Diet and Natural Health
Written and researched by Bob Murray, PhD
Latest News |
Back Issues | Get updates:
Suicide Attempts Linked to Weight Perception
Aug 5, 2005
Suicidal impulses and attempts are much more common in teenagers who think they are too fat or too thin, regardless of how much they actually weigh, a study found. Using actual body size based on teens' reports of their height and weight, the researchers found that overall, overweight or underweight teens were only slightly more likely than normal-weight teens to have suicidal tendencies.
But teens who perceived themselves at either weight extreme--very fat or really skinny--were more than twice as likely as normal-weight teens to attempt or think about suicide.
The study was based on a nationally representative 2001 survey involving 13,601 students in ninth through 12th grade. The findings appear in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics &Adolescent Medicine.
About 19 percent said they had considered suicide in the previous year and about 9 percent said they had attempted it. About 65 percent of students were in the normal-weight range, but only about 54 percent perceived themselves as "about the right weight." Some thought they weighed too much; others thought they were too thin. "Suicide ideation was more likely even among students whose perceptions of body size deviated only slightly from 'about the right weight,'" said lead author Danice Eaton, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because nearly half of the students perceived themselves as too thin or too heavy, "these results suggest that a sizable proportion of students may be at increased risk" for suicide, the researchers said.
Perceptions of being very overweight were linked with an increased risk for suicide attempts among whites. But black and Hispanic students who saw themselves as being very overweight were no more likely to say they had attempted suicide than blacks and Hispanics who thought they were about the right weight. The link between perceptions of being very underweight and an increased risk for suicide attempts existed for whites, blacks and Hispanics alike.
The study did not determine which came first--perceptions of extreme weight or suicidal tendencies. But the results suggest that extreme weight perceptions might be a suicide warning sign, the researchers said.
Read more in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine
Top of page
Caffeinated Colas Linked to Inattention, Hyperactivity in Kids
June 6, 2005
When parents or teachers complain about a child being inattentive, restless, and having difficulty sleeping, physicians may want to consider the caffeinated soft drinks in the school vending machine or the home refrigerator before they screen for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to findings presented here at the 2005 American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.
In a double-blind study of first-grade children, researchers found that they had more behavior problems on the days that they were exposed to caffeinated colas than on the days that they had caffeine-free drinks. These findings may provide a simple answer to some instances of children's hyperactivity, according to principal investigator Alan R Hirsch, MD.
"We found that exposure to caffeinated cola drinks impaired children's learning ability by causing restlessness, hyperactivity, and inattention," Dr Hirsch said. "On the days that the children were drinking caffeinated drinks, their hyperactivity/inattention scores increased an average of 5.5 points compared with the days when they were only drinking caffeine-free drinks." Dr Hirsch is an assistant professor of both neurology and psychiatry at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
The study involved 20 first-grade children, 10 boys and 10 girls. In three-hour time segments that occurred sequentially for a two-week study period, the students were given up to 12 oz of either a caffeinated cola drink or a caffeine-free cola drink. The children were given 10 dimes with which they could "buy" repeat servings of their designated drink for the study session after an initial serving of 2 oz. At the end of each session, the children's teacher, who did not know the purpose of the study or the type of soda each child consumed, assessed each child's behavior.
On the study days, the children consumed an average of 7.55 oz of caffeine-free cola and 9.45 oz of caffeinated. Among the individual students, 60% had elevated hyperactivity/inattention scores on the caffeine days, while only15% had higher scores on the caffeine-free days. The remaining 25% had consumed the maximum servings of both types of drinks and were not included in the analysis.
After adjusting for noncaffeine-related factors, such as the number of ounces consumed and the amount of sugar in the drinks, the scores were still higher on the caffeine days. The findings should support physicians' recommendations regarding restricting children's dietary caffeine, and it could also have implications regarding school systems' friendly relationship with vendors.
"Children ages 6 to 11 years old conservatively drink an average of seven to eight oz of carbonated soda per day," said Dr Hirsch. As the findings show, "this can have a substantial impact on children's behavior in school."
The study also underscores why it is so important to completely evaluate young children who are having behavioral and emotional problems and to review the child's dietary habits, including caffeinated beverages, as part of the evaluation.
In our upcoming book "Raising Optimistic Children" (McGraw-Hill, Feb 2006) we argue strongly that ADHD is the result of nurture and other environmental influences. This research supports our conclusions. BM
Note: The research is not available online.
