Monday, February 24, 2014

Health Research Recap (Week of February, 17, 2014)

Researchers found that children who were exposed to even mild to moderate family problems between birth and the age of 11 experienced impaired brain development when compared to children who didn't experience these problems.  The children who experienced this stress had a smaller cerebellum, a part of the brain responsible for motor development, skill learning and stress regulation.  The children were also more likely to experience psychiatric illnesses later in life.  An interesting aspect of this study was that children who experienced the problems later, around the age of 14, actually experienced an increase in cerebellum size, indicating that when the child is exposed to stress is an important factor as well.

Researchers and Norway have identified a link between hip fractures and magnesium intake.  They started by looking at the distribution of hip fractures in Norway as hip fractures are common there.  Once they established the areas where hip fractures were happening, they began looking at the magnesium and calcium content of the local water supply.  They found that people in areas where there was more magnesium in the water were less likely to experience a hip fracture than people who lived in an area that had less magnesium in the water.  They found no link between the calcium content of the water and hip fracture risk

Levels of the hormone Irisin, a hormone released after exercise, can be used to predict biological age in humans.  Irisin helps the body set metabolic rate by signaling fat cells to burn energy rather than store it.  Irisin isn't only important for metabolism, it's important for brain function as well.  Aside from it's job in helping regulate metabolism, Irisin also increases secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, an important protein that is neuroprotective to the brain and thought to help prevent neurological diseases.  BDNF works by helping current neurons in the brain survive and by building new neurons, a process called neurogenesis.  While chronological age(Age in years) is what most of us use to define age, biological age can be defined by the biological state of the body.  Someone who is 50 years old but has better brain function, muscular function, and appears younger looking than someone who is 40 has a lower biological age.  People with higher levels of Irisin after exercise were younger in biological age than people with lower levels.

Taking high doses of the antioxidants Vitamin E and selenium may not be a good idea for men who don;t need them.  A recent study found that taking Vitamin E or selenium a standalone supplements increase a man's risk for high grade prostate cancer by 111% and 91%, respectively.  In an otherwise healthy person who is not deficient in these nutrient, there is no proven benefit to taking them.  The study did not look at using them as part of a multivitamin.  Unless you are using vitamin E or selenium to correct a deficiency with the help of a medical practitioner, I'd stay away.

We all know that teaching your children about the importance of a good diet can help them remain slim throughout life.  A new study found that being an involved parent, in general, can also help your children become slim adults.  The involvement doesn't need to necessarily be centered around food.  Just playing with your child, asking them how their day went, or just spending time with them are all potential ways to improve their chances of not becoming obese as they grow old. 

Involving children in developing programs to reduce obesity can have a powerful effect.  "Sodabriety", a program developed by teens in Appalachia to reduce sweetened beverage consumption has been very successful at reducing soda consumption and increasing water consumption.  Involving the people you are trying to change in designing the change can promote a sense of identity and togetherness as well as reducing the potential for negative peer pressure.

It appears that there may be something behind the notion that our tinkering with wheat has caused it to become more of a problem than it used to be.  People with IBS reported an improvement in digestive symptoms when they ate wheat products made from an ancient species of wheat.  When they ate modern wheat, there was no improvement in symptoms reported.  Furthermore, blood tests revealed a decrease in inflammatory markers when people were eating wheat products made from the ancient strain but not when they were consuming the modern strain.  Get ready for a flood of "Ancient" bread products in 3...2...1...

Finally, low and middle income families who live in areas with high fruit and vegetable prices are more likely to have children who are obese than people who live in areas where these foods are lower in price.  Families living in areas with high soda prices were less likely to have obese children, but this effect was not seen in areas with higher priced fast food.  They pointed out this may simply be a product of supply and demand, and areas with people who eat more fast food are more able to raise their prices than areas where people eat less fast food.