12 January - 20 June 2016

Other headlines

  • Avocado seed husks found to contain compounds that could treat a host of disease
  • Fat and carbohydrate consumption study results “may not be relevant” to the UK
  • Report on economic benefits of Scottish Government RESAS research released
  • UK consumer confidence slipped from second to ninth in Europe
  • Coffee consumption might be associated with lower risk of death
  • Too much salt can double heart failure risk
  • Poll reveals confusion over food issues
  • Dark Chocolate enriched with olive oil shows improved cardiovascular risk profile
  • Heavy alcohol consumption found to alters brain functioning differently in young men and women

Avocado seed husks found to contain compounds that could treat a host of disease
A study presented at the 254th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society by Bandyopadhyay et al.  from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has reported that avocado seed husks contain chemical compounds that could be used to "treat a host of debilitating diseases, as well as to enhance the allure of cosmetics, perfumes and other consumer goods."  The scientists believe that the compounds could treat diseases such as cancer and heart disease.  Using gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry, the team analysed the dried avocado seeds husks and discovered 116 compounds in the oil and 16 in the wax, with many not appearing in the seeds themselves. The compounds included docosanol, an ingredient used in anti-viral medications, dodecanoic acid which increases HDL, and could be used to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), a food additive. In a press release Bandyopadhyay states "It could very well be that the avocado seed husk, which most people consider as the waste of wastes, are actually the gem of gems because the medicinal compounds within them could eventually be used to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions."

Fat and carbohydrate consumption study results “may not be relevant” to the UK
A study by researchers by 18 worldwide universities and published in The Lancet has investigated fat and carbohydrate intake in diets and has suggested that diets where over 75% of calories are from carbohydrates can lead to a higher risk of death. Dehghan et al. used food frequency, health and lifestyle questionnaires and follow-up at 3, 6 and 9 years, to understand the dietary habits of over 135,000 adults across 3 high-income, 11 medium-income and 4 lower-income countries and to see how the dietary balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate affected the risk of dying from all causes. They found those in the highest carbohydrate consumption quintile (average of 77% of calories) had a 28% higher risk of dying from all causes than those in the lowest quintile (46% of calories) and that those in the highest fat consumption quintile (35% of calories) were 23% less likely to die of all causes than those in the lowest quintile (10% of calories). In both cases, however, no difference in cardiovascular risk was seen between the groups. NHS Choices note that popular reporting of this study in the UK press would seem to indicate that all current dietary guidelines should be overturned but state that in the UK this is "completely misleading" and that the study supports current UK guidelines as it found that people consuming 50% of calories from carbohydrates and around 35% from fat had the lowest mortality risk. NHS Choices also note that as an “observational study", it does not prove cause and effect and indicates that people living in low or middle income countries often rely on less-healthy refined carbohydrates than those unrefined sources (e.g.  brown rice and wholemeal bread) that are more readily available in the UK. They suggest that the very low fat and high carbohydrate diets of some participants may be due to poverty.  (NHS Choices)

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Report on economic benefits of Scottish Government RESAS research released
A report has been published on the economic benefits of the Scottish Government's Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) Strategic Research Programme 2011-2016. The report indicates that research on food, plants and animals, which includes research to create new varieties of crops and control animal diseases, has generated around £600m of "economic benefit" and "supported over 2,800 Scottish jobs". The report investigates two main aspects of economic impact: those generated directly because of funding, and wider benefits resulting from the research. The former is estimated to have contributed £469m and supported 1380 jobs while the latter has contributed £152m and supported 1460 jobs. The report notes that many benefits of research take a long time to be realised and so it expects the wider benefits to the Scottish economy to increase over time. Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment is quoted in a press release as saying "I welcome this analysis which demonstrates the importance of our renowned research in these fields. Our research is not only giving us a greater understanding of some of the challenges our rural economy and environment is facing, like potato crop failures, cattle disease or the impacts of climate change, but it is opening up opportunities to trial new products and research into new markets." (Scottish Government)

UK consumer confidence slipped from second to ninth in Europe
Nielson’s latest Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions has shown that UK consumer confidence has slipped from second in Europe to ninth place, as a direct result of the EU referendum.  The report indicates that household spending has dropped due to the collapse of Sterling.  Over the last year, the greatest contributors to rising inflation have been housing costs, utility bills and transport, followed by consumer goods like food, drink and clothing.  The survey suggests that nearly a third of people are switching to cheaper grocery brands to save money, however the desire to treat themselves remains. (Retail Gazette)

Coffee consumption might be associated with lower risk of death
A study by researchers from Spain and presented at the ESC Congress suggests that higher coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of death for a middle aged Mediterranean cohort. The study was based on data from the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project and included data on over 19,000 participants with an average age of 37.7 at enrolment. Participants completed a food frequency questionnaire, which includes information on coffee consumption, as well as questions on lifestyle and health amongst others.  The participants were followed up for 10 years on average. Following statistical analysis and adjusting for confounding factors, the researchers discovered that those drinking at least four cups of coffee per day had a 64% lower risk of all-cause mortality. When looking at the association between coffee consumption and age, gender, consumption of a Mediterranean diet, the researchers found a significant association with age in that for those aged 45 or over, consumption of an additional two cups of coffee per day gave a 30% lower risk of death over the follow-up period but no association was found for those under 45. Dr Adela Navarro is quoted in a press release as saying that "In the SUN project we found an inverse association between drinking coffee and the risk of all-cause mortality, particularly in people aged 45 years and above. This may be due to a stronger protective association among older participants". Navarro added that "Our findings suggest that drinking four cups of coffee each day can be part of a healthy diet in healthy people." (MedicalXpress)

