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We've all been warned over and over to avoid sunlight in order to avoid skin cancer, but... conflicting with that advice are studies linking higher sunlight exposure to lower levels of other cancers, health benefits (e.g. lower blood pressure), and early death (mortality). One such recent study found that higher sun exposure over the years is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in women.

The Univ. of Buffalo and Univ. of Puerto Rico researchers conducted the study in Puerto Rico, where people live with high year round sun exposure. 635 women participated in the study.

From Medical Xpress: Study in Puerto Rico finds lower risk of breast cancer with more sun exposure

The sun is almost always shining during the day in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and that makes the findings of a new study on breast cancer and sun exposure particularly noteworthy.  ...continue reading "Study Finds Lower Risk of Breast Cancer With Higher Sunlight Exposure"

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"

Another study found that increased sun exposure in children and young adults is linked to lower levels of multiple sclerosis. This was the main finding of a study conducted at multiple centers in the United States by a team of American and Australian researchers.

The researchers in the study stated that not only does sunlight boost vitamin D levels, it also "...stimulates immune cells in the skin that have a protective role in diseases such as multiple sclerosis." In addition, they found an association with the intensity of sunlight and estimated that residents of Florida would be 21 percent less likely than residents of New York to have multiple sclerosis. Sun exposure appears to be dose dependent - the longer the exposure, the lower the risk of multiple sclerosis.

Earlier studies also found immune boosting properties of sunlight. Sunlight has low levels of "blue light" which energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity. T cells are a type of white blood cell, are part of the immune system, and help protect the body from infection and cellular abnormalities (cancer). 

Bottom line: In this study getting at least 30 minutes (up to 1 hour) of sunshine daily, especially in the summer, seems to be key in terms of protective effects.

From Medical Xpress: Sunshine may shield children, young adults from MS

Living in sunny locations and spending time outdoors may raise the risk for skin cancer, but a new study led by UC San Francisco and the Australian National University shows that in children and young adults, sun exposure may protect against multiple sclerosis. The study follows previous work by other researchers that has demonstrated an association between increased ultraviolet exposure in childhood and lower odds of adult MS ...continue reading "Sunshine and Multiple Sclerosis in Children and Young Adults"

Some good news - a recent study found that daily coffee and tea drinking is associated with lower rates of stroke and dementia. Just an association, not a definite cause and effect, but still... nice to hear some (more) good news for us coffee and tea drinkers.

Researchers analyzed data from a large group in the United Kingdom's Biobank (a large medical data base). The 365,682 participants (aged 50 to 74 years old) were followed for about 11 years. They found that drinking coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia. Coffee alone or in combination with tea was also associated with lower risk of post-stroke dementia.

Most interesting finding: Drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee with 2 to 3 cups of tea daily was associated with a 32% lower risk of stroke and a 28% lower risk of dementia (when compared to those who do not drink coffee and tea).

How much was best in this study? Moderate amounts of coffee and tea consumption are best. Two to 3 cups of coffee per day or 3 to 5 cups of tea per day, or a combination of 4 to 6 cups of coffee and tea per day, were linked with the lowest rates of stroke and dementia.

From Science Daily: Coffee and tea drinking may be associated with reduced rates of stroke and dementia

Drinking coffee or tea may be associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia, according to a study of healthy individuals aged 50-74 publishing Nov. 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine. Drinking coffee was also associated with a lower risk of post-stroke dementia.  ...continue reading "Coffee and Tea Drinking Associated With Lower Rates of Stroke and Dementia"

Whether one eats organic foods or non-organic foods does make  difference, even when eating a healthy Mediterranean style diet. A recent study found a difference is in the amount of pesticides ingested, with much less in the organic diet. Which makes sense.

A Mediterranean style diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes - thus lots of produce and fiber, much more than in a Western style diet. However, the study found that just 2 weeks of a Mediterranean diet with either organic foods or non-organic (conventional) foods made a huge difference in the amount of pesticides ingested. They measured this by looking at pesticide residues excreted in the urine.

In persons eating an all organic Mediterranean style diet 91% lower pesticide residues were excreted in the urine when compared to those eating a non-organic Mediterranean style diet! The study also showed that pesticide exposure actually increased in 1 group (the non-organic Mediterranean diet group) when compared to their normal non-organic (conventional) Western diet.

Participants (British postgraduate students, all adults) in a small study ate their normal Western diet (e.g., hamburgers, french fries) both before and after a 2 week period in which they ate a Mediterranean style diet (e.g., Greek salad, sweet and sour chicken, vegetables, and whole grain rice). During the Mediterranean style diet phase (the middle 2 weeks) all foods eaten by one group (13 persons) were organic, and in the second group (14 persons) they were all non-organic (conventional).

Other studies have also found similar findings (organic foods lowers pesticide levels in body), and lower incidence of cancer in those eating organic foods.

Bottom line: Yes, a Mediterranean style diet (whether non-organic or organic) is still considered healthiest for us all sorts of ways, including our gut microbiome. But.. try to eat as many organic foods as possible to lower exposure to all sorts of pesticides.

