Friday, February 26, 2010

Physical Fitness and Good Grades Go Hand in Hand

Source: Reuters Health (Summary by NIM)

Physical activity does a lot of wonderful things for your health, but did you know it's good for your brain, too? According to a new study, students who are physically fit score higher on tests as well.

In the study, students were asked to perform a test of aerobic fitness, and their results were compared against their scores on standardized math, reading, and language tests. Those students who performed better in the physical test also did better on the academic tests. According to one of the study's authors, "it's good to be both aerobically fit and to have a healthy body shape" to maintain a healthy brain.

If you think about it, sweating it out at the gym, meditating in a yoga session or even taking the pooch for a walk are all great ways to beat the boredom of studying (or other hard work) and 'take a breather'. It's relaxing, clears your mind, and allows you to get back in the game with a fresh mind, ready to learn. It's no surprise that a well-balanced lifestyle tends to lead to optimal performance in most people, and that too much of anything (including excess weight or even excessive exercising!) hampers performance in other areas of life.

Right now, the study's findings are only a correlation, however the authors note that if a 'cause and effect' relationship is found in further studies, "schools will have to reverse their recent disinvestment in physical education ostensibly for the purposes of boosting student achievement,".

Find out more about this study by reading the article called "Physically fit students do better academically too: study" from Reuters Health (Feb. 26, 2010)

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

High-Fat, Low-Carb Diets Can Increase Bad Cholesterol

Source: Reuters Health (Summary by NIM)

Did you know your brain can only utilize glucose as a fuel source? The daily recommendation for the distribution of calories in the diets of both men and women is 10-35% protein, 20-35% fat and 45-65% carbohydrates for the above noted reason, among others. So, it should come as no surprise that restricting carbohydrates can lead to adverse health consequences, which has again been demonstrated in a recent study.

While some studies have indeed found a benefit to consuming fewer carbs in the diet, it is not recommended to fall below the 45% of calories mark; diets high or low in any particular macronutrient are not recommended as they inherently restrict the consumption of other macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, which all serve vital functions on the body.

Thanks to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, diets that are low in carbohydrates but higher in fat tend to increase LDL, or "bad cholesterol" levels. In contrast, individuals who consumed 55% percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates showed a decrease in their LDL levels. Both groups consumed the same number of daily calories and lost the same amount of weight on average, however, as was demonstrated, their internal chemistry was notably different. The team concluded that "These data suggest that a high-fat diet may have adverse metabolic effects during active weight loss,".

Find out more about this study by reading the article called "Low-carb diet can increase bad cholesterol levels" from Reuters Health (Feb. 24, 2010).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Little Nap Might Boost Memory, Make You Smarter

Source: Medline Plus (Summary By NIM)

In many countries, an afternoon siesta or nap is common practice. Instead of loading up on coffee all day long, people break mid-day, shops and businesses close down, and people catch a bit of shut-eye so that they're more productive and happier once they start back up.

Now, thanks to a new study
from the University of California at Berkeley, researchers have found that an afternoon nap may actually improve memory, resulting in higher scores on tests. According to the study's author, Matthew Walker, "Sleep is not just for the body. It's very much for the brain," and again, "This is further evidence that sleep plays a critical role in the processing of memories," he said. "It provides more evidence that it's not just important to sleep after learning, but you need it before learning to prepare the brain for laying down information."

The researchers believe that the brain is like a sponge, and it's ability to absorb information declines with increased fatigue.

Find out more about this study and it's findings by reading the article "Afternoon Nap Might Make You Smarter"
From Medline Plus (Feb. 21, 2010).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot Dogs Can Be Lethal for Children, Doctors Say

Source: Globe and Mail (Summary by NIM)

Hot Dogs are a North American staple - most of us have grown up eating them and continue to do so. What few people realize, however, is how much of a choking hazard they are to young children. If you ask Joan Stavros Adler, a bereaved mother, you'd find out just how easy it is for kids to choke on common foods like hot dogs.

Choking kills more than 100 American children 14 years or younger each year, with a much larger number being treated in emergency rooms across the nation. The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging for stricter, more prominent labelling and indication of the choking hazards for children on food packages similar to those found on toy packages.

Other high-risk foods for kids include raw carrots, grapes and apples, which should be cut up into smaller pieces for children in order to reduce the possibility of choking. Other, smaller foods such as nuts should potentially be avoided as they also pose a high risk for choking. Even simple changes such as making lollipops flat instead of spheres makes a huge difference in terms of reducing choking risk.

Find out more by reading the article called "Doctors urge change of shape for hot dogs" from the Globe and Mail (Feb. 22, 2010).

Monday, February 22, 2010

'Biggest Loser' Trainer Sued Over Diet Pills

Source: AOL Health (Summary by NIM)

Jillian Michaels, the buff and kick-butt trainer from 'The Biggest Loser' has found herself in a bit of trouble over her new weight loss pills. According to her website, all you have to do is take "Two Capsules Before Main Meals And You Lose Weight… That’s It!" which has resulted in a hand full of law suits this month.

The supplements contain a whack of different ingredients that are meant to suppress appetite so that the individuals taking them end up consuming fewer calories and lose weight. They also contain a number of sources of caffeine, including coffee bean extract, kola nut seed extract and guarana, in order to fight “Diet Fatigue”. But what you won't find on the label is that the pills contain an ingredient called "bitter orange", or so one woman claims as part of her lawsuit. Bitter orange is not considered safe, in fact it is "potentially lethal" as it can cause heart problems in some individuals.

As always, if anyone thinks that taking a couple of pills every day will solve their weight problems, they're mistaken. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight takes more effort than that and involves lifestyle changes including eating right and exercising. Keep in mind, as well that no products of this type are regulated by the FDA, and neither are the claims on the label or on Michaels' website.

To find out more about Michaels' lawsuits, check out the article called "
Jillian Michaels Sued Over Weight Loss Pills" from AOL Health (Feb. 19. 2010).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happiness Makes for a Healthier Heart

Source: Medline Plus (Summary by NIM)

There is evidence that optimism keeps us healthier whereas pessimism is associated with higher rates of disease and illness, and a new study from Columbia University adds even more proof to previous findings. Happier people have heart-protective outcomes, the study has found.

According to the lead researcher, people who did more things that made them happy showed a decreased risk of heart disease and related illnesses over a ten year period. Furthermore, if more people took the time to relax and do what makes them happy, they could lower their overall risk of such illnesses.

The researchers suggest that the findings are related to the fact that happier people tend to sleep better, be less stressed, handle stress better and practice healthier habits over all, but it could also be the case that there is some genetic component that makes them happier to begin with.

Check out more about this study by reading the article called "Happiness Protects Your Heart" From Medline Plus (Feb. 17, 2009)
.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'It's Not Me, It's Everyone Else': American Mentality on Poor Health

Source: Medline Plus (Summary by NIM)

Most Americans believe that others are unhealthy, but that their own health is in check. According to a new survey commissioned by GE Healthcare, The Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Health System, more than half of the respondents believed that other people's health was "in the wrong direction" but less than 20% said the same thing about themselves. Furthermore, the same participants believe that their health is better than what their doctor tells them.

One of the study's author's says the findings suggest that people are either in denial of reality, or they truly don't know what it means to be healthy so they think they're OK - he blames misinformation as a major factor. Another expert believes that it's tough to make accurate judgments or comparisons about health when living in a land of obesity and poor health habits on the whole. If your neighbour is obese, but you are just overweight, you would think you're comparatively healthier! "It's all relative" she says.

Find out more about this interesting survey by reading the article "Most Americans Think It's Others Who Are Unhealthy" from Medline Plus (Feb. 16, 2010).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Red Meat: Friend or Foe?

Source: BBC News (Summary by NIM)

We've all heard the warning that too much red meat is bad for our health, but why, exactly? One reason happens to be that, according to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), there is "convincing" evidence that consumption of red meat is linked to cancer. But wait a second - red meat is also a great source of iron, a critical mineral responsible for transporting oxygen through our blood, which vegetarians and red-meat abstainers tend to be low in. So what are we to do?

"Two of the world's largest studies on diet and cancer have found that people are more likely to develop some cancers, such as bowel cancer, if they eat too much red or processed meat" said Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK's science information officer. "Cutting down on these foods can help to reduce the risk of developing cancer."

But according to other cancer experts, there are a lot of confusing messages coming at the public, which need to be resolved. Consuming moderate amounts of red meat in the context of a balanced diet is perfectly OK. What's more important than abstaining from red meat is promoting balance and avoiding excess - and that also applies to fat, calories and everything else in your diet.

Find out more about the great red meat debate by reading the article called "Does red meat give you bowel cancer?" from BBC Health (Feb. 15, 2010).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Obesity May Be Predetermined in Infancy

Source: BBC News (Summary by NIM)

You may be able to blame your parents for your weight after all. According to new research, most people who are obese were considered already obese before the age of two, laying the path for future complications and poor habits. The first years of life are critical in order to ensure good future health and set good habits, as most of what we do and learn at this age stays with us for the rest of our lives.

In a new U.S. study of more than 100 obese children and teens, most of them were obese before the age of two, while a whopping 9 out of 10 of them were obese by age 5. The researchers, not surprisingly list poor diet and lack of exercise as contributing factors. In addition, early introduction of solid food may be another reason for this phenomenon. Furthermore, children's food preferences may already be 'set' by this point, so poor eating habits tend to continue on throughout life.

The study's leader says this should come as a "wake-up call" to parents and doctors, in that change needs to occur in childhood or else it may be very difficult to impose any later in the future. Furthermore, doctors should not wait until things 'get worse' to recommend dietary and lifestyle changes for children who are rapidly putting on weight.

Find out more about this study by checking out the article called "Obesity 'often set before age of two'" from BBC Health (Feb. 13, 2010).

Forget Energy Drinks - Relaxation Drinks are the New Thing

Source: The Globe and Mail (Summary by NIM)

How would you like to enjoy "an acupuncture session” in a can or an elixir to “unwind from the grind”? In a bid to take on the energy drink market, new 'Relaxation' drinks such as 'Slow Cow' promise to do precisely the opposite of what you've come to expect from Red Bull.

With natural ingredients like chamomile, hops, valerian and the amino acid L-theanine, Quebec-Based Slow Cow's director of communications claims that his beverage can help “improve concentration, memory and learning capacity” without causing drowsiness.

Peter Bianchi, the Creator of 'Drank' (an American relaxation drink) said that when he drinks his product, it feels like putting on a cozy pair of pyjamas and kicking back in his favourite leather recliner.

Experts believe that these types of beverages tend to be safer than the energy kind, since energy drinks can trigger panic attacks and heart problems. With natural ingredients in even lower doses than those typically recommended by naturopaths, relaxation drinks tend to pose little if any harm. Others are skeptical, stating that they don't think the products have enough 'relaxing ingredients' to have any effect. Regardless, Health Canada states that these products need to be regulated as natural health products to ensure public safety.

Find out more about these new drinks by reading the article "Relaxation drinks take on the energy market" from The Globe and Mail (Feb. 11, 2010).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Little Chocolate Makes For a Healthy Heart

Source: Health Day (Summary by NIM)

Perhaps a little cliche, as it's Valentine's day on Sunday, but more reasons to eat a little extra chocolate are always welcome by me.

A new review study from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto has found that dark chocolate may lessen the risk of stroke or reduce the likelihood of dying from it. The studies included in this review point to the fact that that a small amount of dark chocolate, about 50g per week, may be beneficial when it comes to stroke prevention.

The results, however, are inconclusive and don't prove that chocolate is good for you on the whole. As it is high in fat, the thinking that eating extra chocolate will make you healthier is rather backwards; in large amounts, the bad outweighs the good. On top of things, not all chocolate is created equal - it's the dark variety, high in cocoa, that's the best for you - the others are just plain treats.

So, if your sweetheart is planning on spoiling you with a little chocolate, ask for the dark kind and enjoy it sparingly!

Find out more about this review study by reading the article called "Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk" from Health Day (Feb. 11, 2010).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drink Beer for Stronger Bones

Source: HealthDay (Summary By NIM)

The jury is still out on whether or not alcohol in moderation is good for you. For the most part, a drink a day seems to be good for your health, but perhaps not for everyone. Nonetheless, a new study suggests that beer specifically might be beneficial for a whole other reason - it is a rich source of silicon.

Silicon is a contributing factor in bone mineral density, and is essential for proper bone, ligament and cartilage formation. According to one of the researches,
"Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon," - adding "Wheat contains less silicon than barley because it is the husk of the barley that is rich in this element. While most of the silicon remains in the husk during brewing, significant quantities of silicon nonetheless are extracted into wort, and much of this survives into beer."

As we age, our levels of silicon tend to decrease, potentially contributing to fragile bones and heart disease. Some studies have shown that increasing dietary silicon is beneficial in increasing bone mineral density and healing fractures, so why not raise a pint to your health?

Find out more about this study in the article called "
Beer for the Bones?"at Medline Plus (Feb. 8, 2010).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sugary Soda a Player in Pancreatic Cancer?

Source: Globe and Mail (Summary by NIM)

Drinking two or more cans of regular soda each week has been linked to a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, a new study has shown. Pancreatic cancer is not common, but it's one of the deadliest forms as it's hard to detect until it's too late, and even harder to treat.

According to the study from the University of Minnesota, sugar is not entirely to blame in this scenario, as individuals who drank the same amount of fruit juice each day did not have the same risk. It seems that individuals with bad soda habits tend to have other unhealthy habits as well.

According to one of the researchers, consuming high levels of sugar makes the pancreas pump out large amounts of insulin as a response, potentially over-working it. Each year, 37,680 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 34,290 die of it. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is about 5 per cent.

Find out more about the details of this study by reading the article called "Sugary soda linked to pancreas cancer" from the Globe and Mail (Feb. 8, 2010).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

For Men, Eating Soy May Reduce Lung Cancer Risk

Source: Reuters Health (Summary by NIM)

For non-smoking men, chowing down on a lot of soy products may lower their overall risk of lung cancer, a new study suggests.

The antioxidant isoflavones found in soy are best known for their protective qualities in reducing breast and prostate cancer risk. According to a new Japanese study, lung cells may also respond favourably toward soy isoflavones, similarly protecting them from cancer.

While this study seems promising, a lot more work is required before any conclusions can be drawn. There were a few flaws in the study design so the researchers can't say for sure if it's really the soy products themselves that protect against cancer, or the lifestyle behaviours that go along with eating soy that make the difference.

Nonetheless, it's always a good idea to change up the protein sources in our diets throughout the week, and including more plant-based foods is great way to do that!

Find out more about this study by reading the article called "Men who eat soy may have lower lung cancer risk" from Reuters Health (Feb. 5, 2010).

Monday, February 8, 2010

FDA: Serving Sizes Should Reflect Those of Real People

Source: New York Times (Summary by NIM)

The FDA is has come up with a new weapon in the battle against obesity that might make it's debut in grocery stores in the very near future.

With the advent of 100-calorie snack packs and 'healthier' ways to enjoy junk food, you might think certain products aren't all that bad if you glance at the nutrition facts the label. Yeah - the nutrition label on Tostitos Hint of Lime flavour says it's only 150 calories per serving! Except when was the last time you bought a bag of chips and ate only six (an ounce)? Or bought a muffin and ate only half. Better yet, how about buying a bottle of Gatorade and drinking about 2/5 of it? Well, according to the nutritional label - that's how much you're 'supposed' to have.

It's interesting how 'serving sizes' rarely depict those of the average consumer, and yet they 'appear' healthier, so consumers continue to buy those products even though they're actually eating 2 or 3 (or more) times the recommended serving size! According to William K. Hubbard, a former F.D.A. official who consulted with the agency last year, “If people don’t understand the serving, whatever number they get for fat or calories is misleading,” But if the FDA has it's way, American nutrition labels might start to better reflect 'real' serving sizes, which might just be the warning sign consumers need in order to pass on those extra chips (or ice cream or muffins).

Along with new front-of-package nutrition labels, consumers may be in for a "greater sense of public caution" when serving sizes reflect those of real people, not ideal situations.

To find out more and see some images of current 'suggested' serving sizes, check out the article called "One Bowl = 2 Servings. F.D.A. May Fix That." from the New York Times (Feb. 5, 2010).

Friday, February 5, 2010

'Milk Bag' Video Makes Headlines

Source: The Toronto Star (Summary by NIM)

Sheryl Ng just found out that Americans don't drink milk out of bags. Thanks to her, so did thousands of others, including myself.

As she posted her video, informing novices of the proper procedure in storing, handling and pouring of bagged milk, some viewers were shocked - they had never seen or heard of such a thing. Apparently, outside of Ontario (and some of the east coast), milk bags are not the norm. Jugs and cartons are.

The milk bag first made it's debut in Canada in 1967 to the delight of the local dairy industry who was sick of broken milk bottles. Today, milk bags are not only good for the environment since they are recyclable and use up to 75% less plastic than jugs, but they also boast big savings (both monetary and environmental) in transportation costs. That also translates to more money saved in your pocket.

The outpouring of responses to this video has been astonishing. It's hard to believe that people would get so heated discussing a vehicle for milk storage, however given that milk is such a staple in the North American diet, I guess it makes sense!

