Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Walking v diabetes+.

Dr Terry Dwyer and colleagues have found that walking cuts the risk of diabetes in a study of 600 adults in Tasmania. While the team focussed on diabetes, the results suggest a protective effect against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Roughly 600 adults aged around 50 in 2000 were tracked for 5 years.  At the start, most were overweight or obese and as a whole, the group gained weight over the period.

The volunteers were fitted with pedometers for 2 days in 2000. One finding was that those with higher daily step counts at this start time ended with a better body mass index (BMI), better waist to hip ratio and better insulin sensitivity, compared to those less active.

After 5 years, the group wore pedometers for another 2 days. As a whole, the group gained weight and became less active.  However, one third stayed active or increased their steps in the period, and again these were the ones with better measures on BMI, waist-hip ratio and insulin sensitivity.

The following figures are for those walking 10,000 steps, which is about 5 miles or 8km.

For a person of average height, weight dropped was just under 3kg, or about 6lbs. This corresponds to a BMI reduction of 0.83kg/metre squared. Insulin sensitivity increased by about 12%, with men doing slightly better than women.

These results are all ‘dose-dependent’. In other words, walking less still resulted in some improvements.

When the researchers factored in BMI, the differences between those active and those not disappeared, so the team attributed the improvement to a cut in body fat.

The researchers were looking at diabetes, and the improvement in insulin sensitivity would result in a considerably reduced risk of the disease.

The figures also strongly suggest there would be an improvement in other diseases linked to BMI and larger waists, including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and more.

The impact on the waist is interesting, since fat stored around the waist is linked to adiposopathy (sick fat), and this study suggests that walking is a way to burn ‘sick’ fat preferentially to ‘healthy’ fat, reducing the waist to hip ratio.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Accelerometer, Activity, Adiposopathy - sick fat, Aging, BMI - body mass index, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Exercise, High blood pressure, Metabolic syndrome, Success, Waist circumference, Walking, Weight management | Leave a comment

Coffee v diabetes.

Previously, studies have shown that consumption of coffee cuts the risk of developing diabetes. Dr Simin Liu and team published why this happens in the current issue of the journal Diabetes.

About 360 post-menopausal women who developed diabetes over a 10 year time period were carefully matched with the same number who did not, and then checks were conducted on a number of possible causes.

Those drinking 4 or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day were found to have cut the risk of developing diabetes by just over 50%, compared to non-drinkers. This simply confirmed the already known fact that coffee consumption helps to prevent diabetes. Further, there was no cut in risk for those drinking decaf, or for those drinking tea, so the active agent appears to be caffeine.

Dr Liu was able to tie the benefit to levels of a protein called SHGB in the blood, with higher SHGB tied to lower risk of diabetes.

SHGB is sex hormone-binding globulin. It helps to regulate the actions of the hormones estrogen and testosterone. When the team adjusted to take SHGB out, there was little impact left of coffee on diabetes, showing that the main mechanism is SHGB.

SHGB blood level was linked to coffee consumtion, but not to decaf or tea, showing these don’t affect SHGB levels.

Also, there is an SHGB gene, and Dr Liu showed this split the women into responders and non-responders. Women with certain variants of the SHGB gene got the protection at lower levels of coffee consumption.

From a couple of decent sources, here is the approximate amount of caffeine in common drinks, per ounce.

Caffeinated coffee – 10 to 35.

Tea – 5 to 20.

Coca-Cola – 4.  Remember that soft drink portion sizes tend to be larger than tea or coffee.

The explanation for the range in coffee is that instant coffee tends to be lower in caffeine while fresh brew is higher.

From this, it looks like the best approach is fresh-brew caffeinated coffee!

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Coffee, Diabetes, Diet, Success, Tea | Leave a comment

Looking great!

Dr Ian Stephen and colleagues from the Perception Lab have found that looking tanned isn’t the best way to look great. People prefer a face that signals it is healthy, and for that you need carotenoid, a compound that comes from eating fruit and vegetables.

The Perception Lab at St Andrews studies faces and the information we get from them. This information is quite amazing, and the Perception Lab website covers some of the things we get from the faces of others, and what they get from you!

The work published by Dr Stephen investigated the link between carotenoid consumption and facial attractiveness in humans, because in birds and fishes the yellowness produced signals health, while in humans, carotenoids are linked to better immune systems and reproductive ability.

Three studies were carried out to clarify the link.