Top of page
Obesity and Childhood Depression
May 1, 2005
In the fight against childhood and adult obesity, the underlying causes of eating disorders are often ignored. Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are usually stressed as the main culprits.
A surprising study by researchers from the University of Texas and the Oregon Research Institute published in the April edition of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology throws doubt on the received wisdom that obesity is primarily caused by high-fat foods and lack of exercise. Their study of teenage girls found that the real predictors for obesity in adulthood are suffering from depression, engaging in radical weight-control programs and having obese parents.
The researchers followed 496 girls for five years. They were regularly questioned about their eating, exercise and dieting habits. They were also asked about their parents weight.
They found that those girls who engaged in what the researchers called "compensatory" behavior--vomiting and laxative abuse--or who suffered from depression were most likely to become obese. Those with obese parents were also likely to become overweight. Those who regularly indulged in high-fat foods or who rarely exercised were the least likely to become obese.
The researchers warned, however that their study did not mean that high-fat foods were safe or that exercise wasn't important.
Read more in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Top of page
Eating Disorders Affect Preschoolers
April 1, 2005
A team from the Flinders University of South Australia interviewed over 80 girls aged five to eight. The study reported in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology found 47 percent wanted to be slimmer, and most thought that would make them more popular.
Because of the girls' age, the researchers asked them about their awareness, rather than actual experience, of teasing and likeability on the basis of body shape. They were also asked what they thought about their peers' level of body dissatisfaction, and how much body shape was discussed accepted amongst the girls they knew.
Researchers also questioned the children on how much they knew about dieting. Forty-five percent said they would diet if they gained weight, with older girls in the group more likely to do so.
Most girls believed being thin would increase likeability, yet very few claimed to discuss their bodies with their friends. Five-year-old girls displayed little dissatisfaction with their bodies.
Researcher Hayley Dohnt, who led the study, said: "Previously, research has focused on adolescence as the likely time for the emergence of body dissatisfaction. However, clear evidence has accumulated that a substantial number of pre-adolescent girls are dissatisfied with their bodies and wish to be thinner."
A spokesman for the UK's Eating Disorders Association was qoted on BBC News Online as saying: "Eating disorders have been recorded in children as young as eight, and there may have been instances in children of an even younger age. Low self esteem is a major contributory factor of eating disorders: media images, peer pressure and family situations can also affect people.We believe there are lots of pressures from many areas on young people to be thin. We are concerned but not surprised that school children as young as six are affected by them."
Eating Disorders Begin in Childhood
In a separate story Italian researchers have traced the origin of eating disorders to very early childhood. In fact the root cause of the problems may be an infant's separation anxiety when his or her mother is absent.
This is the finding of a study by Alfonso Troisi and colleagues in the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Rome which is published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.
The researchers investigated whether 78 women with eating disorders (aged 17 to 36) had a higher frequency of childhood separation anxiety symptoms compared with 64 healthy women. Using a questionnaire study design, participants were assessed for the presence of retrospective separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can manifest itself in unrealistic worries about harmful things happening to the key figure while they are away or the fear of being lost, kidnapped or even killed. The researchers found that women with eating disorders reported more severe separation anxiety during childhood. This may be because control over body change is an external way to divert attention away from attachment-related concerns.
The study also measured the women's current approaches to relating to significant others. The findings showed that women with eating disorders had more insecure attachments.
The findings support the idea that women with eating disorders respond to imagined minor separations from loved ones in extreme ways. The results can also be interpreted as indirect evidence linking insecure styles of adult attachment to adverse early experiences with attachment figures.
But the researchers also stress that while insecure attachment may predispose an individual to an eating disorder, it is in fact other factors that will determine the type of eating disorder that emerges.
Read more in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology
Read more in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology
Top of page
Weight Gain Linked to Dementia
March 1, 2005
"OK, OK. I"ll forgo the candy, and I'll not have a second slice of... What was it I was eating?"
Scary stuff this continuing barrage of data showing that even the smallest amount of fat is bad, bad, bad! Based on data collected over a 28 year period from more than 7,000 men in the south-west town of Gothenburg, the new study reveals a clear link between middle age weight gain and later deterioration of intellectual faculties.
