Wednesday, April 02, 2014


New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests individuals who consume 7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day may reduce their risk of death by 42% compared to those who eat less than 1 serving a day. The findings come at a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies are developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
America’s obesity epidemic weighed heavily in the development of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which placed stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption, increasing physical activity and choosing healthy foods, including more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and fat-free and low-fat dairy items while limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars and refined grains.
For this particular study, researchers at the University College of London used Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating 7 or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31%, respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.
This study was the first to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, the first to quantify health benefits per-portion, and the first to identify the types of fruit and vegetable with the most benefit.
Compared to eating less than 1 portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating 1-3 portions, 29% for 3-5 portions, 36% for 5-7 portions and 42% for 7 or more.
The study found fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Experts Reexamine Saturated Fat Guidelines

For decades, its link to major health issues like heart disease has demonized saturated fats among health experts. Now, a recent meta-analysis puts that claim into question, finding insufficient evidence to draw the long-held conclusion. Researchers tracking saturated fat intake among subjects have been unable to find a clear and consistent link to increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Experts suggest that the impact of saturated fats depends on the rest of one's diet and is unlikely to pose a risk to consumers on its own, reports NPR.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Calcium, Vitamin D Improve Cholesterol in Women

Consuming calcium and vitamin D after menopause can help improve women's cholesterol levels, according to new research published in the journal Menopause. Researchers from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) found much of this effect stems from raising women's vitamin D levels.
Although the topic of whether calcium or vitamin D can improve cholesterol levels has been debated, lead researcher Peter Schnatz, D.O., NCMP, and his team found women who took a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily lowered their low-density lipoprotein (LDL—the “bad" cholesterol) levels and raised their high-density lipoprotein (HDL—the “good" cholesterol) levels.
Each day, women in the trial took either a supplement containing 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D3 or a placebo. This analysis looked at the relationship between taking supplements and levels of vitamin D and cholesterol in about 600 of the women who had both their cholesterol levels and their vitamin D levels measured.
The women who took the supplement were more than twice as likely to have vitamin D levels of at least 30 ng/mL (normal according to the Institute of Medicine) compared to the women who took the placebo. Supplement users also had LDL levels that were between 4 and 5 points lower. The investigators discovered, in addition, that among supplement users, those with higher blood levels of vitamin D had higher levels of HDL and lower levels of triglycerides (although for triglycerides to be lower, blood levels of vitamin D had to reach a threshold of about 15 ng/mL).
Taking the calcium and vitamin D supplements was especially helpful in raising vitamin D levels in women who were older, women who had a low intake, and women who had levels first measured in the winter—what you might expect. However, lifestyle also made a difference. The supplements did more to raise vitamin D levels in women who did not smoke and who drank less alcohol.
Whether these positive effects of supplemental calcium and vitamin D on cholesterol will translate into benefits such as lower rates of cardiovascular disease for women after menopause remains to be seen, but these results are a good reminder that women at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency should consider taking calcium and vitamin D, according to the authors.
“The results of this study should inspire even more women to be conscientious about their calcium and vitamin D intake—a simple and safe way to improve health," said NAMS executive director Margery Gass, M.D. "One action can lead to multiple benefits."
The study, “Calcium/vitamin D supplementation, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations, and cholesterol profiles in the Women’s Health Initiative calcium/vitamin D randomized trial," will be published in the August 2014 print edition of Menopause.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Consuming less animal protein could lower the risk of dying from cancer by up to four times, according to new research published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Researchers from the University of Southern California tracked a sample of adults for almost two decades and found eating a diet rich in animal proteins during middle-age years makes a person four times more likely to die of cancer compared to someone with a lower protein diet.
“There’s a misconception that because we all eat, understanding nutrition is simple," said corresponding author Valter Longo, professor of Biogerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute. "But the question is not whether a certain diet allows you to do well for three days, but can it help you survive to be 100?"
Not only is excessive protein consumption linked to a higher risk of developing different types of cancer, but middle-aged people who eat lots of proteins from animal sources—including meat, milk and cheese—are also more susceptible to early death in general. Protein-lovers were 74% more likely to die of any cause within the study period compared to their lower-protein counterparts. They were also several times more likely to die of diabetes. But how much protein one should eat has long been a controversial topic—muddled by the popularity of protein-heavy diets such as Paleo and Atkins.
Before this study, researchers had never shown a definitive correlation between high-protein consumption and mortality risk. Rather than look at adulthood as one monolithic phase of life, as other researchers have done, the latest study considers how biology changes as we age and how decisions in middle life may play out across the human life span. In other words, what’s good for you at one age may be damaging at another.
Protein controls the growth hormone IGF-I, which helps our bodies grow, but has been linked to cancer susceptibility. Levels of IGF-I drop off dramatically after age 65, leading to potential frailty and muscle loss. The study shows that while high-protein intake during middle age is very harmful, it is protective for older adults: those over 65 who ate a moderate- or high-protein diet were less susceptible to disease.
The latest research draws from Longo’s past research on IGF-I, including on an Ecuadorian cohort that seemed to have little cancer or diabetes susceptibility because of a genetic mutation that lowered levels of IGF-I; (the members of the cohort were all less than five feet tall).
“The research shows that a low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and overall mortality, through a process that involves regulating IGF-I and possibly insulin levels," said co-author Eileen Crimmins, holder of the AARP Chair in Gerontology at USC. “However, we also propose that at older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty."
The researchers found that plant-based proteins did not seem to have the same mortality effects as animal proteins, and plant-based foods can still fulfill consumers' protein needs. Rates of cancer and death also did not seem to be affected by controlling for carbohydrate or fat consumption, suggesting that animal protein is the main culprit.
“The majority of Americans are eating about twice as much proteins as they should, and it seems that the best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins, but especially animal-derived proteins," Longo said. “But don’t get extreme in cutting out protein; you can go from protected to malnourished very quickly."
Longo’s findings support recommendations from several leading health agencies to consume about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day in middle age. For example, a 130-pound person should eat about 45 to 50 grams of protein a day, with preference for those derived from plants such as legumes, Longo said.
The researchers defined a high-protein diet as deriving at least 20% of calories from protein, including both plant-based and animal-based protein. A “moderate" protein diet includes 10% to 19% of calories from protein, and a low-protein diet includes less than 10% protein.
Even moderate amounts of protein had detrimental effects during middle age, the researchers found. Across all 6,318 adults over the age of 50 in the study, average protein intake was about 16% of total daily calories, with about two-thirds from animal protein. The study sample was representative across ethnicity, education and health backgrounds. People who ate a moderate amount of protein were still three times more likely to die of cancer than those who ate a low-protein diet in middle age, the study showed. Overall, even the small change of decreasing protein intake from moderate levels to low levels reduced likelihood of early death by 21%.
For a randomly selected smaller portion of the sample (2,253 people) levels of the growth hormone IGF-I were recorded directly. The results showed that for every 10 ng/ml increase in IGF-I, those on a high-protein diet were 9% more likely to die from cancer than those on a low-protein diet, in line with past research associating IGF-I levels to cancer risk.
The researchers also extended their findings about high-protein diets and mortality risk, looking at causality in mice and cellular models. In a study of tumor rates and progression among mice, the researchers showed lower cancer incidence and 45% smaller average tumor size among mice on a low-protein diet than those on a high-protein diet by the end of the two-month experiment.
“Almost everyone is going to have a cancer cell or pre-cancer cell in them at some point. The question is: does it progress?" Longo said. “Turns out one of the major factors in determining if it does is protein intake."