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New research is published every day, but only some studies are big research stories or game-changers. The following are what I consider some of the most memorable studies of 2018 – some in a good way, but some of the others have left me with a sense of horror. I think there will be follow-up research, so keep an eye out for more on these important topics.

Are we heading toward a time in the not so distant future when all men are infertile? (Due to exposure to all the endocrine disruptors around us.) Will All Men Eventually Be Infertile? This was posted September 5, 2018.

Researchers are now seriously investigating and finding evidence that microbes may be causing Alzheimer’s disease. This approach is rapidly finding support in the medical field, and may lead to possible ways to treat or prevent the disease. Possible Herpes Virus Link to Alzheimer’s Disease was posted July 13, 2018, and Herpes Viruses and Alzheimer's Disease on  June 22, 2018.

Type 2 Diabetes May Be Reversed With Weight Loss was posted August 10, 2018. This study and an earlier similar study from 2016 found that losing over 30 pounds over a short period can reverse type 2 diabetes - 46% in the 2018 study and 60% (in people who had it less than 10 years) in the earlier study.

More and more evidence is accumulating that certain diets are anti-inflammatory. Especially beneficial are diets rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes (beans), and whole grains - which also have a lot of fiber. This is exciting research because chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to a number of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, etc.). Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains Lower Inflammation – posted August 1, 2018.

[Related to this last topic is one of the most eye-opening studies I have ever read on how what one eats has a quick effect on gut microbes and health of the gut (including inflammation of the colon): Changing Diet Has Big Effect On Colon Cancer Risk – posted April 28, 2015.]

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?"

A recent study adds to the list of health reasons to try to avoid type 2 diabetes if at all possible, such as making lifestyle changes (e.g. lose weight if overweight, improve diet,  exercise). Earlier studies found that the brain atrophies (decreases in volume) with type 2 diabetes, and that the presence of type 2 diabetes doubles the risk of dementia in older age. Yikes!

Similarly, Australian researchers in the recent study found that type 2 diabetes in older individuals is associated with decline in verbal memory and verbal fluency over a five year period, but the findings suggest that this may start in midlife.  This is because at the start of the study those with type 2 diabetes already showed signs of greater brain atrophy than those without type 2 diabetes. The type 2 diabetes group had "poorer cognitive function" at the start of the study, and then they continued to decline over the 5 year study time, but not at any greater rate than individuals without diabetes. In contrast to the decline in verbal fluency over the 5 year period in the diabetes group, the non-diabetes group actually showed an slight increase in verbal fluency each year.

Of the 705 persons in the study, the average age of the type 2 diabetes group was 68.2 years, while the non-diabetes group was 72.5 years - so can see that the diabetes group was generally younger. [Note that the brain shrinks a little as we age, and it's a normal part of aging, but you want to minimize it. The more "youthful" the brain, the better for cognitive functioning.

From Science Daily: In older people, type 2 diabetes is associated with a decline in brain function over 5 years, study shows

New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]) shows that in older people living in the community, type 2 diabetes (T2D) is associated with a decline in verbal memory and fluency over 5 years ...continue reading "Type 2 Diabetes and the Brain"

Another reason to eat fruits and vegetables daily - cognitive and memory functioning in later life. A large US study of 27,842 men found that a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and orange juice for many years is linked to a lower risk of poor cognitive functioning in later years of life (70s and beyond). The study specifically looked at subjective cognitive function - a measure of earliest changes in cognitive functioning, including memory. This is the stage before "mild cognitive impairment". The study started in 1986 when the average age was 51 years, and continued till 2012. The men studied were all health professionals (e.g. dentists)

What was a high intake of fruits and vegetables? For vegetables: about 5.7 servings per day (while the lowest intake was 1.7 servings per day). For fruit: high intake was 3.1 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .5 servings per day). For fruit juice (orange juice): high intake was 1.5 servings per day (vs lowest intake was .1 servings per day). A serving of fruit is considered one cup of fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is considered one cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens.

The researchers found that green leafy vegetables, carotenoid-rich vegetables (esp. tomatoes and peppers), cantalope, berries, and orange juice to be especially protective. They point out that many antioxidant nutrients and bioactive substances (including vitamins A,B, C, and E, carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols) are all found naturally in vegetables, fruits, and juices. These are thought to reduce brain oxidative stress, improve cognitive performance, and to prevent neuronal damage. In other words, all good things for the brain. From Science Daily:

Orange juice, leafy greens and berries may be tied to decreased memory loss in men

Eating leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits, and drinking orange juice may be associated with a lower risk of memory loss over time in men, according to a study published in the November 21, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.  ...continue reading "Eat Fruits And Vegetables Every Day!"

