Research On Health Impact of High Cocoa Chocolate

Fifty-eight million pounds! That’s how much chocolate is purchased during the week of Valentine’s Day. We definitely have a love affair with this confection. The question is…does it love us back?

Well, the latest nutritional research has some very good news: Yes, chocolate totally loves us back. Just bear in mind that our true feelings are for the cocoa itself (specifically, its antioxidant catechins and epicatechins) and not for the artificial chocolate flavorings and candies that have little-to-no cocoa. So, if you’ve ever been concerned that your love affair with chocolate is one-sided—don’t worry. Here are the top four reasons chocolate loves you as much as you love it:

1. Chocolate will rev up your metabolism.

The consumption of cocoa encourages blood vessels to branch into cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue, which brings an influx of oxygen and nutrients. This increases the metabolism because it creates more (and more effective) mitochondria in the muscles, producing extra energy for you.

According to this study, cocoa epicatechins alone produce a 30 percent increase in fatigue resistance and a 30 percent increase in new blood supply. Even better, the increase in energy that you get from combining it with exercise amounts to a 50 percent energy boost.

So how long will it take for these changes to occur? It took two weeks for experimental animals to see a 30 percent increase in fatigue resistance. In a separate study, it took four weeks to see an increase of capillaries and mitochondria appear in the muscle tissue. So remember that consistent cocoa consumption is key, and chocolate can be your vehicle for that intake.

 

I doubt it surprises anyone that chocolate can light up your brain’s pleasure centers like a Christmas tree. But in addition to the short-term spritz of mood-boosting dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, the psychoactive pleasure-palooza you get from cocoa can reduce measures of stress and anxiety. This 2010 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that daily consumption of cocoa polyphenols for 30 days produced a 10 percent reduction in anxiety and a 10 percent improvement in measures of calmness. Given this, it’s not surprising that the subjects also reported less depression.

It’s important to note that improvements in emotional state only occur from sustained moderate levels of cocoa. You (unfortunately) can’t shortcut this by eating a lot all at once, because cocoa volume is not as important as consistency.

3. Your heart will thank you for your chocolate addiction.

It may be surprising to hear that high-cocoa chocolate is heart healthy because of its saturated fat content. But it turns out that like many evil villains, it’s just misunderstood. One-third of the cocoa-derived fats are composed of stearic acid, which doesn’t raise your bad cholesterol at all. Moreover, your liver converts it into heart-healthy oleic acid.

The consumption of cocoa fats can, in fact, raise your good cholesterol (HDL) and lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). Even better, the antioxidants in cocoa help fight the chronic vascular inflammation that often leads to atherosclerosis. All this may be why researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people who ate more high-cocoa chocolate have fewer incidents of heart disease. Another meta-analysis of 114,009 participants showed that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in strokes.

This Australian study argues that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate per day is a more cost-effective solution than traditional medication and could save people’s lives. How popular would doctors be if they prescribed dark chocolate?

4. Chocolate will make your arteries happy.

So cocoa increases blood supply to your heart, increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol, and it also has an impact on the arteries that carry blood through the body, which determine your blood pressure.

A study of randomized control trials found that ingesting cocoa epicatechins (about 50 grams of 70 percent cocoa chocolate daily) reduces blood pressure by approximately 4.6 points for systolic and 2.1 points for diastolic. Why? It’s likely because consistent cocoa consumption increases the flexibility of your blood vessels. It makes them more elastic, so they can stretch (and not break) in response to high blood pressure spikes.

Again, the more consistently it is consumed, the greater the effect. After three days, the arterial elasticity was improved by approximately 40 percent. By day five, it was up to 65 percent. After one week, it had improved by 70 percent! This kind of high cocoa infusion is reversible, however. When it was withdrawn for a week, the arteries’ stretchiness started returning back to baseline.

From your heart to your head, from your muscles to your metabolism—your love of chocolate is totally returned. And by choosing high-cocoa chocolates and consistently having some every day, you can nurture this loving relationship. Win-win!

