Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

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

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

Beauty v personality.

The next time you are trying to sum up someone’s personality, first ask yourself how attractive you rate that person.

A team from the University of British Columbia has found that though people tend to rate attractive people somewhat generously, they seem to pay more attention to them and so get the overall personality more accurate than they do for people they don’t find attractive.

80 men and women were split into groups of about 8 people. Each person in a group did a round robin, spending 3 minutes with each other before rating that person’s attractiveness, and how they placed their personality in psychology’s big 5 personality framework. OCEAN stands for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (or need for stability).

The results were then compared against how the individuals rated themselves in terms of OCEAN.

Prof Jeremy C Biesanz and team reported in the journal Psychological Science that “Overall, people do judge a book by its cover, but a beautiful cover prompts a closer reading, leading more physically attractive people to be seen both more positively and more accurately.”

December 29, 2010 Posted by | Big 5 - OCEAN, Psychology, Success | Leave a comment

Make mine a placebo!

In double-blind trials, placebos have been found to be linked to improvements in a number of conditions, particularly those where the patient self-reports severity of the illness, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

A recent US national survey of internists and rheumatologists found that 50% were routinely prescribing medication they thought produced no specific effect other than that patients believed they worked – a form of placebo.

Dr Ted J Kaptchuk and team ran a study in IBS using people who were told in advance that they would be randomly assigned to get either a placebo or no medicine at all, and they would know which group they were in from the start.  The team wanted to find out what would happen to the placebo effect if people knew what they were getting was just a placebo.

80 patients were recruited via adverts for “a novel mind-body management study of IBS”. During enrollment, they were told that they would get “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes” or no-treatment.

The study ran for 21 days. Before being randomly assigned into the two groups, everyone was told exactly the same four points. 1. The placebo effect is powerful. 2. The body can respond automatically to placebo’s, just like the trained association of Pavlov’s dogs. 3. A positive attitude helps but is not necessary. 4. Taking the pills faithfully is critical.

Start statistics on symptoms were then taken, and at this point the patient (and physician) found out whether treatment was to be no intervention or the placebo.

Check on symptoms were carried out at 11 days and 21 days, using standard clinical questionnaires.

It was found that the placebo effect worked, even though the patients knew they were on a placebo. In fact, as 59% reported significant improvement, the effect was larger than normally found for placebos, which is typically in the 30 to 40% range. And 59%  makes this placebo result comparable to the response rate for current best-treatment medicines for IBS – alosetron and tegaserod.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | IBD, Placebo, Psychology, Success | 1 Comment

Newborn v SIDS this New Year?

If you have a newborn child, the best way to celebrate New Year is lay off the alcohol, and put baby to bed using the SIDS rules.

A team from the US analysed 130,000 cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) over 25 years. These were compared to all causes of death in infants (nearly 300,000) in the same period, and against alcohol related crashes (about 140,000) over a similar period. The study was published in the journal Addiction.

The findings are stark.

SIDS spikes by 33% over average on New Year’s Day. Like alcohol consumption, SIDS increases at the weekend. Children of mothers who consume alcohol are at a higher risk of SIDS than those where the mother does not drink alcohol. 

Lesser spikes in SIDS are 20th April, linked to cannabis, and 4th July, linked to alcohol.

The research team evaluated the clock change to see if it has anything to do with people sleeping in, but it does not.

Here at Team McCallum there are two little folks under 12 months who need the grown-ups to make sure they are safe this New Year.

If you have a newborn, celebrate New Year with a soft drink, make sure you use the best rules for SIDS, and in 2011, Happy New Year to you and your little angel.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | Alcohol, Child Health, Merry Christmas, Success | Leave a comment