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Eating a diet high in salt weakens the immune system's ability to fight harmful bacteria, according to a recent study. We all know that a high salt diet can increase blood pressure, but here is another good reason to lower salt intake.

The study by German researchers showed that a high salt diet can impair the antibacterial response of the immune system, both in mice and in humans. This occurs in an indirect way (through an effect on glucocorticoids), which ultimately results in a reduced or impaired ability of the immune system (through the neutrophils) to kill or control bacteria.

These results were interesting since some earlier studies suggested that higher intake of salt may help fight off parasitic skin infections.

What is a high salt diet? The human volunteers in the study ate an extra 6 grams of salt per day for one week, which is the amount in two fast food meals (e.g. two burgers and two portions of French fries). The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5 grams of salt per day, and the US CDC recommends less than 2300 mg per day. Both organizations say that most people eat more salt than recommended, and the CDC points out that the majority of American sodium intake is from processed foods and restaurant meals.

From Medical Xpress: Too much salt weakens the immune system  ...continue reading "Salt and The Immune System"

We all know that lead exposure is harmful, especially to developing babies and children. But what about eating meat (e.g. venison) from an animal that has been shot with lead bullets? Does the lead contaminate the meat? This is an important question because hunters provide game not only for their families, but also donate meat (such as venison) to food pantries.

A number of studies over the years have examined this issue and the finding is that YES - using lead-based bullets contaminates the meat. Bullets can fragment into hundreds of small pieces (many are microscopic fragments only detectable with x-rays or chemical analysis), especially if they hit large bones of the animal. These fragments are still there and detectable after processing.

So yes, people wind up ingesting meat with tiny lead bullet fragments, even if they cut away several inches of meat from the bullet's path in the animal. Tiny bullet fragments travel more than 6" inches away, and even 11" away from the bullet path. Studies find that eating meat from animals shot with lead based ammunition results in a spike in blood lead levels - which gradually goes down over months, but also migrates to the bones where it stays.

In 2013 a group of 30 nationally and internationally recognized scientists with lead and environmental health expertise collaborated to create an evidence-based consensus statement called Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment—A Consensus Statement of Scientists 2013. Along with listing scientific evidence, they ask for the reduction and elimination of lead-based ammunition, in order to protect human and environmental health.

Unfortunately hunters usually do not know this information. It's not publicized, and doctors don't mention it. But hunters should be informed. One can't imagine anyone wanting to deliberately eat meat containing lead fragments. Or wanting to feed it to children or pregnant women.

What can you do? Don't use any lead-based ammunition. Only eat game shot with non-lead ammunition (e.g.copper). The evidence is there that if lead-based ammo is used to kill the animal, then the person eating the animal will ingest some lead bullet fragments.

Excerpts from Environmental Health News: Lead in hunted meat: Who’s telling hunters and their families?  ...continue reading "Do Lead Bullets Contaminate Hunted Meat?"

The golden skin glow one gets from a healthy diet and lifestyle is real! A number of studies have found that eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables increases skin yellowness (due to the carotenoids in the food). And recently a new study found that besides a healthy diet, that lifestyle factors such as getting plenty of exercise (being fit), losing excess weight, getting enough sleep, and not being too stressed all add to the healthy yellow (errr... "golden") skin glow.

Researchers at the Univ. of St. Andrews (in UK) found that in a mere 8 weeks an increase in fitness and decrease in body fat were both associated with an increase in skin yellowness. They also found that a change in stress and sleep were further predictors of skin yellowness. Thus you can say that there is a general relationship between health and skin tone.

And yes, we probably have observed that ourselves. People stressed out, not sleeping well, not fit (overweight and not getting enough exercise) may have a different look to them. We may notice that their skin color doesn't look good, that they may look pale or unwell.

In conclusion, the researchers write: "results suggest that increasing cardiovascular fitness and decreasing fat levels produce a healthier skin color". So eat plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, be active (get some exercise), get enough sleep, and lose weight if needed. But you knew that already, yes?

