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Archive for July 24th, 2008

Antioxidants and Omega-3 Fats: Functional Foods to Boost Health

Looking for your meal ticket to health?

You might be wise to go for some omega-3 fatty acids served up with a side of antioxidants. The good news is, it can be as tasty as it is healthy — think grilled salmon and vegetables, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by a nice glass of red wine.

“People who eat a plant-based diet are the healthiest people on the planet,” says Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RA, LD, an American Dietetic Association Spokeswoman. “Eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables every day.  Use olive oil instead of butter. Eat plenty of seafood. These are nutrition recommendations that won’t change.”

What is changing is our understanding of how nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are responsible for the health-promoting properties of functional foods — and what you can do to maximize their effectiveness.

Antioxidants: Vitamins, Flavonoids, and Minerals

Plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are your best bet to obtain disease-fighting antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, the mineral selenium, and flavonoids.

The protective benefits of antioxidants seem to stem from their ability to protect your cells from dangerous free radicals, which you are exposed to as the result of natural processes and pollutants in the environment.

When it comes to cancer-fighting properties of the nutrients in a balanced diet, the whole may be more than the sum of its parts. Many scientists now believe that food synergy, or the way nutrients in the different foods you eat interact with one another, may be responsible for the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

“An important result of research in recent years is less emphasis on any single nutrient, or even any group of a few nutrients, in preventing cancer, with more support for the way that a balanced, plant-based diet provides a bounty of nutrients and compounds that seem to work together to protect us against cancer,” says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, and Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

“Research shows that much of the antioxidant power of a healthy plant-based diet comes not from the traditional vitamins we focus on, but from a wide range of phytochemicals … these compounds seem to work best together, not on their own.”

The benefits you get from eating a diet rich in functional foods loaded with antioxidants go far beyond fighting cancer.

Tallmadge says that people who eat foods rich in antioxidants have many health advantages, including:

· less cancer

· lower inflammation levels

· lower heart disease risk

· less Alzheimer’s and dementia

For the most protection, you should try to eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, including garlic and onion, tomatoes, watermelon, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries, carrots, and bell peppers.

Beverages like tea, coffee, and red wine also contain antioxidants that may offer protection against many diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

Omega-3 Fats: Fish Oil for Heart Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the promising functional foods when it comes to your heart health.  A landmark 2006 study of the effects of fish on human health demonstrated that a modest intake of fish reduces the risk of dying from a heart attack by a whopping 36%.

“There is certainly enough evidence now to indicate that eating fish once or twice per week, choosing from a variety of fish, confers a benefit as strong or stronger than any other food for cardiovascular health,” says the study’s Co-Author Dariush Mozaffarian, Co-Director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The heart-health benefits seem to be greatest with the consumption of two particular omega-3 fatty acids that are found mainly in oily fish — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Choose oily, cold-water fish species like salmon, trout, and herring to get the most omega-3s.

What about the mercury in fish?  For most people, it’s more dangerous to avoid eating omega-3 fats than to consume the amount of mercury in most commonly eaten fish species.  The EPA and FDA suggests a limit of 12 ounces (2 average meals) of fish a week for special populations, including women who are or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. Those groups should avoid fish highest in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and tilefish.

Fish isn’t the only source of health-boosting omega-3s. You can also find the healthy fats in walnuts, canola oil, and flaxseed.  The omega-3s from plant-based sources, which contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA), may also have cardiovascular benefits, but the evidence is not as strong.

Regardless, all functional foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are thought to boost your health in a variety of ways by lessening inflammation levels in your body.  In the last few years, consuming diets rich in omega-3 fats have been touted for reducing the risk of Type-1 diabetes and, they may even improve your mood.

Functional Foods Trump Supplements

When it comes to choosing whole foods or supplements, most experts agree that it’s best to eat your functional foods, rather than taking a pill.

“Even for something considered as protective as antioxidants, there can be too much of a good thing,” Collins tells WebMD. The 2007 report of the American Institute for Cancer Research on diet and cancer prevention recommends against using supplements for cancer protection at this time.  In fact, some recent studies have demonstrated that beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin A supplements can actually raise your chance of death.

