Archive for April 2012

Eat fish twice a week to protect the heart

Everyone should eat two portions of fish a week to prevent heart disease leading experts are suggesting.Eat fish twice a week to protect the heartThe new guidance was compiled by the European Society of Cardiology at its conference EuroPrevent in Dublin.

One of the two portions consumed a week should be oily fish, such as salmon, mackeral, sardine or trout, they said as these contain the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids.

Supplements can be taken by people who do not like fish but they should stick to pharmaceutical grade products because many over-the-counter capsules contain sufficient amounts of omega 3.

The recommendation was that those taking supplements should have 1g of omega 3.

Philip Calder, a metabolic biochemist and nutritionist from the University of Southampton, UK, said: “Omega-3 fatty acids are really important to human health, whether you’re talking about CVD, brain or immune health. Heath professionals have a key role to play in educating the public about the beneficial effects of including fish in their diets.”

Mr Calder added: “It’s important that health professionals give clear guidance around the need for patients to take 1g of omega-3 a day to achieve any beneficial effects.

“With over the counter brands containing different concentrations there’s a danger people may not be receiving sufficient intakes.”

“Fish, it needs to be remembered, don’t provide a total panacea against cardiovascular disease. As well as consuming fish, people need to eat healthy diets, not smoke and be physically active.”

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Avocados could protect against cancers

Avocado oil may have health and anti ageing properties like those attributed to olive oil, say researchers.Avocados could protect against cancersFat pressed from the fruit could be an effective weapon against conditions such as heart disease and cancer, it is claimed.

Avocado oil is similar in composition to olive oil, consumption of which is associated with unusually low levels of chronic disease in some Mediterranean countries.

New research conducted in Mexico, the world’s largest avocado producer, has now demonstrated its power to combat destructive rogue oxygen molecules.

These unstable ”free radicals” wreak havoc in the body, triggering chain reactions that destroy cell membranes, proteins and even DNA. The phenomenon is one of the prime drivers of ageing and believed to play a major role in damage to arteries and cancer.

Oxygen free radicals, or ”reactive oxygen species”, are natural waste products of metabolism but may be generated in greater numbers due to factors such as pollution, tobacco smoke and radiation.

One hotspot for free radicals is mitochondria, rod-like bodies in cells that act as energy powerplants.

Many ”antioxidant” chemicals in vegetables and fruits such as carrots and tomatoes are known to neutralise free radicals. But according to Christopher Cortes-Rojo, who led the new research on avocado oil, they cannot reach the free radicals in mitochondria.

”The problem is that the antioxidants in those substances are unable to enter mitochondria,” said Mr Cortes-Rojo, from the University Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo in Morelia, Mexico.

”So free radicals go on damaging mitochondria, causing energy production to stop and the cell to collapse and die. An analogy would be that, during an oil spill, if we cleaned only the spilled oil instead of fixing the perforation where oil is escaping, then the oil would go on spilling, and fish would die anyway.”

”These results could be attributed to the fact that avocado oil caused accelerated respiration in mitochondria, which indicate that the use of nutrients for producing energy for cell functions remains effective even in cells attacked by free radicals,” said Mr Cortes-Rojo.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in San Diego, California.

Previous research conducted at Morelia General Hospital had shown that avocado lowers blood levels of cholesterol, and certain fats linked to diabetes.

”Our results are promising because they indicate that avocado consumption could improve the health status of diabetic and other patients through an additional mechanism to the improvement of blood lipids (fats),” said Mr Cortes-Rojo.

He added: ”In some Mediterranean countries, low or almost no appearance of these kinds of diseases has been associated with the high olive oil consumption. Olive oil has a fat composition similar to that found in avocado oil. Therefore, avocado oil could eventually be referred to as the olive oil of the Americas.”

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Why eating ice cream gives you brain freeze headaches

Scientists have explained why eating ice cream too quickly can cause a painful headache – commonly known as brain freeze.Why eating ice cream gives you brain freeze headachesThe ice cream headache known as brain freeze is brought on by a rapid increase in blood flow through a major blood vessel in the brain, the anterior cerebral artery.

They hope to use the discovery to develop new treatments for migraine.

Scientists have noticed that migraine sufferers are more prone to ‘brain freeze’ and wondered if the phenomenon could be turned to their advantage.

In experiments carried by a researchers at the National University of Ireland in Galway and Harvard Medical School a team of 13 healthy volunteers deliberately induced the brain freeze so the effects could be studied.