Too much salt can double heart failure risk
A study by researchers from Finland and presented at ESC Congress in Barcelona indicates that too much salt can double the risk of heart failure. While sodium is required by the body, it is known that too much can be harmful for the cardiovascular system and various bodies across the world recommend reducing salt consumption, WHO for instance by around 30%, and the current study has investigated the link between salt consumption and heart failure risk. The study used two sets of data conducted in Finland between 1979 and 2002 with 4630 randomly selected participants, aged between 25 and 64 at enrolment, from the available total. Participants completed a questionnaire about health habits.  BMI, height and blood pressure were measured and participants underwent a 24-hour urine collection to accurately estimate salt consumption. Participants were followed up for 12 years. Following statistical analysis, Jousilahti et al. found that those who consumed more than 13.7 g of salt daily had double the risk of heart failure than those consuming less than 6.8 g/day and that this increased risk was independent of blood pressure. Prof Jousilahti notes that while WHO recommend a maximum of 5g/day, the body only needs 2 to 3 g/day and that a teaspoon is approx. 5.8g. Jousilahti is quoted as saying that "The heart does not like salt" but added that "studies in larger, pooled population cohorts are needed to make more detailed estimations of the increased heart failure risk associated with consuming salt". (Medical News Today)

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Poll reveals confusion over food issues
A new initiative at Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Food@MSU, aims to help the American public make more informed choices about food.  To start the initiative the team behind Food@MSU conducted a "Food Literacy and Engagement Poll" which they hope will be completed annually. The survey was completed online by 1,000 Americans aged 18 and results were weighted for age, gender, ethnicity, education, region and household income to conform to the overall population. The authors of the poll indicate that while technological advances can help grow crops in all kinds of ways, the public must be “on side” and made aware of urgent challenges.  They state that their initial poll indicates that, for food, public understanding lags far behind the science and note that the public aren’t asking scientists for answers. The survey looked at several areas including food safety and global food security and produced a large set of data. This included, for instance, that while 51% were willing to pay higher prices for food with a "less damaging impact on the environment", 48% say they "never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced". When questioned on food safety, 50% "expressed concern over the safety of food".  Regarding food security and GMOs, 46% either didn’t know or thought they rarely or never consumed products containing GMOs even though they are estimated to be contained in 75% of packaged food available in the US. The poll revealed a distrust of experts too with 59% saying they trusted academics, 49% trusting government scientists and 33% only trusting industry scientists on nutrition and food safety. The team hope to use the poll to track public attitudes over time and to allow consumers to be heard so they can ultimately be better informed regarding food and related issues. (Science Alert)

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Dark chocolate enriched with olive oil shows improved cardiovascular risk profile
A study by researchers from the University of Pisa, Italy, and presented at the ESC Congress has indicated that dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The study investigated the effects of dark chocolate enriched with olive oil or red Panaia apples. 14 men and 12 women, all with cardiovascular risk factors but otherwise healthy, were given 40g of dark chocolate daily for 28 days. For 14 consecutive days, the chocolate included either 10% extra virgin olive oil or 2.5% apple with the other enriched chocolate being used on the other 14 days. Urine and blood samples were taken at baseline and after intervention and measured for the progression of atherosclerosis via metabolic changes. After the 4-week intervention, Di Stefano et al. found that consumption of the olive oil chocolate was associated with "significantly increased EPC levels and decreased carnitine and hippurate levels" compared to baseline and post-apple chocolate consumption. The olive oil chocolate was also associated with significantly increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and decreased blood pressure when compared to baseline while the apple chocolate showed a non-significant decrease in triglyceride levels. Lead author Dr Rossella Di Stefano is quoted in a press release as saying that "A healthy diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples. Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants." Di Stefano added that "We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile. Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our 'repairing cells', the EPC."

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Heavy alcohol consumption found to alter brain functioning differently in young men and women
Whilst long term alcohol can change the brain function of young men and young women, a Finnish study has reported the changes are more significant in men and different between genders.  The team compared 11 men and 16 women who had been heavy alcohol drinkers for 10 years to 12 men and 13 women who had little or no alcohol use.  All participants, who were aged between 23-28 years old, had their brain activity measured using EEG.   The study presented at the ECNP meeting in Paris states that there were "more changes in brain electrical activity in male subjects, than in females, which was a surprise, as we expected it would be the other way around. This means that male brain electrical functioning is changed more than female brains by long-term alcohol use." The EEG also showed that male brains have greater electrical activity associated with the GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) neurotransmission than do female brains. Whilst the scientists are yet to understanding what these findings exactly mean, they note that GABA, a fundamental neurotransmitter is involved in many neurological systems, and is important in anxiety and depression. Generally, it seems to calm down brain activity.  They suggest that this may mean that treatments may need to be gender specific, for males and female drinkers. (Science Daily)

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