But that doesn’t mean that you should shun all supplements. Certain populations may need supplements of vitamin B-12, folic acid, calcium, or vitamin D:

· People over age 50

· Vegetarians

· Pregnant women

· Children

· Those who rarely get sunshine

You should talk to your Doctor or a Registered Dietitian about your individual needs.

When it comes to heart health, though, there is convincing evidence that fish oil supplements and fish seem to have roughly the same benefits.

“Fish does have other benefits though, like selenium and vitamin D,” Mozaffarian tells WebMD. “If I were choosing, I would choose fish over fish oil pills.”

Getting the Most From Functional Foods

Researchers are now looking into the bioavailability of nutrients to learn how much of the antioxidants and omega-3 fats we eat are available for our bodies to use.

For now, here are a few tips for you to get the most out of the functional foods you eat:

· Try to buy produce that has been picked at full ripeness and maximum color, an indication of the presence of flavonoids.

· Cook your vegetables in as little water as possible to minimize the amount of nutrients lost in the cooking process.

· Aim to eat fish one to two times each week, and choose from a variety of species, emphasizing cold-water fish.

· Make sure you eat fat-soluble antioxidants like lycopene and vitamins A and E, with a little fat, such as olive oil, to help your body absorb the valuable nutrients.

(Source: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/antioxidants-and-omega-3-fats-functional-foods-to-boost-health)

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Aging today isn’t viewed the same as it was 50 years ago. Back then, increased forgetfulness in older people was seen as a symptom of senility, which was thought to be an inevitable part of aging. Decades of research into brain function, however, have improved our understanding of age and memory loss. The type of memory loss once considered normal now may be seen as an early sign of disease, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The line between ordinary forgetfulness in an older person and MCI is vague. MCI is usually defined as a loss of cognitive function in people over age 65 that exceeds an occasional wrong name or misplaced pair of glasses. MCI can be thought of as a precursor to dementia, which is a catch-all word used to describe serious brain dysfunction such as memory loss in older people. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, although MCI does not always result in the development of Alzheimer’s.

Increased Risk of Dementia

A person with MCI might have difficulty following a conversation, a fairly consistent inability to recall the names of new acquaintances or might frequently lose things. But a person with MCI can also retain the ability to function independently and maintain day-to-day activities such as preparing food, handling finances and maintaining personal hygiene. He or she may use notes, lists and calendars to compensate, and may maintain an independent lifestyle for many years. A person with full dementia would not be able to function independently.

Although there is no exact count of the number of Americans with MCI, a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that approximately 10% of people over 70 have the disorder. A person who has MCI has a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to someone who doesn’t have MCI. As the population ages, the societal burden of dementia grows. As many as 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that by the year 2030, that number may hit 16 million.

About 9% of people with MCI may experience mild improvement in memory over time. This is why it’s so important to get medical attention as soon as symptoms are noted. A variety of medical problems — such as vitamin deficiency, thyroid dysfunction and irregularities in blood pressure — can cause or worsen dementia. Identifying and treating underlying conditions can help delay further decline. Some medications that are approved for Alzheimer’s are prescribed off-label for MCI and appear to slow its progress, though their effectiveness has yet to be scientifically proven.

Diagnosing MCI

Since there’s no single, clear-cut test for MCI, an important part of arriving at a diagnosis is excluding other diseases, such as depression, that can have similar symptoms. It can be a big help to bring someone else along, such as a spouse or grown child, to discuss memory problems and offer a more objective view of the symptoms.

Doctors can give a variety of neuropsychological tests to gauge a person’s ability to remember. These tests are aimed at figuring out what kind of information the person can or can’t hold on to, establishing how long the problem has existed and determining whether forgetfulness is accompanied by a decreased ability to plan or communicate.

Usually, the person is aware of the decline, and may be experiencing fear or even anger about it. But once the extent of the problem is laid out and a support plan is developed, the person with memory problems may find that he or she is not as sick as imagined. Understanding that slightly more than half of people who have MCI do not progress to full dementia may ease anxiety.