By bringing on brain freeze in the laboratory the researchers were able to study a headache from beginning to end without the need for drugs that would mask the causes and symptoms of the pain.

The volunteers drank iced water through a straw that was pressed against their palate and then drank water at room temperature.

Blood flow was monitored using a hand held Doppler.

It was found that the anterior cerebral artery dilated rapidly and flooded the brain with blood in conjunction to when the volunteers felt pain. Soon after this dilation occurred, the same vessel constricted as the volunteers’ pain receded.

Co-author Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Centre of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, said: “The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time. “It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilatation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.”

The findings were presented at the meeting Experimental Biology 2012 being in San Diego.

But because the skull is a closed structure, the sudden influx of blood could raise pressure and induce pain, he said.

By constricting the blood vessel again the body could be acting to reduce the pressure before it reaches dangerous levels, he said.

Similar alterations in blood flow could be at work in migraines, post traumatic headaches, and other headache types, he added.

If further research confirms these suspicions, then finding ways to control blood flow could offer new treatments for these conditions.

Drugs that block sudden vasodilatation or target channels involved specifically in the vasodilatation of headaches could be one way of changing headaches’ course


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Obesity rates around the world reviewed

Approximately 1.6 billion of the planet’s population are now overweight.Obesity rates around the world reviewed

Last November the United Nations announced that obesity was one of the biggest preventable issues facing the planet.

Here’s a guide to the countries crushing the scales:

America (70.8 per cent overweight)

According to a study from Yale University, five per cent of Americans would rather lose a limb than be obese. The majority, however, don’t appear to have a choice, and their country is becoming increasingly adept at making life comfortable for them. Boston Emergency Services in 2011 unveiled an ambulance for the obese. The vehicle is equipped with a stretcher that can hold 850lb and a hydraulic lift with a 1,000lb capacity to ensure the safety of the sick and stem back injuries among crews hoisting hefty patients. Brylane Home, a US retailer, offers an extensive selection of extra-wide and reinforced chairs, along with high-capacity scales and extra-large “Big John” loo seats. Police officers are now trained how to body search obese suspects “up in the folds”. The obese even have their own advocacy group, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, whose recent objections to an “offensive” Disneyland exhibit on childhood obesity led to its closure.

Australia (63.7 per cent overweight)

Royal Adelaide Hospital recently announced a refurbishment to help staff cope with an influx of obese patients: bigger rooms with ceiling-mounted lifting apparatus, reinforced wheelchairs and beds, and larger CAT scanning machines. Staff are 19 times more likely to strain themselves moving obese patients than others.

Brazil (51.7 per cent overweight)

Along with an expanding economy comes expanding waistlines. Brazil is currently on track to be as obese as the US by 2022. Brazilians’ natural sweet tooth certainly doesn’t help – they lather sugar on already-sweet fruits like pineapple, and cafezinho, the national espresso-like coffee, is more sugar than liquid – and nor do their ideas on body image. As one commentator put it: “American men may focus on breasts, but the Brazilian man has always wanted something to grab on to.”

China (24.5 per cent overweight)

More than 325?million Chinese are now overweight or obese, a figure that could double in the next two decades. Fitness and slimming is a £700 million industry. Sales of weight-loss teas are rising sharply, and traditional Chinese treatments like acupuncture and fire-cupping are more popular than ever. Not that this makes things any easier for a Western brand like Weight Watchers, which has great difficultly assigning nutritional ”points” to dishes like “desert boat sails on green” (camel’s foot simmered with hearts of rape).

Colombia (48.3 per cent overweight) Perhaps the most exercise-friendly country in the world. Every Sunday morning in Bogotá, the roads are closed to cars to allow free reign for cyclists, roller bladers and joggers to safely exercise across the 120km of the ciclovía.

Finland (58 per cent overweight) 72 per cent of the country exercises regularly, helped by a government initiative that awards cash prizes to towns that lose the most weight. As part of the same programme, the Finnish government also encouraged shoe companies to make non-slip soles standard, so people wouldn’t be deterred from walking in icy weather.

France (50.7 per cent overweight) Contrary to the bestselling book, French women do get fat. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig weight loss centres are signing new members in France in far greater numbers than in other markets, and offer such Gallic advice as “remember to have either dessert or cheese – but not both”.