About those e-cigs

Choice between cigarette and e-cigarette

Don’t be misled by article just came out this morning in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Study of cancer-causing toxins finds e-cigarettes much safer than smoking

This can lead one to think that e-cigs are a healthy alternative. And at first, it’s a bit of a no brainer. Let’s say you stop breathing in tar and benzine and formaldehyde and all the other Acme Jr Chemistry set of tobacco toxicity into your body.

But anything you do is healthier than that. It’s really hard to image the conditions that would not be better for your body. So yes, e-cigs are within the infinite set of things that are also better for you than the cancer delivery device of cigarettes.

By the way, the report wasn’t just about e-cigs, but also showing that if you applied the patch or chewed the nicotine gum you’d also have less of the toxins that you’re no longer breathing in. Again, no kidding.

In essence, they made the conclusions out to be a bit different than they warrant. Are e-cigs better than breathing in terrible chemicals into your body every day? Yeah, but so is the gum and the patch and buttermilk cornbread.

It’s like doing a study to conclude that “Reading a book is better for your brain than banging your head against a brick wall until unconscious.” The issue about the book is neither here nor there. Everything is better for you than banging your head against a wall until unconscious.

So here’s the point. This article will make many think that it’s healthy. But it’s not a healthy alternative at all, just a healthier alternative. Words matter.

February is the Month For Heart Health

Below is an excellent review by the Harvard School of Public Health for how to reduce your risk of heart problems.

When heart experts talk about prevention, they usually refer to one of three types: secondary, primary and primordial prevention. [1] All three have similar elements, but different starting times and different effects.

  1. Secondary prevention. These efforts are started after someone has a heart attack or stroke, undergoes angioplasty or bypass surgery, or develops some other form of heart disease. It involves taking medications like aspirin and/or a cholesterol-lowering statin, quitting smoking and losing weight if needed, exercising more, and following a healthy diet. Although secondary prevention may sound like “closing the barn door after the horse has gone,” it isn’t. These steps can prevent a second heart attack or stroke, halt the progression of heart disease, and prevent early death. It may be obvious, but the number one killer of individuals who survive a first heart attack is a second heart attack.
  2. Primary prevention. Primary prevention aims to keep an individual at risk of heart disease from having a first heart attack or stroke, needing angioplasty or surgery, or developing some other form of heart disease. Primary prevention is usually aimed at people who already have developed cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. As with secondary prevention, primary prevention focuses on controlling these risk factors by making healthy lifestyle changes and, if needed, taking medications. That said, the appearance of worrisome cardiovascular risk factors means that inflammation, atherosclerosis, and/or endothelial dysfunction are already at work and, in most cases, aren’t reversible.
  3. Primordial prevention. The word “primordial” means existing from the beginning. Primordial prevention involves working to prevent inflammation, atherosclerosis, and endothelial dysfunction from taking hold, and thus prevent risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, and ultimately cardiovascular events. Once rarely discussed, primordial prevention is now the cornerstone of the American Heart Association’s definition of ideal heart health and efforts to help people achieve it. [1] As its name implies, the sooner you can start practicing primordial prevention—ideally from childhood on—the more likely you are to achieve it and protect yourself from heart disease.

Steps for the primordial prevention of heart disease

Four key choices can dramatically reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular risk factors and ultimately heart disease. All four are important. Below, each choice is listed in order of significance to heart health, along with ways to put each into practice.

1. Not smoking

breaking the cigarette to represent quitting smokingOne of the best things you can do for your health is to not use tobacco in any form. Tobacco use is a hard-to-break habit that can slow you down, make you sick, and shorten your life. One way it does this is by contributing to heart disease.

In fact, researchers examining the relationship between cigarette smoking and smoking cessation on mortality during a decades-long perspective study of over 100,000 women found that approximately 64% of deaths among current smokers and 28% of deaths among former smokers were attributable to cigarette smoking. [2]

  • This study also reported that much of the excess risk due to smoking may be drastically lowered after quitting. Additionally, the excess risk for all-cause mortality—that is, death from any cause—decreases to the level of a “never-smoker” 20 years after quitting.

