Monday, March 30, 2020
Obese

Experts know that processed red meats are likely to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. But are unprocessed meats, fish, and poultry less harmful? New research investigates.

Several studies have established a link between consuming processed meat — such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and other similar meats — and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death.

The higher amount of saturated fats in these foods, along with a higher level of salt and preservatives, might explain these associations. Newer research has suggested that even a low amount of these foods is enough to jeopardize health.

But what about other meats, such as unprocessed red meat, poultry, or fish? Do these foods affect cardiovascular risk and longevity in the same way?

Here, the research is more mixed. The results of several studies vary partly because the methods were different and partly because the existing prospective cohort studies had their limitations.

So, to fill this gap in the research, a group of scientists led by Victor W. Zhong, Ph.D., of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, set out to conduct a new meta-analysis of 6 existing studies.

The pooled analysis appears in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Studying intake of meat, poultry, and fish

Zhong and the team looked at prospective cohort studies that had been carried out across the United States, totaling 29,682 U.S. adults who did not have CVD at baseline.

Of the participants, 44% were men, and almost 31% were non-white.

Researchers had recorded the participants’ dietary data between 1985–2002 and clinically followed them for 30 years, until August 31, 2016.

Over a median follow-up period of 19 years, 6,963 adverse cardiovascular events and 8,875 all-cause deaths occurred.

Of the cardiovascular events, 38.6% were cases of coronary heart disease, 25% were stroke events, and 34.0% involved heart failure.

To define what constitutes 1 serving of meat and assess the participants’ diet, the researchers used the Willett Food Frequency Questionnaire.

“1 serving was equivalent to 4 [ounces] of unprocessed red meat or poultry or 3 [ounces] of fish. For processed meat, 1 serving consisted of 2 slices of bacon, 2 small links of sausage, or 1 hot dog,” explain the authors.

The median consumption in terms of servings of meat, poultry, and fish per week was 1.5 for processed meat, 3 for unprocessed red meat, 2 for poultry, and 1.6 for fish.

“Compared with participants with lower total intake of these four food types, participants with higher total intake,” write the authors, were more likely to:

  • be younger and male
  • be non-Hispanic black
  • be smokers, have diabetes, a higher body mass index (BMI), higher non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and consume more alcohol
  • have lower HDL cholesterol levels and eat a lower diet quality diet
  • have a higher incidence of CVD and death from any cause

The main outcome that the scientists looked for was the relative risk of CVD and all-cause mortality over the 30 years between people who consumed these different foods, as well as the difference in absolute risk over the same period.

They calculated the risks for each additional intake of 2 servings per week.

Up to 7% higher relative risk of death, CVD

Zhong and the team summarize the findings: the “intake of processed meat, unprocessed red meat, or poultry was significantly associated with incident cardiovascular disease, but fish intake was not.”

More specifically, the increased relative risks of CVD and all-cause mortality ranged from about 3% to 7%. “The increased absolute risks were less than 2% over the 30 years of follow-up,” add the authors.

More in-depth detail shows that for every 2 additional servings of processed meat per week, the relative risk of all-cause mortality rose by 3% compared with those who did not eat processed meat.

The same was true for each additional 2 servings of unprocessed meat.

The relative risk of CVD rose by 7% for every 2 servings of processed meat per week. For unprocessed red meat, this risk was 3%.

An increase of 2 weekly servings of poultry correlated with a 4% higher relative risk, whereas fish was not associated with CVD risk.

“People who consume more servings per week would have greater risks,” add the researchers.

Study of ‘critical public health’ importance

The authors deem the findings of “critical public health” importance. They also note that more research is necessary to strengthen the findings.

As it stands, the current study has some limitations, such as the self-reported nature of dietary data. This may have resulted in over or underestimation of the association.

Secondly, the scientists did not have any data on the method of food preparation. Whether the meat was fried or non-fried may have impacted the health outcomes.

Thirdly, the study only used one dietary measurement at the beginning of the study, but the dietary habits of the participants may have changed over time.

Finally, residual confounding, the observational nature of the study, and the fact that the data may only be limited to U.S. adults are further shortcomings of this research. Still, Zhong and team conclude:

“The findings of this study appear to have critical public health implications given that dietary behaviors are modifiable, and most people consume these four food types on a daily or weekly basis.”

Two recent but separate studies have demonstrated how bitter melon and turmeric could be used to prevent, treat and reduce the progression of cancers.

Commonly called bitter melon, bitter gourd, African cucumber or balsam pear, Momordica charantia belongs to the plant family Cucurbitaceae. In Nigeria, bitter melon is called ndakdi in Dera; dagdaggi in Fula-Fulfulde; hashinashiap in Goemai; daddagu in Hausa; iliahia in Igala; akban ndene in Igbo (Ibuzo in Delta State); dagdagoo in Kanuri; akara aj, ejinrin nla, ejinrin weeri, ejirin-weewe or igbole aja in Yoruba.

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family, Zingaberaceae. In traditional medicine, turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties for various indications and through different routes of administration, including topically, orally, and by inhalation.

In Nigeria, it is called atale pupa in Yoruba; gangamau in Hausa; nwandumo in Ebonyi; ohu boboch in Enugu (Nkanu East); gigir in Tiv; magina in Kaduna; turi in Niger State; onjonigho in Cross River (Meo tribe).

Turmeric, also known as curcuma, produces a root that is used to produce the vibrant yellow spice used as a culinary spice so often used in curry dishes. Though native to India and parts of Asia, and is a relative of cardamom and ginger, turmeric has been domesticated in Nigeria. In Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health conditions and it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anticancer properties.

Meanwhile, Prof. Ratna Ray from Saint Louis University in Missouri, United States (U.S.), and her colleagues, in a recent study on bitter melon, made an intriguing find. In experiments using mouse models, bitter melon extract appeared to be effective in preventing cancer tumours from growing and spreading.

The researchers report their findings in a study paper that now appears in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling. Ray grew up in India, so she was familiar not just with the culinary qualities of bitter melon, but also with its alleged medicinal properties.

This made her curious as to whether or not the plant also harbored properties that would make it an effective aid to anticancer treatments. She and her colleagues decided to put this to the test in a preliminary study by using bitter melon extract on various types of cancer cells — including breast, prostate, and head and neck cancer cells.

Laboratory tests showed that the extract stopped those cells from replicating, suggesting that it might be effective in preventing the spread of cancer. In further experiments using mouse models, the researchers found that the plant extract was able to reduce the incidence of tongue cancer.

So, in their new study, Prof. Ray and team tried to find out what might give bitter melon compounds an edge against cancer cells. This time, they used mouse models to study the mechanism through which bitter melon extract interacted with tumors of cancer of the mouth and tongue.

They saw that the extract interacted with molecules that allow glucose (simple sugar) and fat to travel around the body, in some cases “feeding” cancer cells and allowing them to thrive.

By interfering with those pathways, the bitter melon extract essentially stopped cancer tumors from growing, and it even led to the death of some of the cancer cells. Ray said: “All animal model studies that we’ve conducted are giving us similar results, an approximately 50 per cent reduction in tumor growth.”