Jamaica (55.3 per cent overweight) In Jamaican culture, a skinny – or “meagre” – woman is considered unattractive, while heaviness is a sign of happiness and social harmony. Which is why many women bulk up with black-market “chicken pills”, i.e. chicken feed with appetite-boosting arsenic. Side effects include diarrhoea, dermatitis and – eventually – cancer.

Malaysia (44.2 per cent overweight) Schoolchildren have had their body mass index printed on their report cards since 2011, to help parents keep track of their children’s weight.

Mauritania (36 per cent overweight) A local saying goes, “The glory of a man is measured by the fatness of his woman.”A third of women over 40 have said they were force-fed as children, to fall into local standards of beauty. The process is called gavage, a French word that describes the fattening up of geese to produce foie gras. A quarter of the 1.5 million women in the country are obese, contrasting sharply with most sub-Saharan countries. The government ran a television and radio campaign highlighting the health risks of obesity; because most Mauritanian love songs describe the ideal woman as fat, the health ministry commissioned catchy odes to thin women.

Mexico (68.1 per cent overweight) Since 1980, the percentage of overweight or obese Mexicans has tripled, and diabetes has become the leading cause of death. In some areas of the country, it’s easier to get a soft drink than a clean glass of water. The vast majority of Mexico City’s public schools, and many private schools, lack drinkable water; the consumption of soft drinks has increased 60 per cent over the past 14 years. Mexicans drink the most Coca-Cola per capita in the world. Since it enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, imports of processed food and drinks have soared. The average Mexican eats 433lb of bakery goods per year, compared with only 156lb of vegetables.

Nauru (94.5 per cent overweight) A 21 sq m island in the Pacific that qualifies as the world’s fattest nation, Nauru’s life expectancy for men is 59 years old and for women 64 years old. Phosphate mining, long a source of wealth, has left the island virtually incapable of growing vegetables. So islanders rely on processed Western imports – and a lot of them. “People [in Nauru] might only eat once a day,” says Professor Clive Moore of the University of Queensland, “but the plate could be 4in high.” As part of a recent government initiative, every Wednesday locals are encouraged to walk around the three mile airport perimeter, but it’s an uphill struggle. The islanders have, says Professor Moore, “a biological propensity to gain weight”.

Nigeria (26.8 per cent overweight) “Fattening rooms”, where women are encouraged to eat large amounts throughout the day, are popular in Nigeria, especially before weddings. A key ingredient is garri, a porridge made from cassava tubers.

Qatar (72.3 per cent overweight) With a GDP of $181.7 billion and a population of just under two million, per capita, Qatar is the richest nation on Earth. And it’s fast becoming the fattest, too. Sweltering temperatures of up to 41C make walking – or any kind of outdoor activity – unbearable. Social and family life revolves around five large meals, interspersed with snacks of tea and cake. The final meal of the day invariably comes from McDonald’s – delivered, of course. It’s predicted that within five years, 73 per cent of Qatari women and 69 per cent of the men will qualify as obese.

Saudi Arabia (69 per cent overweight) Girls are banned from participating in sports in Saudi state schools. The stance of the official Supreme Council of Religious Scholars is best summed up by Sheikh Abdullah al-Maneea, who said in 2009 that the excessive “movement and jumping” needed in football and basketball might cause girls to tear their hymens and lose their virginity. One third of women in Saudi Arabia are obese.

Sweden (53.3 per cent overweight) Obesity is on the rise in Sweden, but at a markedly slower rate than in other countries. In fact, the Swedes are now on track to overtake the Swiss as Europe’s slimmest people, thanks to a recent craze for high fat, low carb dieting. Endorsed by health authorities in 2008, the diet is now followed by one in four Swedes and its popularity was partly to blame for neighbouring Norway’s GreatButter Shortage of 2011. (Several resourceful Swedes were arrested attempting to smuggle butter across the border.)

Tonga (90.8 per cent overweight) Poor health and obesity are blamed on imported food like Spam, corned beef and “turkey tails” (a ban on the latter was recently lifted to ease membership of the World Trade Organisation). Tonga’s late king, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who died in 2006, was once the world’s heaviest monarch, weighing 440lb. He tried to persuade Tongans to get fit by offering cash incentives and taking up – in his seventies – bicycle rides around the island. (He shed 154lb.)

UAE (68.3 per cent overweight) When the UAE football team failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, defender Saleh Obaid blamed the team’s addiction to fast food. “We eat from McDonald’s. Everyone eats from McDonald’s. No good food.” McDonald’s was a sponsor of the 2010 World Cup.