From Medical Xpress: Healthy living gives skin a golden glow  ...continue reading "Healthy Lifestyle Seen In the Golden Glow of Skin"

Depending on what you normally eat (your dietary pattern), you can either increase your risk for strokes or can decrease your risk. It's up to you.

A large European study involving 9 countries and 418,329 persons found that regularly eating greater amounts of fruits, vegetables, fiber (from foods), milk, cheese, and yogurt were each linked to a lower risk of ischemic stroke. But not hemorrhagic stroke. However, hemorrhagic stroke was associated with a greater consumption of eggs.

The great majority of strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when an artery in the brain becomes blocked. [Fatty deposits lining the vessel walls, called atherosclerosis, are the main cause.] Hemorrhagic strokes are due to leaking or bursting of a blood vessel in the brain.

On average, participants who developed an ischemic stroke reported lower intakes of cheese, cereals and cereal products, fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, but higher intakes of red and processed meat. [NOTE: Once again a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts is best. Think Mediterranean style dietary pattern.]

Unfortunately, the participants in the study only answered one lifestyle and food questionnaire (asking about their usual diet) at the start of the study, after which they were followed for 12.7 years. The thinking is that people tend not to change how they eat over time. (But is that true for everyone?)

Looking at the study details, I unfortunately did not see any mention of highly processed foods, or oils (vegetable, canola, corn, palm, olive, etc). There is a lot of excitement right now about extra virgin olive oil being healthy, anti-inflammatory, and "protective" for a number of diseases.

From Medical Xpress: Study of 418,000 Europeans finds different foods linked to different types of stroke  ...continue reading "The Foods You Eat And Stroke 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?"

Will eating certain vegetables prevent or improve fatty liver disease?  Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease goes hand in hand/is a consequence of being overweight or obese, and is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the liver. As the disease progresses, the liver shows damage from inflammation, and can ultimately even lead to cirrhosis (liver failure).

A recent multi-part study raises the possibility that perhaps eating certain foods can prevent or reverse this condition. Gut bacteria produce many compounds , one of which is indole, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Obese people have less indole in their blood, and lean people more. And people with fatty liver disease have less indole in their blood. In the study, giving mice indole actually improved their fatty liver disease.

How can one naturally increase levels of indole? By eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, collards, and Brussels sprouts.

From Medical Xpress: Natural compound in vegetables helps fight fatty liver disease   ...continue reading "Eat Certain Vegetables To Improve or Prevent Fatty Liver disease?"

Another study finding that eating an egg each day is totally fine for our health. Of course it is! For years nutritionists were obsessed with the cholesterol in eggs, thinking it must translate into being bad for heart health. Remember the advice to only eat egg whites?

An international team of researchers looked at 3 large studies (50 countries on 6 continents) and found that there were no associations between eating about one egg a day and cholesterol levels, death, or strokes and heart attacks. And that this moderate egg intake "does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality even if people have a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes".

Eggs are a good source of essential nutrients and protein, are inexpensive, easy to cook,  and are also an excellent source of choline - which is needed for brain health (for neurological functioning).

From Medical Xpress: An egg a day not tied to risk of heart disease: new study   ...continue reading "Eating An Egg A Day Is Totally Fine"

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The past year has resulted in disappointments for the vitamin and mineral supplement industry as study after study didn't find health benefits from routinely ingesting them. Instead, study after study found health benefits from eating a good diet, specifically one that has as few as possible highly processed foods, but lots of whole foods, and rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans). And in this way, also high in fiber. Think along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.

The following are some of the studies finding no benefits to various vitamin and mineral supplements. Many found the results of the vitamin D studies especially disappointing.

1) From Science Daily - Vast majority of dietary supplements don't improve heart health or put off death, study finds

In a massive new analysis of findings from 277 clinical trials using 24 different interventions, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they have found that almost all vitamin, mineral and other nutrient supplements or diets cannot be linked to longer life or protection from heart disease.   ...continue reading "Four Vitamin Studies Have Disappointing Results"