Ray and colleagues explained that it remains unclear whether or not bitter melon would have the same effect in humans, but Prof., going forward, this is what they are aiming to find out.

“Our next step is to conduct a pilot study in [people with cancer] to see if bitter melon has clinical benefits and is a promising additional therapy to current treatments,” she noted.

Ray seemed convinced that the plant is, if nothing else, at least a positive contributor to personal health.“Some people take an apple a day, and I’d eat a bitter melon a day. I enjoy the taste,” she said.“Natural products play a critical role in the discovery and development of numerous drugs for the treatment of various types of deadly diseases, including cancer. Therefore, the use of natural products as preventive medicine is becoming increasingly important.”

Meanwhile, a recent literature review investigated whether turmeric may be useful for treating cancer. The authors concluded that it might be but noted that there are many challenges to overcome before it makes it to the clinic. The chemical in turmeric that most interests medical researchers is a polyphenol called diferuloylmethane, which is more commonly called curcumin. Most of the research into turmeric’s potential powers has focused on this chemical.

Over the years, researchers have pitted curcumin against a number of symptoms and conditions, including inflammation, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, liver disease, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases, with varying levels of success.
Above all, though, scientists have focused on cancer. According to the authors of the recent review, of the 12,595 papers that researchers published on curcumin between 1924 and 2018, 37 per cent focus on cancer.

In the current review, which features in the journal Nutrients, the authors mainly focused on cell signaling pathways that play a role in cancer’s growth and development and how turmeric might influence them. Treatment for cancer has improved vastly over recent decades, but there is still a long path to tread before we can beat cancer. As the authors note, “the search for innovative and more effective drugs” is still vital work.

In their review, the scientists paid particular attention to research involving breast cancer, lung cancer, cancers of the blood, and cancers of the digestive system. The authors concluded: “Curcumin represents a promising candidate as an effective anticancer drug to be used alone or in combination with other drugs.”

According to the review, curcumin can influence a wide range of molecules that play a role in cancer, including transcription factors, which are vital for Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material replication; growth factors; cytokines, which are important for cell signaling; and apoptotic proteins, which help control cell death.

Alongside the discussions surrounding curcumin’s molecular influence over cancer pathways, the authors also addressed the possible issues with using curcumin as a drug. For instance, they explain that if a person takes curcumin orally — in a turmeric latte, for example — the body rapidly breaks it down into metabolites. As a result, any active ingredients are unlikely to reach the site of a tumour.

With this in mind, some researchers are trying to design ways of delivering curcumin into the body and protecting it from undergoing metabolisation. For instance, researchers who encapsulated the chemical within a protein nanoparticle noted promising results in the laboratory and in rats.

Although scientists have published a great many papers on curcumin and cancer, there is a need for more work. Many of the studies in the current review are in vitro studies, which means that the researchers conducted them in laboratories using cells or tissues. Although this type of research is vital for understanding which interventions may or may not influence cancer, not all in vitro studies translate to humans.

Relatively few studies have tested turmeric’s or curcumin’s anticancer properties in humans, and the human studies that have taken place have been small-scale. However, aside from the difficulties and limited data, curcumin still has potential as an anticancer treatment.

Scientists are continuing to work on the problem. For instance, the authors mention two clinical trials that are underway, both of which aim to “evaluate the therapeutic effect of curcumin on the development of primary and metastatic breast cancer, as well as to estimate the risk of adverse events.”

They also refer to other ongoing studies in humans that are evaluating curcumin as a treatment for prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and lung nodules, among other diseases. The authors believe that curcumin belongs to “the most promising group of bioactive natural compounds, especially in the treatment of several cancer types.”

However, their praise for curcumin as an anticancer hero is tempered by the realities that their review has unearthed, and they end their paper on a low note: “Curcumin is not immune from side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, headache, and yellow stool. Moreover, it showed poor bioavailability due to the fact of low absorption, rapid metabolism, and systemic elimination that limit its efficacy in diseases treatment. Further studies and clinical trials in humans are needed to validate curcumin as an effective anticancer agent.”

Meanwhile, an earlier study published in journal Current Pharmacology Reports established that besides diabetes, bitter melon is effective in treating other chronic diseases such as cancer and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The study is titled “Bitter Melon as a Therapy for Diabetes, Inflammation, and Cancer: a Panacea?” The researchers noted: “Over the last few decades, multiple well-structured scientific studies have been performed to study the effects of bitter melon in various diseases. Some of the properties for which bitter melon has been studied include: antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-HIV, anthelmintic, hypotensive, anti-obesity, immuno-modulatory, anti-hyperlipidemic, hepato-protective, and neuro-protective activities. This review attempts to summarize the various literature findings regarding medicinal properties of bitter melon. With such strong scientific support on so many medicinal claims, bitter melon comes close to being considered a panacea.”

According to Food as Medicine: Functional Food Plants of Africa published 2017 by CRC Press, “…Dietary use of bitter melon or its juice decreases blood glucose levels, increases High Density Lipo-protein (HDL)/good cholesterol, and decreases triglyceride levels, thus exhibiting antiatherogenic qualities. Extract of bitter melon in supplement form has been widely used as a traditional medicine for diabetic patients.

When administered alone, it has a modest hypoglycemic effect at doses of at least 2000 mg/day. This botanical supplement enhances the cellular uptake of glucose and promotes insulin release, potentiating its effect, and in animal studies has been shown to increase the number of insulin-producing beta cells in diabetic animals. Bitter melon has also been found to reduce adiposity and oxidative stress in addition to reducing blood triglycerides and Low Density Lipo-proteins (LDL)/bad cholesterol.”

A new study spanning nearly 2 decades has found a link between an unhealthful diet and vision loss in older age. Should we be keeping more of an eye on what we eat?

A robust body of research has shown that a diet rich in red meat, fried foods, high fat dairy, processed meats, and refined grains is bad for the heart and linked to the development of cancer.

However, not many people consider the impact of diet on their eyesight.

A new study, now appearing in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, has found a link between a diet rich in unhealthful foods and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is a condition that impacts the retina with age, blurring central vision. Central vision helps people see objects clearly and perform everyday activities such as reading and driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, around 1.8 million people aged 40 and above are living with AMD, and another 7.3 million have a condition called drusen, which usually precedes AMD.

The CDC also explain that “AMD is the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people aged 65 years and older.”

Now, the new study — which was the first to look at dietary patterns and the development of AMD over time — has found an association between an unhealthful diet and AMD.

Senior study author Dr. Amy Millen, of the University at Buffalo in New York, told Medical News Today, “Most people understand that diet influences cardiovascular disease risk and risk [of] obesity; however I’m not sure the public thinks about whether or not diet influences one’s risk [of] vision loss later in life.”

Although research has shown links between certain foods and nutrients and AMD — for example, some studies have suggested that high dose antioxidants may slow progression — there has been less research into dietary patterns as a whole.

Furthermore, studies that have looked at dietary patterns have focused on late stage risk — that is, the point at which the condition becomes vision threatening — rather than early and late stage disease.

