Fruits, veggies, and happiness
Exercise preserves elderly brain
Diet lowers diabetes after pregnancy
Gestational probiotics lower eczema
Cherries reduce gout attacks
Among all the other benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, it now appears that they can help make you happy. In a review of three data sets including about 80,000 British participants from England, Scotland, and Wales, researchers found that some measures of well-being, including happiness, were higher with increasing consumption of fruits and veggies. The correlation is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship; it is possible that being happy leads to consumption of healthier foods.
The researchers measured seven parameters of well-being, and found that the highest scores were among those people who consumed 7 portions per day of fruits and vegetables. They measured life satisfaction, mental well-being, specific mental disorders, and self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low. (Blanchflower DG, et al., Is psychological well-being linked to the consumption of fruit and vegetables? Social Indicators Research 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s11205-012-0173-y.)
Compared to those subjects eating just one or two portions of fruits and veggies (a portion defined at 2.8 ounces), the scores for those eating seven or eight portions were 2 to 5 times higher on the different parameters. For happiness, the scores were 5-fold higher among those consuming the highest level of fruits and veggies. The scores rose consistently with increasing consumption. Current recommendations are to consume at least five portions of fruits and veggies to prevent heart disease and cancer. In addition to these benefits, higher consumption may keep you cheery (or possibly, your cheeriness led you to eat more fruits and vegetables).
A study in the journal Neurology shows that exercise can help preserve brain function. Researchers analyzed leisure and physical activities at 70 years old in 691 subjects and then evaluated structural brain biomarkers three years later. These included atrophy, and gray and white matter lesions. (Gow AJ, et al., Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: Activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity. Neurology. 2012 Oct 23;79(17):1802-1808.)
Physical activity significantly lowered the development of brain lesions and atrophy of brain tissue. The physical exercise varied, but included as little as walking a few times per week, compared to getting little or no exercise. When the researchers evaluated the participation in social or mentally stimulating activities, they found no statistically significant association with brain lesions after adjusting for other variables. Previous studies have suggested improved function with social and mental activities, but this study looked at anatomical changes. It is still a good idea to exercise and also keep active mentally and socially.
Diabetes often develops during pregnancy, partly related to weight gain and dietary habits, and possibly to the physiological changes associated with pregnancy. Women with such gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for developing adult-onset diabetes later in life. However, this development is not inevitable, and new research suggests that adherence to healthful eating patterns can significantly reduce the risk.
Researchers evaluated 4413 subjects from the Nurses’ Health Study II who had a history of gestational diabetes. They were followed for 14 years, ending in 2005. Based on validated food-frequency questionnaires, they evaluated adherence to several dietary patterns, including the alternate Mediterranean diet (aMED), the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), and the alternate Health Eating Index (aHEI). They updated the questionnaires every four years. (The alternate version of the Mediterranean diet is slightly modified to reflect American eating habits, and the alternate Healthy Eating Index is Harvard University’s attempt to improve on the food pyramid.)
In the course of the study they observed 491 cases of type 2 diabetes during 52,743 person years. All three dietary patterns were inversely associated with diabetes risk. For the aMED pattern the highest adherence group had a 40 percent lower diabetes risk than the lowest adherence group. For the DASH pattern, there was a 46 percent lower risk. For the aHEI pattern, the risk reduction was 57 percent. (Tobias DK, et al., Healthful dietary patterns and type 2 diabetes mellitus risk among women with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Sep 17:1-7. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3747. [Epub ahead of print])
In this study, weight control also played a role in the prevention of diabetes, as an elevated body mass index lowered the value of the dietary adherence. Nonetheless, it is clear that diabetes later in life is not an inevitable result of gestational diabetes. In addition to the diabetes prevention, these diets are all associated with lowered risks of cancer and heart disease, as well as other chronic conditions.
Health practices during gestation influence the health of the infant after delivery. Intestinal bacteria are an important part of overall health. Extensive use of antibiotics has altered the good bacteria (although they are important tools in treating infections). This is largely due to the overuse of these medications and the broad spectrum of organisms that they kill.
A new study shows that good bacteria (probiotics) taken during pregnancy can lower the chance of the infants developing eczema. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers evaluated 205 mother-infant pairs during pregnancy and for the succeeding two years. The mothers were randomly assigned to receive one of two different mixtures of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species or a placebo during the last two months of pregnancy and after delivery for two months of breast feeding.
When the infants were 24 months old, they found that the probiotic mixtures reduced the chance of developing eczema by 70 to 83 percent. (Rautava S, et al., Maternal probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and breast-feeding reduces the risk of eczema in the infant. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Oct 16. pii: S0091-6749(12)01464-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.09.003. [Epub ahead of print]) None of the supplements led to any side effects. Probiotics have a wide variety of health benefits, particularly, but not only, for digestive ailments. Our relationship with friendly bacteria goes back to prehistory. A recent article in the New Yorker magazine (October 22, 2012) goes into detail about what is now referred to as the “microbiome” (the bacteria on the skin and in the ears, nasal passages, and intestinal tract) and how it can influence health, and its essential nature in keeping us healthy.
Last month I noted the relationship of lead exposure to the risk of developing gout, a painful arthritic condition due to the deposit of uric acid in joint tissues. Healthy diets can reduce the incidence of gout Lowering the intake of meats, shellfish, and alcohol is particularly helpful, as is avoidance of high-protein weight-loss diets, all of which increase exposure to uric acid precursors called purines. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids.
A new study confirms some folklore about gout. Cherry consumption can reduce the incidence of recurrent gout attacks. Patients with gout were recruited and followed online for one year. The researchers included 633 individuals and asked them about their gout attacks: onset date, symptoms, medications, and their intake of cherries or cherry extract during the two days prior to the attack.
Cherry intake over a two-day period was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of gout attacks compared with no intake. Cherry extract was associated with a 45 percent reduction in risk. The benefits of cherries and extract were independent of sex, obesity, purine intake, alcohol use, diuretic use, and anti-gout medications. When cherry intake was combined with a gout medication called allopurinol, the risk of gout was 75 percent lower than during periods without either exposure. (Zhang Y, et al., Cherry consumption and the risk of recurrent gout attacks. Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Sep 28. doi: 10.1002/art.34677. [Epub ahead of print])
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