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Disappointing results from a large study of more than 18,000 adults that looked at whether daily vitamin D supplements for 5 years helps prevent depressionThe Harvard Medical School researchers found that vitamin D didn't prevent depression or improve mood.

The study was large (more than 18,000 adults over the age of 50), double-blind (no one knew who was getting what to prevent bias), had people assigned randomly to either getting vitamin D3 (2000 IU/d of cholecalciferol) or a placebo, and lasted 5 years. The researchers summary of findings: "These findings do not support the use of vitamin D3 in adults to prevent depression."

By the way, the results of this well-done study (which was designed to see cause and effect) are in contrast to observational studies that suggested that a person's vitamin D levels and vitamin D supplements are correlated with the risk of depression and depressive symptoms. Once again a well-done vitamin D study did not provide the health benefits that people were hoping for.

From Medical Xpress: Large study confirms vitamin D does not reduce risk of depression in adults

Vitamin D supplementation does not protect against depression in middle-age or older adulthood according results from one of the largest ever studies of its kind. This is a longstanding question that has likely encouraged some people to take the vitamin.  ...continue reading "Study Finds That Vitamin D Supplements Don’t Prevent Depression"

Want to lose weight without counting calories?  According to a recent study, weight loss occurs easily in people only eating during a time-restricted time (a limited time each day). Eat all you want, but only during a 4 or 6 hour time period, and then no food the rest of the day. Drink plenty of water, and during fasting hours can also drink zero calorie beverages (black coffee, tea, diet soda).

The study found that two groups of obese adults who only ate within a 4 or 6 hour period each day had a similar weight loss over a 2 month period, similar reductions in insulin resistance and oxidative stress, and resulted in similar body fat loss. Eating within this short time (either 4 or 6 hours) actually resulted in consuming about 550 fewer calories per day.

On average, participants were 47 years old, weighed about 220 pounds (100 kg) and with a body mass index (BMI) of 37 at the start of the study. Most were women (90%) and about 66% were Black. After 8 weeks, persons in both the 4 and 6 hour eating period lost about 3.2% of their initial weight, while those in the control group (who continued eating normally) lost 0.1% of their starting weight.

Can you do it? One example - only eat lunch and dinner every day, say between noon and 6 pm, and watch those pounds melt off! It'll be tough to not eat at other times, but hey! - it's eat what you want (even though you'll ultimately eat less each day), no calorie counting, and still lose weight!

Excerpts from Medscape: Time-Restricted Feeding a 'Viable Option' to Lose Weight

Adults with obesity had similar weight loss and improvements in some cardiometabolic markers after restricting their eating to 4 or 6 hours a day for 2 months, in a new study. ...continue reading "How to Lose Lose Weight Without Counting Calories"

What you eat is all important for health. A recent study found that eating higher amounts of protein, whether animal or plant protein,  were associated with lower rates of death (from any cause). Eating a diet high in plant protein appeared to be especially beneficial, and was associated with both a lower risk of death (all cause mortality) and deaths from cardiovascular disease. Higher protein intakes, whether animal, plant or combined, were not associated with rates of death from cancer.

The research, which was an analysis of 32 studies, found there was a dose-response association between intake of plant protein and risk of death (from any cause) - the more plant protein in the diet, the lower the risk of death.

What foods are high in plant protein? Legumes (beans,lentils, peas ), whole grains, and nuts. Bottom line: Eat more protein, especially plant protein, for your health. [And this means real foods, not supplements!]

From Science Daily: Diets high in protein, particularly plant protein, linked to lower risk of death

Diets high in protein, particularly plant protein, are associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, finds an analysis of the latest evidence published by The BMJ today.  ...continue reading "Diets High In Protein Are Beneficial For Health"

It is great to find a good news study these days, and this one is especially good news for chocolate lovers. Researchers reviewed 6 large studies from the last few decades and found that chocolate consumption more than once a week is associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Coronary artery disease is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, and is caused by plaque buildup (cholesterol deposits) on the wall of the arteries.

The researchers think that chocolate could be "cardioprotective" (heart-protecting) because of the nutrients in chocolate, all of which have been found to have beneficial health effects in other studies. These are flavanols, polyphenols,  methylxanthines, and stearic acid. In this study they did not address the issue of types of chocolate (dark, milk) or whether eating chocolate more frequently (e.g. daily) is even better.

In recent years, other studies of chocoalte have found not only cardiovascular benefits, but that it also reduces inflammation, and that there are dose-dependent (the more chocolate, the better) improvements in cognition, attention, and memory.

From Science Daily: Chocolate is good for the heart

Eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). ...continue reading "Chocolate Appears to Be Good For the Heart"

Want to reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes? Two large studies published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)  found that eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains really reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The first study (which took data from 3 large American studies) found that persons eating the most whole grain foods (when compared to those eating the least) had a 29% lower risk in developing type 2 diabetes over the next 24 years. Whole grain foods included: whole grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal, dark bread, brown rice, bran, wheat germ, and popcorn. The good results were from eating just two servings a day of whole grains.

A European study didn't just ask people what they ate, but actually measured the level of plasma vitamin C and carotenoids (from fruits and vegetables eaten) in the blood. Those with higher values had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes over a 10 year period, with the highest group having a 49% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Current guidelines recommend eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, which is equivalent to eating 400 g or more per day. Many people don't eat nearly enough servings, as was seen in the study. Fruit and vegetable intake in the study  was divided into 5 groups, with median consumption ranging from 274 g (lowest), 357 g, 396 g, 452 g, to 508 grams (highest) per day.

The good news was that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by just 66 grams (3/4 cup) per day was associated with a 25% lower risk of developing diabetes. So even a small  increase in fruit and vegetable consumption could help prevent type 2 diabetes!

By the way, there are also other health benefits from eating whole grains. Higher consumption lowers the risk of developing several major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and some types of cancer.

From Science Daily: Higher fruit, vegetable and whole grain intake linked to lower risk of diabetes

Higher consumption of fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods are associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to two studies published by The BMJ today.
...continue reading "Reduce Your Risk Of Diabetes By Eating Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables"

Many studies find differences between organic and conventional foods, with more favorable results for organic foods (e.g. better nutritionally, lower pesticide residues). A study by Emory University researchers that analyzed samples of conventional and organic milk from different regions of the US adds to the list. They found  that the samples of conventional milk contained pesticides, antibiotics, and synthetic growth hormones, but none of these were found in organic milk.

The pesticide levels in the conventional milk varied among the samples, but included frequently used pesticides such as atrazine, permethrin, cypermethrin, chloroyrifos, and diazinon. Chlorpyrifos, found in 59% of the conventional milk samples, is the pesticide that scientists absolutely want banned because of its neurotoxic effects, especially on developing babies and children.  They also found that antibiotic residue levels in conventional milk samples surpassed federal limits for amoxicillin (3%), and illegal sulfamethazine (37%) and sulfathiazole (26%). Yikes!

These are important findings because milk is a staple in the diet of many people, especially children. By the way, international milk also can have pesticide and drug residues (e.g. Israel).

But not all organic milk is equal. Unfortunately a number of big so-called organic dairy farms (15,000 to 20,000 cows) are basically factory farms (e.g. Aurora Organic Dairy, Horizon) - they exploit loopholes in organic regulations, as well as deliberately not follow some organic standards. However, even low-quality organic milk has been shown to contain no residues of antibiotics and toxic pesticides - it's just that their milk nutritional profile is different than that of grass-fed organic cows.

Organic milk cows are supposed to be outside grazing during the growing season, at least 120 days a year - thus real organic milk is from "grass-fed" cows. Grass-fed cows (but not conventional and factory-farm organic cows) tend to produce milk with elevated levels of two types of fat: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fat known as alpha-linolenic acid. Both have been associated with health benefits in humans, although the amounts found in milk are relatively small. Another type of fat called linoleic acid, (an omega-6 fat), tends to be lower in milk that is from pasture-fed cows.

The Cornucopia Institute has dairy scorecards and rankings of major organic milk brands, as well as other organic foods (e.g. poultry, cereal, eggs). Cornucopia is an organic agriculture watchdog group - an excellent resource to help you choose organic foods.

Some excerpts from the Jean A. Welsh et al. study in the journal Public Health Nutrition: Production-related contaminants (pesticides, antibiotics and hormones) in organic and conventionally produced milk samples sold in the USA

Conclusions: Current-use antibiotics and pesticides were undetectable in organic but prevalent in conventionally produced milk samples, with multiple samples exceeding federal limits. Higher bGH and IGF-1 levels in conventional milk suggest the presence of synthetic growth hormone. Further research is needed to understand the impact of these differences, if any, on consumers.   ...continue reading "Organic Milk Does Not Contain Toxic Pesticides Found In Conventional Milk"

Humans (slightly) perk up their ears when listening intently to sounds! A recent study found that muscles around the human ear make tiny subtle movements (ear 'perking' movements) when focusing on novel, unusual, or specific sounds. These movements of muscles around the ears also indicate the direction of sounds a person is paying attention to.

It's not the obvious pointing of the ears that dogs and cats do - it's much more subtle and can be seen in the "electrical activity of muscles around the ear". Thus the researchers write: "Our species may nevertheless have retained a vestigial pinna-orienting system that has persisted as a 'neural fossil’ within in the brain for about 25 million years. Consistent with this hypothesis, we demonstrate that the direction of auditory attention is reflected in sustained electrical activity of muscles within the vestigial auriculomotor system. "

From Science Daily: Our animal inheritance: Humans perk up their ears, too, when they hear interesting sounds

Many animals, including dogs, cats and various species of monkeys, will move their ears to better focus their attention on a novel sound.  ...continue reading "Humans Slightly Perk Up Their Ears To Sounds"

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"

Dogs exposed to lawn pesticides develop similar cancers as humans exposed to lawn pesticides, but in dogs the cancers appear with a much shorter time lag - only a few years. In contrast, human cancers can take decades to appear. This is why dogs can be viewed as "sentinel species" - they show risks or dangers due to chemical exposures in the environment earlier than humans.

This is why this study having both humans and dogs wear silicone monitoring devices to measure chemicals (pesticides, flame retardants, and phthalates) they are exposed to in the environment is so interesting. Both dogs and humans showed similar exposure levels to the chemicals. Think of it - whatever our pet dogs are exposed to in the environment, we also are exposed to it. And if something causes harm, we probably also are being harmed by it.

From Science Daily: Monitoring environmental exposures in dogs could be early warning system for human health

Man's best friend may also be man's best bet for figuring out how environmental chemicals could impact our health. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment used silicone dog tags as passive environmental samplers to collect information about everyday chemical exposures, and found that dogs could be an important sentinel species for the long term effects of environmental chemicals ...continue reading "Are Our Dogs Early Warning Systems For Harmful Chemical Exposures?"

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"