“We wanted to examine how the overall pattern of one’s diet may predict later development of AMD, both early onset and late stage disease,” said Dr. Millen.

Unhealthful diet raises AMD risk by threefold

The study looked at the development of early and late AMD in participants of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, which looked at arterial health over 18 years (1987–1995).

Using data on 66 different food types, the researchers identified two diet patterns: one they dubbed “Prudent,” or healthful, and one they dubbed “Western,” which included a high intake of “processed and red meat, fried food, dessert, eggs, refined grains, high fat dairy, and sugar sweetened beverages.”

Although the researchers found no link between early AMD and dietary patterns, they found that the incidence of late AMD was three times higher among those with a Western eating pattern.

“What we observed in this study was that people who had no AMD or early AMD at the start of our study, and reported frequently consuming [unhealthful] foods, were more likely to develop vision threatening, late stage disease approximately 18 years later,” says Dr. Millen.

Prevention is better than cure

Early stage AMD has no symptoms, so a person may not know that have it. Also, although not everyone develops late stage AMD, for those who do, it can be costly and invasive to treat.

There are two forms of late stage AMD. One is called wet AMD, or neovascular AMD, which healthcare professionals tend to treat by injecting antivascular growth factors.

The other is called dry AMD, or geographic atrophy, which occurs when the photoreceptor cells die without neovascularization. There is no effective treatment for this form of AMD.

“We would like the public to realize that diet is important to their vision,” said Millen.

“The clinical take-home message is that dietary intake likely makes a difference in determining central vision loss later in life. If a person has early onset AMD, it is in their best interest to eat foods we identified as part of the Western diet pattern in moderation.”

Dr. Amy Millen

Hormone levels fluctuate throughout the 28-day menstrual cycle. These changes can affect a person’s appetite and may also lead to fluid retention. Both factors can lead to perceived or actual weight gain around the time of a period.

This article describes why a person may gain weight during a period, and how to prevent it. We also outline ways to help avoid weight gain during a period.

Weight gain during period

Medical research has identified around 150 symptoms that people may experience in the days leading up to a period. Food cravings, increased hunger, water retention, and swelling are premenstrual symptoms that may make a person feel like they are gaining weight.

Appetite changes

People may notice changes in their appetite throughout their menstrual cycle. For some, these changes may lead to concerns over weight gain.

Changes in appetite tend to occur at distinct stages of the menstrual cycle called the follicular phase and the luteal phase.

  • The follicular phase. This phase begins when a person bleeds and ends before they ovulate. Estrogen is the dominant hormone during this phase. Since estrogen suppresses appetite, a person may find that they eat less during this phase.
  • The luteal phase. This phase begins after ovulation and lasts up to the first day of the next period. During the luteal phase, progesterone is the dominant hormone. Since progesterone stimulates appetite, a person may find that they eat more during this phase.

Previous studiesTrusted Source have shown that females eat more calories during the luteal phase compared with the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

2016 studyTrusted Source found that females tend to eat more protein during the luteal phase of menstruation. Females also report increased food cravings, particularly for sweets, chocolate, and salty foods.

Not all studies show that food cravings result in an increased number of calories consumed and an increase in weight. However, people who do consume more calories as a result of their cravings may experience some weight gain.

Water retention and swelling

People may experience increased water and salt retention around the time of their period. This is due to an increase in the hormone progesterone. Progesterone activates the hormone aldosterone, which causes the kidneys to retain water and salt.

Water retention can lead to bloating and swelling, particularly in the abdomen, arms, and legs. This can give the appearance of weight gain. It may also make a person’s clothes feel tighter.

However, water retention does not always signify weight gain. A 2014 study investigated water retention in females who complained of swelling during their period.

Circumference measurements taken throughout the study indicated that the participants did have significant swelling in the following areas:

  • face
  • breasts
  • abdomen
  • upper and lower limbs
  • pubic areas

However, there were no significant changes in weight throughout the participant’s cycles.

What symptoms are normal?

Many people experience both physical and psychological symptoms during a period. Symptoms may include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • angry outbursts
  • crying spells
  • confusion
  • social withdrawal
  • poor concentration
  • insomnia
  • taking more naps
  • changes in sexual desire
  • headache
  • aches and pains
  • fatigue
  • skin problems
  • gastrointestinal symptoms
  • abdominal pain

People may feel additional symptoms in the days leading up to a period. Symptoms may include:

  • thirst and appetite changes
  • breast tenderness
  • bloating
  • headache
  • swelling of the hands or feet

The type, severity, and duration of symptoms will vary from person to person. Additionally, some people may experience a combination of symptoms, while others may not experience any at all.

How long does it last?

Premenstrual symptoms tend to start a few days before bleeding, or menstruation, and stop once menstruation occurs.

Medical providers can diagnose people with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) if:

  • the person has a pattern of symptoms 5 days before their period for at least three cycles in a row
  • the symptoms end within 4 days after their period starts
  • the symptoms interfere with their normal activities

How to avoid weight gain

The following are some examples of how to prevent weight gain during a period.

Diet

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the following eating habits to help lessen the effects of PMS:

  • eating complex carbohydrates to reduce mood symptoms and food cravings
  • eating calcium rich foods, including yogurt and leafy green vegetables
  • reducing fat, salt, and sugar intake
  • avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcoholic beverages
  • keeping blood sugar levels stable by eating smaller meals more often

Supplements

A doctor may also recommend taking a magnesium supplement. This can help to alleviate the following symptoms of PMS:

  • bloating
  • breast tenderness
  • mood disturbances

Medication

Sometimes, doctors may prescribe diuretics to people who complain of water retention during their period. Diuretics help to reduce the amount of water that the body stores.

Researchers have found that certain oral contraceptivesTrusted Source can also help reduce water retention. In a 2007 study, females who took 3 milligrams (mg) of drospirenone and 30 micrograms (mcg) of ethinyl estradiol had reduced water retention. Nonetheless, their body weight remained unchanged.

Doctors often use combined oral contraceptives to treat the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

Summary

Hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the menstrual cycle can affect a person’s appetite. In particular, people may experience food cravings in the days leading up to a period.

Females may also experience water retention and bloating, which can give the appearance of weight gain.

There are several steps people can take to prevent weight gain during a period. A person can practice healthful eating habits throughout their cycle. This includes eating less salt, sugar, and fat, and stocking up on low calorie snacks to satisfy food cravings. In addition, magnesium supplements may help to alleviate bloating and other symptoms of PMS.

People who are concerned about fluid retention should talk to their doctor. The doctor may prescribe diuretics or oral contraceptives to help alleviate this symptom.

Q:

What is the average amount of weight gain during a period?

A:

The symptoms that people experience during their menstrual cycle vary widely from one individual to the next. Symptoms can even differ between cycles, depending on a person’s nutrition, stress level, amount of exercise, intake of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, and other lifestyle factors. Because everyone is so different, there’s not really an “average” weight gain during the menstrual cycle. While many people don’t notice any bloating or weight gain at all, others might gain as much as 5 pounds. Usually, this gain happens during the premenstrual, or luteal phase, and the person loses the weight again once the next period begins.Meredith Wallis, M.S., CNM, ANPAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Recent research has revealed a mechanism through which fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, might reduce inflammation. A study that tested an enriched fish oil supplement found that it increased blood levels of certain anti-inflammatory molecules.