"Greater overweight resulted in a higher risk for dementia, but the connection was even clear in [people] on the heavier end of their normal weight," Annika Rosengren, a researcher at the Gothenburg University and head of the study, said.
While genetic makeup and age are the most important factors in determining whether a person will develop dementia, the study backs up recent research showing that a high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes also greatly impact our mental development.
The study compares a subject's middle age body mass index (BMI)--in which their weight in kilograms is divided by their height in metres--to later onset of dementia. While a person is not considered overweight until their BMI surpasses 25, the study shows a slightly higher risk of developing dementia with a BMI level of only 22.5. Bad news for KFC and Burger King!
The study also showed the link between weight gain and dementia remained clear even after factors like smoking, exercise and diabetes had been taken into consideration.
Read more at ABC Just In
Top of page
Bad News for Turkeys!
December 6, 2004
People have long yearned for a guilt-free reason to feast over the holiday season. But we are constantly told that this is a bad, bad thing causing everything from early death to depression.
Now scientists at Indiana University Bloomington have found that in winter a little temporary fat may actually strengthen our immune systems.
Assistant professor and biologist Gregory Demas is studying the relationship between fat reserves and immune function in animals. So far, Demas has found that sudden weight loss leads to the rapid depression of immune function, and he says the opposite also holds true: an increase in fat reserves bolsters the strength of the animals' immune systems. Similar studies in humans have not yet been conducted.
A little extra fat could help humans and other animals deal with cold weather by providing extra insulation from the cold as well as extra energy to immune systems facing an onslaught of pathogens.
The study is as yet unpublished.
Top of page
Gender Preferences in Comfort Foods Stem From Childhood
July 8, 2003
When it comes to foods that bring them psychological comfort, men like hearty meals, while women look for snacks that require little or no preparation, though they may cause pangs of guilt.
The psychological underpinnings of people's food preferences have been a continuing source of study at the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While the human craving for salty and sweet foods is well documented, the Illinois lab has found that nearly 40 percent of "comfort-giving foods" do not fall into the traditional categories of snacks or desserts. Instead, they can be classified as relatively natural, home-made, even "healthy" main courses, and include soups, vegetables, pasta, pizza and steak.
"Comfort foods are foods whose consumption evoke a psychologically pleasurable state for a person," reported Brian Wansink, an Illinois marketing professor who heads the lab. Drawing from national survey questionnaires, the lab has concluded that a person's comfort-food preferences are formed at an early age and are triggered, in addition to hunger, by conditioned associations and gender differences.
Men, for example, find comfort in foods associated with meals prepared by their mothers (mashed potatoes, pasta, meat, and soup) rather than from snacks and sweets (excepting ice cream). But what is comfort for men is work for women. "Because adult females are not generally accustomed to having hot food prepared for them and as children saw the female as the primary food preparer, they tend to gain psychological comfort from less labor-intensive foods such as chocolate, candy and ice cream," Wansink said.
Indeed, one study found that 92 percent of self-reported "chocolate addicts" were female.
Many people assume comfort foods are eaten when a person is sad or lonely. "The opposite is often true," Wansink said. "People are more apt to seek out comfort foods when they're jubilant or when they want to celebrate or reward themselves."
But the kinds of foods that give comfort may vary with one's mood, according to the professor. A person may crave pizza when happy, reach for cookies when sad, and open up a bag of potato chips when bored. Adults hanker for foods that connect with specific personal events ("My mom always gave me soup when I was sick") or to people in their lives ("My father loved green bean casserole").
Some foods stir vivid reactions when tasted or smelled or come to be associated with personal identity (T-bone steak is "strong and all-American" to many men; tofu isn't). Whatever the trigger, the emotions evoked by food are powerful factors in the human drive to eat--and overeat.
Read more on the U. Illinois site
Top of page
Tea is Good For You (Really!)
April 23, 2003
US researchers say tea may prime the immune system to fight infections and perhaps even cancer. The effect is due to the fact that tea contains alkylamine antigens--chemicals which are also present in some bacteria, tumour cells, parasites and funghi. Scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston and the University of New Hampshire say because the body is consistently exposed to the chemicals it can build up a defence against them.
Read more in BBC News
Top of page
Aromatherapy Might Help Dementia Patients
December 2, 2002
A review on recent research, conducted by Alistair Burns, a professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Manchester and at Wythenshawe Hospital, found these two types of alternative remedies may help with some of the behavioral problems among dementia patients.
