Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

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

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

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

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

Best infant formula milk?

Babies fed on formula milk made from cows’ milk show more rapid weight gain in their first year than those who are breast fed. The excess weight gain in this period is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other diseases later in life.

Researchers from Philadelphia wanted to know if all types of formula milk suffered from this problem, so set up a test between a cows’ milk based formula (Enfamil), and a protein hydrolysate formula (Nutramigen). Protein hydrolysate formula is typically used for babies who are allergic to cows’ milk.

The babies’ weight and height started off the same when they were randomly allocated to milk type when just 2 weeks old.

By two and a half months, babies on cows’ milk were noticeably heavier, but not taller. At seven and a half months, when the study ended, those in the cows’ milk group averaged two pounds more than those in the protein hydrolysate group. Again this was excess weight gain rather than extra height. The protein hydrolysate group was only a little heavier than breast fed babies.

The researchers speculated that the protein hydrolysate breaks down into amino acids with a similar profile to human milk and that leads to baby feeling fuller faster. Videotapes of feeding showed the protein hydrolysate stopped feeding after fewer calories.

The study appears in the January issue of Pediatrics.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Diabetes, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Pregnancy, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

What did grandad eat?

First, there was genetics, which was going to tell us the whole story simply by sequencing our genes. However, when our genes got sequenced, the picture only got a little clearer.

Then there was epigenetics (epi means above, so epigenetics is above genetics). With epigenetics, your gene sequence does not change, but genes can be switch on or off (pretty much like lightbulbs) by events that happen. Things are getting more complex if you have to account for both the genes and the environment, and the picture is harder to read.

Now comes inherited epigenetics. This means information about the parents’ environment that is passed to offspring, even if the parent never sees the offspring alive (which cuts out passing this by the more simple route of learning). The genes aren’t altered in the child, but expression (whether on or off) is controlled by the environment of the child’s parent.

Various conditions in the mother’s environment appear to get passed on epigenetically, but in this type of study it is hard to rule out mechanisms such as shared environment while in the womb.

So scientists trying to unravel this puzzle are looking at situations where the parent involved is the father, and does nothing more than supply the sperm (with no other influence in the life of the mother or child).

Dr Oliver J Rando and team have been trying to make headway in this using mice. The father was fed a low-protein high-sugar diet, allowed to mate with a female on a standard diet, but with no other contact. Compared to controls (father on standard diet, mother on standard diet) it was found that the offspring had 1600 genes which expressed differently and 500 where the difference was major. This affected blood fat profiles and cholesterol production.

The team couldn’t say whether it was low protein that was important, or high sugar, or some other factor such as low micro-nutrients. And they couldn’t work out how, precisely, this information was passed on, since they couldn’t find a difference in the sperm of the mice.

Unless you are a scientist this is barely interesting. However, the authors point out that two studies have shown inherited epigenetics in the paternal line at work in humans – but it skips a generation.

To at least a certain extent, you are what your grandfather ate.

In 2002, a research team published “Cardiovascular and diabetes mortality determined by nutrition during parents’ and grandparents’ slow growth period”.

In 2006, another team published “Sex-specific male line transgenerational responses in humans”.

These show that a severely restricted diet at key points in your grandfather’s time increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular death, as you are pre-programmed by granddad’s famine-like environment.

December 29, 2010 Posted by | Cholesterol, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Diet, Epigenetics, Genetics, Health, Obesity, Success | Leave a comment

Long life and health.

In Feb 2010, our top story was that researchers in Australia had found that the body mass index (BMI) guidelines used for the general public are not the best ones for seniors. Later in the year, this article was cited by another one entitled “Survival of the Fattest”.

The BMI ranges used by the Australian team were 18.5 to 25 as normal, 25 to 30 as overweight, over 30 as obese, and under 18.5 as underweight.

The research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society compared all-cause mortality, and cause specific mortality (cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease) across the groups. Nearly 5,000 men and 5,000 women aged 70 to 75 at the start of the study were followed for a period of 10 years.

Compared to the normal weight group, those overweight had an 18% less risk of dying during the study. Even the obese group came in at the same risk as the normal weight people.

Another key finding was that being physically active made a large difference. Compared to an active lifestyle, men who were sedentary increased their risk of death by 28%, while inactive women more than doubled their risk.

The short meassage was fatten up a bit, but make sure you stay active. (Staying active is a theme we’ll return to in the rest of the year’s highlights).

This Australian research has already been cited by 5 other articles published in 2010.

In Sep 2010, 2 researchers wrote an article in the Journals of Gerontology Series A entitled ” Adaptive Senectitude: The Prolongevity Effects of Aging.”

This raised the question that some of the effects we normally think of as declines in old age, (including high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and obesity) may in fact be protective, while anti-oxidants and hormone supplements may be damaging. Or in other words, we don’t yet understand optimal aging.

Today, 29 Dec 2010, a group of scientists which appears to be related to those carrying out the February study has published in the Australasian Journal on Ageing, uder the title ” Are the national guidelines for health behaviour appropriate for older Australians? Evidence from the Men, Women and Ageing project”.

Here is their recipe for long life and health.

“Current BMI guidelines may be too narrow because BMI in the overweight range appears to be protective for both older men and women. Across all levels of BMI, even low levels of physical activity decrease mortality risk compared with being sedentary. Our findings suggest that consideration should be given to having different alcohol guidelines for older men and women and should include recommendations for alcohol-free days. The benefit of quitting smoking at any age is apparent for both women and men.”

December 29, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Aging, Alcohol, BMI - body mass index, Health, High blood pressure, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Smoking, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

Oranges v supplements.

Is an orange just a source of vitamin C say, as per a supplement, or is there more going on?

Prof Tory L Parker and team established the components of a standard orange and the amounts of each found in whole fruit. The team then systematically checked each combination of these compound to see whether the effects were the same as whole orange, more beneficial or less beneficial.

Whenever we eat carbs and fat, we release free radicals that increase the risk of hardened arteries and heart disease. Eating fruit as a dessert protects us from this, as these contain anti-oxidants that mop up the free radicals for a few hours.

The question is – which combination of anti-oxidants works best? Can you just throw everything together and it works?

The anti-oxidants (individual phenolythic compound) in a navel orange are quercetin, hesperidin, luteolin, myricetin, p-coumaric acid, naringenin and chlorogenic acid.

By systematically checking the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) for every possible mix, it was found that some had very high benefit, but one component actually reduced this. This means that while whole orange is good, it isn’t at the optimum.

The team found that hesperidin and naringenin were synergistic, giving an effective that is stronger than merely additive.

The university where the research was conducted has applied for patents on the results, in navel oranges and for similar work done on blueberries and strawberries. No doubt supplements with these mixes will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, remember you can get most of the benefits by ditching the sweet after a meal and eating an orange instead.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diet, Fruit, Health, Success | 1 Comment