The anti-inflammatory molecules are called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs), and they have a powerful effect on white blood cells, as well as controlling blood vessel inflammation.

Scientists already knew that the body makes SPMs by breaking down essential fatty acids, including some omega-3 fatty acids. However, the relationship between supplement intake and circulating levels of SPMs remained unclear.

So, a team of researchers from the William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom set out to clarify the relationship by testing the effect of an enriched fish oil supplement in 22 healthy volunteers whose ages ranged from 19 to 37 years.

The team conducted the Circulation Research study as a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Therefore, neither the participants nor those who gave them the doses and monitored them knew who received fish oil supplements and who received the placebo.

“We used the molecules as our biomarkers to show how omega-3 fatty acids are used by our body and to determine if the production of these molecules has a beneficial effect on white blood cells,” says senior study author Jesmond Dalli, who is a professor of molecular pharmacology at the William Harvey Institute.

Enriched fish oil increased blood markers

The trial tested three doses of enriched fish oil supplement against the placebo. The researchers took samples of the participants’ blood to test.

Each participant gave five samples over 24 hours — at baseline and then 2, 4, 6, and 24 hours after taking their dose of supplement or placebo.

The researchers found that taking the enriched fish oil supplement raised blood levels of SPMs. The results showed a “time and dose-dependent” increase in circulating blood levels of SPMs.

The tests also revealed that supplementation led to a dose-dependent increase in immune cell attacks against bacteria and a decrease in cell activity that promotes blood clotting.

Inflammation is a defense response by the immune system that is essential to health. Various factors can trigger the response, including damaged cells, toxins, and pathogens such as bacteria.

Some of the immune cells that are active during inflammation can also damage tissue, so it is important, once the threat is over, for inflammation to subside to allow healing. Putting a stop to inflammation is where anti-inflammatory agents, such as SPMs, have a role.

However, if inflammation persists and becomes chronic, then, instead of protecting health, it undermines it. Studies have linked inflammation to heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other serious health conditions.

Although it remains unclear whether those molecules reduce cardiovascular disease, a press release on the study notes that they do “supercharge macrophages, specialized cells that destroy bacteria and eliminate dead cells,” as well as making “platelets less sticky, potentially reducing the formation of blood clots.”

Research has also shown the molecules to play a role in tissue regeneration. As Prof. Dalli notes, “These molecules have multiple targets.”

Beware of unregulated supplements

An earlier 2019 study in NEJM showed that a prescription formula containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) could reduce heart attacks and strokes — and deaths relating to these events — in people who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease or already have it. EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is present in fish oil.

However, Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, who is a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, MA, and who led that study, says that there is no reliable evidence that over-the-counter supplements can have the same effect.

In the United States, federal regulators have approved two formulations: one containing EPA and a second that combines EPA with another omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a scientific advisory that cautions consumers to avoid unregulated omega-3 supplements.

An earlier AHA advisory had stated that while such supplements may slightly lessen the risk of death following a heart attack or heart failure, there is no evidence that they prevent heart disease in the first place.

Prof. Dalli says that there is a need for further studies to establish whether people over the age of 45 years would experience the same results from enriched fish oil supplements that they saw in the younger volunteers.

Compared with healthy people, those living with chronic inflammation have lower levels of SPMs, he remarks, noting that the enzymes that produce them do not work as well in these individuals.

He suggests that this is the kind of information that developers will need to consider when formulating supplements for treating disease. It will also be important to check that the body is breaking down the supplements into protective molecules.

“We’re still far away from having the magic formula. Each person will need a specific formulation or at least a specific dosing, and that’s something we need to learn more about.”

Prof. Jesmond Dalli

A recent review and meta-analysis focus on the role of legumes in heart health. Taking data from multiple studies and earlier analyses, the authors conclude that legumes might benefit heart health but that the evidence is not overwhelming.

It is a no-brainer that nutrition plays a pivotal role in health. At one end of the spectrum, it is common knowledge that eating a diet that is high in sugar, salt, and fat increases the risk of poorer health outcomes.

At the other end, eating a balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is likely to reduce the risk of certain conditions.

However, drilling down to the effect of individual foods on specific conditions is notoriously difficult.

The authors of a recent review in Advances In Nutrition have taken up that gauntlet. They wanted to understand how legumes, which include beans, peas, and lentils, affect heart health.

In particular, they focused on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and CVD mortality. CVD includes coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, and stroke. They also investigated legume consumption in relation to diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

Study co-author Dr. Hana Kahleova, from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC, explains why investigating heart health is such a pressing matter, stating that “[c]ardiovascular disease is the world’s leading — and most expensive — cause of death, costing the United States nearly 1 billion dollars a day.”

Why legumes?

Legumes are rich in fiber, protein, and micronutrients but contain very little fat and sugar. Due to this, as the authors of the current study explain:

“The American Heart Association, Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and European Society for Cardiology encourage dietary patterns that emphasize intake of legumes” to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and manage diabetes.

Recently, the European Association for the Study of Diabetes commissioned a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Using the results of these studies, they hope to update current recommendations on the role of legumes in preventing and treating cardiometabolic diseases.

In the current review, the authors compared data on people with the lowest and highest intake of legumes. They found that “dietary pulses with or without other legumes were associated with an 8%, 10%, 9%, and 13% decrease in CVD, [coronary heart disease], hypertension, and obesity incidence, respectively.”

However, they found that there was no association between legume intake and the incidence of myocardial infarction, diabetes, or stroke. Similarly, they identified no relationship between legumes and mortality from CVD, coronary heart disease, or stroke.

Although the team identified a positive relationship between consuming higher quantities of legumes and a reduced risk of certain cardiovascular parameters, the authors’ conclusions are still relatively muted. They write:

“The overall certainty of the evidence was graded as ‘low’ for CVD incidence and ‘very low’ for all other outcomes.”

They continue, “Current evidence shows that dietary pulses with or without other legumes are associated with reduced CVD incidence with low certainty and reduced [coronary heart disease], hypertension, and obesity incidence with very low certainty.”

Nutritional difficulties

One of the primary issues that scientists face when investigating nutrition and health is residual confounding. For instance, if someone eats more legumes than average, they might also eat more vegetables in general. Conversely, someone who eats few legumes might eat less fruit and vegetables overall.

If this is the case, it is difficult to pin any measured benefits on the legumes, specifically. They might simply be due to the increase in plant food overall.

Similarly, someone who eats particularly healthfully might also be more likely to exercise. Understanding whether the legume, the overall dietary patterns, or the entire lifestyle influences any given health outcome is verging on impossible.

Another problem centers around self-reporting food intake. Human memory, as impressive as it is, can make mistakes. One paperTrusted Source on this topic states that self-reports of food intake “are so poor that they are wholly unacceptable for scientific research.”