In the review, which appears in the British Medical Journal, Burns looked at three studies testing aromatherapy and three studies testing bright-light therapy. All either were double-blinded or randomized placebo studies. One study compared aromatherapy and massage, aromatherapy and conversation and massage alone, for example. Aromatherapy involves stimulating the senses through the use of essential oils. Bright-light therapy is used to treat seasonal mood disorder and involves sitting in front of a light box giving off intense light, which usually is significantly brighter than office or household lighting.
When compared to a placebo, aromatherapy using oils such as sunflower oil, lemon balm, or lavender oil was found to be very beneficial in reducing agitation, a common symptom of dementia. These oils were delivered either through the skin or inhalation.
Among the bright-light therapy studies, those who received the bright-light treatment showed significant reductions in sleep disturbances and physical restlessness, also common symptoms of dementia.
Typically, medications such as neuroleptics, which affect the brain, or sedatives are used to calm dementia patients, but these prescription drugs also come with side effects. Burns wrote in his review that the findings indicate aromatherapy and bright-light therapy could be viable alternative treatments for dementia patients without the worry of unwanted side effects.
"People with dementia are among the most vulnerable in our society," Burns wrote. "Symptoms often need to be treated expediently, and drugs, although moderately effective, can be hazardous. Aromatherapy and bright-light treatment seem to be safe and effective and may have an important role in managing behavioral problems in people with dementia."
I think that aromatherapy probably helps with stress generally, not just in patients with dementia. BM
Read more in the British Medical Journal
Top of page
Wine Seems Protective Against Dementia
October 22, 2002
Something in a glass of wine, doctors said recently, appears to protect people from the most common forms of dementia -- Alzheimer's disease or stroke-cause mental deterioration. "We think that substances in wine known as flavonoids -- particularly in red wine -- might be protecting the brain," said Dr Thomas Truelsen, senior research epidemiologist at the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen, Denmark. Truelsen told the American Neurological Association's annual meeting flavonoids are rich in antioxidants, which may minimize damage caused by oxidants -- molecules that may cause cell damage and have been implicated in various diseases, including dementia. Overall, Truelsen told United Press International, people who said they drank wine on a weekly or monthly basis had less than half the dementia of people who never drank any alcohol. Daily consumption of wine also appeared to reduce the risk of dementia, but to a lesser extent. The wine drinkers had less risk of dementia than people who consumed beer or spirits. The researchers did not find a difference between men and women and the type of alcohol the consumed. "The results do not indicate that people should start drinking or increasing wine consumption to avoid dementia," Truelsen said, "but suggest that certain substances in wine may reduce the occurrence of dementia."
Read more in Psychport
Top of page
Does Being Fat Lead to Alzheimer's Disease?
September 4, 2002
Eating more calories and fats may contribute to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in some people, according to an article in the latest issue of The Archives of Neurology.
According to background information given, significantly reduced calorie diets have been associated with longer life spans in mice and rats. Researchers believe that the relationship is a result of the production of fewer free radicals, destructive molecules formed during the breakdown of food and oxygen in cells. Free radicals damage cells and may increase the damage done by beta amyloids, the glue-like particles found in the brains of people with AD.
Jose A Luchsinger MD, of Columbia University, New York, and colleagues studied the association between caloric intake and AD in 980 elderly individuals without AD at the start of their study. The researchers followed these patients for an average of 4 years. They recorded how many calories they ate and tested for the presence of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) epsilon 4 allele, a gene that has been associated with AD.
During the study, 242 patients developed AD, and 28 percent tested positive for the APOE epsilon 4 gene. The average daily caloric intake of the women studied (67 percent of the study population) was 1,267 kcals. Men consumed an average of 1,316 kcals per day. Average daily fat consumption in both groups was 38 grams.
The researchers divided the study group into four groups depending on how many calories were consumed daily. The group that consumed the most calories had a 50 percent greater chance of developing AD.
The researchers also looked at the effect of the APOE epsilon 4 gene. Of the participants, 263 tested positive for the APOE epsilon 4 gene, and among them, those who consumed the most calories had a 2.3 times greater chance of developing AD compared to those who ate the fewest calories.
