12 January - 20 June 2016

Other headlines

  • Dark Chocolate may help cognition, memory and mood
  • New polysaccharide, similar to beta-glucan, discovered in moss
  • Can eating raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes?
  • Protein found in fish may prevent Parkinson’s disease
  • Vitamin D deficiency linked with greater risk of developing diabetes
  • Canadians consuming more meat alternatives -  Mintel
  • Study highlights health and economic benefits of FDA salt reduction strategy
  • Man develops severe 'thunderclap' headaches after eating world's hottest chilli pepper
  • Researchers aim to further enrich eggs, poultry meat with omega-3 fatty acids
  • Drinking over 5 alcoholic drink a week could shorten your life
  • Measure of banning fast food outlets from opening near schools should be added to childhood obesity strategy

Dark Chocolate may help cognition, memory and mood
Research conducted at Loma Linda University and presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting in San Diego suggests that eating dark chocolate might have a “positive effect on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity”. It has long been known that cacao is a major source of extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents but the researchers state that their work is the first that has studied its effect on cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health. Berk et al. investigated the effect of 70% cacao chocolate consumption on human immune and dendritic cell gene expression and found that consumption up-regulates many signalling pathways including those involved in T-cell activation, cellular immune response and genes involved in neural signalling and sensory perception. The researchers also recorded the effect on modulating brain frequencies 0-40Hz of consuming 48g of dark chocolate (70% cacao) via electroencephalography (EEG) at 30 and 120 mins after consumption. These studies showed that cacao enhances neuroplasticity for behavioural and brain health benefits. Lee S. Berk is quoted as saying that “For years, we have looked at the influence of dark chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content - the more sugar, the happier we are." Berk added that "This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings. These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects.” (Loma Linda University)

New polysaccharide, similar to beta-glucan, discovered in moss
Reporting in the journal, The Plant Cell, a team of international scientists have discovered a polysaccharide in moss similar to gut-friendly, health-promoting beta glucan found in oats and other cereals, that could be exploited for health or other uses.  The newly discovered polysaccharide, which the researchers have called arabinoglucan, contains sugar glucose and arabinose. Lead author Professor Burton says in a press release that while the function of the arabinoglucan is not yet known, it may

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Can eating raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes?
Compared to cooked, canned and processed fruit and vegetables, raw fruit and vegetables may be better for mental health, according to University of Otago researchers.  The study published in Frontiers in Psychology surveyed over 400 people aged 18-25 years from New Zealand. The authors report that this age group was chosen as they typically have the lowest fruit and vegetable intake and are at higher risk of mental health disorders. The participants were asked questions about their fruit and vegetable intake including cooked, processed and raw vegetable and fruit consumption.  They were also asked about lifestyle issues that could affect mental health, such as exercise, sleep, diet, chronic health conditions amongst others.  The authors state “Controlling for the covariates, raw fruit and vegetable consumption predicted lower levels of mental illness symptomology, such as depression, and improved levels of psychological wellbeing including positive mood, life satisfaction and flourishing. These mental health benefits were significantly reduced for cooked, canned, and processed fruits and vegetables.” 

Protein found in fish may prevent Parkinson’s disease
Scientists from the Chalmers University of Technology Sweden, are reporting in Scientific Reports that the protein parvalbumin, found in several fish species, can prevent the formation of certain protein structures closely associated with Parkinson's disease. Herring, cod, carp and redfish, including sockeye salmon and red snapper, have particularly high levels of parvalbumin, but it is common in many other fish species, too.  Using a set of in vitro biophysical methods, the team discovered that β-parvalbumin readily inhibits amyloid formation of α-synuclein protein.  They note that “Parvalbumin collects up the Parkinson's protein, and actually prevents it from aggregating, simply by aggregating itself first.”   The team have yet to investigate whether parvalbumin may help other neurogenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, ALS and Huntington's disease, which are also caused by certain amyloid structures interfering in the brain.

Vitamin D deficiency linked with greater risk of developing diabetes
People deficient in vitamin D may be at greater risk of developing diabetes, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One.  The scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University analysed vitamin D levels in blood during three visits, and fasting glucose and oral glucose tolerance from a cohort of 903 healthy men aged 74 years with no indications of either pre-diabetes or diabetes.  Minimum healthy level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in blood plasma was 30 nanograms per millilitre. From 1997 to 1999 the scientists report that there were 47 new cases of diabetes and 337 new cases of pre-diabetes.   They state that "We found that participants with blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that were above 30 ng/ml had one-third of the risk of diabetes and those with levels above 50 ng/ml had one-fifth of the risk of developing diabetes.”

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Canadians consuming more meat alternatives -  Mintel
According to research by Mintel, 53% of Canadians say they eat meat alternatives, including one in five (18%) who claim to eat them at least a few times a week. Overall, 2 in 5 Canadians agreed that meat alternatives are heathier than meat.  In the last five years, global meat substitute launches have almost doubled, with Germany leading the way having 11.9% of global meat substitute launches in 2017.  Meatless burgers (34%) and meatless poultry (32%) are the meat alternatives Canadians are most likely to consume. In a press release Mintel note that “Despite increasing interest, the largest barrier to eating meat alternatives is meat itself. In fact, the top reason consumers who don’t eat meat alternatives say they don’t eat them is because they prefer meat (69%), followed by not liking the taste of meat alternatives (42%). Price is also a barrier for some as one in five (20%) say they don’t use meat alternatives because they’re too expensive, rising to 34% of those aged 18–24.”

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Study highlights health and economic benefits of FDA salt reduction strategy
A high-salt diet is a leading risk factor for high blood pressure and subsequent cardiovascular disease (CVD) – a major cause of mortality in the USA, with billions of dollars lost annually to premature death, healthcare costs and decreased productivity. Recognising processed and pre-prepared foods as the largest contributor to daily salt intake, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested a programme of salt reduction targets for industry – but such proposals have yet to be implemented. Research published in PLOS One by Pearson-Stuttard et al. at the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with Imperial College London and others, used a computer simulation to model outcomes – both economic and health-related – of changing salt intake. 3 scenarios: positive (100% compliance with all FDA targets over 10 years), moderate (50% compliance with targets), and pessimistic (compliance with 2-year target and no further progress) were modelled on virtual individuals from 30 to 84 years of age, over 20 years. In all 3 scenarios, researchers found that incidence of and mortality from cardiovascular disease dropped, with reductions in population blood pressure and corresponding gain in ‘quality of life years’. Additionally, all scenarios were cost-effective, with initial expense to government, healthcare providers and industry outweighed by a healthier, more productive population. This shows that industry-driven salt reduction initiatives could safeguard health while saving money – although the researchers warn that “suboptimal compliance or a delay (…) could result in a significant number of preventable CVD cases, CVD deaths, and costs to the wider economy.”

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Man develops severe 'thunderclap' headaches after eating world's hottest chilli pepper
After eating a “California Reaper” in a hot pepper competition in the United States, a 34-year-old man developed episodes of a thunderclap headache. His initial symptoms after eating the chilli pepper included dry heaving accompanied by intense neck and occipital head pain. In the following days, he had repeated instances of the symptoms before he sought emergency medical care where he was tested for several neurological conditions, but all results returned negative. A CT scan showed that several arteries in his brain had narrowed leading to the thunderclap headache diagnosis second to reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). The patient’s symptoms improved over time with supportive care and he experienced no further headaches. A repeat CT scan 5 weeks later showed the previously narrowed arteries in his brain had returned to their expected width. Researchers say this is the first such case linked with eating hot chili peppers. (Case Report – British Medical Journal)

Researchers aim to further enrich eggs, poultry meat with omega-3 fatty acids
Researchers at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are looking to increase the levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in eggs and poultry meat to boost people’s omega-3 levels which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Their initial study looked at feeding chickens a diet consisting of increased amounts of flaxseed oil, a rich source of alpha-linoleic acid, and reducing the dietary level of linoleic acid, an 18-carbon omega-6 fatty acid. They hypothesized that it would promote greater conversion in the liver of linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA respectively), two omega-3 fatty acids not produced naturally by the human body. Supplementary to this, the researchers also fed some chickens the same flaxseed oil in combination with high-oleic acid soybean oil to further enrich the eggs with oleic acid without influencing EPA and DHA levels. The findings of the study saw that the solitary addition of flaxseed oil resulted in an increase of EPA and DHA contents of the egg yolk. Simultaneously supplementing the chickens’ diet with high-oleic soybean oil at a maximum level however, reduced the levels of linolenic acid, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and total omega-3 fatty acids by 37 percent, 15 percent, and 32 percent respectively. The research team hypothesize that the oleic acid may have been absorbed into the intestine over and above the linolenic acid which would lead to less omega-3 fatty acid enrichment of the egg yolk.

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Drinking over 5 alcoholic drink a week could shorten your life
Research funded by the UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, European Union Framework 7, and European Research Council has found even moderate alcohol drinking to be linked to heart and circulatory diseases.  The scientists from the University of Cambridge report that drinking more alcohol is associated with a higher risk of stroke, fatal aneurysm, heart failure and death.  Using data on health and drinking habits of over 600,000 people in 19 countries the team found that drinking over 5 drinks a week was linked to lower life expectancy.  They report in The Lancet that having 10 or more drinks per week was linked with one to two years shorter life expectancy. Having 18 drinks or more per week was linked with four to five years shorter life expectancy.  The study suggests that “different relationships between alcohol intake and various types of cardiovascular disease may relate to alcohol's elevating effects on blood pressure and on factors related to elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) (also known as 'good' cholesterol).” They stress that the “lower risk of non-fatal heart attack must be considered in the context of the increased risk of several other serious and often fatal cardiovascular diseases.”

Measure of banning fast food outlets from opening near schools should be added to childhood obesity strategy
Leading doctors from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are urging the government, to not allow fast food restaurants to open within 400 metres of a school.  They want this measure to be added to the childhood obesity strategy, which would allow councils to have increased powers to help combat childhood obesity.  Prof Russell Viner, the president of the college, is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying that “Kids are coming out of school hungry and finding themselves surrounded by cheap chicken shops, chip shops and other types of junk food. This just wasn’t the case 20 or 30 years ago. People tend to eat what’s in front of them and we need to make it easier for children to make the right choices.” The college is also proposing that all children should be weighed and measured from birth to teenage years, noting that doctors should be trained on how to talk to parents about children’s weight gain. (The Guardian)

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