Studies attempt to minimize the influence of these factors as much as possible, but it can be challenging. As the authors explain, “Despite the inclusion of several large, high quality cohorts, the inability to rule out residual confounding is a limitation inherent in all observational studies.”

Despite the difficulties, overall, the authors believe that increasing legume intake could improve the heart health of the population of the United States.

“Americans eat less than one serving of legumes per day, on average. Simply adding more beans to our plates could be a powerful tool in fighting heart disease and bringing down blood pressure.”

Co-author Dr. Hana Kahleova

Although those studying nutrition and disease face many challenges, it is important to continue this line of investigation. Currently, in the U.S., 1 in 4 deathsTrusted Source relate to cardiovascular disease. If a simple change in diet could reduce the risk even a small amount, it might make a significant difference at the population level.

Low-calorie sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, can allow people with diabetes to enjoy sweet foods and drinks that do not affect their blood sugar levels. A range of sweeteners is available, each of which has different pros and cons.

In this article, we look at seven of the best low-calorie sweeteners for people with diabetes.

1. Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. To make stevia, manufacturers extract chemical compounds called steviol glycosides from the leaves of the plant.

This highly-processed and purified product is around 300 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar, and it is available under different brand names, including Truvia, SweetLeaf, and Sun Crystals.

Stevia has several pros and cons that people with diabetes will need to weigh up. This sweetener is calorie-free and does not raise blood sugar levels. However, it is often more expensive than other sugar substitutes on the market.

Stevia also has a bitter aftertaste that many people may find unpleasant. Some people report nausea, bloating, and stomach upset after consuming stevia.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classify sweeteners made from high-purity steviol glycosides to be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. However, they do not consider stevia leaf or crude stevia extracts to be safe, and it is illegal to sell them or import them into the U.S.

According to the FDA, the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of stevia is 4 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of a person’s body weight. Accordingly, a person who weighs 60 kg, or 132 pounds (lb), can safely consume 9 packets of the tabletop sweetener version of stevia.

Various stevia products are available to purchase online.

2. Tagatose

Tagatose is a form of fructose that is around 90 percent sweeter than sucrose. Although rare, tagatose does occur naturally in some fruits, such as apples, oranges, and pineapples. Manufacturers use tagatose in foods as a low-calorie sweetener, texturizer, and stabilizer.

Not only do the FDA class tagatose as GRAS, but scientists are interested in its potential to help manage type 2 diabetes. Some studies indicate that tagatose has a low glycemic index (GI) and may be beneficial in the treatment of obesity. GI is a measure of a food’s potential to affect a person’s blood sugar levels.

Tagatose may be of particular benefit to people with diabetes who are following a low-GI diet. However, this sugar substitute is more expensive than other low-calorie sweeteners and may be harder to find in stores.

Tagatose products are available to purchase online.

3. Sucralose

Sucralose, available under the brand name Splenda, is an artificial sweetener made from sucrose. Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar but contains very few calories.

Sucralose is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners, and it is widely available. Manufacturers add it to a range of products from chewing gum to baked goods.

Sucralose is heat-stable, whereas many other artificial sweeteners lose their flavor at high temperatures. This makes sucralose a popular choice for sugar-free baking and sweetening hot drinks.

The FDA have approved sucralose as a general-purpose sweetener and set an ADI of 5 mg/kg of body weight. A person weighing 60 kg, or 132 lb, can safely consume 23 packets of a tabletop sweetener version of sucralose.

However, recent studies have raised some health concerns. A 2016 study found that male mice that consumed sucralose were more likely to develop malignant tumors. The researchers note that more studies are necessary to confirm the safety of sucralose.

A range of sucralose products is available to purchase online.

4. Aspartame

Aspartame is a very common artificial sweetener that has been available in the U.S. since the 1980s. It is around 200 times sweeter than sugar, and manufacturers add it to a wide variety of food products, including diet soda. Aspartame is available in grocery stores under the brand names Nutrasweet and Equal.

Unlike sucralose, aspartame is not a good sugar substitute for baking. Aspartame breaks down at high temperatures, so people generally only use it as a tabletop sweetener.

Aspartame is also not safe for people with a rare genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria.

The FDA consider aspartame to be safe at an ADI of 50 mg/kg of body weight. Therefore, someone with a body weight of 60 kg, or 132 lb, could consume 75 packets of a tabletop sweetener version of aspartame.

Many different aspartame products are available to purchase online.

5. Acesulfame potassium

Acesulfame potassium, also known as acesulfame K and Ace-K, is an artificial sweetener that is around 200 times sweeter than sugar. Manufacturers often combine acesulfame potassium with other sweeteners to combat its bitter aftertaste. It is available under the brand names Sunett and Sweet One.

The FDA have approved acesulfame potassium as a low-calorie sweetener and state that the results of more than 90 studies support its safety. A 2017 study in mice has suggested a possible association between acesulfame potassium and weight gain, but further research is necessary to confirm this.

The FDA have set an ADI for acesulfame potassium of 15 mg/kg of body weight. This is equivalent to a 60 kg, or 132 lb, person consuming 23 packets of a tabletop sweetener version of acesulfame potassium.

6. Saccharin

Saccharin is another widely available artificial sweetener. There are several different brands of saccharin, including Sweet Twin, Sweet’N Low, and Necta Sweet. Saccharin is a zero-calorie sweetener that is 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar.

According to the FDA, there were safety concerns in the 1970s after research found a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in laboratory rats. However, more than 30 human studies now support the safety of saccharin, and the National Institutes of Health no longer consider this sweetener to have the potential to cause cancer.

The FDA have determined the ADI of saccharin to be 15 mg/kg of body weight, which means that a 60 kg, or 132 lb, person can consume 45 packets of a tabletop sweetener version of it.

People can purchase a range of saccharin products online.

7. Neotame

Neotame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener that is about 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Neotame can tolerate high temperatures, which means that it is suitable for baking. It is available under the brand name Newtame.

The FDA approved neotame in 2002 as a general-purpose sweetener and flavour enhancer for all foods except for meat and poultry. They state that more than 113 animal and human studies support the safety of neotame.

The FDA have set an ADI for neotame of 0.3 mg/kg of body weight. This is equivalent to a 60 kg, or 132 lb, person consuming 23 packets of a tabletop sweetener version of neotame.

Considerations when choosing a sweetener

When choosing a low-calorie sweetener, some general considerations include:

  • Intended use. Many sugar substitutes do not withstand high temperatures so they would make poor choices for baking.
  • Cost. Some sugar substitutes are very expensive, whereas others have a cost more comparable to that of table sugar.
  • Availability. Some sugar substitutes are more widely available in stores than others.
  • Taste. Some sugar substitutes, such as stevia, have a bitter aftertaste that many people may find unpleasant.
  • Natural versus artificial. Some people prefer using natural sweeteners, such as stevia, rather than artificial sugar substitutes.

Summary

Many people with diabetes need to avoid or limit sugary foods. Low-calorie sweeteners can allow them to enjoy a sweet treat without it affecting their blood sugar levels.