The authors write that "Calorie restriction may also decrease [nerve cell] death and increase expression of neurotrophic [nerve-protecting] factors in the brain. Reduced calorie intake can increase the brain's capacity for plasticity and repair in neurodegenerative disorders, including AD."
The researchers conclude: "Our analyses of 242 cases of incident AD revealed that the risk of AD is associated with higher total calorie intake and fat intake in individuals [with] the APOE epsilon 4 [gene]. In individuals without the APOE epsilon 4 [gene], calorie and fat intake were not associated with risk of AD."
Here is yet another example of how a genetic propensity needs to be triggered by the person's behavior in order to bring on illness, something we have been stressing for some time. AF
Read more in The Archives of Neurology
Top of page
Diet Called Most Important Breast Cancer Risk Factor
January 23, 2002
A unique study of breast cancer mortality rates and dietary factors for 35 countries published in the journal Cancer presents strong evidence that diet is the most important risk factor for breast cancer.
Specifically, the data from the study shows that the fraction of daily calories derived from animal products exhibits a very strong correlation with increased mortality by this cancer, while the fraction derived from vegetable products shows an equally strong correlation with a decreased mortality.
This new study finally solves the mystery of why almost all such correlation type studies find a very strong link between dietary fat and the incidence of breast cancer, while other types of cancer studies, such as those involving case-control or the examination of cohorts, do not show this effect. The increase is due to the fact that those females living in countries with high-fat diets generally eat a higher fraction of animal products, drink more alcoholic beverages, and eat less fish (a source of vitamin D) than those women living in countries with low-fat diets.
Thus, over their lifetime, they produce more estrogen -- and more insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Both of these compounds are known to be strong factors associated with increased risk of breast cancer, and alcohol increases the effects of estrogen.
The study also confirms surprising and important results about the relationship between the mortality from breast cancer and ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation, the type of sunlight that produces vitamin D (and is also associated with tanning and skin cancer).
The results clearly show that exposure to UV-B actually reduces the mortality from breast cancer quite substantially. For example, breast cancer mortality rates in the southwestern part of the US are only half what they are in the northeast. In Europe, the breast cancer mortality rates are found to grow with increasing latitude as long as corrections are made for diet.
The study was conducted by William B Grant, PhD, an independent research scientist who studies dietary and environmental links to chronic diseases.
Read more in Uniscience
Top of page
Acupuncture May Relieve Depression
November 26, 2001
Research by the Mental Health Foundation into acupuncture involving the ear examined the impact of this therapy on women with mental health problems.
Women involved in the study reported feeling more relaxed and calm, having improved sleep, more energy and greater confidence, and these benefits increased if the treatment was repeated regularly over a number of weeks.
Eight women volunteers with long-term mental health problems, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, took part, receiving weekly ear acupuncture treatments for six months.
Recorded comments included: "I'd recommend it to anybody, it's the only thing that's ever worked for me" and "I feel like I'm living a better quality of life now; I'm more creative, more skilful, just because I feel good."
Another project by the same charity examined the impact of both giving and receiving massage -- and found and found these activities were also beneficial to mental wellbeing.
Vicky Nicholls, the Foundation's Strategies for Living project co-ordinator, said "This research highlights the value of creative approaches in mental and emotional health. At the moment people are most likely to be offered medication, hospitalization and, sometimes, talking therapies, but there is no one solution that works for everyone, and we need to see more therapies and services made available, so that people have a real choice."
The trouble with this study is that the numbers, eight women, are too small to be convincing. Further there was no control group. However,whatever benefits acupuncture may bring to those suffering from depression, what I want to know is what the level of relationship the acupuncturists had with their clients. Almost any treatment can work, at least in the short term, if a) the patient believes in it and/or b) there is a strong relationship between the practitioner and the patient. If "alternative" therapists spend more time with their patients, then that may be what is needed. BM
Read more in BBC News
Top of page
'False Epidemic' of Food Allergy
November 10, 2001
The British Nutrition Foundation says that one in five Britons now thinks they have some kind of intolerance or allergy. Many, it says, have been told that this is the root of health problems such as spots, upset stomachs, weight gain and headaches. Intolerance to wheat or dairy products is a frequent diagnosis -- and sufferers are often told to cut these from their diets to reduce symptoms.
However, the foundation says that in truth, only a fraction of people actually have any sort of allergic or intolerant reaction to food types. It has examined a series of worldwide studies conducted into food allergies. These, it says, point to fewer than 1% of adults having a full-blown, potentially life-threatening food allergy. Fewer than 2%, it says, have a milder food intolerance.
