Category Archives: news

A little extra vitamin E may boost heart function in former smokers

New research shows that taking a specific form of vitamin E may help accelerate the health benefits of quitting smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, linked to 443,000 deaths per year, mostly in the form of lung cancer or ischemic hearth disease. Luckily, quitting smoking shows immediately health benefits to anyone who can put down the pack, notes the American Cancer Society. Within hours of quitting smoking, heart rate and blood pressure fall, and within three months both lung function and circulation are improved. Though the body does heal quickly, the damage brought about by smoking can still require a long healing process. It can take as much as ten years for the heart of a former smoker to resemble one of someone who has never smoked, according to Time magazine.

A University of Ohio research team has recently found that an extra dose of a special form of vitamin E  may help boost  the health effects of quitting smoking. For the study, doctors recruited smokers to quit for seven days, with blood markers of inflammation to be measure before and after the trial. Half of the study participants were given and gama-tocopherol form of vitamin E, in addition to abstaining from cigarettes smoking. While all participants showed a marked increase in cardiac function of at least 2.8 percent, those who took the additionally vitamin E supplement saw an additional 1.5 percent increase on average.

The form of vitamin E used in the study is not the type common in over- the-counter supplements. The most common form of vitamin E, the one which humans have a dietary requirement for, is alpha tocopherol. The gamma version of the vitamin is the most common variant found in foods regularly consumed, including peanuts, soy beans, pistachios and cashews.

“We used the gamma tocopherol type in contrast to virtually all other vitamin E studies that use alpha tocopherol,” said study lead author Dr. Richard Bruno, PhD. “Alpha tocopherol  is the one that we know the most about. It is the form that we know is required for humans, but gamma tocopherol is the most abundant form. We used the gamma tocopherol form because not only does it have antioxidant activity, like alpha tocopherol, but recent evidence indicates that it also has effective ability to lower inflammation and also trap what we call reactive nitrogen species. These are chemicals generated in the body that can lead to damage to various proteins.”

Chocolate may protect the brain in a variety of ways

Consuming chocolate in moderate amounts has been shown to be potentially beneficial to physical health as it rich in antioxidants. Recent research now demonstrates that chocolate may also contain ingredients that are actually good for the brain.

One report published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry demonstrated that compounds in chocolate activate a neuroprotective pathway that has a direct effect on preventing the death of neurons. Neuron death is responsible for the escalating mental and physical impairment association with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

A separate study published in American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension indicates that flavinols contained in cocoa were effective in reducing the effects of mild cognitive impairment in older adults.

Protecting against neuronal death 
Researchers from University of L’Aquila in Italy found that polyphenols, a class of chemical compounds found in cocoa products, stimulated the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in cells treated with beta amyloid plaque or beta amyloid oligomers treated.

Plaques, and their forerunners in the brain oligomers, are both associated Alzheimer’s disease.Beta amyloid is thought to disrupt the communication between neurons, ultimately leading to their death.

The neuroprotective pathway opened by the chocolate also reversed some of the plaque related damage, according to the report

“Our studies indicate for the first time the cocoa polyphenols do not act only as mere anti-oxidant but they, directly or indirectly, activate the BDNF survival pathway counteracting neuronal death” said study lead researcher Annamaria Cimini in a statement, according to Medical Daily.

Study researchers also noted that chocolate’s ability to stimulate the production of BDNF could also offer benefits such as cancer prevention, immune system boosting, pain relief and depression remediation.

Helping to alleviate mild cognitive impairment 
A separate study of 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment found that daily consumption of cocoa flavinols – a sub-group of polyphenols – showed improved cognitive function in some areas.

Participants were divided into three groups that consumed either 990 milligrams, 520 mg or 45 mg of a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks. Flavanol consumption from other sources was restricted during that time period. Cognitive function was then tested by evaluating short-term memory, long-term episodic memory, working memory, executive function, processing speed and global cognition.

The study found that those drinking higher levels of the flavanols scored much higher than those who consumed less.

“This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function,” said Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, M.D., study lead author. “The positive effect on cognitive function may be mainly mediated by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function.”

The study also demonstrated that patients with the highest consumption rates also showed better working memory, verbal memory and  task-switching skills than those who consumed the medium flavanol amount.

Insulin resistance, oxidative stress and blood pressure were also showed to be lower among study participants who drank high and intermediate levels of flavanols daily.

Researchers noted that while the results are encouraging, additional studies will be required to validate the findings, particularly among individuals with health issues aside from cognitive impairment. Participants were all in otherwise good health during the study.

