Sep 26, 2014

New study finds people drink more on days they are more physically active

A study using smartphone technology found that people tend to drink more on days when they are more physically active.

The Northwestern Medicine study tracked 150 people ages 18-89 who recorded their physical activity and alcohol use in smartphones for 21 consecutive days at three different periods during the year.

“Monday through Wednesday, people batten down the hatches and they cut back on alcohol consumption,” lead author David Conroy said in a news release.

“But once that ‘social weekend’ kicks off on Thursdays, physical activity increases and so does alcohol consumption,” Conroy said.

Researchers say they hope further studies will help determine what drives people to drink more on days they exercise more.

“Insufficient physical activity and alcohol use are both linked to many health problems, and excessive alcohol use has many indirect costs as well,” Conroy said. “We need to figure out how to use physical activity effectively and safely without having the adverse effects of drinking more alcohol.”

The study relied on a daily diary method, whereas others have used a 30-day self-reporting method.

“We zoomed in the microscope and got a very up-close and personal look at these behaviors on a day-to-day basis, and see, it’s not people who exercise more drink more – it’s that on days when people are more active, they tend to drink more than on days they are less active,” Conroy said.

Sep 19, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine

One of the oldest drugs in human history and present in dozens of plants, caffeine works by blocking a sleep-inducing chemical called adenosine. Used to be, most people got their dose via coffee, and it was relatively easy to stay under the FDA's recommended limit of 400 milligrams a day.

Now, however, it's harder to keep track. Companies don't always list caffeine content on food and drink labels. And despite decades of research, no one really knows the lifelong consequences of taking in so much. Studying a drug the majority of people already take is a challenge. Plus, any pro-caff findings might not account for the fact that a huge number of adults are sleep-deprived, says sleep medicine expert Timothy Roehrs, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Caffeine has such a big impact on physical performance and endurance that banning it from the Olympics would eliminate most contenders, theorizes John Ivy, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas at Austin. It can give non-elite exercisers an edge as well, helping them go faster and for longer.

Moderate to heavy coffee intake can also, perhaps, decrease your risk for diabetes, inflammatory diseases, Parkinson's, and dementia. It could improve memory function. And the buzziest current tiding: Coffee drinkers live slightly longer than non-drinkers, per a 2012 study.

Yet for every yea there seems to be a statistical nay. An October 2013 study, for example, concluded that coffee drinkers might have shorter life spans. Caffeine can also disrupt sleep, leading to a long list of problems, including weight gain, weakened immunity, and poor concentration. New research has found that, although tasteless itself, caffeine has an ability to leave people wanting more, driving them toward sugary sodas and energy drinks.

Then there's the issue of addiction and caffeine-use disorder, in which people still guzzle the stuff in the face of known health circumstances (e.g., pregnancy). Studies show that nearly half of all caffeine consumers admit they have problems abstaining, despite occasional overload symptoms such as headaches and insomnia. That's important since, at its extreme, the drug can interfere with your heartbeat; a new report found caffeine-related ER visits spiked 36 percent from 2010 to 2011 alone.

So how much is safe - even helpful? Ideally, you'd use the drug the way you use other meds: only when you need it most, and not in large amounts every day, says Laura Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University.

Because caffeine metabolism varies widely in people, it's best to stay as far below that daily limit of 400 milligrams as possible. That's about two 12-ounce cups of coffee, though not all brews are created equal. You'll have to do a little legwork to ID your own caff quotient—if, say, you have a coffee, a bit of chocolate, and a stick of spiked gum, you may be way overstimulated...or not.

Also be mindful of how you indulge. A binge in the a.m. will likely only set the stage for a crash after lunch, which will, in turn, tempt you to seek out even more caffeine, says Roehrs. (Our suggestion: Try waiting until about 10 a.m. for your java jolt.) And it practically goes without saying to skip caffeine within six hours of bedtime.

As with anything else, awareness and moderation are key. Read labels. And if you feel jittery or your caffeine crashes are intense, it's time to cut back.

How the super drug takes you from tired to wired...and back

  • Once caffeine hits your bloodstream, it's shuttled straight to the liver, which breaks it into tiny molecules.
  • Those then course through your veins, binding to cells, stealing the rightful parking spots of the sleep-inducing chemical adenosine.
  • With less adenosine to temper it, your brain is in overdrive. Mentally, you're more alert. Production of feel-good dopamine ramps up.
  • Your blood vessels have sprung into action: As they constrict, your heart beats faster, pumping extra oxygen to your organs.
  • Your body reaches peak caffeine levels 15 to 45 minutes after ingestion. The effects, however, last much longer. Depending on your genes and what meds you take, you could be wired for the next five to six hours.
  • Sounds great, right? Unless you've gone over your personal limit. Excess caffeine can cancel out too much adenosine, over-stimulating your brain.
  • Even if you don't go overboard, take note: Brain cells respond to the repeated blocking of adenosine by producing more and more of the stuff, which will hit you harder once your buzz wears off.

Sep 12, 2014

5 Colorful foods that help lower cancer

An increasing number of studies are showing links between healthy eating habits and the prevention of certain forms of cancer. Moreover, research has found that colorful fresh foods which tend to be high in immune-boosting phytochemicals, are particularly adept at this. Below is a discussion of the different dietary changes that can be made to make sure these phytochemicals are part of the daily diet.

Red foods - Perhaps the best-known of red foods, tomatoes, have been linked to decreased risk of cancer of the ovaries. In a study of some 15,000 women, it was found that eating just a half-cup of tomatoes at least four times a week can lower the chances of developing tumors on the ovaries by a whopping 50%. Consumption of tomatoes was connected in another study to fighting pancreatic malignancy as well. It is thought that this is due to its lycopene, which is also found in red peppers and red berries.

Orange foods - The phytochemicals which lend orange vegetables like squash and carrots their color have been proven to be effective in treating malignancy in the digestive tract. Caffeic acid, found in high quantities in yams, has been proven to slow the development of malignant cells in the breast. Orange fruits and vegetables should be eaten around three times a week.

Yellow foods - Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, lemons, tangerines and papayas, are excellent means to help ward off tumor formation through the diet. This is because these foods are all high in Vitamin C which has been shown to be extremely effective at fighting digestive cancers, such as those of the mouth, throat and colon. Apart from Vitamin C, they are also high in phyto-compounds that slow the development of tumors and promote overall healing through detoxification.

Green foods - Research has linked the consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy and endive, to a lower risk of several cancers, including those of the ovaries, stomach and colon. Scientists believe that this is likely due to the fact that these green foods are an excellent source of glucosinolates, which chemicals with anti-cancer properties and Vitamin K, which is particularly effective in reducing the risk of pancreatic malignancies. Try to include them in the diet at least once a day.

White foods - While color-rich fruits and vegetables can ward off cancer, there are many white or pale-colored ones that have that ability, too. They include mushrooms as well as members of the allium family like garlic and onions. Both mushrooms and alliums have been linked to lower rates of digestive cancer. The allium family is high in a chemical called allicin, which is a powerful antioxidant. Onions also contain phytochemicals linked to reduce risk of colon cancer. Mushrooms are a good source of Vitamin D that can lower development of malginancy in the ovaries. Add them to the diet twice a day if possible for maximum effect.

These colorful fruits and vegetables will not only lend interest and flavor to the diet, but also help reduce the risk of developing tumors or to help combat it if it does become established. These foods are also easy to work into a diet in soups, salads, casseroles or fruit-based desserts.

Sep 5, 2014

Potassium-rich foods cut stroke, death risks among older women

Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods, according to new research.

"Previous studies have shown that potassium consumption may lower blood pressure. But whether potassium intake could prevent stroke or death wasn't clear," said Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., study senior author and distinguished university professor emerita, department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

"Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and potassium not only lowers postmenopausal women's risk of stroke, but also death."

Researchers studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at how much potassium the women consumed, as well as if they had strokes, including ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, or died during the study period. Women in the study were stroke-free at the start and their average dietary potassium intake was 2,611 mg/day. Results of this study are based on potassium from food, not supplements.

The researchers found: Women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least. Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.
Among women who did not have hypertension (whose blood pressure was normal and they were not on any medications for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a 27 percent lower ischemic stroke risk and 21 percent reduced risk for all stroke types, compared to women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets. Among women with hypertension (whose blood pressure was high or they were taking drugs for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but potassium intake did not lower their stroke risk.

Researchers suggested that higher dietary potassium intake may be more beneficial before high blood pressure develops. They also said there was no evidence of any association between potassium intake and hemorrhagic stroke, which could be related to the low number of hemorrhagic strokes in the study.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily. "Only 2.8 percent of women in our study met or exceeded this level. The World Health Organization's daily potassium recommendation for women is lower, at 3,510 mg or more. Still, only 16.6 percent of women we studied met or exceeded that," said Wassertheil-Smoller.

"Our findings suggest that women need to eat more potassium-rich foods. You won't find high potassium in junk food. Some foods high in potassium include white and sweet potatoes, bananas and white beans."

While increasing potassium intake is probably a good idea for most older women, there are some people who have too much potassium in their blood, which can be dangerous to the heart. "People should check with their doctor about how much potassium they should eat," she said.

The study was observational and included only postmenopausal women. Researchers also did not take sodium intake into consideration, so the potential importance of a balance between sodium and potassium is not among the findings. Researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether potassium has the same effects on men and younger people.