Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

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

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

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

Antioxidants v stroke.

The Italian segment of EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) has reported on how consumption of antioxidants relates to stroke risk.

Dr Nicoletta Pellegrini of the University of Parma analysed data on roughly 42,000 men and women who were free from stroke and heart attacks at the start of the study, and who were followed for an average of 8 years.

Those with a diet high in antioxidants had a 60% lower chance of suffering an ischemic stroke (blocked blood vessel). Most of this effect may be due to high vitamin C intake.

The researchers speculated that the protective mechanism might be a combination of anti-inflammatory action, plus generation of nitric oxide to cause dilation of blood vessels and so lower blood pressure.

However, highest intake of vitamin E appeared to be linked to a large increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding), but due to the small number of such events, the team suggested further research would be required to investigate this.

More than half the antioxidants consumed came from coffee, red wine and fruit, with other sources including chocolate, vegetables, whole grain cereals and nuts.

While the team checked results after adjusting for a number of risk factors, one notable item they did not account for was sodium (salt) consumption.

January 3, 2011 Posted by | Alcohol, Chocolate, Coffee, Diet, Fruit, Health, High blood pressure, Stroke, Success, Vegetables, Vitamin C - ascorbic acid, Vitamin E | Leave a comment

Photos of evolution?

Orang Utans can swim Anne Russon New Scientist

From the Team McCallum ‘best of’ for March 2010, despite a bucketload of great contenders, we have to give pride of place to a short photo set by New Scientist.

Orang Utans normally avoid rivers because their body is too dense to float, and rivers are packed with predators. But click on the link at the end of this article and in just 6 brilliant photos you can see why Orang Utans might choose to overcome their fear.

The photos are cool, but have a think about whether this might explain a little about evolution.

How about fruit-eating Orang Utans hunting for fish? (Click the link to see the pic!). Fish food for the brain?

How about simple tools? Can you think about how you might use a stone as a drinking cup?  4 year-old Yuni knows how!

How about elders teaching the littlies? 2 year-old Erika gets the heads-up on how to get – um – posh!

6 photos – 6 ideas. Perhaps the steps to being human, perhaps not. But one click gets you six of the best photos from 2010, so congrats to New Scientist.

Click this for the New Scientist full-size photo, then click the Next button for the rest.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Brain, Evolution, Fish, Nature | Leave a comment

Alcobesity increases in US.

Dr Richard A  Grucza, and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, found that ‘alcobesity’ is on the rise in the US.

Before this research, it was known that where alcohol abuse runs in families, due to genes, there is also an increased risk of other behaviour that stimulates the same reward centres in the brain, so the risk of substance abuse is also higher.

Dr Grucza compared two national US studies, one in 1991-1992 and the other in 2001-2002, each of which involved just under 40,000 adults.

In the 1992 study, a link between alcohol abuse running in the family and obesity running in the family was weak, at just 6% higher risk and not reaching statistical significance.

But by 2002, this had climbed to 26% for men and was statistically significant. While in women the additional risk was a whopping 48% higher.

The team ruled out other possible explanations, such as stopping smoking in this period, leaving them trying to explain the following. If there is a cross-over genetic effect, where when alcoholism runs in families people are also more at risk of obesity, how can this be explained when genetics have not altered in so short a time?

The idea that excess alcohol consumption, which means excess calories, might be making people fat was ruled out. Alcoholics tend to be thin as they get a large percentage of their calories from alcohol rather than food. And the subjects tended to be either obese, or alcoholic, rather than both.

So genetics gives some people a higher risk of alcoholism (or of substance abuse) while for others the risk is food ‘abuse’.

The researchers speculated that the change from the 90s to the naughties is in the make-up of food, with particular emphasis on fat, sugar and salt, that now  makes food hyper-palatable.

And that those people genetically at risk of reward centres that dance to the tune of alcohol or other drugs, may find their reward centres fire up on hyper-palatable food. The particular preference leads to an addiction to either alcohol, (or drugs), or to obesity, so explaining the rise of  ‘alcobesity’ in the US.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | Alcohol, Brain, Gender, Genetics, Health, Obesity, Success, Sugar, Weight management | Leave a comment

Orange juice v blood pressure.

Dr Christine Morand and colleagues in France have been investing the impact of orange juice on blood pressure, and whether this is due to an ingredient called hesperidin, a polyphenol found in citrus fruits.

Volunteers were healthy but overweight males, aged 51 to 63. They were split into 3 groups, one drinking orange juice, a second drinking a control drink but taking hesperidin, and a third drinking the control drink with a placebo capsule.

To make sure the effects found were genuine, the volunteers rotated between these groups at given intervals.

Diastolic blood pressure (the lower blood pressure when the heart is at rest) was found to be reduced by a statistically significant margin after 4 weeks of drinking orange juice or the control drink plus hesperidin.

Various biomarkers showed that although hesperidin was producing the bulk of a number of benefits, orange juice was even better, suggesting at least one further active ingredient.

The amount consumed in the study was quite high, at half a litre per day, an amount that contains nearly 200 calories.

Oranges v supplements recently reported a US study to identify other active ingredients in oranges.

January 1, 2011 Posted by | Diet, Fruit, Health, High blood pressure, Success | Leave a comment