The nicotine that tobacco products deliver is one of the most addictive substances around. That makes tobacco use one of the toughest unhealthy habits to break. But don’t get discouraged; many smokers do quit! In fact, in the United States today there are more ex-smokers than smokers. [3] Learn more about the hazards of smoking, the benefits of quitting, and tips for quitting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. Maintaining a healthy weight

body weight scaleExcess weight and an extra-large waist size both contribute to heart disease, as well as a host of other health problems. [4-6]

In a study of over one million women, body-mass index (BMI) was a strong risk factor for coronary heart disease. The incidence of coronary heart disease increases progressively with BMI. [7]

In the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, middle-aged women and men who gained 11 to 22 pounds after age 20 were up to three times more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and gallstones than those who gained five pounds or fewer.

  • Those who gained more than 22 pounds had an even greater risk of developing these diseases. [4,8-11]

Weight and height go hand-in-hand. The taller you are, the more you weigh. That’s why researchers have devised several measures that account for both weight and height. The one most commonly used is BMI.

  • You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared (kg/m2). You can also use an online BMI calculator or BMI table.
  • A healthy BMI is under 25 kg/m2. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 kg/m2
  • Waist size matters, too. In people who are not overweight, waist size may be an even more telling warning sign of increased health risks than BMI. [12] An expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health identified these useful benchmarks: Men should aim for a waist size below 40 inches (102 cm) and women should aim for a waist size below 35 inches (88 cm). [13]

3. Exercising

Exercise and physical activity are excellent ways to prevent heart disease and many other diseases and conditions, [14-16] but many of us get less activity as we get older.

  • Getting regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and it can also help control stress, improve sleep, boost mood, keep weight in check, and reduce the risk of falling and improve cognitive function in older adults.
  • It doesn’t take marathon training to see real health gains. A 30-minute brisk walk five days of the week will provide important benefits for most people. Getting any amount of exercise is better than none.
  • Exercise and physical activity benefit the body, while a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite—increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases.
  • Research shows that people who spend more time each day watching television, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who are more active. [17-19] A 2013 study showed that, among women ages 50-79 with no cardiovascular disease at the start of study, prolonged sitting time was associated with increased heart disease risk regardless of the amount of time spent in leisure-time physical activity. [16]

4. Following a healthy diet

Harvard Healthy Eating PlateFor years, research into connections between diet and heart disease focused on individual nutrients like cholesterol, types of fats, and specific vitamins and minerals. This work has been revealing, but it has also generated some dead ends, along with myths and confusion about what constitutes a heart-healthy diet. That’s because people eat food, not nutrients.

  • The best diet for preventing heart disease is one that is full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils; includes alcohol in moderation, if at all; and goes easy on red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, foods and beverages with added sugar, sodium, and foods with trans fat.
  • People with diets consistent with this dietary pattern had a 31% lower risk of heart disease, a 33% lower risk of diabetes, and a 20% lower risk of stroke. [20]
  • A randomized controlled trial found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, both rich sources of unsaturated fat, reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events amongst patients with cardiovascular disease over a 4.8-year follow-up period.
    • This study highlighted that low-fat diets are not beneficial to heart health, and that incorporating healthy fats – such as those included in the Mediterranean diet –  can improve heart health and weight loss.
    • There isn’t one exact Mediterranean diet, as this eating style takes into account the different foods, eating patterns, and lifestyles in multiple countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. However, there are similarities that define a Mediterranean eating pattern, and as described by this study  the traditional Mediterranean diet includes:

– High intake of olive oil, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and cereals

– Moderate intake of fish and poultry

– Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets

–  Wine in moderation, consumed with meals [26]

Putting it all together

You can help prevent heart disease by doing four key things and making them into habits:

  1. Don’t smoke (or quit if you do)
  2. Maintain a healthy weight
  3. Exercise; be active
  4. Follow a healthy diet

Strong studies make it possible to link reductions in risk to these habits. Following a healthy lifestyle may prevent over 80% of cases of coronary artery disease, [21,22] 50% of ischemic strokes, [23] 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, [24] and 72% of premature deaths related to heart disease. [25] In other words, a healthy lifestyle is a good investment in a longer, healthier life.