Dr Sarah Schenker, a nutrition scientist for the foundation, said: "About 20% of the UK population perceive themselves to have an intolerance or allergy to food. It seems like the trendy thing to do now. We are very concerned that the people seem to be using food allergies and intolerance as an excuse for weight gain rather than cutting down on food and doing more exercise."
She said that many so-called allergy "experts" were charging patients large sums of money for tests with little or no scientific validity -- and might even be giving potentially dangerous diet advice. "If people are told to cut a lot of food out of their diet, they can lose the overall balance of the diet and that is no good."
She said that a true wheat allergy would certainly not result in weight gain -- chronic diarrhoea would be more likely to be the outcome.
Our stomachs, which have not changed significantly from those of hunter-gatherers, are geared for a mixed diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and the occasional serving of meat. BM
Read more in BBC News
Top of page
Maybe Antioxidants Are Bad For You
Antioxidant supplements, whose ability to improve cardiac health has been subject to much recent scientific skepticism, actually interfered with cholesterol-lowering drugs in a new study from the University of Washington.
Certain substances have been found to slow the chemical process, called oxidation, that causes narrowing of the arteries. In recent years such antioxidants have become widely used, even as a number of large studies failed to show any significant protective effect.
In the new study, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, researchers compared the effects of two proven cholesterol fighters, simvastin and niacin, with those of a mix of vitamins rich in antioxidants, vitamins E and C, beta carotene and selenium, and with a combination of the two groups.
The antioxidants did not appear to add any benefit to the simvastatin-niacin mix in lowering levels of LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, and by themselves lowered LDL. only slightly. And patients who added the vitamins had a far lower increase in levels of "good" cholesterol, HDL, than those who took the heart medications alone.
The study's senior author, Dr B. Greg Brown, said the results might explain in part "why antioxidants don't add protection: they do a good thing, with LDL, but they also do a bad thing, with HDL."
Read more in The New York Times
Top of page
What? Not A Glass of Wine For Thy Stomach's Sake?
For some few years now there has been a raging debate in health circles on the subject of wine, especially red wine: Is a glass or two good for you and is wine better than beer?
Study after study have seemed to show that wine drinkers are healthier, but a new, wider study from Denmark suggests that this is because wine drinkers have a higher social standing and healthier personality traits than others.
A second study, this time from Spain, taking socio-economic factors into account finds no health differences between wine and beer drinkers.
"It is very difficult to say what is a direct physical effect of wine-drinking and what is due to social and psychological differences," says Erik Mortensen of the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, leader of the Danish study. "We're not saying that wine isn't good for your health, but that it's hard to know exactly how good it is for your health."
The idea that wine promotes health has been around ever since researchers noted the 'French paradox' in the early 1990s. French people have a much lower risk of heart attack than Americans, despite having similar levels of fat in their diet. The apparent health benefits are thought to stem from antioxidant compounds in the skin of red grapes.
Future studies may well prove that wine offers benefits that other alcoholic beverages do not. In the meantime, says Mortensen, those who are happy drinking beer should probably continue to do so. "Switching to wine isn't going to change your social status or psychological profile," he says.
Read more in Nature
The Institute of Preventative Medicine study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
Top of page
Liquorice Raises Blood Pressure
New research from Iceland, reported in the Journal of Human Hypertension, shows that even a few chews of liquorice can raise your blood pressure significantly.
Affecting up to 20% of the UK and 25% of the North and South American population, hypertension -- blood pressure over 140/90 -- increases risk of a heart attack or stroke. Complex genetic and lifestyle factors play a part too, so weight loss, increased exercise, good diet and reduced salt are key steps to cutting risk.
Though on the list, liquorice's role is not always looked into. "Maybe it should be part of our routine enquiry," suggests kidney specialist Robert Unwin at Middlesex Hospital in London, recalling a hypertensive case resulting from over-indulgence in the liquorice sweets called Pontefract cakes. "The concept that you have to be eating vast quantities of Liquorice Allsorts is not necessarily true," he agrees.
Besides sweets, liquorice is added in varying quantities to chewing tobacco, gum, teas, infusions and oils. A long-standing staple of Chinese medicine, raw liquorice is extracted from the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. Its actions on the steroid system are traditionally exploited to treat conditions from inflammation to bronchitis.