UK (64.2 per cent overweight) Despite the Government’s three year old Change4Life campaign (latest recruit, television chef Ainsley Harriott) and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s call for the population to cut 5 billioncalories from its diet, obesity in the UK is getting worse. It causes an estimated 9,000 premature deaths a year, and if current trends continue, 90 per cent of British children will be obese by 2050.

Zimbabwe (25.5 per cent overweight) In 2004, the Zimbabwean government came up with what they called the “Obesity Tourism Strategy”. As Zimbabweans starve, overweight tourists would be encouraged to visit the country and work on farms seized from white farmers, losing weight in the process. “Tour organisers may promote this programme internationally and bring in tourists, while agriculturalists can employ the tourists as free farm labour. The tourists can then top it all by flaunting their slim bodies on a sundowner cruise.”

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Obesity and diabetes linked to child disorders

Obese women and those with Type 2 diabetes could be increasing their chances of having a child with autism or another development disorder, a US study suggests.Obesity and diabetes linked to child disordersResearchers at the University of California Davis said that high glucose levels during pregnancy could affect brain development in the foetus.

The Paediatrics study looked at 1,000 children and mothers over seven years.

The children in the study were aged between two and five years old, and were enrolled between 2003 and 2010.

Among the children whose mothers had Type 2 diabetes during their pregnancies, the study found that 9.3% of those children had autism. And 11.6% of that group of children showed evidence of a developmental disability.

This was nearly twice as high as the 6.4% of children with these problems born to women with no metabolic conditions.

Over 20% of the mothers of children with autism or other developmental disability were obese, compared with 14% of the mothers of normally developing children.

Around 29% of the children with autism had mothers with a metabolic condition during pregnancy, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Nearly 35% of the children with another developmental disorder had mothers with metabolic conditions, compared to 19% of children in the control group.

The study also examined the link between hypertension and autism or developmental disorder.

When analysing children’s cognitive abilities, the study found that among the children with autism, those whose mothers had diabetes did not perform as well as those whose mothers did not in tests of expressive language and communication skills.

Paula Krakowiak, from the MIND Institute at the University of California Davis said: “Our finding that these maternal conditions may be linked with neurodevelopmental problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public health implications.”

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Hunger hormones- do they make us fat?

Research into the hormones that control our appetite may offer new ways to help fight obesity, according to scientists investigating how the brain helps regulate what we eat.Hunger hormones- do they make us fat?Dr Carel Le Roux, of Imperial College and King’s College Hospital in London, studies obesity and the underlying processes that help control the decisions we all make to eat – or overeat.

In 2001, the research unit at Imperial discovered vital clues. They identified two previously unknown hormones called PYY and ghrelin which seem to play a part in our sensations of fullness and hunger.

Ghrelin was linked to the sensation of hunger and PYY to fullness.

“It completely opened up a new chapter,” said Dr Le Roux, “because for the first time we understood that the gut can actually talk to the brain and influence how hungry you are, or how full you are.”

For many obese patients, Dr Le Roux has found that concentrations of hunger hormones are in many cases significantly different from those in thin people.

Their PYY, which should tell them when to stop eating, is not working properly. Instead their hormones are making them feel permanently hungry.

To improve a balanced food intake Dr Le Roux undertakes a stomach bypass operation.

The surgery involved cutting patients’ stomachs in two, and connecting only the smaller part to thier small intestines. Effectively stomachs are reduced from the size of a fist to the size of a thumb.

It is drastic surgery but according to his research, this operation has a powerful and unexpected side-effect.

As well as reducing stomachs, the operations would also re-balance the patients’ hormones.

“The patients say: ‘Doctor, where did the surgeon do the operation? Did they operate on my tummy or did they operate on my head, because I don’t feel hungry any more. When I do eat I feel full and all these changes have really happened in my head.'”

Pictures of “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods are shown to patients while an MRI scan measures how the brain reacts.

But what was surprising was how that response changed in patients who had undergone gastric bypass surgery. Their brain activity totally changed.

“In effect, with bypass surgery we are changing someone’s brain fundamentally,” said Dr Scholtz.

“Their reaction to seeing high calorie food is different, and that would ultimately drive their choices of food so that they stop having that battle with food.”

Gastric surgery is a drastic intervention – and a controversial one. But Dr Le Roux believes that within a few years it may be possible to engineer a change in the way obese people respond to food in other ways.


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