References

  1. Lloyd-Jones DM, Hong Y, Labarthe D, et al. Defining and setting national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction: the American Heart Association’s strategic Impact Goal through 2020 and beyond. Circulation. 2010;121:586-613.
  2. Kenfield SA, Stampfer MJ, Rosner BA, Colditz GA. Smoking and smoking cessation in relation to mortality in women. JAMA. 2008;299:2037-47.
  3. Babb S, Malarcher A, Schauer G, Asman K, Jamal A. Quitting Smoking Among Adults – United States, 2000-2015. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 2017;65:1457-64.
  4. Willett WC, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Weight, weight change, and coronary heart disease in women. Risk within the ‘normal’ weight range. JAMA1995;273:461-5.
  5. Bogers RP, Bemelmans WJ, Hoogenveen RT, et al. Association of overweight with increased risk of coronary heart disease partly independent of blood pressure and cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of 21 cohort studies including more than 300 000 persons. Archives of internal medicine. 2007;167:1720-8.
  6. Berrington de Gonzalez A, Hartge P, Cerhan JR, et al. Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med. 2010;363:2211-9.
  7. Canoy D, Cairns BJ, Balkwill A, et al. Body mass index and incident coronary heart disease in women: a population-based prospective study. BMC Med. 2013;11:87.
  8. Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Giovannucci E, et al. Body size and fat distribution as predictors of coronary heart disease among middle-aged and older US men. American journal of epidemiology. 1995;141:1117-27.
  9. Colditz GA, Willett WC, Rotnitzky A, Manson JE. Weight gain as a risk factor for clinical diabetes mellitus in women. Ann Intern Med. 1995;122:481-6.
  10. Huang Z, Willett WC, Manson JE, et al. Body weight, weight change, and risk for hypertension in women. Ann Intern Med. 1998;128:81-8.
  11. Maclure KM, Hayes KC, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ, Speizer FE, Willett WC. Weight, diet, and the risk of symptomatic gallstones in middle-aged women. N Engl J Med. 1989;321:563-9.
  12. Zhang C, Rexrode KM, van Dam RM, Li TY, Hu FB. Abdominal obesity and the risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: sixteen years of follow-up in US women. Circulation. 2008;117:1658-67.
  13. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: the evidence report. Bethesda, MD; 1998.
  14. Ford ES, Caspersen CJ. Sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease: a review of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology. 2012;41:1338-53.
  15. Matthews CE, George SM, Moore SC, et al. Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2012;95:437-45.
  16. Chomistek AK, Manson JE, Stefanick ML, et al. Relationship of sedentary behavior and physical activity to incident cardiovascular disease: results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2013;61:2346-54.
  17. Dunstan DW, Barr EL, Healy GN, et al. Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Circulation. 2010;121:384-91.
  18. Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A, et al. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American journal of epidemiology. 2010;172:419-29.
  19. Warren TY, Barry V, Hooker SP, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42:879-85.
  20. Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rimm EB, et al. Alternative dietary indices both strongly predict risk of chronic disease. The Journal of nutrition. 2012;142:1009-18.
  21. Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Rimm EB, Willett WC. Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. N Engl J Med. 2000;343:16-22.
  22. Chiuve SE, McCullough ML, Sacks FM, Rimm EB. Healthy lifestyle factors in the primary prevention of coronary heart disease among men: benefits among users and nonusers of lipid-lowering and antihypertensive medications. Circulation. 2006;114:160-7.
  23. Chiuve SE, Rexrode KM, D. S, Logroscino G, Manson JE, Rimm EB. Primary prevention of stroke by healthy lifestyle. Circulation. 2008;118:947-54.
  24. Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Rexrode KM, et al. Adherence to a low-risk, healthy lifestyle and risk of sudden cardiac death among women. JAMA2011;306:62-9.
  25. van Dam RM, Li T, Spiegelman D, Franco OH, Hu FB. Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality: prospective cohort study in US women. BMJ. 2008;337:a1440.
  26. Estruch, R., et al., Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. N Engl J Med, 2013. 368(14): p. 1279-90.

