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Great news for those who enjoy a glass of wine or beer every day! A large study found that light to moderate drinking among middle-aged to older adults may preserve brain function as they age. Over a 10 year period, those who drank a drink or two a day tended to have better test scores in a series of tests that measured cognitive functioning.

Normally there is some cognitive decline as people age. But researchers found that low to moderate drinking (less than 8 drinks per week for women and less than 15 drinks for men) was associated with consistently higher mental functioning and slower rates of cognitive decline (when compared to those who never drank or drank more). They found that these associations were similar for both men and women, but stronger among white participants than black participants.

Just keep in mind that while this and other studies find cognitive benefits from drinking alcohol (in humans and mice), other studies find harms from drinking alcohol, specifically increased risk of many cancers.

From Science Daily: Light drinking may protect brain function

Light to moderate drinking may preserve brain function in older age, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.  ...continue reading "Is A Daily Glass Of Alcohol Good For The Brain?"

Eat dinner earlier, not later. A small study looked at the time dinner was eaten and the interval to bedtime. They found that eating a late dinner affects the metabolism negatively: blood sugar levels were higher, and the amount of ingested fat burned was lower, when compared to those eating an earlier dinner. Dinner was the same foods, just eaten at 2 different times.

The 20 young, healthy participants ate dinner at either 6 pm or 10 pm, and bedtime was at 11 pm. According to the results of the study, eating a late dinner alters metabolic markers during sleep in a way that could lead to obesity or diabetes. "The peak glucose level after late dinner was about 18% higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by about 10% compared to eating an earlier dinner."

This adds to evidence suggesting that the time meals are eaten can influence the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Sleep lowers the metabolic rate. Other studies have also found that eating earlier is better than later: for example, weight loss is greater in those eating the main meal of the day earlier rather than later.

The weird thing was, these effects were found even though the early dinner group was given a 200 calorie snack at 10 pm. So it's not like they had zero calories after their 6 pm dinner. (The late dinner group ate the same snack at 6 pm.) Based on these findings, I wonder how much better the metabolic markers would have been if zero calories were eaten after the 6 pm dinner?

From Science Daily: People who eat a late dinner may gain weight

Eating a late dinner may contribute to weight gain and high blood sugar, according to a small study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Try Not To Eat Dinner Close To Bedtime"

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Normal aging. We all wonder what happens in normal aging, and now a large study confirms what many already thought: kidney function deteriorates as a normal part of aging. It's not an illness, it's normal.

The international study found that whether a person is healthy or has some existing problems doesn't matter - the kidneys normally deteriorate as we age. Just quicker and with more loss in some people, and more so in those with illnesses such as diabetes. Yup, normal aging is tough.

From Medical Xpress: Kidneys deteriorate with age, regardless of health

An international study carried out on nearly 3000 people in Norway, Germany and Iceland shows that human kidney function deteriorates with age regardless of the presence of other diseases. The results from the study have recently been published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN). To discover how kidney function progresses, the researchers examined the kidney function of a group of people between the ages of 50 and 70, and two groups of people between the ages of 70 to 95.  ...continue reading "Kidney Function Normally Deteriorates As We Age"

Does exposure to common PFAS chemicals contribute to an earlier age for menopause? A recent University of Michigan study found an association between blood levels of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in women and age at menopause. Women with the highest levels of PFAS in their blood had menopause 2 years earlier than those with lower levels.

PFAS are commonly known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in the environment and in humans. These chemicals have been widely used in many industrial and consumer products, such as non-stick cookware and food packaging, including microwave popcorn bags. They are also endocrine (hormone) disruptors and are thought to have an effect on ovarian aging.

What you can do: Don't microwave food, including popcorn, in the packaging it came in. Use microwave safe dishes instead.  Also, avoid nonstick cookware, and instead use plain stainless steel cookware.

From Science Daily: PFAS exposure may cause early menopause in women

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) exposure may cause menopause to occur two years earlier in women, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Common PFAS Chemical Exposure and Age At Menopause"

More evidence that there are health benefits from physical activity, even minimal amounts. Ohio State University researchers found that physical activity, even 10 minute at a time physical activity or exercise, adds up and is associated with lower amounts of cardiovascular (heart) disease in the next ten years - even for obese and overweight persons.

