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 New study in the Journal of Internal Medicine  with interesting results. In the study, women were followed for 20 years, and any  deaths were put into one of 3 groups: as being from: heart disease, cancer, or other (non-heart disease and non-cancer). Swedish women followed for 20 years found that the more sunlight exposure they had, the longer the life expectancy, the less death from heart disease (cardiovascular disease) and causes other than heart disease or cancer (non-heart disease and non-cancer group), but the more skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) they developed. Thus the main finding is of a dose-dependent relationship between sun exposure and life expectancy.

One surprising result was that nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group. Those who avoided sun exposure had an increased risk of death mainly due to heart disease and "other causes" (non-cancer/non-heart disease). I wondered about other cancers in this study, and this is all they had to say in the journal article:  "Thus, women with NMSC (nonmalignant skin cancer) had a 37% higher prevalence of other internal cancers than those without NMSC and a fourfold increased prevalence of MM (malignant melanoma). The incidence of other internal cancer was not increased subsequently on NMSC diagnosis."  I now have more questions: Why didn't the incidence of other subsequent internal cancers increase once the women were diagnosed with a nonmalignant skin cancer? And how do the women with cancer in the high and low sun exposure group do after another 10 or 20 years?  I would have liked for this study to continue longer.

The researchers felt that sunshine and vitamin D had a role in these results, and suggested that we need to rethink the "avoid sunshine" advice now given to people. In other words, some sunshine is good for health. From Science Daily:

Why do sunbathers live longer than those who avoid the sun?

New research looks into the paradox that women who sunbathe are likely to live longer than those who avoid the sun, even though sunbathers are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer. An analysis of information on 29,518 Swedish women who were followed for 20 years revealed that longer life expectancy among women with active sun exposure habits was related to a decrease in heart disease and noncancer/non-heart disease deaths, causing the relative contribution of death due to cancer to increase.

Whether the positive effect of sun exposure demonstrated in this observational study is mediated by vitamin D, another mechanism related to UV radiation, or by unmeasured bias cannot be determined. Therefore, additional research is warranted. "We found smokers in the highest sun exposure group were at a similar risk as non-smokers avoiding sun exposure, indicating avoidance of sun exposure to be a risk factor of the same magnitude as smoking," said Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, lead author of the Journal of Internal Medicine study. "Guidelines being too restrictive regarding sun exposure may do more harm than good for health."

Get your omega-3 fatty acids from either fish or flaxseed (or other seeds).From Science Daily:

Nothing fishy about health benefits of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid

Increasing the amount of omega-3s in your diet, whether from fish or flax, will likely decrease your risk of getting heart disease, according to Penn State nutritionists. A substantial amount of evidence exists supporting the heart-health benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA), marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids. However, much less evidence exists to demonstrate the positive effects of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.

EPA and DHA can be found in seafood and fish oil, and are often consumed in the form of dietary supplements. ALA is found in flaxseed and its oil, vegetable oils, and some nuts, and is now available in supplement form. EPA and DHA have been available for much longer. Other sources of ALA, EPA and DHA are fortified foods such as orange juice, eggs, peanut butter, margarine and bread, among others. While there are many other omega-3 fortified foods in the market place, most are relatively low in omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential for human health, but the body does not produce them -- therefore they must be consumed in order to maintain appropriate levels.

In reviewing existing literature on the subject, the researchers have come to the conclusion that ALA is likely just as effective in preventing cardiovascular disease as EPA and DHA have proven to be, as they report on the current issue of Advances in Nutrition.

To celebrate National Nut Day, two articles about health benefits of nuts. From Medical Daily:

National Nut Day 2014: Peanuts, Tree Nuts, And How Each Helps Your Health

For people who already eat plenty of meat and dairy products…nuts and ‘nutty’ legumes, like Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts and walnuts, are a good nutritional alternative to meat,” Dr. Donal Murphy-Bokern, independent agri-environmental scientist and author of several studies on food system impacts, said in a statement. Heeding this advice means people can reap the benefits that come with eating nuts — Protein! Fiber! Omega-3 fatty acids! 

Nuts fall into two categories: peanuts (which are really legumes) and tree nuts. The latter includes Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts and America’s beloved almonds. ...” And existing research generalizes that eating nuts does everything from reduce risk for a slew of diseases, maintains weight, boosts gastrointestinal and bone health, even adds years to a person’s life.