Benefits Of Aerobic Exercise On The Brain: 30 Minutes Of Working Out Improves Memory, Thinking Skills

We all know about the physical benefits of working out; we become leaner, fitter, and stronger. Our body isn’t the only thing reaping gains from exercise; our brain also benefits from a sweat session. Researchers at the University of Auckland have found 30 minutes of aerobic exercise boosts brain activity, improving memory, and thinking skills.

Previous research has explored the relationship between exercise and brain health. In a 2006 study, when healthy but sedentary adults were put through an aerobic fitness program for six months, there was a significant increase in both white matter and grey matter in the brain. White matter connects various gray matter areas (the locations of nerve cell bodies) of the brain to each other, and also carries nerve impulses between neurons. The control group, which only did stretching and toning in the same period of time, did not experience an increase in brain volume.

In the new study, published in Experimental Brain Research, scientists sought to explore how aerobic exercise enhances neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections) and what areas of the brain benefit from physical activity. A total of 10 young, healthy adults were asked to do 30 minutes of moderate cycling on a stationary bike, tailored to the aerobic fitness levels of each participant.

After the workout, the researchers found the motor cortex, where the nerve impulses originate that start voluntary muscle activity, had less gamma — aminobutyric acid, or GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA plays an important role in regulating the brain’s capacity to undergo change or neuroplasticity.

Moderate, intense aerobic exercise makes the brain more flexible, and improves memory and thinking skills.Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

The researchers believe this is how exercise promotes neuroplasticity, which supports their original hypothesis: “One possible mechanism is through effects on primary motor cortex (M1) function via down-regulation of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).”

In other words, a 30-minute moderately intense aerobic workout can immediately reduce GABA in the brain. The researchers believe this could benefit stroke victims by allowing them to coordinate movement.

Winston D. Byblow and Ronan A. Mooney of the University of Auckland, corresponding authors of the study, said: “Our findings may have implications for individuals after stroke, where GABA is a promising target for promoting neuroplasticity to promote recovery of motor function.”

They do admit older or clinical populations may struggle with certain exercise intensities due to functional limitations. However, other research has found exercise could slow down brain atrophy, the loss of brain volume. Typically, we start losing it at about age 30, with the hippocampus being the most affected. This can affect cognitive health, memory, and even spur dementia.

Read More: Regular Exercise Boosts Brain Function

A 2011 study in PNAS found exercise training increases the size of the hippocampus — believed to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system — and improves memory. Moderate exercise in healthy older adults helped them gain one to two percent volume in the hippocampus area. This is equal to reversing brain aging by about two years. Moreover, there were gains in spatial memory — responsible for recording information about one’s environment and spatial orientation.

It seems what’s good for our body, is also good for the brain.

Source: Mooney RA, Coxon JP, Cirillo J et al. Acute aerobic exercise modulates primary motor cortex inhibition. Experimental Brain Research. 2016.

Article originally published here:

 

 

Mediterranean diet high in healthy fat NOT associated with weight gain

Mediterranean diet high in healthy fat does not lead to weight gain

Focus on low-fat diets and lack of differentiation between healthy and unhealthy fat has led to ‘paradoxical policies’ about healthy eating.

Eating a non-calorie restricted Mediterranean diet high in vegetable fats such as olive oil or nuts does not lead to significant weight gain compared to a low-fat diet, according to a study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

The study suggests that current health guidelines that recommend a low-fat, low-calorie diet create unnecessary fear of healthy fats present in a Mediterranean diet, which have known health benefits.