First, it was established that both a white population and a black (South African) preferred a particular yellow pigment, called CIELab b*, in faces of Caucasians, rather than pale white or tanned.

Second, they showed that those getting carotenoids from fruit and vegetables produced the CIELab b* yellow more in their face.

Third, when people were given photos of faces and the ability to alter the colour composition, they chose to increase the amount of CIELab b* rather than other alternatives.

So if you want to look your very best, don’t get tanned, eat your fruit and veg!

January 12, 2011 Posted by | Diet, Fruit, Health, Success, Vegetables | Leave a comment

Baby learning.

Do babies learn the same way adults do, or is there something else going on in there before they can speak?

Damage to two particular regions of the brain causes language impairment in adults, while in children it does not halt language development. Does this mean baby brains work language through different regions to adult brains, or is their brain so adaptable that they can call in other areas to make up for the damage?

Researchers from the University of California San Diego used two types of brain scans, both noninvasive, to check on the areas in the brain that were activating in babies aged 12 months to 18 months. The results appear in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

The tests were quite simple. First, say a common word or alternatively a fake word that sounds quite similar. Second, show a picture of a common object, like a ball or a dog, and say either the correct name or a wrong name for the picture.

From the scans, the team found that even before they can speak, babies process language in the same areas as adults, as the same areas become active. This means if these get damaged in young children, the brain is still flexible enough to call on other areas for language development, whereas in adults, the brain is too fixed to re-route.

The team also found that the babies already had a mental database of words they understood. When pictures were mismatched to names, adult brains become active in a particular region that handles errors in language, and the brain scans showed babies did this too.

So, even before your baby can talk, he or she is learning much the same way an adult does, and has already developed a vocabulary.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Brain, Language, Learning, Success | Leave a comment

Pregnancy v autism.

A trio of researchers has discovered that if there is a short interval between first and second babies, the second one has an increased risk of autism.

The researchers looked at 660,000 pairs of siblings born in California between 1992 and 2002, where the first-born did not have autism. Then they compared the rates of autism in the second sibling, using the interval between when the mother first gave birth and when she became pregnant again.

Compared to an interval of 3+ years, an interval of 2-3 years resulted in an increase in the risk of autism by 27%, while 1-2 years increased the risk by 87% and under 1 year increased the risk by 139%.

The researchers checked their work using pairs of siblings where the 1st born had autism, and again found the second was at even greater risk if the interval was less than 3 years.

Experts in autism are cautioning that although the study appears sound, it is normal to wait for results to be replicated in a different group of people.

However, other studies have shown an increased risk of schizophrenia in the second born where there is a short interval between pregnancies. While other problems such as being severely pre-term are also linked to increased risk of autism.

Collectively, these suggest that a short interval increases the chance that the second child’s neural development is impacted.

The researchers speculated that the reason might be a depleted level of nutrients such as folate or iron, or elevated stress levels.

Until a mechanism is established, this would suggest mothers falling pregnant within 3 years of last giving birth should make sure their nutrients follow medical recommendations closely, and put practices in place to cut stress.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Autism, Brain, Child Health, Diet, Minerals, Pregnancy, Stress, Success, Vitamins | Leave a comment

Udiet: the battlefield.

2010 was stuffed with debate over the reasons why people in developed countries are getting heavier.

 The most simplistic explanations focussed on overeating, or inactivity, or both. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) also came in for a beating. The problem with this is that Europe imports very little HFCS, but countries in Europe are reporting more and more problems associated with obesity.

 www.obesitymyths.com comes up with a much larger range of interesting possibilities. But in 2005, the New York Times linked this site to sponsorship from fast food producers such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, in this article.

Two reputable groups of scientists published work where they found that the mantra of ‘eat less and exercise more’ doesn’t cover all of the potential reasons.

 A government group in the UK called Foresight was asked to predict what will happen there over time, based on best evidence, and building in realistic assumptions. In order to do so, they had to scour published research to identify the drivers of obesity and build a very detailed model of which drivers are most important. Written in simple English, this is probably the best explanation there is of the obesity epidemic.

The full report is available as a free PDF download here. However, at over 160 pages, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

The second group of scientists published a summary of obesity drivers in November 2009. Again, this is available free using this link.

Their findings outline the battlefield for the Udiet.

1. Overeating, particularly re heavily marketed energy dense foods.

2. Underactivity, again with an organisation driver behind it.

3. Infection caused by bacteria and viruses.

4. Epigenetics, whereby prenatal and early postnatal exposure to the environment alters how genes are expressed without changing the genes. For example, babies born very underweight at birth who are incubated and fed rich diets to catch up weight have a higher risk of obesity and associated issues later in life.

5. Increasing maternal age. Animal studies have shown that babies born to older mothers are fatter than those born to younger mothers.

6. BMI breeding effect. Studies have found that those with a body mass index somewhat above average are producing slightly more children, on average, than the rest of the population, causing the population BMI to increase over time.

7. Assortitative mating is taking place. This hypothesis is that those with higher BMI prefer partners of similar kind, and due to the genetic effect, this leads to even heavier children. A wide range of population studies support this idea.

8. Sleep debt is happening, and leads to increased eating, increased fat deposition and lowered activity. Research shows metabolic changes occur to support this, and also leads to higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. For example, one study shows that getting one and a half hours less sleep than ideal over a two week period results in a diabetic-like profile for glucose and insulin.

9. Endocrine disruptors interfere with estrogen and androgen signalling, and have been building up in the human environment for some time.  These have been found to be involved in obesity in animals and in humans.

10. Commonly used medicines are known to contribute to weight gain. These include medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, steroids, contraceptives, and anti-histamines.

11. Artificial ambient temperature. The hotter your environment, the less energy you burn keeping warm. The UK home went from 13 centigrade in 1970 to 18 centigrade by 2000. US homes went from 18 centigrade in 1923 to nearly 25 centigrade in 1986.

12. Mothers input. The state of the mother’s glucose and insulin handling systems directly affect the number of fat cells and the fat cell content of the baby.

13. Reduction in smoking rate. The scientists considered this so well documented they excluded it from their list.

14. Altered US demographics. A 2006 article along the same lines had found that alterations in the US population were increasing the races which tend toward higher BMI, therefore  increasing the average BMI of the nation.

The aim of the scientists’ report was not to remove the first two reasons from focus, but to show that the battlefield is considerably more complex than simply food and exercise.

These 14 points are not comprehensive. For example, other researchers have found that altering the circadian rhythm, by staying up late in artificial light and not synchronising your body clock to early morning light, is also a risk factor for weight gain. Also, breastfeeding v formula milk wasn’t mentioned, although formula milk is associated with higher risk of obesity.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, BMI - body mass index, Breastfeeding, Child Health, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Environment, Epigenetics, Exercise, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, High blood pressure, Obesity, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Success, Thermogenesis, UK, United States, Weight management | Leave a comment

How smart is your dog?

John W Pilley and Alliston K Reid decided they would like to find out how much a dog can learn, given extensive training over a long period. The dog in question was a border collie called Chaser. Pilley and Reid couldn’t find Chaser’s limit after 3 years, when the dog could remember the names of over a thousand different objects and was still learning new ones.

The 1,022 objects were toys that Chaser used, each with a different name. However, Chaser also understood verbs, so the dog could combine the correct object with what was supposed to be done with that toy.

Further, Chaser understood a few groups. For example, there were objects that collectively could be referred to as balls, while others fell into the frisbee group.

Finally, Chaser could remember, at least for a short while, that a particular toy was excluded from the group to which it apparently belonged. For example, a particular ball was not to be counted as a ball. This remembering for a short time then forgetting is displayed by children when they learn.

As noted, Pilley and Reid did not find Chaser’s limit. They simply stopped trying to find it after the 3 years was up.

The other point of interest is that these things were toys to Chaser – fun, enjoyment, a real incentive to learn, and this be the main carry over message for humans.

But the next time you talk to your dog just be aware that the dog may understand more than you think.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Exercise, Fun, Health, Language, Learning, Nature, Psychology, Success | Leave a comment

Accelerating learning?

Two Professors of Psychology at the University of Chicago,  Sian L Beilock and Susan Goldin-Meadow, appear to have come up with a way to accelerate learning that you can use yourself or to teach others, such as children, more effectively. But their experiments showed this would accelerate learning things wrong just as much as it accelerated learning things right, so you need to be careful that you’ve got things right before you apply this.

The Tower of Hanoi is a well-known puzzle in which you move the tower from the left-hand side to the right-hand side, one slice at a time, and stacked so that there is never a larger slice on top of a smaller slice.

The professors carried out 2 experiments.

