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More research on the benefits of exercise. From Medical Xpress:

An hour of moderate exercise a day may decrease heart failure risk

In a new study reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure, researchers say more than an hour of moderate or half an hour of vigorous exercise per day may lower your risk of heart failure by 46 percent. Heart failure is a common, disabling disease that accounts for about 2 percent of total healthcare costs in industrialized countries. Risk of death within five years of diagnosis is 30 percent to 50 percent, researchers said.

Swedish researchers studied 39,805 people 20-90 years old who didn't have heart failure when the study began in 1997. Researchers assessed their total- and leisure time activity at the beginning of the study and followed them to see how this was related to their subsequent risk of developing heart failure. They found that the more active a person, the lower their risk for heart failure. 

From Medical Xpress:

Workers who exercise lower health risks, cost less

Get moving: just 20 minutes of exercise a day dramatically lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease, even for employees with a high risk of developing those conditions.

A University of Michigan study looked at the impact of exercise on 4,345 employees in a financial services company that had just started a workplace wellness program. Roughly 30 percent of employees were high risk and suffering from metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease. Overall, about 34 percent of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome.

The study found that when the high-risk employees accumulated the government-recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, their health care costs and productivity equaled that of healthy employees who didn't exercise enough, said Alyssa Schultz, a researcher at the Health Management Research Center in the U-M School of Kinesiology.

"It was a real surprise, the level of protection physical activity gave to people with metabolic syndrome," Schultz said. 

Research done in mice, but may apply to humans. From Science Daily:

How physical exercise protects the brain from stress-induced depression

Physical exercise has many beneficial effects on human health, including the protection from stress-induced depression. However, until now the mechanisms that mediate this protective effect have been unknown. In a new study in mice, researchers show that exercise training induces changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress, and is harmful to the brain.

"In neurobiological terms, we actually still don't know what depression is. Our study represents another piece in the puzzle, since we provide an explanation for the protective biochemical changes induced by physical exercise that prevent the brain from being damaged during stress," says Mia Lindskog, researcher at the Department of Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet.

 

More long-standing medical advice goes out the window. New advice: avoid diet soda and artificial sweeteners. The amazing part is that our gut bacteria are involved.From Science Daily:

Certain gut bacteria may induce metabolic changes following exposure to artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners -- promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention -- could actually hasten the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease, and they do so in a surprising way: by changing the composition and function of the gut microbiota -- the substantial population of bacteria residing in our intestines. These findings, the results of experiments in mice and humans, ...says that the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food, among other things, may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.

For years, researchers have been puzzling over the fact that non-caloric artificial sweeteners do not seem to assist in weight loss, with some studies suggesting that they may even have an opposite effect.

Next, the researchers investigated a hypothesis that the gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. They thought the bacteria might do this by reacting to new substances like artificial sweeteners, which the body itself may not recognize as "food." Indeed, artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, but in passing through they encounter trillions of the bacteria in the gut microbiota.

The researchers treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria; this resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners' effects on glucose metabolism. Next, they transferred the microbiota from mice that consumed artificial sweeteners to "germ-free," or sterile, mice -- resulting in a complete transmission of the glucose intolerance into the recipient mice. This, in itself, was conclusive proof that changes to the gut bacteria are directly responsible for the harmful effects to their host's metabolism.... A detailed characterization of the microbiota in these mice revealed profound changes to their bacterial populations, including new microbial functions that are known to infer a propensity to obesity, diabetes, and complications of these problems in both mice and humans.

Does the human microbiome function in the same way? Dr. Elinav and Prof. Segal had a means to test this as well. As a first step, they looked at data collected from their Personalized Nutrition Project (www.personalnutrition.org), the largest human trial to date to look at the connection between nutrition and microbiota. Here, they uncovered a significant association between self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, personal configurations of gut bacteria, and the propensity for glucose intolerance. They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of volunteers who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week, and then undergo tests of their glucose levels and gut microbiota compositions.

The findings showed that many -- but not all -- of the volunteers had begun to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of artificial sweetener consumption. The composition of their gut microbiota explained the difference: the researchers discovered two different populations of human gut bacteria -- one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, and one that had no effect either way. Dr. Elinav believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body's ability to utilize sugar.

This image depicts gut microbiota.
Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Excerpts from an article by Jane Brody in the NY Times:

Beating Back the Risk of Diabetes

This year, nearly two million American adults and more than 5,000 children and adolescents will learn they have a potentially devastating, life-shortening, yet largely preventable disease: Type 2 diabetes. They will join 29.1 million Americans who already have diabetes.

Diabetes and its complications are responsible for nearly 200,000 deaths a year; the fatality rate among affected adults is 50 percent higher than among similar people without diabetes. Alarmingly, recent studies even have linked diabetes to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Even people with above-average blood glucose levels, but not diabetes, have an elevated risk.

The Diabetes Prevention Program study, conducted among about 3,800 people who had pre-diabetes, found that moderate weight loss — an average of 12 pounds —  reduced the odds of progression to diabetes by nearly 50 percent.

An excellent discussion of what is known about the effect on diabetes of various foods and supplements appeared recently in Nutrition Action Healthletter at cspinet.org/iceberg.pdf. Some highlights:

Carbohydrates - breads, grains, cereals, sugary drinks and sweets of all kinds — are most problematic for people with diabetes or at risk of developing it. Carbohydrates are eventually metabolized to glucose, which raises the body’s demand for insulin. Consume less of them in general, and choose whole-grain versions whenever possible.

If you must have sweet drinks, select artificially sweetened ones. In two huge studies of nurses and other health professionals who were followed for 22 years, those who drank one or more sugary soft drinks a day had about a 30 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those who rarely drank them, even after their weight was taken into account.

But there’s good news about coffee. Two or three cups of coffee (but not tea) a day, with or without caffeine, have been consistently linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. 

For protein, limit consumption of red meat, especially processed meats like sausages, hot dogs and luncheon meats, which are linked to a higher diabetes risk. Instead, choose fish, lean poultry (skinless and not fried), beans and nuts. Low-fat dairy products, including yogurt, and even fatty ones may lower the risk of diabetes; the reason is unclear.

Most protective are green, leafy vegetables — spinach, chard, kale, collards, mustard greens and even lettuce — as well as cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. But all vegetables are good and should fill at least two-thirds of your dinner plate.

The nutrients magnesium and vitamin D are also potentially protective. In fact, the preventive value of leafy greens, whole grains, beans and nuts may lie in their high magnesium content. In a well-designed clinical trial of 32 overweight people with insulin resistance, the prelude to diabetes, blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity improved in those who took a daily magnesium supplement for six months. Don’t go overboard: More than 350 milligrams of magnesium daily can cause diarrhea. 

Vitamin D, long known to be crucial to healthy bones, may also be helpful. In one study of 92 overweight or obese adults with prediabetes, those who took a supplement of 2,000 international units of vitamin D daily had better function of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin..

Of course, how much you weigh and what you eat are not the only concerns. Regular, preferably daily, physical exercise is a vital component of any prevention and treatment program for Type 2 diabetes, or most any chronic ailment. Weight loss can reduce diabetes risk by about 50 percent, but adding exercise to that can lower the odds by 70 percent, compared with people who remain overweight and inactive, according to a study that followed nearly 85,000 female nurses for 16 years. Women who were active for seven or more hours weekly had half the risk of developing diabetes as did women who exercised only a half-hour a week.