Three surprising cardio boosters

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The treatment of those with cardiac disease cost more than $100 million per year in the U.S. in 2013 and many have predicted that amount will double by the year 2030 as baby-boomers are continuing to enter old age.

There are many recommendations out there to improve cardiac health: quitting smoking, cutting back on fatty food keeping cholesterol under control and exercising are all highly recommended for those who want to keep their heart and circulatory system in peak operating condition. However, there are also some less known cardiac boosters that heart health enthusiasts can look into to keep their optimally.

Hibiscus flower tea 
According to Care2.com, hibiscus flower tea may be a huge aid to those looking to lower their blood pressure. The lightly cranberry flavored tea acts a diuretic and brings down the volume of water in the body. It is also naturally packed with phytonutrients called anthocyanins that work to block the compounds that cause blood vessel constriction.

Black walnuts
English, or black, walnuts are rich in antioxidants and contain minerals and fatty acids such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin also demonstrated that the consumption of 1 ounce of black walnuts per day were linked to improved blood lipid levels and superior processing of consumed saturated fats{,} with no side effects such as weight gain. Though researchers did advise more study, they noted that black walnuts could be added to a cardio-protective regime.

Vitamin C
The ultimate health utility player, vitamin C has been linked to general improved immune response and to being helpful against specific conditions like the common cold. It can also help your heart, notes Care2.com. The vitamin has been linked to such favorable health events such as potentially reducing high blood pressure; preventing the hardening of the arteries, lowering cholesterol and repairing damaged arterial walls.

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Some of the best things for keeping brains healthy

If you’re start to near your golden years, you might begin to look into ways in which you can help maintain brain health. The development of dementia in older folks has risen to nearly epidemic levels in the U.S. – in fact, a recent report from the Alzheimer’s association indicates that 33 percent of elderly people are coping with some form of dementia by the time they pass away.

Unfortunately, science has yet to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, and there isn’t anything anyone can do about significant risk factors such as heredity and aging. While there’s always a possibility of developing dementia and other brain degenerative conditions at some point regardless of your choices in life, many experts have researched ways to potentially maintain your brain health for the longest time possible.

Stay healthy
It would seem that the development of many conditions related to brain health, heart health and innumerable other conditions could be stymied by many of the same lifestyle choices. The Alzheimer’s Association explains that while eating right and exercising regularly is definitely not a foolproof method for preventing dementia and related problems later in life, these habits certainly don’t seem to hurt anyone’s chances of maintaining a fully-functional brain.

On its list of tips for keeping up brain health, the Alzheimer’s Association notes that getting exercise helps keep blood flowing, and could improve chances the new brain cells will develop. Also, because strokes sometimes cause brain damage and a low cholesterol diet helps reduce the odds of having a stroke, it follows that a low cholesterol diet may also decrease the chances of having brain damage.

Many cardiovascular health problems including heart disease have been connected to poor brain health, the Alzheimer’s Association notes. In addition – the diet the organization recommends includes lots of vegetables and fruits for their antioxidant content.

It’s also noteworthy that smoking has been linked to a greater likelihood of heart disease and stroke, and Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., has “Don’t Smoke” as his number one method for brain maintenance.

Enjoy a good night’s sleep
A report from Reader’s Digest points to research compiled by Harvard Medical School, which showed that a solid 7-to-8 hours of sleep a night increased the odds that study patients would creatively solve math problems.

Feed your brain
You might be wondering “What does solving math problems have to do with keeping my brain healthy?” Well, some experts indicate that keeping your mind active may, in fact, benefit brain health. On his website, Nussbaum says mental stimulation could keep your brain strong the same way getting regular exercise can keep your body strong. Learning new things can lead to what Nussbaum calls “neurophysiological growth.” So consider reading a book, or picking up a new hobby if you’re looking for an easy and potentially fun way to help reduce mental degeneration.

Maintain social relationships
A few different sources indicate that something as simple as continuing to enjoy life can stave off many of the effects of poor brain health. The Alzheimer’s Association displays scientific findings showing that a good mix of mental, physical and social activity could drop the chances of developing dementia. The organization encourages older readers to continue professional activities in some capacity, but it also says that volunteering, participating in social groups and traveling could also help keep the mind limber and lucid.

So, while there’s no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, none of these preventive actions would seem to be the kinds of things many people who enjoy a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle would be adverse to partaking in.

Here are a few thoughts on breakfast…

It’s been called the most important meal of the day, but for many people, breakfast is also their favorite meal. There’s nothing like waking up to a fresh bowl of cereal, coffee, orange juice and perhaps a low-calorie side. However, U.S. News and Health recently pointed to a handful of common mistakes some people have been known to make when attempting to put together a nutritious breakfast.