Excerpts from Beyond Pesticides: Unless You Go Organic, Switching to ‘Healthier’ Mediterranean Diet Increases Pesticide Exposure Three-fold

Replacing a modern, ‘western’ diet of highly processed foods with a Mediterranean diet filled with conventional, chemically-grown fruits and vegetables triples exposure to toxic pesticides, according to research recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, this disturbing change can be eliminated by eating a Mediterranean diet consisting entirely of organic food, which is not sprayed with synthetic pesticides.  ...continue reading "Pesticides and the Mediterranean Style Diet"

There have been growing concerns about the presence of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals called phthalates in common products and foods. A recent study found phthalates in a large variety of fast foods purchased from fast food restaurants - from hamburgers and chicken nuggets, to chicken burritos. They found detectable levels of phthalates in all the foods sampled, with meat products having higher levels than non-meat foods, such as fries and pizza.

This could explain why an earlier study found that people eating fast food had higher levels of phthalates than those who didn't eat fast food (and ate homecooked meals instead).

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics soft, but are also known to disrupt the endocrine system. The chemicals leach into the food from the stain and water resistant packaging used for fast foods, and even from the gloves the food handling workers wear. When the foods are eaten, the consumer also ingests these chemicals -  and the higher the levels in the body, the greater the health effects.

Endocrine (hormone) disruptors, such as phthalates, are associated with all sorts of health problems, including cancers, reproductive harm (e.g. poorer semen quality), lowered sex and growth hormones in children, thyroid disease, immune effects, and liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, they are already found in the bodies of almost all Americans, so we should try to reduce our exposure.

Bottom line: try to eat less fast food, and try to eat more home cooked meals. Remember, the more you eat fast foods, the higher the phthalate levels in your body (it's a dose-response effect).

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful industrial chemicals detected in US fast foods

Chicken nuggets, burritos and other popular items consumers buy from fast food outlets in the United States contain chemicals that are linked to a long list of serious health problems, according to a first-of-its-kind study published today.  ...continue reading "Endocrine Disruptors Called Phthalates Found In Fast Food"

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"

Breastfeeding
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

Some women struggle with breastfeeding, and wind up breastfeeding for a shorter duration than other women. A recent study suggests one reason for women stopping breastfeeding early - they may have higher levels of PFAS chemicals, called "forever chemicals", in their bodies. These chemicals have many harmful health effects, including reproductive effects (such as endocrine disruption, higher levels of infertility).

The researchers analyzed levels of 5 different PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals in the blood of more than 1000 pregnant Dutch women. They found that those with higher levels  breastfed their babies for a shorter time (up to 20% shorter time) than those with lower levels. [NOTE: almost all humans are contaminated with PFAS chemicals, but levels vary}

Where did the PFOS chemicals come from? These human-made chemicals are used as water and stain repellants, and as coatings in many common products. For example, in rugs and fabrics with added stain resistance, certain dental flosses (e.g., Oral-B Glide floss), non-stick pots and pans (e.g., Teflon coating), water resistant long-lasting make-up, water and stain resistant food packaging, and even many water supplies.

How can we reduce exposures to these chemicals and lower levels in our bodies?  There are reasons they are known as "forever chemicals" - they stick around (persist), and contaminate both humans and the environment! But we can reduce our exposures to these chemicals and then levels in our bodies will go down. It just means making some changes.

For example, avoid using non-stick pots and pans, use plain waxed dental floss, cook more at home, and eat less take-out or fast-food (to avoid the water and grease resistant package coatings). For more tips:  Avoiding Harmful Chemicals.

From Science Daily: PFAS exposure can affect women’s ability to breastfeed

Women with higher levels of PFAS in their system may be 20% more likely to stop breastfeeding early, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Certain Chemicals May Have An Effect On Breastfeeding"

Over the years many studies have found that eating nuts is good for health and good for the gut microbiome. Now, a study that looked at the effect of adding pecans to the daily diet can be added to the list.

The Univ. of Georgia researchers found that adding about 1/4 cup (68 grams) pecans to the daily diet for 8 weeks improved cholesterol levels. A conclusion is that pecans can be viewed as good for the heart or "cardioprotective".

In the study they randomly assigned 52 adults who were at risk for heart disease (they were overweight or had hypercholesterolemia) to 1 of 3 groups, including a control group with no pecan intake. As one of the researchers (Dr. Cooper) said: "We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention.

After 8 weeks of eating 1/4 cup pecans daily, there were lower levels of fasting total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, TC/HDL cholesterol ratio, non-HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B in the blood There were no changes in the control (no pecan) group.

By the way, do you remember years ago when doctors cautioned people about eating nuts?  That they were very high calorie and should be avoided? Hah! ... The view nowadays: Pecans are high in healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which are linked to lower cholesterol. Eating nuts frequently also reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and are beneficial for cognitive health.

From Science Daily: Pecan-enriched diet shown to reduce cholesterol

While the proper pronunciation of pecan remains a subject of debate, University of Georgia researchers have shown the tree nut can dramatically improve a person's cholesterol levels.  ...continue reading "Pecans Are A Healthy Addition to the Diet"