In the US and other developed countries it is generally accepted that blood pressure increases with age -  that a blood pressure rise starts in childhood and that it's a normal part of aging. However, a new study found that this is not true - a South American rainforest tribe (the Yanomami) who do not eat a western diet (at all!) and have an active lifestyle, have the exact same blood pressure throughout life. This was true for all the individuals studied - from age 1 to 60. A nearby village of the Yekwana tribe have some western influences on lifestyle and diet, had the same low blood pressure in childhood, but showed increases with age.

The researchers feel that a Western diet and lifestyle play a role in the blood pressure increasing over the life span. They are now looking at the gut microbes of the two tribes to see what role they have in these blood pressure differences. Bottom line: get off your butt  and get active, and eat a high fiber, whole food diet (to feed the beneficial microbes) -  and avoid highly processed foods if you can. Easier said than done. From Science Daily:

Study of two tribes sheds light on role of Western-influenced diet in blood pressure

...continue reading "Blood Pressure Doesn’t Always Increase With Age"

So many of us seem to not get enough sleep, and then there are those that sleep and sleep. But .. it seems the sweet spot for sleep and our brain health (cognitive performance) is about 7 to 8 hours - at least according to a large study from Canadian researchers at Western University. People reporting typically sleeping 4 hours or less a night had the most impairments in how they performed on a variety of cognitive tests - equivalent to aging 8 years.

Reasoning, verbal skills, and overall cognition were impaired by less than 7 hours or more than 8 hours of sleep. But not short term memory. Actual age of the person made no difference on the results - everyone performed best at 7 to 8 hours of sleep. (Volunteers completed a series of 12 tests online which measured a broad range of cognitive abilities.) By the way, about half of the 10886 persons participating in the study reported typically sleeping 6.3 hours or less a night. Not enough. The good news is that just one night of sleeping a little more than the usual too little had a positive effect on cognitive abilities - thus cognitive improvement. From Science Daily:

World's largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain  ...continue reading "What Is Optimal Amount Of Sleep For Our Cognitive Processes?"

The results of a recent study suggested that walking 4 hours or more a week or 2 to 3 hours of moderate physical activity may have a (slight) protective effect of reducing stroke severity in persons who get a stroke. The study, which was conducted in Sweden, found that persons who were physically more active before their stroke and were younger in age were more likely to have a mild stroke (rather than a moderate or severe stroke). This finding was an association (didn't prove it).

But ...the majority of persons participating in the study - whether they exercised or not before the stroke - had mild strokes, and a minority in all of the groups had moderate or severe strokes. 73% of physically inactive people, 85% of those with light physical activity, and 89% of  those who had engaged in moderate physical activity before their strokes had mild strokesResearchers found that light (walking or a similar activity for at least 4 hours per week) and moderate physical activity (2 to 3 hours per week) were equally beneficial. From Medical Xpress:

People who walk just 35 minutes a day may have less severe strokes

People who participate in light to moderate physical activity, such as walking at least four hours a week or swimming two to three hours a week, may have less severe strokes than people who are physically inactive, according to a study published in the September 19, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

...continue reading "Could Physical Activity Reduce Stroke Severity?"

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"

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People are excited over the possibility that herpes viruses could be behind Alzheimer's disease and whether it could be prevented with the use of antiviral medication. This is because currently there is no way to prevent or treat the disease.The June 22, 218 post discussed the amazing recently published study done in Taiwan. The study looked at more than 33,000 individuals and found that those with herpes simplex infections (HSV) had a 2.56-fold increased risk of developing dementia. But individuals that were treated with anti-herpetic (antiviral) medications for a newly diagnosed HSV outbreak had a decreased risk of dementia - that the risk dropped back down "to baseline". [Note that whether it was the person's initial infection or reactivation of an existing infection is unclear.]

The researchers' conclusion was that the antiviral medication reduced the risk of senile dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) by keeping the herpes infection in check. Now studies need to be done to see if this association holds. But the amazing results, along with studies that also implicate other herpes viruses, led to a commentary being published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease about the tantalizing possibility of a simple treatment or prevention - perhaps even a vaccine. This commentary highlights the excitement among some (many?) researchers. The authors of the commentary mention that currently "over 130 studies, using a variety of approaches, support a major role for HSV1 in Alzheimer's Disease". Even if it's not all cases of Alzheimer's disease, but only a portion - it would still be incredible.

From Science Daily: Herpes linked to Alzheimer's: Antivirals may help

A new commentary by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh on a study by Taiwanese epidemiologists supports the viability of a potential way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. When the Taiwanese authors looked at subjects who suffered severe herpes infection and who were treated aggressively with antiviral drugs, the relative risk of dementia was reduced by a factor of 10. 
...continue reading "Excitement Builds Over Possible Herpes Virus Link to Alzheimer’s disease"

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?"