When a diagnosis is made, it is a good time to review what services are available and appropriate for the individual. People with MCI should also consider long-term plans for finances, housing and medical care in the event that their condition worsens.

Right now, there is no specific treatment for MCI. But studies of antioxidants suggest that these may help prevent cognitive decline. Staying active mentally by maintaining social contacts and doing things such as learning a new language may also play a role in prevention.

(Source:http://alzheimers.about.com/lw/Health-Medicine/Conditions-and-diseases/What-Is-Mild-Cognitive-Impairment-.htm?nl=1)

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People with dementia may remember more than it first appears, according to researchers in Dundee and Fife.

 

They believe knowledge may not be destroyed in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease until later than previously thought.

 

The academics concluded that often patients would be able to recall facts, but became confused by the way the questions were asked.

 

The research was carried out by Dundee, Abertay and St Andrews universities.

 

The researchers asked patients to define simple words, such as “monkey”, “salmon” or “tractor”.

 

Professor Trevor Harley, from Dundee University, explained: “People with dementia are notoriously bad at this sort of task: at first sight it looks like they’ve lost most of the detailed knowledge of the word. For example, the only thing they appear to know about a monkey might just be that it’s an animal.

 

“The assumption has been that Alzheimer’s disease causes this knowledge to be destroyed.

 

“However, we found that if you probe the patient in the right way with appropriate questions that support them to search their stored knowledge, they can often generate more detailed information.

 

“That is, the knowledge isn’t always lost at all. Of course eventually the information might be completely lost, but this might happen much later than people have previously thought.”

 

Clive Evers from the Alzheimer’s Society welcomed the findings.

 

He said: “As dementia progresses communication often becomes more difficult but this does not necessarily mean that a person’s understanding has diminished.

 

“It’s important to communicate with people with dementia in ways that make it easy for people with dementia to respond. This includes using short sentences, clear language and providing people with the opportunity to respond non-verbally as well.

 

“This research is also a timely reminder of the importance of presuming people with dementia have mental capacity unless it can be proven otherwise.”

 

(Source:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/tayside_and_central/7521264.stm – 23July2008)

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The Director of a leading US Cancer Research Institute has sent a memo to thousands of staff warning of possible higher risks from mobile phone use.

 

Ronald Herberman, of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said users should not wait for definitive studies on the risk and should take action now.

 

He said children should use mobiles in emergencies only and adults should try to keep the phone away from the head.

 

No major academic study has confirmed a link to higher brain-tumour risks.

 

Electromagnetic fields

 

Dr Herberman said his warning was based on early findings from unpublished data.

 

“We shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” he says.

 

“I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use,” the memo says.

 

Dr Herberman’s warning to 3,000 staff says children should be protected as their brains are still developing.

 

He lists tips including switching sides regularly while talking on mobiles.

 

A major six-year research study in the UK said last year that there were no short-term adverse effects to brain and cell function from mobile phone use.

 

However, the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme said there was a “hint” of a higher cancer risk in the long term and that its research would look into the effects over a 10-year period.

 

Programme Chairman Professor Lawrie Challis said: “We can’t rule out the possibility at this stage that cancer could appear in a few years’ time.”

 

An earlier UK report said in 2005 that mobile phone use by children should be limited as a precaution – and that under-eights should not use them at all.

 

Mobile phones emit radio signals and electromagnetic fields that can penetrate the human brain, and some campaigners fear that this could seriously damage human health.

 

A US analysis by the University of Utah this year of thousands of brain tumour patients found no increased risk as a result of mobile use, but added that the effects from long-term use “awaits confirmation by future studies”.

 

Research reported in 2006 by the British arm of an international project called Interphone concluded that mobile phone use did not lead to a greater risk of brain tumour.

 

Recent Danish and French studies also found no increased risk of cancer.

 

But a study of 500 Israelis found this year that heavy mobile phone use might be linked to an increased risk of cancer of the salivary gland.

 

(Source:   http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/health/7523109.stm 24July2008)

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