Diet and Fitness Newsletter
May 3, 2010

Worth Quoting
"It doesn't hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later. "

--Lucimar Santos de Lima

In This Issue
• Mediterranean Diet Helps Protect Aging Brain
• Four Unhealthy Behaviors Linked to Premature Death
• Short-Term Program for Binge Eaters Breaks New Ground
• Popular Diet Plans Can Unclog Arteries

Mediterranean Diet Helps Protect Aging Brain

TUESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Eating a Mediterranean diet may help keep your brain healthy as you age, findings from an ongoing study show.

"This diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, fish, olive oil, lower meat consumption, and moderate wine and non-refined grain intake," study author Dr. Christy Tangney, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a news release from the American Society for Nutrition.

Rather than asking people to avoid certain foods, the study found data that "adults over age 65 should look to include more olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their diet in order to improve their recall times and other cognitive skills, such as identifying symbols and numbers," Tangney said.

The study included 4,000 adults aged 65 and older who were given a series of tests to examine their cognitive (or thinking) skills every three years over a 15-year period. Those who scored highest in following a Mediterranean diet were least likely to suffer cognitive decline, the study authors found.

"We [also] want older adults to remember that physical activity is an important part of maintaining cognitive skills," Tangney added.

The findings were slated to be presented Monday at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

More information

The AGS Foundation for Healthy Aging offers cognitive vitality tips for older adults.


Four Unhealthy Behaviors Linked to Premature Death

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of four unhealthy behaviors -- smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet and substantial alcohol consumption -- greatly increases the risk of premature death, a new study has found.

The study, published in the April 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, included 4,886 people, aged 18 or older, who were interviewed in 1984-1985.

"A health behavior score was calculated, allocating one point for each poor behavior: smoking; fruits and vegetables consumed less than three times daily; less than two hours of physical activity per week; and weekly consumption of more than 14 units [one unit equals 8 grams, or about 0.3 ounces] of alcohol (in women) and more than 21 units in men," wrote Elisabeth Kvaavik, of the University of Oslo, and colleagues.

Over an average follow-up period of 20 years, there were 1,080 reported deaths among study participants: 431 due to cardiovascular disease, 318 due to cancer and 331 due to other causes. Compared to those with no bad health habits, those with all four unhealthy behaviors were about three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease or cancer, four times more likely to die from all other causes, and had an overall death risk equivalent to being 12 years older.

"Modest but achievable adjustments to lifestyle behaviors are likely to have a considerable impact at both the individual and population level," the researchers concluded. "Developing more efficacious methods by which to promote healthy diets and lifestyles across the population should be an important priority of public health policy."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about healthy living.


Short-Term Program for Binge Eaters Breaks New Ground

THURSDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- A 12-week, self-guided program to stop binge eating is effective and can save patients money, according to U.S. researchers.

Participants in the program were asked to read the book "Overcoming Binge Eating," which includes scientific information about binge eating and includes a six-step self-help program using self-monitoring, self-control and problem-solving strategies.

The participants, average age 37, also attended eight therapy sessions over 12 weeks. During the sessions, counselors explained the reasons for cognitive behavioral therapy and helped participants apply the strategies in the book.

By the end of the 12-week program, 63.5 percent of participants had stopped binge eating, compared with 28.3 percent of control group members who received usual care. Six months later, 74.5 percent of program participants were not binge eating, compared to 44.1 percent of those in the control group. After one year, the figures were 64.2 percent and 44.6 percent, respectively.

Total costs for the program were $3,670 per person per year, compared to $4,098 for those in the control group. Patients in the control group spent $149 less than those in the control group because they spent less on weight loss programs and over-the-counter medications and supplements.

The findings appear in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

"It is unusual to find a program like this that works well, and also saves the patient money. It's a win-win for everyone," study author Frances Lynch, a health economist at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, said in a news release.

Recurrent binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting more than three percent of the population (nine million people).

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about binge eating.


Popular Diet Plans Can Unclog Arteries

MONDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Any one of three heart-healthy diets -- low-fat, low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean -- can reverse the thickening of artery walls that can lead to heart attack and stroke, an Israeli study indicates.

"Once one adheres to a sensible diet, even though you experience only a moderate weight loss, if you stick to it long enough you can cause regression of atherosclerosis," explained Iris Shai, a nutritional epidemiologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and lead author of a report to be published in the March 16 print issue of the journal Circulation.

Atherosclerosis involves a thickening and narrowing of blood vessels. When narrowing leads to a full blockage of blood flow, heart attacks or strokes are the result.

Shai and her colleagues assigned 140 middle-aged, overweight men and women to one of three low-calorie diets: low-fat; low-carbohydrate; or the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and healthy fats such as those found in olive oil.

About one-third of the participants were taking blood pressure medications and one-quarter were taking cholesterol-lowering medications, mostly statins.

The researchers tracked the participants' adherence to the recommended diet, as well as their weight and blood pressure. Using ultrasound scans to obtain three-dimensional images, the team also assessed the volume and thickness of the carotid arteries, the major vessels carrying blood to the brain.

After two years, the researchers found that dieters experienced a significant 5 percent reduction in average carotid artery wall volume and a 1.1 percent reduction in carotid wall thickness.

There were also moderate reductions in blood pressure and average weight.

"With a healthy diet and only moderate weight loss and reduction in blood pressure, you can see regression of plaque that naturally progresses over the years," Shai said.

All three diets had certain elements in common -- an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and decreased consumption of dangerous trans-fats, especially those found in processed foods, she said.

"The message seems to be that weight loss, no matter how you accomplish it, is good for the carotid artery," said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, a past president of the American Heart Association.

While the reduction in blood pressure was perhaps the most important dietary effect, "with weight reduction many things change in the right direction," Eckel said.

Anyone undertaking to follow such a diet must be prepared to stick with it over the long run, he stressed.

"Blood pressure measured during active weight loss is bound to fall," Eckel said. "But that might not be sustained. Blood pressure must continue to be monitored, and treated to reach a goal."

More information

Find out more about heart-healthy diets at the American Heart Association.