There is a range of sweeteners to choose from, each with different pros and cons. Although the FDA generally consider these sugar substitutes to be safe, it is still best to consume them in moderation.

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Women who eat diets high in fat and junk foods risk damaging the health of three future generations of their family, according to new research.

Their poor eating habits could cause obesity, diabetes and addiction to alcohol or drugs in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren even if their offspring eat well, warn scientists.

Experiments found female mice who consumed a high-fat diet before, during and after pregnancy passed on metabolic problems and addictive tendencies through their bloodline.

Researchers at the University of Zurich said that the lasting effects of fatty diets of female mice suggest that women need to be warned that relying on fast food could not only endanger their lives but risks the health of generations to come.

The study was published in Translational Psychiatry.

Corresponding author, Dr. Daria Peleg-Raibstein, said: “Most studies so far have only looked at the second generation or followed the long-term effects of obesity and diabetes on the immediate offspring.

“This study is the first to look at the effects of maternal overeating up until the third generation in the context of addiction as well as obesity.”

It adds to a growing body of evidence that eating too many hamburgers, pizzas, chicken nuggets and chips alters genes – that are then inherited by offspring.

Experts say the phenomenon not only applies to mothers but fathers as well.

It didn’t matter that the original female mice that were fed high-fat diets never became obese themselves, nor that none of the following generations consumed a high-fat diet – the genetic damage was done.

Dr. Peleg-Raibstein said: “To combat the current obesity epidemic, it is important to identify the underlying mechanisms and to find ways for early prevention.

“The research could help improve health advice and education for pregnant and breastfeeding couples and give their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren a better chance of a healthy lifestyle.

“It may also provide a way of identifying risk factors for how people develop obesity and addiction and suggest early interventions for at-risk groups.”

In the study, published in Translational Psychiatry, female mice were fed either a high-fat or standard laboratory diet for nine weeks before mating and then during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Dr. Peleg-Rabstein and her colleagues then measured body weight, insulin sensitivity, metabolic rates and blood plasma levels such as insulin and cholesterol in the second and third generations.

In behavioral experiments, they investigated whether the mice chose a high-fat diet over a standard laboratory diet or an alcohol solution over water, and assessed their activity levels after exposure to amphetamines.

The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the mice with high-fat diets were all more prone to addictive behaviors, though by the third generation the females’ predisposition for obesity seemed to normalize.

“Obesity can be something that is already programmed in the fetus, in utero,” said Dr. Peleg-Raibstein.

“There’s something that happens very early in the development of offspring that led to a kind of addictive-like brain and this led to over-eating.”

She says that the ‘hedonic’ behavior was not limited to food, but was also seen in the tendency of these animals pursue and consume alcohol and drugs. While in the mother’s womb, a fetus’s brain is developing, including ‘the connectivity between different regions,’ explained Dr. Peleg-Raibstein.

“That could all change in this time period and then this child or offspring has a higher risk of this kind of psychopathology and metabolic disorder.”

Though Dr. Peleg-Raibstein says her team’s research is ‘highly translational,’ meaning it has close correlations to humans, it’s too soon to say that exactly the same phenomena happen in women and their bloodlines.

“But studying effects of maternal over-eating is almost impossible to do in people because there are so many confounding factors, such as socio-economic background, the parents’ food preferences or their existing health conditions,” Dr Peleg-Raibstein.

“The mouse model allowed us to study the effects of a high-fat diet on subsequent generations without these factors.”

The Western diet is characterized by a high intake of fat, salt and sugar that can damage the heart, kidneys and waistline.

And while giving in to the occasional craving won’t be disastrous for future generations, keeping junk food to a minimum would be wise, Dr. Peleg-Raibstein says.

“We are exposed to more and more processed and junk food because it’s easier and we’re living stressful lives and this is the easiest, fastest way to get food and consume it, and it has addictive qualities to it. It’s tastier than eating a salad or something healthy,” she explains.

“It’s not that women aren’t allowed to eat anything that is not healthy, they just cannot consume highly processed foods that contain a high percentage of processed sugar, salt and fat every day for every meal.”

Previous research showed it was possible to reduce the burden of damaged cells, termed senescent cells, and extend lifespan and improve health, even when treatment was initiated late in life. They now have shown that treatment of aged mice with the natural product Fisetin, found in many fruits and vegetables, also has significant positive effects on health and lifespan.

Previous research published earlier this year in Nature Medicine involving University of Minnesota Medical School faculty Paul D. Robbins and Laura J. Niedernhofer and Mayo Clinic investigators James L. Kirkland and Tamara Tchkonia, showed it was possible to reduce the burden of damaged cells, termed senescent cells, and extend lifespan and improve health, even when treatment was initiated late in life.

As people age, they accumulate damaged cells. When the cells get to a certain level of damage they go through an aging process of their own, called cellular senescence. The cells also release inflammatory factors that tell the immune system to clear those damaged cells. A younger person’s immune system is healthy and is able to clear the damaged cells. But as people age, they aren’t cleared as effectively. Thus they begin to accumulate, cause low level inflammation and release enzymes that can degrade the tissue.

Robbins and fellow researchers found a natural product, called Fisetin, reduces the level of these damaged cells in the body. They found this by treating mice towards the end of life with this compound and see improvement in health and lifespan.

The paper, “Fisetin is a senotherapeutic that extends health and lifespan,” was recently published in EBioMedicine.”These results suggest that we can extend the period of health, termed healthspan, even towards the end of life,” said Robbins. “But there are still many questions to address, including the right dosage, for example.”

One question they can now answer, however, is why haven’t they done this before? There were always key limitations when it came to figuring out how a drug will act on different tissues, different cells in an aging body. Researchers didn’t have a way to identify if a treatment was actually attacking the particular cells that are senescent, until now.

Under the guidance of Edgar Arriaga, a professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, the team used mass cytometry, or CyTOF, technology and applied it for the first time in aging research, which is unique to the University of Minnesota.”In addition to showing that the drug works, this is the first demonstration that shows the effects of the drug on specific subsets of these damaged cells within a given tissue.” Robbins said.

Meanwhile, new research suggests women tend to live longer than men, and the key may be in the protective effects estrogen has on chromosomes. One of our best gauges of longevity is the length of telomeres, the set of genetic information at the tips of chromosomes. Women’s telomeres tend to be longer than men’s and to stay that way for longer, though exactly why telomere-length is associated with longer lifespans. Now, new research from the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that estrogen actually stokes the activity of an enzyme that helps to lengthen telomeres and may extend lifespans.

On average, women life is about five percent longer than men throughout the world, though the gender gap varies significantly from country to country. Experts have blamed this on all manner of environmental differences through the years: men are more likely to drink and smoke more and are at greater risk of developing heart disease.

One recent analysis suggested that that gap would close by 2032, as rates of smoking and drinking fall and level out for the two genders. But scientists have also observed that differences in life expectancy may be coded into the genetics of men and women. Also, studies on red and processed meat consumption with breast cancer risk have generated inconsistent results. An International Journal of Cancer analysis has now examined all published studies on the topic.