First, people were asked to shift the tower, then they were asked to explain the way they did it to another person. People explaining typically used gestures to do this, as this is much easier. Those gestures were either one-handed or two-handed, and this made a major difference.

The professors changed the weight of the smallest slice so it could no longer be moved with one hand – it now required two. People who had demonstrated with two hands found no problem with this change. But for those using one-handed gestures, it took longer, and the more the gestures had been one-handed, the longer the puzzle took.

To confirm that gestures affect learning, the professors carried out the second experiment. This had the same start as the previous one, using a top slice that could be moved one-handed if the person so chose. This time, people were not asked to explain their solution, so there were no gestures. The tower puzzle was completed a second time, then the professors swapped in the top slice requiring two hands.

Whether people had previously moved the top slice one-handed or two-handed made no difference. Both groups did the puzzle in the same time.

So the process of gesturing cements learning, whether right or wrong.

The professors pointed out the potential of this. Gesturing yourself while learning, or building this into teaching when others are learning, is an easy way to accelerate learning, even for subjects such as mathematics. Just make sure you get the right gestures!

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Brain, Learning, Success | Leave a comment

Udiet: The Designer Diet.

2010 was stuffed with research published on the topic of weight management – how best to take weight off and how best to keep it off.

Udiet is a look at the most interesting findings from 2010, and to kick the story off, 2011 has already seen further work published on the first topic – why a diet has to be designed around you.

Medical research is full of studies that mention ‘responders’ and ‘non-responders’. A particular course of treatment should work for the general population, but in practice some respond as predicted, and some simply don’t, or worse.

Two days ago it was announced that Johnson and Johnson agreed to commercialise an invention of Dr Daniel Haber and colleagues. They have found a way to take a small blood sample and scan it for signs of a number of different cancers. The device gives results in 8 hours and also supplies information of the genetic profile of any cancer.

The device was invented over 2 years ago but Haber and team have been working to take it out of the lab setting and make it general purpose. Other teams are developing other devices with the same aim in mind.

Currently, a number of cancer treatments are on the basis of applying treatment then waiting several weeks to see if the patient is a responder. The aim of these new devices is to get the correct profile in advance, so you know what the cancer will respond to. Cancer treatment designed around you.

Yesterday, it was the turn of hepatitis-C to figure in the news. Standard treatment works for responders, but only about half of patients fall into this category. Non-responders need different treatment. Dr Matthew L Albert and Dr Stanislas Pol have found a biomarker that predicts whether a patient is a responder or not, and they are working with Rules Based Medicine Inc to bring this to the market.

2010 showed that the idea of responders and non-responders works in weight management. What works for one person, or for most, may not work for you.

Hence the Udiet – the diet designed around you. We publish the findings of 2010. Keeping in mind the concept of responders and non-responders, you apply the ones that work for you.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Diet, Obesity, Psychology, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

Eating well?

Two stories published today illustrate the difference between how well people think they eat and how well they really eat.

In Ecuador, Dr Simin Nikbin Meydani examined the diet and health of 350 men and women aged 65+ living in 3 poor neighbourhoods around the capital, Quito. Despite being poor, these people seemed to be eating well, with 33% of the men overweight and 55% of the women overweight.

In reality, their diet was heavily based on white rice, potatoes, sugar and white bread. Foods to provide micronutrients, such as chicken, legumes, fruit and vegetables, were sparse.

Using standard definitions, the team found that 19% of the men and 81% of the women had metabolic syndrome. High levels of C-reactive protein, a marker associated with cardiovascular disease risk, were found in 50% of the population. By analysing diet components, the team was able to tie risk of metabolic syndrome to under-consumption of vitamin C and vitamin E in this population.

The research was published in Public Health Nutrition.

Meanwhile, in the US, a survey of over 1,200 people found that many thought they were eating better than they really were.

53% thought their diet was somewhat healthy, 32% thought very healthy and 6% thought extremely healthy.

However, only 30% ate their 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, only half watched how many sweets they ate and 43% drank at least one can of sugar-sweetened beverage each day.

Of those who said they were at a healthy weight, 30% were clinically in the overweight range, and 35% were obese.

While 81% claimed to be active, the average amount of time spent moderately active was one hour, with a large chunk clocking up 5 hours per day sitting down.

The study was conducted by Consumer Reports.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Activity, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diet, Fruit, Gender, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Soft drinks, Success, Sugar, United States, Vegetables, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, Weight management | Leave a comment