More and more scientific evidence suggests that total fat content is not a useful measure of harms or benefits of food, and that fats from nuts, fish and phenolic-rich vegetable oils are healthier than fats from meat and processed foods.

The study took place in 11 hospitals in Spain during 2003-2010 and included 7447 participants (men and women) aged 55-80.

They were randomly assigned to one of three groups — an unrestricted-calorie Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil (2543), an unrestricted-calorie Mediterranean diet rich in nuts (2454), or a low-fat diet where the advice was to avoid all dietary fat (2450).

All participants were at high cardiovascular risk or had type 2 diabetes, and more than 90% were overweight or obese.

After 5 years, total fat intake had decreased in the low-fat diet group (from 40% to 37.4%) and had slightly increased in both Mediterranean diet groups (40% to 41.8% in olive oil; 40.4% to 42.2% in nuts).

The percentage of energy intake from protein and carbohydrate decreased in both Mediterranean diet groups.

On average, participants in all three groups lost some weight with the greatest weight loss seen in the Mediterranean diet with olive oil group (0.88 kg weight reduction in the olive oil group, compared to 0.60 kg for the low-fat diet group and 0.40 kg for the nuts group).

There was an increase in waist circumference in all three groups with the greatest increase seen in the low-fat diet group (1.2 cm increase for the low-fat diet group, compared to 0.85 cm for the olive oil group and 0.37 cm for the nuts group).

One researcher says: “Ironically, just as focusing on total fat to prevent heart disease was misguided because it overlooked the different effects of specific fatty acids.”

“Dietary guidelines should be revised to lay to rest the outdated, arbitrary limits on total fat consumption.”

“Calorie-obsessed caveats and warnings about healthier, higher-fat choices such as nuts, phenolic-rich vegetable oils, yoghurt, and even perhaps cheese, should also be dropped.”

 

News source: Estruch R, et al. (2010). Effect of a high-fat Mediterranean diet on bodyweight and waist circumference: a prespecified secondary outcomes analysis of the PREDIMED randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, DOI: 10.1016/S2213-8587(16)30085-7.

Cheer up. You could live longer!

optimism-glasses Having an optimistic outlook on life—a general expectation that good things will happen—may help people live longer, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study found that women who were optimistic had a significantly reduced risk of dying from several major causes of death—including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and infection—over an eight-year period, compared with women who were less optimistic.

optimism-i-canThe study appeared online December 7, 2016 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


“While most medical and public health efforts today focus on reducing risk factors for diseases, evidence has been mounting that enhancing psychological resilience may also make a difference,” said Eric Kim, research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-lead author of the study. “Our new findings suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges.”

optimism3The study also found that healthy behaviors only partially explain the link between optimism and reduced mortality risk. One other possibility is that higher optimism directly impacts our biological systems, Kim said.


The study analyzed data from 2004–2012 from 70,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-running study tracking women’s health via surveys every two years. They looked at participants’ levels of optimism and other factors that might play a role in how optimism may affect mortality risk, such as race, high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity.

kid-w-plane-wingsThe most optimistic women (the top quartile) had a nearly 30% lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analyzed in the study compared with the least optimistic women (the bottom quartile), the study found. The most optimistic women had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer; 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease; 39% lower risk of dying from stroke; 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease; and 52% lower risk of dying from infection.


While other studies have linked optimism with reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular problems, this was the first to find a link between optimism and reduced risk from other major causes.
 

“Previous studies have shown that optimism can be altered with relatively uncomplicated and low-cost interventions—even something as simple as having people write down and think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives, such as careers or friendships,” said postdoctoral research fellow Kaitlin Hagan, co-lead author of the study. “Encouraging use of these interventions could be an innovative way to enhance health in the future.” 

Other Harvard Chan School authors of the study included Francine Grodstein, professor, and Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor, both in the Department of Epidemiology; and Laura Kubzansky, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and co-director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness. Harvard Medical School assistant professor Dawn DeMeo was also a co-author.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (P01 CA87969, UM1 CA186107, T32 HL 098048). 

“Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study,” Eric S. Kim, Kaitlin A. Hagan, Francine Grodstein; Dawn L. DeMeo, Immaculata De Vivo, Laura D. Kubzansky, American Journal of Epidemiology, online December 7, 2016, doi: 10.1093/aje/kww182 

Article originally pubbed here.

What’s Love Got To Do, Got To Do With It? For Your Weight and Health, It Turns Out, Quite a Lot!

HeartWhat’s love got to do with our health and eating patterns? As it turns out—quite a lot.

I was recently on a phone interview with a newspaper editor who asked me to briefly explain how the Mediterranean people can eat all the foods they do and still be thin and healthy.

I responded that they can do what they do because they love their food. There was a pause before she replied, “No that’s exactly wrong. We love our food too much.

This is what it really means to love your food.

The response was instructive and indicated one of the most fundamental confusions in our culture of health: We conflate volume with value, quantity with quality, and love with consumption.

This is not an incidental confusion; instead, this cultural connection between the love of food and the consumption of food drives many of our health problems. Below are three ways this can happen and how a true love of food can help prevent this from occurring.

1. If you love your food, take your time.

Notice people when they eat, especially at lunch. It’s a bit of a frenzy getting to the bottom of whatever plate, bowl, or sack they’re eating from, and in five minutes, the meal is over. This turns eating into a chore, into something to get over with as quickly as possible, and it’s a big problem in our culture.

Changing this pattern is important because eating pace influences eating volume. The old saying that it takes 20 minutes for the “full” signal to get from your digestive system to your brain isn’t perfectly true, but it’s not far off. Satiety hormones such as cholecystokinin drift up into the brain regions involved in the sensation of fullness and take a while to create cognitive awareness.

This is why eating very quickly can cause us to overrun the satiety signal and become full (physiologically) long before the awareness of fullness is achieved (psychologically). Under these conditions, we eat until we feel full, but by that time we have already overdone it.

If you love your food, take your time with it. When you do, the satiety signals have a chance to kick in and prevent eating to excess.

2. If you love your food, taste it.

Have you ever watched someone eat in the car? With the burrito held in one hand sitting at a red light, they know that light’s going to turn green at any moment, so they gobble it back as quickly as possible. This eating pattern couldn’t be further from food appreciation.

Taking the time to taste food affects the ability to control consumption through sensory-specific satiety. This is a neural mechanism or reflex that connects taste appreciation to hunger drives. When a person tastes an item of food, takes his or her time with it, and leaves it on their palate, this reflex reduces the drive to consume that food.

In other words, consumption becomes self-limiting.

In contrast, filling the mouth with food doesn’t help us taste it because taste buds are on the surface of the tongue. And so, if your mouth is filled with food, the majority goes untasted. This bypasses the neural mechanism, and you end up eating more.

So if you love your food, savor the flavor. When you do, the self-regulatory networks have an opportunity to help control consumption.

3. If you love your food, go for quality over quantity.

If a person takes her time with a meal and tastes her food in the process, she’ll tend to start choosing healthier, higher quality foods because of a fundamental change in her flavor preferences. We commonly see this phenomenon when people resolve to eat real food and avoid processed food products; after a period of time, a “spot test” of their favorite junk food results in the realization that it just doesn’t taste that good. At this point, the person will choose healthier foods because they simply prefer them.

If you love your food, choose real foods without synthetic ingredients. This will train your taste buds so that the old junk foods you used to crave so much are not as desirable.

The bottom line: love of food versus love of eating.

Economically, we are a consumer culture, and that spills over into our culture of health. This truth becomes obvious in the common confusion between the love of food and the consumption of food. Teasing these two apart and learning to love food again has immediate, net positive effects on health.

Taking time with a meal and truly tasting the food we eat makes space for physiological mechanisms that help control quantity and quality of consumption and will lead to improved food preferences and better eating habits in the long run.

originally published here, via Mindbodygreen.com

How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay

Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.
How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay http://nyti.ms/2eZCDly