Being overweight or obese are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. About 40% of Americans are obese and 32% are overweight, so having a way to simply and cheaply lower rates of cardiovascular disease is wonderful. Overweight is body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 to 29.9, obesity is BMI 30 or higher, and normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.8 (see CDC guidelines)

The researchers found that physical activity is more important than weight of a person in determining the risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years. Unfortunately 43% of the overweight participants and 53% of the obese participants reported being sedentary (did not engage in at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity each week) - and these groups had the highest risk of cardiovascular disease.

What counts as exercise or physical activity? Physical activity should be at least 10 continuous minutes or more, and ideally add up to 150 minutes or more each week. All moderate (e.g. brisk walking, light yard work, vacuuming, dancing) and vigorous (e.g. jogging, swimming laps, aerobics, heavy yard work) recreation activities count. The study found that engaging in less than 150 minutes a week also lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease, just not as much as for those with 150 minutes or more each week.

Government guidelines: 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.

Bottom line: Try to move, move, move as much as possible! Yes, a nice 20 minute (1 mile) walk counts!

From Medical Xpress: Not much exercise needed to lower heart disease risk for overweight people

A new study suggests, for obese or overweight adults, that any amount of exercise might lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.  ...continue reading "Any Amount of Physical Activity Is Good For Overweight Adults"

Evidence is accumulating that engaging in exercise may not only prevent cancer, but that in those who already have cancer - it may prevent progression of the cancer. Fantastic!

A large 2019 review of 9 studies (755,459 individuals) found that 2 1/2 hours per week of "moderate-intensity" physical activity or exercise (e.g. brisk walks) really lowers the risk of 7 cancers: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some (but not all) were lowered in a dose response manner, that is, the more exercise (up to 5 hours per week), the bigger the protective effect.

Another 2019 review article stated that there are hundreds of studies in the field of "exercise oncology" which have examined the effect of exercise on cancer in humans. The studies find that exercise may prevent cancer, control cancer progression, and interact positively with anticancer therapies. (One example: a study found regular moderate or vigorous physical activity is associated with lower rates of death in men diagnosed with prostate cancer.)

In addition, hundreds of animal (mice and rat) and laboratory studies show that the anticancer effects of exercise are causal, not just an association. There is evidence that each exercise session actually has an effect on cancer tumors. And that the more exercise sessions, the bigger the effect!

Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move! Plan to do this every week for years.

An infographic that illustrates how exercise has anticancer effects, from The Scientist:  Infographic: Exercise’s Anticancer Mechanisms

Excerpts from the accompanying April 2020 article by Prof. Bente K. Pedersen (Univ. of Copenhagen) on how regular exercise has anticancer effects. From The Scientist: Regular Exercise Helps Patients Combat Cancer

Physical exercise is increasingly being integrated into the care of cancer patients such as Mathilde, and for good reason. Evidence is accumulating that exercise improves the well being of these patients by combating the physical and mental deterioration that often occur during anticancer treatments. Most remarkably, we are beginning to understand that exercise can directly or indirectly fight the cancer itself.  ...continue reading "Regular Exercise Has Anticancer Effects"

There has been a debate for years over whether surgery plus traditional medical therapy (medications +  lifestyle changes) is better than just medications and lifestyle changes for treating blocked arteries (ischemia) and preventing heart attacks and death. A recent study looked at this issue and found that there is no advantage to initially doing invasive procedures such as bypass surgery and stents for stable heart disease and moderately and severely blocked arteries. The surgical approach did not reduce the number of heart attacks and deaths. Sooo... it looks like medications and lifestyle changes alone may be the way to start treatment.

A large international study followed patients with stable heart disease and moderate or severe blocked arteries up to 5 years (median 3.2 years), and looked at rates of heart attacks and death. Researchers found that a conservative approach (lifestyle changes and medications) had the same results as an invasive intervention approach (invasive medical procedures such as bypass surgery and stents, followed by medications and lifestyle advice) in the patients. At the end of the study, both groups had similar death and heart attack rates.

From Medical Xpress: Studies show stents and surgery no better than medication, lifestyle changes at reducing the risk for heart attack  ...continue reading "Surgery or Just Medications and Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Heart Attack and Death Risk?"

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?"