physical activity (brisk walks count!) can reduce or eliminate this association.

This could help explain why obesity increases the risk for a number of conditions as a person gets older, such as heart disease, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

The study was part of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing. The average BMI (body mass index) was 28, which is considered overweight. One finding was that each 1 cm increase in waist circumference was associated with the same reduction of brain (cerebral) blood flow as 1 year of advancing age. (Yes, brain volume and blood flow typically diminish with age in older adults. So you want to prevent it as much as possible.)

The study found that higher levels of physical activity can reduce or remove this association of overweight & obesity and reduced brain blood flow. So if it's not possible to lose weight - then get really physically active!

How much exercise is beneficial? The researchers recommend at least 1.5 to 2 hours per day of "being active", that is, doing activities that require "moderate" effort - this means breathing somewhat harder than normal (e.g. brisk walking, cycling at a regular pace, carrying light loads). Equally beneficial is to get some "vigorous activity" which results in breathing much higher than normal (e.g., digging, aerobics, fast cycling, carrying heavy loads). But any and all movement is good!

Medical Xpress: Researchers find obesity linked to reduced blood flow to the brain

A new study from scientists at The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin reveals important findings, indicating that being overweight or obese significantly reduces blood flow in the brain. The study also shows that increased physical activity can positively modify, or even negate, this reduction in brain blood flow. ...continue reading "Overweight and Obesity Is Associated With Reduced Blood Flow In the Brain"

Another study has been published finding that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables (5 servings a day) is associated with a longer life.

Researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health looked at the data from several large studies. They found that about 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables was associated with the lowest mortality (death from any cause), and from deaths that can be attributed to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. Specifically 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits.

Eating fruits and vegetables above that level (5 servings per day) didn't seem to make a difference. Another finding: eating starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes) and fruit juices were not associated with a lower risk of mortality.

However, keep in mind that the results were based on answers to Food Frequency Questionnaires (FFQ), where people answered questions about foods that they ate in the past year. Can you remember how frequently (daily, weekly, or monthly) you ate specific foods? Would you admit, in writing, that you eat lots of junk food or foods that you know are not so good for you?

As you can imagine, there is debate over how valid and reliable these questionnaires are. For example: Is It Time to Abandon the Food Frequency Questionnaire? in 2005, in 2015, and in 2018. FFQs are used because they are the cheapest option.

Some criticisms of FFQs: People don't accurately remember, and they may lie (they want to look better) by underreporting or overreporting foods. Also, the lists are premade - so if the foods you eat aren't on the lists, then it's not counted. Frequent omissions: onions, cucumbers, celery, quinoa, garlic, herbs.

Food dishes that contain many ingredients (such as many Asian dishes) can not be dealt with in FFQs that look at individual foods only. Canned foods are considered equivalent to fresh vegetables and fruits - yet they are not in many ways. No mention of organic vs non-organic foods (studies find nutritional differences, and a cancer link). Eh...

While filling out a sample online FFQ (from the National Cancer Institute) I realized that if I were part of a study - I would definitely answer so that my eating habits look better (!!), plus after answering for a while there was an urge to just get it over with (it took too long). Mutter to myself: "that sounds good, eh, who can remember..". Also, there was no way I would have admitted to any junk food binges.

From Science Daily:The right '5-a-day' mix is 2 fruit and 3 vegetable servings for longer life

Studies representing nearly 2 million adults worldwide show that eating about five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, in which 2 are fruits and 3 are vegetables, is likely the optimal amount for a longer life, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association's flagship journal Circulation.  ...continue reading "Eat At Least 5 Servings A Day of Fruits and Vegetables"

Once again a study finds that more exercise and less sitting improves glucose metabolism and so reduces the risk of diabetes. Is anyone surprised anymore by the health benefits of physical activity?

A study conducted in Finland found that in 660 adults 67 to 69 years of age, those who were most active throughout the day had the fewest glucose metabolism disorders (e.g. impaired glucose tolerance) and their insulin sensitivity was better - when compared to less active adults, especially sedentary couch potatoes. The best is to be active and move around a lot during the day, and not just be physically active during a short period.

Other studies find that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is about twice as common in sedentary adults compared to active older adults. Study after study finds that increasing physical activity (as compared to being sedentary or less active) improves a person's health numerous ways and lowers the risk of all sorts of diseases.

From Medical Xpress: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less sitting reduce the risk of diabetes in older adults

According to a recent study, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and less sedentary time improve glucose metabolism and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in older adults. Based on the results, it is important to encourage older adults to avoid sedentary time and increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to improve their glucose metabolism. 

...continue reading "Increase Physical Activity to Lower Risk of Diabetes"

Good news for coffee lovers! Drinking 1 or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a reduced risk of heart failure in three large heart disease studies. However, drinking decaffeinated coffee was not.

Researchers analyzed results of the 3 studies, in which more than 21,000 adults were followed at least 10 years. The studies did not differentiate between type of coffee consumed and how it was prepared (drip, espresso, percolated, French press). The researchers point out that other studies have similar findings - that increased consumption of coffee is associated with decreased heart disease deaths or deaths from any cause.

Many studies also find other benefits from daily coffee consumption, such as lowered risk of diabetes, some cancers, and some neurological conditions. However, avoid caffeine when trying to conceive and during pregnancy - then it is associated with harm to the pregnancy and fetus (e.g. with miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age).

Excerpts from Science Daily: Coffee lovers, rejoice! Drinking more coffee associated with decreased heart failure risk

Dietary information from three large, well-known heart disease studies suggests drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may reduce heart failure risk, according to research published today in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.  ...continue reading "Drinking Coffee Associated With Lower Heart Failure Risk"

Amazing how opinions regarding cannabis have changed in a few decades. From marijuana being viewed as an evil drug years ago to viewing cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) as medicinal and a pain reliever nowadays. A recent study suggests that regular use of cannabis (by either ingesting it orally via oil extracts or by smoking) can reduce blood pressure in older adults with hypertension.

The Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev (Israel) researchers found that after 3 months of medical cannabis use by 26 persons over 60 years of age, there was a reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. The lowest blood pressure occurred 3 hours after ingesting or smoking cannabis.

From Medical Xpress: Cannabis reduces blood pressure in older adults: study

A new discovery by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center shows that medical cannabis may reduce blood pressure in older adults.  ...continue reading "Cannabis May Reduce Blood Pressure In Older Adults"

An recent study from University of Saskatchewan researchers found that stretching exercises were better than brisk walking for lowering high-normal blood pressure or moderately elevated blood pressure. However, walking was more effective than stretching for reducing waist size.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 male and female adults (average age 61 years) with high normal or moderate hypertension (130/85–159/99 mm Hg) to either 8 weeks of whole body stretching exercises or brisk walking (on outdoor trails or a treadmill) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. The stretching exercise routine included 21 exercises for the shoulders, chest, legs, arms, hips, and back. Each stretch was done twice and held for a 30-second duration with 15 seconds of rest between stretches.

Other studies have also found stretching exercises effective in reducing blood pressure. A possible reason is that when muscles are stretched, blood vessels are also stretched, and this may lead to structural changes in blood vessels. By reducing arterial stiffness, there is improved blood flow, and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The researchers suggested adding stretching exercises to an aerobic exercise program or brisk walking for additional health benefits. By the way, stretching exercises are similar to yoga, which also lowers blood pressure.

From Medical Xpress: Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure, study finds

A new University of Saskatchewan study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.  ...continue reading "Stretching Exercises Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure"