Sunday, September 25, 2011

More Sickness, Laziness than Health for Married Couples

Think back to any first date (or second or third). How long did you spend preparing and working hard to look and feel your best for that special someone? Maybe you went on a diet, worked out a lot more and meticulously picked out the perfect outfit to knock the socks off Mr. or Mrs. Right. Heck, when you were (or if you are) single and looking, chances are you placed a good deal of importance on looking and feeling your best - whatever that may be for you specifically. Well, sadly, if you love looking and feeling your best, you may want to stay unattached according to researchers.

Not that being in a relationship makes us stop caring about our appearances, but most often we are so comfortable around the ones we love that we don't go out of our way on a daily basis to look like "10s". Sure, we all dress up for special occasions (don't we?), but being comfortable and in love makes us secure and confident in 'just being ourselves', which often leads to the steady disappearance of healthy habits like a nutritious, balanced diet and physical activity, a new study has found.

In a study from Loughborough University, commissioned by the UK Department of Health, a mixed sample of 100 single, married or divorced adults were asked about their exercise habits and were subsequently given accelerometers to wear for two weeks, to track their physical activity levels. According to the study results, 76% of married men and 63% of married women were not meeting the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity including running, cycling, swimming or playing sports. In single or divorced people, those numbers were much lower, with 24% for men and 33% for women.

Since there are numerous important health benefits of staying physically fit and regularly raising your heart rate, including the prevention of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, we've all got to keep moving! While life can get crazy and lounging with your loved one might sound like a great idea, why not make 'couples exercise sessions' part of your routine? Go for walks, jogs or even spinning classes together at least 3 times a week. Not only will you feel better about yourself and be healthier, but improving your physical fitness may add that little extra spark to your relationship which might have fizzled away ever so slightly as that beer belly started to grow!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A little Exercise May Combat Brain Fatigue

You know that feeling of information overload? When you're at the point that you don't think you can absorb any more information and you're a little spaced out? It happens to us all, especially when we're learning lots of new information at a rapid pace, for example when starting a new job, undergoing training or orientation programs and especially when studying for exams! Sometimes you feel like all that will fix you is a nap, but there's something else that's been shown to clear your head and help you work longer before burning out, along with many other amazing health benefits. Yep - you got it, it's your old friend exercise.

According to researchers from the University of South Carolina, regular exercise may increase the number of 'cell powerhouses' called mitochondria in our brain cells that can help boost brain power! We already know that this happens in our muscle cells when we exercise, but it turns out that the effect is not limited there. In fact, the researchers believe that the increased numbers of mitochondria in our brain cells due to exercise may be responsible for the ability of exercise to battle depression and fatigue and also improve memory. They believe that regular exercise should be part of the prescription for psychiatric, mental, genetic and neurodegenerative disorders.

Despite the fact that the study was carried out on mice, we know that exercise boosts mitochondrial numbers in human muscle cells from previous research. In addition, recent research has shown that regular exercise in elderly adults (70 yrs old on average) makes them less likely to develop brain lesions similar to strokes but on a smaller scale. Regardless of whether or not these effects could also be seen in humans, there are so many health benefits to exercising (decreased blood pressure, weight loss, improved muscle mass and body composition, improved bone mineral density, and a decreased risk of many chronic diseases like diabetes, and cancer) that there's no reason not to, if one is in reasonable health!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who Knew? Gut Flora are Picky Eaters

With a wide range of probiotic supplements and fortified foods out there available for all consumers alike, one might be driven to think that they work the same way in everyone. These products are sold as a 'one size fits all' sort of deal, promising the same benefits to anyone who consumes them. But since we're all a bit different on the inside and our diets differ otherwise, it would seem logical that our own unique gut flora also behave a little bit differently. I guess nobody really thought to stop and look into this further until now, but it turns out that our gut flora are actually picky eaters.

According to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, published in Science, the gut flora profiles of high meat- and fat-eaters differ from those of individuals with veggie- and carb-rich diets. The implications of these differences aren't clearly understood just yet, but we do know that our gut flora are a key component to maintaining good health and a strong immune system. We also know that diets high in meat and fat are not particularly healthy while plant-based diets are.

There are strong links between diets high in fat and meat with many chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and others, while plant-based diets have been shown to reduce one's risk of developing these conditions. It has also been found that healthy gut flora is associated with a lower incidence of developing a number of conditions such as obesity, IBDs like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, IBS and even colorectal cancer.

The researchers who worked on this current study believe there is a clear link here and that the role that a healthy gut flora plays in our health is understated and poorly understood. They think it is possible that certain profiles of gut flora cause our immune systems to attack the gut, causing specific diseases and conditions, including obesity and Crohn's disease.

Since we have clear evidence of the benefits of a plant-based diet on our health, and now further associations between this diet and a healthy gut flora, we should all aim to eat meat a little bit less. A simple way to start is to practice meatless Mondays. People all over the world are following this trend, offering support, recipes and momentum to those looking to adopt a more plant-based diet. Give it a try and who knows how great you (and your gut) could feel!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall Fruit and Others May Help Prevent Strokes

Despite the misleading weather forecast, fall was distinctly in the air today. And with the crisp fall temperatures come equally crisp and delightful fall fruits as well as hearty fall veggies. Many varieties of apples and pears are coming into their peak of perfection around this time which is great news, not only for crumble and pie lovers. According to new research, apples, pears and other white-fleshed fruits and veg may hold the key to stroke prevention for some individuals.

In a dutch study comparing diets high in fruits and veg with specifically coloured flesh (not the skin) - red/ purple, orange/yellow, green and white - it was found that white-fleshed foods reduced the participants' risk of having a stroke. For every 25g increase in white-fleshed food consumption, including cauliflower, apples, pears, bananas and cucumbers, the participants' stroke risk was 0.91 times lower over a 10 year follow-up period.

The researchers attribute the decrease in stroke risk to the fact that the particular foods used in the study, as well as white-fleshed fruits and vegetables in general, tend to be high in fibre and flavinoids, particularly one called quercetin. Fibre and flavinoids, which are a group of antioxidants, have traditionally been associated with a lower stroke risk.

Despite the fact that the foods in the other colour groups were also high in fibre and different antioxidants, there was no association seen with a decreased stroke risk. However, since variety, balance and moderation are key factors in good health and overall disease prevention, mixing and matching the colours of your fruit and vegetables is a great idea.

We know that dark green, red, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables have all been associated with a decreased risk of some disease or another, so they're still completely necessary in our diets. The only real reason someone might want to start amping up on eating way more white-fleshed foods is if they were predisposed to having a stroke or there is a family history of strokes. That or simply because they're so darn delicious right now and an apple a day keeps the doctor away! Either one works. Now where's my pie?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sweet! Eating Maple Syrup May Lead to a Healthier Liver

Folks who crave a little something sweet from time to time may be able to indulge a little more often with a lot less guilt. It's always a happy bonus when stuff that tastes incredible also does incredible things for our bodies and boosts our health. Now, we might be able to add maple syrup to that list.

Few foods are as interesting, sweet, complex or generally awesome as pure maple syrup. Plus, adding maple syrup to other foods takes them to a whole other level. Sure, bacon is great, but maple bacon is even better. Walnuts and ice cream are lovely on their own, but throw in some maple syrup and you've got a stellar combination. And finally, who wants to eat waffles or pancakes without some good old fashioned maple syrup on top? Maple lovers can now rejoice even more when they eat the sweet stuff, and their livers will too.

According to new research from the University of Tokyo, consuming maple syrup may reduce liver damage and consequently boost liver health. In studies using mice, half were fed 20% maple syrup and the other half 20% sugar solution. Both had the same amount of sugar content, but those who ate the maple syrup had significant decreases in the amount of certain liver enzymes that get produced when the liver is damaged, suggesting a protective effect of the pure stuff. There was also less production of toxic ammonia in the liver due to decreased activity of a gene that controls its production in the liver.

Since the research has only been conducted on rats so far, liver specialists are weary about extrapolating these results to humans just yet. However, maple syrup has long been reputed in holistic and homeopathic medicine for its other healthy properties. For example, gram per gram, maple syrup has a greater concentration of nutrients with fewer calories than honey and other sweeteners, plus it is 100% natural. It also contains a significant amount of manganese, which is a co-factor in many enzymes that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

So, while the jury's out on whether or not it's good for your liver, choosing maple syrup over table sugar and even honey is a sensible choice that makes life that much sweeter.

Some Chocolate Each day Keeps Heart Disease at Bay

Don't you sometimes wish that the things that tasted the best could be just as good for us? I mean, that's not to say that healthy foods don't taste good; there are plenty that do, but why is it that medicine and the like taste so darn awful? Wouldn't it be awesome if we could eat stuff like chips, hamburgers and chocolate and be healthier for it? Well, while some of those foods may make you sicker, one of them is proving to be a heavy hitter in the health and disease prevention realm.

We've known for some time now that antioxidant-rich cocoa powder has the power to fight off certain illnesses like cancer and heart disease, but new research is making that point even clearer. In the past, the recommendation for daily chocolate consumption has been rather modest at about one ounce of minimum 70% dark chocolate per day, since chocolate is only part cocoa with the remainder as milk solids and fat. If we're not careful, we may end up eating way too much saturated fat and calories, since chocolate is so darn addictive and delicious. But chocolate addicts may be in luck once again, since it turns out that people who consume chocolate the most regularly tend to have lower rates of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke over all.

In the research, the data in 7 previous studies were re-analyzed to see how chocolate consumption might be beneficial to preventing cardiovascular events. Across the board, high-chocolate consumers beat out low-chocolate consumers when it came to heart health. They were nearly 40% less likely to experience a cardiovascular event and nearly 40% less likely to experience a stroke.

This good news does however, come with a warning. The researchers once again advise chocolate consumers to use caution and make wise choices when enjoying their cocoa-rich delicacies. The darker the chocolate with as little sugar and calories as possible, the better. We know that over consuming calories, sugar and fat can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and subsequently heart disease.

So go on and have your ounce or so each day, maybe a little more from time to time, and really enjoy it. Not only will your heart be healthier for it, so will the rest of your body and soul!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moms: Cut Kids' Food Allergy Risk with Prenatal Diet

Over the past few decades, especially in the last one, the rates of food allergies in kids have seemingly skyrocketed. Peanut allergies in particular are an issue everywhere you turn; the issue simply can't be avoided any longer if it ever could before. Whether it is the case that this rate has really risen or simply that more awareness has been placed on the issue is unclear, but it's fair to say that food allergies are an issue that plagues parents, kids and teachers across North America.

Anyone thinking about starting a family, especially if they have or their partner has a family history of allergies, can't escape worrying about potential future food allergies in their child. What is an expectant or new mother to do to avoid the dangers of potentially fatal allergies in their child? There are existing guidelines and feeding schedules for introducing new foods for infants and toddlers so as to minimize their risk of allergies, but is there anything that can be done to help protect them prior to them consuming the foods? The answer may be closer than ever, thanks to new research.

According to researchers from France's National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA), moms who consume omega-3 rich foods during their pregnancies can potentially boost the immune systems of their babies' developing digestive systems. Many people aren't aware of this, but one of the the biggest immune organs in our bodies is our digestive system, or gut. The gut associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT for short, is the body's largest mass of lymphoid tissue that helps protect it from invasion by foreign substances or pathogens. If this huge component of the immune system can be strengthened, it follows that one's risk of illness or potentially developing allergies may be reduced.

In the study, pregnant and lactating pigs were examined since their digestive systems closely mimic our own. When the mother pigs in the study consumed lots of omega-3 PUFAs from oily fish as well as nuts and seeds, the digestive systems of their babies became more porous, allowing for more broken down particles to pass through into their blood streams. This, in turn, allowed the babies' immune systems to create antibodies to the particles, allowing for a quicker than normal development and maturation of their immune systems and less potential risk of future allergies.

It is still unclear as to why the incidence of food allergies is rising worldwide, but many researchers believe it is because we are consuming fewer omega-3 fatty acids and poorer quality foods over all. Whatever the true reasons may be, consuming a safe, healthy, nutrient-dense diet with a large focus on omega-3 fatty acids can only do good for your baby's health and development, according to loads of research. Some great sources of omega 3s are oily fish including salmon, mackerel and tuna as well as almonds, walnuts, flax, hemp and chia seeds.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blame Genetics for Laziness? Researchers Discover 'Exercise Gene'

I think it's safe to say that we all know some people who just love to exercise. Those people just can't stop moving around, they're always keeping busy and they seem to be way more into exercise and physical activity than most other people you know. Even in these times where we're all pressed for time, those fitness lovers always seem to be able to schedule in a sweat session. All this may leave most people scratching their heads or wishing they could do the same, but the truth is, there may be more than just willpower and drive behind this phenomenon.

According to Canadian researchers at McMaster University,there is a set of genes in our muscles that codes for an enzyme called called AMP-K that gets switched on during exercise. This enzyme converts food energy into muscle fuel and gives us the boost and motivation we need to exercise. Without it, we give up more easily and don't feel as compelled to exercise at all.

The study was performed using mice, half of whose genes were knocked, making them unable to produce AMP-K. In humans, the genes are identical and perform the same function. The knockout mice had fewer mitochondria in their cells which are known as the cellular 'power houses' that convert sugars into ATP, our cellular energy 'currency'.

Among brother and sister mice in the study, who were otherwise identical, those who lacked the genes were noticeably slower and less inclined to move around. In humans, these genes are essential, particularly for people living with diabetes, who have more difficulty using the sugars they consume and bringing the glucose in their blood into their cells.

The researchers noted that, in people who are sedentary, their genes may become dormant or temporarily 'switched off', making them less inclined to exercise. But before you start blaming genetics for your lack of motivation and lethargy, keep in mind that once you get back on track and back into a routine, the genes can switch right back on again, delivering that boost and and a new-found desire to exercise. That, in addition to repeating a little 'mind over matter' mantra should make you unstoppable!

So go on, strap on your runners or throw on your yoga pants and go feel the burn! Your body will thank you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Eat Ginger to Fight Prostate Cancer

Ginger tends to be one of those common foods that you either love or you hate. You might use it regularly in your cooking or maybe just enjoy a little to cleanse your palate while eating sushi. You might even avoid it like the plague all together. Its aromatic flavour has been described as sweet, pungent, slightly lemony, peppery and spicy but the bold flavour of ginger is unmistakable. No matter what your opinion of ginger happens to be, you might want to start noshing on it just a little bit more if you want to help keep cancer at bay.

Ginger is an ancient remedy, commonly appearing in Chinese medicine, for boosting health and fighting off all kinds of ailments. Its reported benefits include soothing gastrointestinal upsets like nausea, which is why ginger ale is commonly prescribed as a remedy for upset stomachs. Recent discoveries have found that ginger has potent anti-inflammatory effects thanks to the gingerols it contains, and those gingerol compounds are also responsible for its recently discovered anti-cancer effects.

Not only has ginger been linked to lower rates of colorectal cancer, but new research has found that it may combat prostate cancer as well. Researchers from Georgia State University have found that consuming about 100g of whole ginger throughout the day might offer a big enough burst of a particular ginger extract that has been found to kill cancer cells. The researchers believe that consuming ginger in its whole, unprocessed form allows for synergistic results of the plant with our body environments with fewer side-effects.

The things we put into our bodies, no matter what they are, have the power to create or prevent disease. Sure, everyone has their own specific body environments and genetic makeup that interacts in a unique way with the atoms and molecules they introduce into their systems, but by and large, things tend to affect us in predictable ways. If you eat unhealthy foods too often, drink too much alcohol or smoke, you are more than likely to find that disease has come knocking on your door. Do the opposite - eat healthy and stay physically active, and you are likely to be in good health for a long time. It should come as no surprise then, that consuming certain foods, particularly those heralded as super foods like ginger can help us boost our odds of keeping illness at bay.

Try adding a little ginger to your next salad, stir fry or even as a tea (slice ginger and top with boiling water) to enjoy the amazing flavours and health benefits it has to offer. Tip: for easy peeling, just scrape the root with a spoon, but it is just fine to leave the peel on.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Marky Mark Wahlberg Cares about Your Health

Mark Wahlberg has been breaking hearts with his incredibly fit physique for a decades now. His unforgettable and iconic ads for Calvin Klein back in his prime inspired boys and men all over to try to achieve an 8 pack like his. Now into his 40s, he continues to maintain his fit form, appearing in films like 'The Fighter', where he played a champion boxer. But Mark isn't selfish - he doesn't just place his focus on his own fit form. On the contrary, he's now on a mission to encourage others to get in shape, although it's probably not what you think - he's considering giving fashion design a shot!

Wahlberg has always placed a great deal of emphasis on health and fitness, and he's hoping that by adding his name to a new fitness clothing line, he can get people to work up a sweat, feel great and get healthy. The potential clothing line would be part of a new 'wellness business' that he is considering launching.

In a recent interview, Wahlberg was quoted as saying "We are interested at some point or another doing our own clothing line in the future. As well as a health and wellness business that will help people first and foremost feel good, exercise, eat right, and then look good." He went on to add that "Eighty-five per cent of the population doesn't exercise and eat right, and you want to be able to push them in the direction of extending their lifespan and living healthy lives.' How considerate of him!

Along with his brothers Donnie and Paul, Mark is also planning to open a burger joint in Chicago, appropriately called Wahlbergers. Could this 'wellness business' be a response to feeling badly about offering the already disproportionately obese and overweight population another outlet to obtain high-calorie foods? Who really knows, but it's definitely something we look forward to hearing more about! Any Marky Mark news - I mean health and wellness news - is good news, right?

Purple Potatoes May Put High Blood Pressure in it's Place

Potatoes are one of the best known sources of potassium, a mineral required for optimal cell and nervous system functioning, as well as blood pressure maintenance. Despite the fact that they've gotten quite a bad rep lately (thanks to some studies which suggested that they easily make us pack on the fat), there is no reason to fear eating potatoes.

When eaten in moderation, prepared correctly and enjoyed sensibly (and responsibly!), potatoes do wonders for keeping our tickers and blood vessels healthy. More still, the more colourful the potato - red skinned or the purple variety - the more nutrients and antioxidants they contain which is always a bonus for keeping us healthy.

According to a small new study, enjoying potatoes in smaller portions throughout the day may help lower blood pressure as much as eating oatmeal can. What's more, it was found that the participants in this study did not gain weight when eating more potatoes than they previously were.

The participants in the study added 6 to 8 cooked baby purple potatoes to their diets twice a day, each day for a month enjoyed significant reductions in their overall blood pressure.

The study's lead researcher, Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania wants people to know that potatoes aren't bad guys when it comes to our waistlines or our health. Sure, some of the most fattening foods like potato chips and french fries happen to be made from spuds, but there's no rule that says they have to be deep fried to be delicious! Steaming, baking or boiling them with a little salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash makes for a delicious and nutritious addition to any meal or snack. In the study, the spuds were microwaved, which is another easy and quick option for preparing them.

So now that some of the fuss that was created around potatoes in recent months has been put aside, you can go ahead and put potatoes back on your menu. That is, if you even took them off to begin with!