It’s common knowledge that many side dishes often associated with breakfast – including sausage and eggs – can have averse effects for heart health, depending on how they’re prepared. But even if a person is removing the yokes from their eggs and sticking with low-fat turkey sausage or a meatless sausage substitute, there are more subtle things to avoid during breakfast to keep it healthy.

Not enough protein or fiber
U.S. News and Health reporter Keri Gans starts her article by noting that a low-protein breakfast will leave a person feeling hungry again sooner rather than later. Clearly, this won’t help anyone who’s attempting to watch what they eat for the purposes of weight loss. Ideas she presents for making sure the reader gets enough protein at breakfast include drinking all the milk that accompanies a bowl of cereal, having a single hard boiled egg or eating whole-grain toast. Fiber presents a similar problem for those focusing on weight management – not getting enough leaves the belly feeling emptier earlier. So it helps to check the nutritional facts about cereal, and making sure it contains at least five grams per serving.

Gans also advises readers to make sure they have a hearty breakfast – at least 300 or 400 calories, not to eat it too late in the day and not to be afraid of consuming a little bit of fat. Too much fat is a poor choice, but just a tiny bit, such as the quantity found in a serving of 2-percent yogurt, should suppress appetite until lunch.

Some quick breakfast food suggestions
Speaking of yogurt, it’s identified as a potentially healthy breakfast side on Eating Well’s list of the best breakfast foods. The source says that yogurt could help people lose weight, so long as it’s garnished with fresh fruit instead of sugar. The high fiber and low fat content of oatmeal also gained hearty cereal a spot at the top of Eating Well’s best breakfast foods list.

The best supplements for eye health

It’s obvious how important eye health is. Especially as people grow older, there are a handful of things they can do to help keep their vision crisp. According to a report from Fox News, these steps include wearing sunglasses when the sun is especially bright, keeping diabetes under control, getting plenty of vitamins and making sure any contacts that are worn for vision correction aren’t left in past the point doctors recommend. Keeping contacts clean and sanitary is another way to help ensure an infection never takes place.

In addition, some supplements may have benefits for eye health. However, for anyone who’s starting to experience vision loss, an article from ABC advises that he or she seek out a specialist.

“A dilated eye exam will show you if you have macular degeneration,” Barbara Blodi, M.D., associate professor at the department of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin, told the news provider. “Once you know what is causing your vision loss, then you know what supplements we know can help you – so go from there.”

For those whose vision problems have yet to become severe, NewsMax compiled some of the supplements it recommends.

Lutein
This carotenoid – which appears naturally in many vegetables including spinach, tomatoes and carrots helps eyes by contributing to the layer of protective mucus around the eyes and may help to the prevention of cataracts.

Chromium
A mineral frequently found in foods such as onions and tomatoes, chromium keeps up what NewsMax calls “balanced intraocular pressure” in those precious balls that inhabit our eye sockets.

Vitamin C
This vitamin is also known to help with the prevention of diseases such as colds and flu, but the source notes that it may also have the potential to help prevent glaucoma, and keep collagen tissue in shape.

Zinc
You might not want to think too hard about the presence of minerals in your retina, but the source says that this is indeed the case. Zinc is also said to have antioxidant value – and who would have thought that zinc would have so much in common with green tea?

Vitamin A
Perhaps most importantly for eye health, vitamin A is advertised by NewsMax as crucial to keep the retina working like it’s normally supposed to. A handful of serious eye diseases – including Xeropthalmia and night blindness – are said to be related to vitamin A deficiency.  Several other sources point to liver as a vitamin A-rich food, if supplements aren’t available.

Baby boomers facing more health risks than prior generations

According to a new report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, members of the baby boomer generation are enjoying longer life spans than their forefathers. However, they might not be experiencing healthy aging.

An ABC News article on the study – which was led by West Virginia University professor Dana E. King, M.D., M.S. –  said that people born between 1946 and 1964 have worse high blood pressure rates and higher cholesterol, as well as more instances of obesity and diabetes than their parents did. On the plus side, the study authors wrote that baby boomers don’t smoke as many cigarettes, and therefore emphysema and heart attacks are decreasing among their demographic. 

Another write up from CBS News explains that approximately 78 million people were born in America during the post-World War II era who qualify as baby boomers. 

As for obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular health, the news source cites experts who state that these problems may be reversible. 

“You can start to make a difference in your risk for all of these by making small changes in what you eat and how you move,” said ABC New’s medical editor, Richard Besser, M.D.. ”It may not be easy, but it’s very simple: Start small, achieve success, and build from there.”

Tips for keeping your blood pressure in check
Many sources point to numerous strategies people could apply to their daily lives to control their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.  For instance, The Mayo Clinic encourages blood pressure-conscious individuals to exercise for 30 minutes a day and watch what kinds of foods they are eating regularly. The latter step can be done by writing down everything eaten, reading the labels of products at the supermarket before purchasing them and upping potassium intake. One way of enhancing potassium is adding certain multivitamins to a regimen, although the medical organization recommends fruits and vegetables.

Some advice for reducing cholesterol
Just like blood pressure, there are lots of easy ways to lower cholesterol back down to healthy levels. Harvard Medical School tells us that meat and unhealthy snack foods like potato chips and candy bars should be consumed on an infrequent basis. Fiber is noted as a component of many foods that has been known to help with cholesterol levels, as are complex carbohydrates. 

There’s quite a bit of crossover between The Mayo Clinic’s blood pressure lowering tips and Harvard’s cholesterol lowering hints. It’s said that alcohol should be drank in moderation and sodium intake needs to be closely monitored. 

 

Mobile health: Saving money, improving access

Mobile devices have been used by doctors and health centers for several years now, becoming a mainstay of care in many of the country's most populated regions. Now, Harvard Medical School's "Family Van," a medical center that travels to underserved communities like Dorchester, Roxbury and East Boston, is helping low-income neighborhoods to receive top-notch medical treatments without having to show up to the hospital. Based on current research, the Family Van has improved cardiovascular health and lowered the incidence of fatal deaths in this population over the past two years.

According to Community Health, a program of Boston's NPR news station (WBUR), the van cares for patients who have the highest rates of preventable illnesses, hospitalizations and avoidable emergency room visits. These also happen to be some of the neighborhoods most affected by the current flu epidemic.

Communities help one another
The Family Van is staffed by community health workers, doctors and nurses, who aim to bring medical tools to people with low resource access rather than forcing them to pay for train or bus fare.The areas that the Family Van visits are considered by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration to be medically underserved.

A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs claims that the Family Van saves money, in large part by preventing needless ER visits. Patients who visited the Van were able to lower their blood pressures as well as receive treatments for several other conditions that are simple to manage, but may necessitate costly medications or medical visits.

Mobile health clinics are now in practice elsewhere throughout the country and also in Europe and Asia. A new "Mobile 1000" van is currently operating in several of India's slums, helping to diagnose and treat conditions that are widespread in the population.

Saving lives, cutting costs
According to the Health Affairs study, the van also offered temporary treatments for those with diabetes, obesity or maternal health concerns. The study found that of the 5,900 patients who were visited by the Family Van between 2010 and 2012, the incidence of myocardial infarction was estimated at about 12 percent for persons aged 55 to 64. Following the van's visits, patients previously at risk for heart conditions had a 48.8 percent reduction in the prevalence of cardiovascular ailments.

In Massachusetts, each avoidable emergency room visit costs on average $474, according to Harvard Medical School. Total savings for both hospitals and patients are estimated at $1.4 million, from 2,851 emergency room visits that were avoided using the Family Van.

Effects of Zinc on the body

Zinc is an antioxidant associated with immune health and reduced inflammation in the body, but it has other less-known effects that you may find beneficial.

Zinc is essential to health, studies show
According to the National Institutes of Health, zinc is an essential trace element that can be found in every cell in the human body. Recent studies show that zinc deficiency affects about 12 percent of American youth and 45 percent of American adults, but there are options for getting extra zinc with supplements and through diet.

Studies have linked zinc with improved brain health, and according to the Gainesville Sun, researchers have also found that zinc may benefit the skin and improve behavioral problems in teens.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that while zinc is essential to health, too much can prove harmful and may lead to copper deficiency. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of zinc is 12 milligrams/day for women and 15 mg/day for men.

Foods with zinc
Zinc is found in common foods like beans, nuts and whole grains, as well as some shellfish. The mineral is hard to metabolize from vegetables and grains, so if you don't eat seafood you may want to look into supplements.

The National Institutes of Health notes that zinc also supports proper growth during pregnancy, early childhood and adolescence, and is necessary for testosterone production.

Zinc deficiency
Zinc deficiency may lead to several health problems. Common symptoms include rashes, loss of appetite, depression, hair loss and night blindness. Because the mineral is essential to immune health, low levels of zinc may also make you more susceptible to colds and viruses.

According to research published in Molecular Medicine, zinc can be particularly effective at reducing inflammation and decreasing oxidative stress on cells. Lowering inflammation in the body can have huge health benefits, and according to the study, oxidative stress is a contributing factor in several health conditions. To ensure you have your daily allowance of zinc, eat the right foods and take the proper supplements when appropriate.