Check out the video at the bottom of the article called "So we drink milk out of bags. Does that make us weird?" from the Toronto Star (Feb. 4, 2010).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Study: Targeting 'Energy Master Switch' Enzyme Burns More Fat, Maintains Muscle

Source: Science Daily (Summary by NIM)

Researchers and health experts agree that the obesity epidemic is far from over. It seems that we just keep getting fatter and sometimes the simple solution (eating right, moving around more) isn't always possible on a large scale.

According to a new study, an enzyme referred to as the 'Energy Master Switch' might be the key in revving up the metabolism in order to burn more fat at rest while sparing muscle mass. In their experiments, the researchers blocked an enzyme called Fyn Kinase in mice and found that, almost immediately, they began burning more fat. Moreover, there were other benefits found, including an increased sensitivity to insulin.

The authors of this study warn that creating a drug like this for humans is not safe at this time, as it also targets parts of the brain, but their next goal is to design something extremely specific to muscle tissue and fat only.

Check out the article called "New Way to Lose Fat, Keep the Lean" from Science Daily (Feb. 3, 2010) for more details.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fish Oil Supplements Stave Off Mental Illness

Source: BBC News (Summary By NIM)

We already know that fish oil can help boost memory and mental functioning in healthy adults, but new research is showing that supplements containing the omega-3 rich oils can be as effective as drugs for individuals with serious mental illnesses.

According to one expert: "If young people can be treated successfully with fish oils, this is hugely preferable to treating them with antipsychotics, which come with a range of problems from weight gain to sexual dysfunction, whereas omega-3s are actually beneficial to their general state of health. These are promising results and more research is needed to show if omega-3s could be an alternative to antipsychotics in the long term."

During a 3-month trial, fish oil supplements appeared to be just as effective as medications for schizophrenia. What's more, for individuals who are at risk, taking the supplements can prevent or delay the onset of such illnesses. Unlike drugs, which come along with a slew of unwelcome side-effects, fish oil only appears to have beneficial properties, including improving heart health. Of course, like anything in life, moderation is key, and more is not necessarily 'better' - 'just enough' is all we need.

Find out more about this study by reading the article "Fish oil supplements 'beat psychotic mental illness'" from BBC news (Feb. 2, 2010)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Up to 40% of Cancers are Preventable, Experts Say

Source: Reuters Health (Summary By NIM)

Cancers are caused by a multitude of factors - just as there are many types of cancers, there are many causes, some of which are known and others unknown. Of those for which we know the cause, some simple preventative measures could save millions of lives per year, according to experts.

Cancers that are caused by infections are especially tragic, since they are largely preventable. "If there was an announcement that somebody had discovered a cure for 40 percent of the world's cancers, there would quite justifiably be huge jubilation," said David Hill, President of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), adding "But the fact is that we have, now, the knowledge to prevent 40 percent of cancers. The tragedy is, we're not using it." What is that knowledge? Prevention via immunization and some simple lifestyle changes.

Some examples of cancers caused by infections include cervical and liver cancer, and vaccines to prevent these cancer-causing infections are readily available. According to experts, protecting ourselves with immunizations in combination with employing health-promoting behaviours such as healthy eating, leading active lifestyles and quitting smoking could cut cancer by up to 40%.

Find out more by reading the article "Experts say 40 percent of cancers could be prevented" from Reuters Health (Feb. 2, 2010)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Study: Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent Almost 200,000 Deaths from Heart DiseaseThis Year

Source: Reuters Health (Summary By NIM)

Despite making large amounts of progress in reducing disease-promoting behaviours such as smoking in the US, a new study predicts that nearly 400,000 Americans will still die this year as a result of heart disease.

According to the British study, nearly half of those deaths could be prevented by making simple changes such as eating healthier, being more active and - you guessed it - quitting smoking. In the US, two thirds of adults and nearly one in three children are obese or overweight, putting them at a serious risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and a number of other chronic illnesses. In consuming a very similar diet to Americans, Canadians are similarly at risk.

Taking the first step to a healthier lifestyle is undoubtedly difficult, but it only gets easier from there on. It can be a real challenge to change one's behaviour today in order to prevent potential illnesses so far ahead into the future, but it's absolutely crucial that we do. As the experts have said, there really is no room for complacency when it comes to health risks!

Find out more about this study by reading the article called "Heart disease "will kill 400,000 Americans in 2010"" from Reuters Health (Feb. 1, 2010).