As previously mentioned, nuts are pretty much equal in terms of calories. There are, however, some nuts that have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than others. See: pistachios. This particular tree nut is high in healthy fats called monounsaturated fats (MUFA). MUFAs are often associated with belly fat.

One study published in the journal Nutrition found that when middle-aged adults at risk for heart disease and diabetes incorporated more pistachios into their diet, they weighed less and lessened their cholesterol and blood sugar levels after just six months. And a separate study from UCLA found people who regularly ate pistachios lost an average of 10 to 12 pounds. Almonds and cashews are additional nuts high in MUFAs. 

The Harvard School of Public Health reported, “several of the largest cohort studies, including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the Physicians’ Health Study have shown a consistent 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, or cardiovascular disease associated with eating nuts several times a week.”

Though almonds tend to be associated most with heart health, it’s actually walnuts that take the number one spot. ...Health reported a 2006 Spanish study, which “suggested that walnuts were as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a fatty meal.”

Folate, as defined by Harvard Medical School, is “the naturally occurring form of the vitamin that is in foods or in the blood.” It’s also the vitamin that staves off brain atrophy, or the progressive loss of brain cells over time... A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found folate may ward off depression, too. And which nut is super rich in folate? Unsalted peanuts...peanuts are also high in vitamin E and niacin, both of which boost brain health. Hazelnuts and almonds are known to have concentrated amounts of E, too, so either nut is bound to help your noggin.

Study done in mice, but shows benefits of walnuts to brain. From Science Daily:

Fight against Alzheimer's disease: New research on walnuts

A new animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease indicates that a diet including walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, slowing the progression of, or preventing Alzheimer's disease. Research led by Abha Chauhan, PhD, head of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities (IBR), found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety, and motor development in mice fed a walnut-enriched diet.

The researchers suggest that the high antioxidant content of walnuts (3.7 mmol/ounce) may have been a contributing factor in protecting the mouse brain from the degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer's disease. Oxidative stress and inflammation are prominent features in this disease, which affects more than five million Americans.

Walnuts have other nutritional benefits as they contain numerous vitamins and minerals and are the only nut that contains a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce), an omega-3 fatty acid with heart and brain-health benefits. The researchers also suggest that ALA may have played a role in improving the behavioral symptoms seen in the study.

What if a doctor said you could avoid years of taking medication (and all their side effects and cost), better heart health, and avoid a heart attack by adopting some lifestyle changes. Could you do it? Would you? How to avoid 4 out 5 heart attacks, from Medical Xpress:

Healthy lifestyle choices may dramatically reduce risk of heart attack in men

Following a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight and diet, exercise, not smoking and moderating alcohol intake, could prevent four out of five coronary events in men, according to a new study publishing today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

While mortality from heart disease has declined in recent decades, with much of the reduction attributed to medical therapies, the authors said prevention through a healthy lifestyle avoids potential side effects of medication and is more cost effective for population-wide reductions in coronary heart disease. 

For the study, researchers examined a population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men aged 45-79 years of age and followed them for 11 years. Lifestyle choices were assessed through a questionnaire exploring diet, alcohol consumption, smoking status, level of physical activity and abdominal adiposity (belly fat). Men in the study with the lowest risk were non-smokers, walked or cycled for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week, had a waist circumference below 95 centimeters, consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, and followed a healthy diet with a regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish.

The researchers found a clear reduction in risk for heart attack for each individual lifestyle factor the participants practiced. For instance having a low-risk diet together with a moderate alcohol consumption led to an estimated 35 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to the high-risk group, those who practice none of the low-risk factors.

Men who combined the low-risk diet and moderate alcohol consumption with not smoking, being physically active and having a low amount of abdominal fat, had 86 percent lower risk. Researchers found similar results in men with hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

The burden of cardiovascular disease could be significantly reduced through programs targeted to men and promoting low-risk lifestyle choices. Even in those who take medication, an additional reduction in risk for chronic heart disease has been observed in those with a healthy lifestyle.

From John M., a cardiac electrophysiologist, who expressed his frustration with unnecessary heart disease, and commented on this study on drjohnm.org:

Let’s stop the unnecessary treatment of heart disease

There are many reasons doctors suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. One of the least-mentioned of these reasons is that much of what we do is so damn unnecessary. In the US, the land of excess everything, caregivers, especially cardiologists, spend most of our time treating human beings that didn’t need to have disease.