Comparing the highest to the lowest category in the 15 studies included in the analysis, processed meat consumption was associated with a nine per cent higher breast cancer risk. Investigators did not observe a significant association between red (unprocessed) meat intake and risk of breast cancer.

Two studies evaluated the association between red meat and breast cancer stratified by patients’ genotypes regarding N-acetyltransferase 2 acetylator. (Differences in activity of this enzyme are thought to modify the carcinogenic effect of meat.) The researchers did not observe any association among patients with either fast or slow N-acetyltransferase 2 acetylators.

“Previous works linked increased risk of some types of cancer to higher processed meat intake, and this recent meta-analysis suggests that processed meat consumption may also increase breast cancer risk. Therefore, cutting down processed meat seems beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer,” said lead author Dr. Maryam Farvid, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Meanwhile, a new study has warned crash-dieting leaves you with more belly fat and weaker muscles. A study performed on rats found limiting the number of calories per day not only increased the circumference of the rats’ waists but also thinned out their muscles. Even more troubling: a hormone known to increase blood pressure became hyperactive in the rats on the reduced-calorie diet.

The team, led by Georgetown University in Washington, DC, warn that the two combined – increased blood pressure and belly fat together – could pave they way to dangerous long-term health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease, for past crash dieters.For the study, the team split female rats into two groups – one where calories would be reduced and one where the diet would remain the same.

The reduced group had their calories slashed by 60 percent, the equivalent of reducing a diet in humans from 2,000 calories to 800 calories.After three days of being on the reduced-calorie diet, the rats’ weights were lowered, but the diet also caused cycling – similar to a human’s menstrual cycle – to stop.

In addition, a number of metabolic functions decreased including blood pressure, heart rate and kidney function. When the rats resumed a normal diet, cycling was restored and both heart rate and body weight increased.

But the researchers found that three months after the reduced-calorie diet, the rats had more belly fat than rats that ate a normal diet.“Even more troubling was the finding that angiotensin II, a hormone in the body, was more potent at increasing blood pressure in the rats that were on the reduced-calorie diet,” said Dr Aline de Souza of the Department of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Angiotensin II binds to receptors and constricts blood vessels, thereby increasing blood pressure. Additionally, it stimulates the production of other hormones in the body that cause the body to retain salt and water.Dr. de Souza said that this increased blood pressure, when coupled with increased belly fat, could pose long-term health risks for people who have crash-dieted in the past.

Several previous studies have found that crash dieting can wreak havoc on the body both immediately and in the long run. Because your body is unsure of when you will feed it again, it conserves as much energy as possible so you burn fewer calories throughout the day. Additionally, although your body burns through fat stores first, it will then turn to lean tissue in the form of your muscles. A 2014 study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands put one group of subjects on a 500-calories-per-day diet and the other on a 1,250-calories-per-day diet.

At the end of the study period, the 500-calorie group lost 3.5 pounds of muscle mass, but the 1,250-calorie group lost just 1.3 pounds of muscle. Following a crash diet, the body then works to first rebuild fast stores before muscles, meaning any fat lost while dieting will come back first. The findings of the new study were presented Tuesday at the American Physiological Society’s annual Cardiovascular, Renal & Metabolic Diseases: Sex-Specific Implications conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Women tend to live longer than men, and the key may be in the protective effects estrogen has on chromosomes, new research suggests. One of our best gauges of longevity is the length of telomeres, the set of genetic information at the tips of chromosomes. Women’s telomeres tend to be longer than men’s and to stay that way for longer, though exactly why telomere-length is associated with longer lifespans. Now, new research from the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that estrogen actually stokes the activity of an enzyme that helps to lengthen telomeres and may extend lifespans.

On average, women life is about five percent longer than men throughout the world, though the gender gap varies significantly from country to country. Experts have blamed this on all manner of environmental differences through the years: men are more likely to drink and smoke more and are at greater risk of developing heart disease.

One recent analysis suggested that that gap would close by 2032, as rates of smoking and drinking fall and level out for the two genders. But scientists have also observed that differences in life expectancy may be coded into the genetics of men and women. They have found a close link between the length of a person’s telomeres and the length of their life. Our DNA is encoded in 23 pairs of chromosomes and telomeres are the end caps of those chromosomes.

Telomeres are made of the same nucleic acid bases as the rest of human genetic information but their job is a protective one. They keep the precious genetic material in the rest of the chromosome from getting damaged, especially as cells replicate. Replication after replication over time starts to wear down telomemeres. When eventually they become too short to be functional, cells start malfunctioning, in part because their DNA is exposed, so to speak. Without telomeres, cells start to age and die, so these simple end-caps are vital to our health, and also good measures of our overall health and potential longevity.

It is not just time, but trauma that ages telomeres. Stress, health problems and poor habits all also wear on telomeres, and, in turn, on our life spans. American life expectancy fell for the second year in a row in 2018, and the gap between men and women’s life expectancies has grown to five years. Women now live to an average age of 81.1, while men only live to be 76.1 years old.

Their telomeres reflect this. And the new research from the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that the estrogen might be the secret. The female hormone that gives women their feminine appearances, menstrual cycles, and fertility, may also help to give them longer lives. Estrogen fuels some cancers, but has long been known to have protective effects against other diseases. Higher levels of the hormone are thought to help keep the cardiovascular system in good working order and promote healthier bones.

The new research, presented Wednesday at the North American Menopause Society annual meeting in San Diego, adds to the list of good things estrogen does the possibility of protecting telomeres. Lead study author, Dr. Elissa Epel, said: “Some experimental studies suggest estrogen exposure increases the activity of telomerase, the enzyme that can protect and elongate telomeres.” If this is in fact the case, maintaining estrogen levels may become more important to women as they reach menopause and their hormone levels fall.

This feature is part of CNN Parallels, an interactive series exploring ways you can improve your health by making small changes to your daily habits.
A lot of us drink. Too many of us drink a lot. Worldwide, each person 15 years and older consumes 13.5 grams of pure alcohol per day, according to the World Health Organization. Considering that nearly half of the world doesn’t drink at all, that leaves the other half drinking up their share.
While the majority of the world drinks liquor, Americans prefer beer. The Beverage Marketing Corp. tracks these things: In 2017, Americans guzzled about 27 gallons of beer (or 216 pints), 2.6 gallons of wine and 2.2 gallons of spirits per drinking-age adult. But Americans are lightweights in any worldwide drinking game, based on numbers from the World Health Organization. The Eastern European countries of Lithuania, Belarus, Czechia (the Czech Republic), Croatia and Bulgaria drink us under the table.
In fact, measuring liters drunk by anyone over 15, the US ranks 36th in the category of most sloshed nation; Austria comes in sixth; France is ninth (more wine) and Ireland 15th (yes, they drink more beer), while the UK ranks 18th.
Who drinks the least in the world? The Arab nations of the Middle East.
With all this boozing going on, just what damage does alcohol do to your health? Let’s explore what science says are the downsides of having a tipple or two.
Counting calories
Even if you aren’t watching your waistline, you might be shocked at the number of empty calories you can easily consume during happy hour.
Calories are typically defined by a “standard” drink. In the US, that’s about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol, which differs depending on the type of adult beverage you consume.
For example, a standard drink of beer is one 12-ounce can (355 milliliters). For malt liquor, it’s 8 to 9 fluid ounces (251 milliliters). A standard drink of red or white wine is about 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters).
What’s considered a standard drink continues to go down as the alcohol content goes up. But what if that changes? Let’s use beer as an example.
It used to be that light beer came in around 100 calories while regular beer averaged 153 calories per 12-fluid ounce can or bottle — that’s the same as two or three Oreo cookies.
But beer calories depend on both alcohol content and carbohydrate level. So if you’re a fan of today’s popular craft beers, which often have extra carbs and higher alcohol content, you could easily face a calorie land mine in every can. Let’s say you chose a highly ranked IPA, such as Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (9.6% alcohol) or Narwhal (10.2% alcohol), and you’ve downed a whopping 318 to 344 calories, about as much as a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Did you drink just one?
If you pour correctly, white wine is about 120 calories per 5 fluid ounces, and red is 125. If you fill your glass to the brim, that might easily double.
Liquor? Gin, rum, vodka, tequila and whiskey cost you 97 calories per 1.5 fluid ounces, but that’s without mixers. An average margarita will cost you 168 calories while a pina colada weighs in at a whopping 490 calories, about the same as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.
A 2013 study in the US found that calorie intake went up on drinking days compared with non-drinking days, mostly due to alcohol: Men took in 433 extra calories, while women added 299 calories.
But alcohol can also affect our self-control, which can lead to overeating. A 1999 study found that people ate more when they had an aperitif before dinner than if they abstained.
Take heart. If you’re a light to moderate drinker, meaning you stick to US guidelines of one “standard” drink a day for women and two for men, studies have shown that you aren’t guaranteed to gain weight over time — especially if you live an overall healthy lifestyle.
For example, a 2002 study of almost 25,000 Finnish men and women over five-year intervals found that moderate alcohol consumption, combined with a physically active lifestyle, no smoking and healthy food choices, “maximizes the chances of having a normal weight.”
However, it appears that heavy drinking and binge drinking could be linked to obesity. And that’s a problem. The numbers of binge drinkers — defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours at least once a month — has been rising in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in six adults binge about four times a month, downing about eight drinks in each binge.
In the UK, where binge drinking is defined as “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk,” a 2016 national survey found 2.5 million people admitted to binge drinking in the last week.
Alcohol, of course, has no nutritional value and contains 7 calories per gram — more than protein and even carbs, which both have 4 calories. Fat has 9 calories per gram.
All those empty alcohol calories have to end up somewhere.
Heart disease and cancer
The prevailing wisdom for years has been that drinking in moderation — again, that’s one “standard” drink a day for women and two for men — is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. But recent studies are casting doubt on that long-held lore. Science now says it depends on your age and drinking habits.
A 2017 study of nearly 2 million Brits with no cardiovascular risk found that there was still a modest benefit in moderate drinking, especially for women over 55 who drank five drinks a week. Why that age? Alcohol can alter cholesterol and clotting in the blood in positive ways, experts say, and that’s about the age when heart problems begin to occur.
For everyone else, the small protective effect on the heart was evident only if the drinks were spaced out during the week. Consuming heavily in one session, or binge drinking, has been linked to heart attacks — or what the English call “holiday heart.”
Also, a 2018 study found that drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol per week — equal to roughly seven standard drinks in the United States or five to six glasses of wine in the UK — increases your risk of death from all causes and in turn lowers your life expectancy. Links were found with different forms of cardiovascular disease, with people who drank more than 100 grams per week having a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm, where an artery or vein swells up and could burst.
In contrast, the 2018 study found that higher levels of alcohol were also linked to a lower risk of heart attack, or myocardial infarction.
Overall, however, the latest thinking is that any heart benefit may be outweighed by other health risks, such as high blood pressure, pancreatitis, certain cancers and liver damage.
Women who drink are at a higher risk for breast cancer; alcohol contributes about 6% of the overall risk, possibly because it raises certain dangerous hormones in the blood. Drinking can also increase the chance you might develop bowel, liver, mouth and oral cancers.
One potential reason: Alcohol weakens our immune systems, making us more susceptible to inflammation, a driving force behind cancer, as well as infections and the integrity of the microbiome in our digestive tract. That’s true not only for chronic drinkers but for those who binge, as well.
Diabetes
The connection between alcohol and diabetes is complicated. Studies show that drinking moderately over three or four days a week may actually lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, drinking heavily increases the risk. Too much alcohol inflames the pancreas, which is responsible for secreting insulin to regulate your body’s blood sugars.
If you have diabetes, alcohol may interact with various medications. If you take insulin or any pills that stimulate the release of insulin, alcohol can lead to hypoglycemia, a dangerously low blood sugar level, because alcohol stimulates the release of insulin as well. That’s why experts recommend never drinking on an empty stomach. Instead, drink with a meal or at least some carbs.
And, of course, because alcohol is made by fermenting sugar and starch, it’s full of empty calories, which contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Mood and memory
Because alcohol is a depressant, drinking can drown your mood. It may not seem that way while you “party” your inhibitions away, but that’s just the drink depressing the part of the brain we use to control our actions. The more you drink, say experts, the more your negative emotions, such as anxiety, anger and depression, can take over.
That’s why binge drinking or drinking a lot in one sitting is associated with higher levels of depression, self-harm, suicide and violent offending.
Binge drinking is also associated with severe “blackouts”: the inability to remember what happened while drunk. Blackouts can range from small memory blips, such as forgetting a name, to more serious incidents, such as forgetting an entire evening.
Alcohol does this by decreasing the electrical activity of the neurons in your hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for the formation of short-term memories. Keep up that binge drinking, and you can permanently damage the hippocampus and develop sustained memory or cognitive problems.
Adolescents are most susceptible to alcohol’s memory disruption but less sensitive to the intoxicating effects. That means they can easily drink more to feel as “drunk” as an adult would, causing even more damage to their brains.
How you look
Last but certainly not least, alcohol can have a significant effect on your good looks. First, it dehydrates you. That can leave your skin looking parched and wrinkled. It’s also linked to rosacea, a skin condition causing redness, pimples and swelling on your face.
Do you know you can stink while you’re drinking? During the time your liver is processing a single drink, which is on average an hour but varies for everyone, some of it leaves your body via your breath, urine and sweat.
Another reason drinking can affect your looks has to do with sleep. Although even a little bit of alcohol can help you fall asleep quickly, as the alcohol is metabolized and leaves the body you may suffer the “rebound effect.” Instead of staying asleep, the body enters lighter sleep and wakefulness, which appears to get worse the more one drinks.
A lack of sleep leads to dark circles, puffy eyes and stress. Keep it up, studies say, and you’re likely to see more signs of aging and a much lower satisfaction with your appearance.
So the next time you head to the pub for tipple or two, remember: You could be paying a price for all that fun.
By Sandee LaMotte | CNN
CNN’s Mark Lieber contributed to this report.