Read more in Nature
Top of page
Even Good Fat Can Be Bad for You
According to research published in the journal Thorax, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats seems to double the risk of asthma. Curiously enough, the same research shows that being breastfed as a baby and having three or more older siblings seemed to protect against the development of asthma.
The research, which involved over 1000 children between the ages of 3 and 5, was carried out in two rural towns in Australia. One town had a humid coastal climate and the other a dry inland climate, to reflect the different types of prevalent allergens.
Parents completed a questionnaire which included questions on asthma diagnosis, symptoms, and medicine in the preceding year for their children, the number of children in the family, whether the child was breastfed, and consumption of dietary polyunsaturated fats.
Six hundred and fifty of these children also took an allergen (skin prick) test to assess their response to common allergens including dust mite, egg, cow's milk and rye grass. About 20% of the children had asthma.
A child with an allergic response to one or more components of the skin prick tests was almost 2.5 times as likely to have recent asthma as children with a negative test. A parent with asthma doubled the risk and a serious respiratory infection before the age of 2 increased the risk by 93 per cent.
But a diet high in polyunsaturated fat, consisting of, for example, the use of margarine, on bread and foods regularly fried in polyunsaturated vegetable oils more than doubled the risk.
The authors suggest that high polyunsaturated fat consumption increases the levels of omega-6 fatty acid, which promotes the production of chemicals involved in inflammation. An increase in omega-6 means less omega-3 fatty acid, which inhibits inflammation.
The authors suggest that breastfeeding and polyunsaturated fat in the diet are modifiable factors, which, if changed, might make a substantial difference to the rising number of asthma cases.
Reported in Uniscience
Top of page
Diet Can Switch on Genes
Scientists have created genetically modified mice who can be either black or white, depending on what they eat. Every time the pure white mice drink water laced with certain chemicals their coats turn dark. Once the supplement is removed, they revert to their original color. The team from the University of Virginia that has put the mice through this process of pigment confusion reported their work in the journal Genes and Development.
What this research proves, according to Professor Chris Goodnow of the Australian National University, is that genes are not static during the lifetime of the animal. They are repeatedly switched on and off in different parts of the body at different times of development.
We have said for some time that genes were environmentally triggered, this research merely proves our point. I believe that genes (where there are such genes) which control psychological problems act in the same way. A genetic propensity, say, to depression or bi-polar disorder (manic depression) may be triggered by abuse or ill treatment in childhood or some devastating life occurrence, such as the death of a spouse. This same gene may be controlled by diet and explain why fatty fish, such as salmon, and other foods have been seen as antidepressants. BM
Published in Genes and Development
Also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald
Top of page
Coffee is Good For You
More and more scientists are focussing on what we eat as the key to disease prevention. Oily fish and chocolate (but only expensive chocolate) combat depression, apples guard against lung disease, nuts prevent heart disease and so forth. Now it's the turn of the humble coffee bean.
Two stories highlight this new appreciation of the morning java.
Professor Peter Martin, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA, claims that chemicals found in coffee could be used to manufacture new drugs for heart disease and insomnia. His team of researchers are focussing their efforts on substances called chlorogenic acids. It is believed that these compounds offset the effect of another ingredient of coffee, caffeine. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that can set the heart racing, and prevent sleep.
The scientists believe that chlorogenic acids could provide the basis for treating conditions such as tachycardia -- normally fast heart rate -- and angina. They believe the compounds also have potential for treating epilepsy, hyperactivity and sleep problems.
According to Professor Martin, "some of these chlorogenic acids appear to counteract the action of caffeine, and may be helpful in fighting diseases which feature low adenosine. Add their antioxidant effect, and you can immediately see the potential."
The researchers found that roasting coffee beans raised their antioxidant content to four times the level found in tea.
Another group of researchers has found that coffee protects against Parkinson's disease. A team at Massachusetts General Hospital has found evidence that caffeine blocks key receptors on cells in the part of the brain affected by the disease. The study does not prove that caffeine can prevent or treat the symptoms of Parkinson's, says researcher Jiang-Fan Chen. "But the epidemiological research has shown a clear relationship between moderate caffeine consumption and a reduced risk of Parkinson's. Now our findings clearly favor the idea that caffeine has a neuroprotective effect," he told the New Scientist.
Parkinson's is caused when brain cells that produce dopamine mysteriously die. The team gave mice a chemical that kills dopamine-producing cells. But mice that were also given the equivalent of one or two cups of coffee per day retained near normal dopamine levels. They also had far fewer Parkinson's-like symptoms. The team found that caffeine blocked the binding site of A2A receptors. These receptors are on cells in the substantia nigra, and are targeted by dopamine. However, Chen says the team does not yet understand how blocking the receptors prevents the loss of cells that produce dopamine.
The team now plans to study people with Parkinson's, to examine whether the disease progresses more slowly in patients that drink more coffee.
OK, let me get this straight: I should drink decaffinated coffee for my heart and the real stuff to prevent Parkinson's. BM
Read more on BBC News
Top of page
Fatty Diet Leads to Flabby Thinking
For some time researchers have noted the steady decline in the IQ levels of American children -- something discussed in the controversial book "The Bell Curve" by Herrnstein and Murray (1994).
Various theories have been put forward to account for the phenomenon. Now a new study by Gordon Winocur and Carol Greenwood of the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, Canada, has thrown new light on the problem.
Part of the cause of the mental decline may lie in the amount of fat that children take in from fast foods such as hamburgers, fries and so forth.
Studies on young rats demonstrated the dramatic effects that a high-fat diet can have. In the experiments one group of rats was fed a normal rat diet and another was fed a diet in which the ratlings received 40% of their calories from fat. By the time they reached rat adolescence they were given mental learning tests. The fatty rats failed miserably. Says Winocur: "High-fat diets impair performance on virtually all our measures. It's remarkable how impaired these animals are."
Winocur believes that the excess fat stops the brain taking up all the glucose energy it needs to develop properly, and that the developing brain may be more susceptible than the adult brain. High fat diets in childhood are also blamed -- alongside a couch-potato lifestyle -- for producing an epidemic of childhood obesity in the Western world.
Read more on BBC News
Top of page
Mashed Potatoes Improve Memory!
As reported in Psychology Today researchers at the University of Toronto have shown that eating common carbohydrates such as mashed potatoes can improve your memory for up to an hour after eating them. Pity we usually eat them at night before we sit down to remember the latest episode of NYPD Blue. Maybe breakfast cereals also help? Well barley is actually best. The study participants' memory improved 37% after eating barley, 32% after mashed potatoes and 8% after drinking something with glucose in it.
"We think it may have something to do with signals that gut peptides transmitted to the brain," lead author Randall J. Kaplan says. The study's long-term aim is to find food-based treatments for reducing memory loss in Alzheimer's and diabetes patients.
Really shows you that the brain/body connection is.....
(now where's the remains of last night's mashed potatoes?)
Reported in Psychology Today
Top of page
At Last, a Way to Beat the Period Blues!
An item reported the British Medical Journal on January 19 caught our eye. German researcher Rued Schellenberg from the Institute of Care and Science, has discovered that the extract of agnus castus fruit taken over three months can greatly help women who suffer from mood swings, anger, headaches and sore breasts associated with the menstrual cycle.
More than half of the 86 women given the extract had an improvement in their condition and the side effects were few and mild. The fruits of the plant, also known as the "chaste tree" because it was thought to promote chastity by reducing libido, is made up of compounds similar in structure to the sex hormones.
Why is it that scientists are always coming up with treatments that reduce women's libido (antidepressants are a case in point)? Are they all men?
Read the full report on the agnus castus fruit trials in the British Medical Journal
Top of page
St John's Wort & Depression
According to a recent review of 23 trials involving 1,757 people, by Jerry Cott, PhD, chief, Adult Psychopharmacology Research Program, Adult and Geriatric Treatment and Prevention Branch, National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), St John's Wort (hypericum) is very effective in treating mild to moderately severe depression with far fewer side-effects. St. John's Wort achieved a 64% success rate compared to the 58% success rate achieved by a variety of standard antidepressants. What's more two of the most worrying side-effects of most antidepressants -- female hair loss and loss of libido -- seem to be absent from those taking the hypericum.
Reported on BBC News
Top of page
Check our event schedule for workshops and seminars.
About the Author
Dr Bob Murray is a widely published psychologist and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with his wife and long-term collaborator Alicia Fortinberry, he is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
Do you like our site? Recommend this page to a friend!