Let’s be clear and honest: Lifestyle-related disease is largely unnecessary.

These days, there is so much unnecessary disease that caregivers, especially cardiologists, rarely see it. We look past the obesity right to the cholesterol number and ECG. And then we pull out the prescription pad for the guideline-directed pills. Just typing that causes me angst.

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.

 

Another study finding health benefits from eating dairy foods (vs not eating any dairy foods). From Science Daily:

A heart-felt need for dairy food: Small serving beneficial, large not necessary

A daily small serve of dairy food may reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke, even in communities where such foods have not traditionally formed part of the diet according to new research.

A study of nearly 4000 Taiwanese, led by Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and the Monash Asia Institute, considered the role increased consumption of dairy foods had played in the country's gains in health and longevity.

"We observed that increased dairy consumption meant lower risks of mortality from cardiovascular disease, especially stroke, but found no significant association with the risk of cancer," Professor Wahlqvist said.

Milk and other dairy foods are recognised as providing a broad spectrum of nutrients essential for human health. According to the study findings, people only need to eat small amounts to gain the benefits.

"Those who ate no dairy had higher blood pressure, higher body mass index and greater body fatness generally than other groups. But Taiwanese who included dairy food in their diet only three to seven times a week were more likely to survive than those who ate none."

For optimal results, the key is daily consumption of dairy foods -- but at the rate of about five servings over a week. One serving is the equivalent to eight grams of protein: a cup of milk, or 45 grams of cheese. Such quantities rarely cause trouble even for people considered to be lactose intolerant, Professor Wahlqvist said.

This research review suggests that 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables has the best health benefits. They surprisingly did not find that fruit/vegetable consumption was protective against cancer. But the authors point out that other studies of cancer and fruit/vegetable consumption have also been inconsistent, and this might be partly explained if certain fruits and vegetables only have effects on certain cancers. From Medical Daily:

An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away? Actually It's 5 Apples, And They Keep Death Away

A review of the eating habits of more than 800,000 people seems to discredit the old maxim about "an apple a day." In fact, five servings of fruit and vegetables offers the best health benefits, particularly against heart disease, and reduces your chances of dying for any reason.

After calculating the odds, researchers write in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that "the risk of all-cause mortality was decreased by 5 percent for each additional serving a day of fruit and vegetables." But, contrary to other reports, they found the benefits drop off after five servings, at which point, they wrote, "we observed a threshold." Previous studies have said seven fruit and vegetable servings is the optimum number.

Other studies have also made the case for fruits and vegetables as a ward against cancer. This one, led by Professor Frank B. Hu in the Harvard School of Public Health, saw no evidence for that. They did, however, find a "significant inverse association" between a fruit and veggie diet and death by heart disease. "The results support current recommendations to increase consumption to promote health and overall longevity," Hu and his colleagues wrote.

Of course, the authors admit, the studies they looked at may have been corrupted by participants lying or guessing on their diet questionnaires. But one thing this study has going for it is the massive sample size. They looked at 16 papers involving 833,234 people and 56,423 deaths. Most of those deaths — as is the case in the general population — were caused by cardiovascular disease and cancer. The people who lived longest adhered to what's called the Mediterranean diet, which favors carrots and tomatoes to steak and bacon.

Research reports and articles on the benefits of exercise have been piling up. Here are some worth looking at. From Science Daily:

Sitting too much, not just lack of exercise, is detrimental to cardiovascular health

Cardiologists have found that sedentary behaviors may lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels. New evidence suggests that two hours of sedentary behavior can be just as harmful as 20 minutes of exercise is beneficial.

From Science Daily:

Out of shape? Your memory may suffer

Here's another reason to drop that doughnut and hit the treadmill: A new study suggests aerobic fitness affects long-term memory. "The findings show that lower-fit individuals lose more memory across time," said a co-author. The study is one of the first to investigate young, supposedly healthy adults. 

From Science Daily:

Less exercise, not more calories, responsible for expanding waistlines

Sedentary lifestyle and not caloric intake may be to blame for increased obesity in the US, according to a new analysis. A study reveals that in the past 20 years there has been a sharp decrease in physical exercise and an increase in average body mass index (BMI), while caloric intake has remained steady. 

From Science Daily:

Older adults: Build muscle and you'll live longer

The more muscle mass older Americans have, the less likely they are to die prematurely, new research shows. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition -- and not the widely used body mass index, or BMI -- is a better predictor of all-cause mortality. "In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death," said the study's co-author. "Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass."

From Medical Xpress:

Keeping active pays off in your 70s and 80s

Older people who undertake at least 25 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise everyday need fewer prescriptions and are less likely to be admitted to hospital in an emergency, new research has revealed.

Researchers from the Universities of Bath, Bristol and UWE-Bristol looked at data from 213 people whose average age was 78. Of people studied, those who carried out more than 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day – such as walking quickly, cycling or swimming - received 50 per cent fewer prescriptions than those who were more active over a four to five year period.

Such physical activity leads to a higher metabolism and better circulation, reducing the risk of conditions and diseases common in older age such as high blood presure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and strokes.

From Everyday Health:

The Best Anti-Aging Medicine? Exercise

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you — it helps manage weight, improves muscle and bone strength, and even lifts your spirits. It can also add years to your life.“People have been looking for the secret to a long and healthy life for millennia,” said Neil Resnick, MD, chief of the division of geriatrics and director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging. “It turns out the most powerful intervention is exercise.”

A recent study conducted at Harvard found that exercise can be at least as effective as prescription drugs when it comes to preventing common conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Exercise at any age is beneficial. From Science Daily:

Seniors who exercise regularly experience less physical decline as they age

Older adults in retirement communities who reported more exercise experienced less physical decline than their peers who reported less exercise, although many adults -- even those who exercised -- did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

Some good foods to eat for their health benefits. The following articles are from Science Daily:

Almonds reduce the risk of heart disease, research shows

Eating almonds can reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping blood vessels healthy, research has shown. Research found that they significantly increase the amount of antioxidants in the blood stream, reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow. These findings add weight to the theory that Mediterranean diets with lots of nuts have big health benefits... "Our study confirms that almonds are a superfood. Previous studies have shown that they keep your heart healthy, but our research proves that it isn't too late to introduce them into your diet -- adding even a handful (around 50g) every day for a short period can help.

Could grapefruit be good for your kidneys?

A natural product found in grapefruit can prevent kidney cysts from forming, new research indicates. Naringenin, which is also present in other citrus fruits, has been found to successfully block the formation of kidney cysts, an effect that occurs in polycystic kidney disease, by regulating the PKD2 protein responsible for the condition. With few treatments currently available, symptoms include high blood pressure and loss of kidney function, and lead to the need for dialysis.

More evidence that dark chocolate is good for you. From Science Daily:

Polyphenols could yield small benefit for people with PAD

In a small study, people with artery problems in their legs (peripheral artery disease) walked a little longer and farther when they ate dark chocolate -- a food rich in polyphenols.The authors suggest that compounds found in cocoa -- polyphenols -- may reduce oxidative stress and improve blood flow in peripheral arteries....Many other polyphenol-rich foods would offer less added sugar, saturated fats, and calories than dark chocolate, such as cloves, dried peppermint, celery seed, capers, and hazelnuts, to name a few.

Once again research shows problems with physical inactivity: this time heart disease risk in women. From Science Daily:

From age 30 onwards, inactivity has greatest impact on women's lifetime heart disease risk

From the age of 30 onwards, physical inactivity exerts a greater impact on a woman's lifetime risk of developing heart disease than the other well-known risk factors, suggests research published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This includes overweight. the findings show, prompting the researchers to suggest that greater effort needs to be made to promote exercise.

The researchers wanted to quantify the changing contribution made to a woman's likelihood of developing heart disease across her lifetime for each of the known top four risk factors in Australia: excess weight (high BMI); smoking; high blood pressure; and physical inactivity. Together, these four risk factors account for over half the global prevalence of heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death in high income countries.

They based their calculations on estimates of the prevalence of the four risk factors among 32,154 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, which has been tracking the long term health of women born in 1921-6, 1946-51, and 1973-8, since 1996.

Combining the prevalence and relative risk data, the researchers found that up to the age of 30, smoking was the most important contributor to heart disease, with a PAR of 59%. But from age 30 until the late 80s, low physical activity levels were responsible for higher levels of population risk than any of the other risk factors.

The researchers estimate that if every woman between the ages of 30 and 90 were able to reach the recommended weekly exercise quota -- 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity -- then the lives of more than 2000 middle aged and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone.