Diet & Aging: Being overweight in middle-age makes the brain age by 10 years, research by the University of Cambridge has found. The study, which scanned 473 brains, found changes in the brain structure of overweight people which are normally seen in those far older. The volume of white matter – the tissue that connects areas of the brain and allows information to be communicated between regions – shrunk far more in those with a Body Mass Index above 25.
Shrinkage of parts of the brain is associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. The Cambridge Study found no differences in cognitive skills when participants underwent IQ tests. But the men and women will be scanned as they get older, to check for changes which indicate mental decline. Human brains naturally shrink with age, but scientists are increasingly recognizing that obesity – already linked to conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease – may also affect the onset and progression of brain ageing.
In the study of people aged between 20 and 87, researchers looked at the impact of obesity on brain structure across the adult lifespan. Researchers divided the groups into two categories: lean and overweight, depending on whether their BMI was above or below 25. They found striking differences in the volume of white matter. Overweight individuals had a widespread reduction in white matter compared with lean people.
The team then calculated how white matter volume related to age across the two groups. They discovered that an overweight person at 50 had a comparable white matter volume to a lean person aged 60. Researchers only observed these differences from middle-age onwards, suggesting that brains may be particularly vulnerable during this period of ageing. Candidates were recruited by the Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience and the results are published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
Lead researcher, Dr Lisa Ronan from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “We found that those who were overweight had significantly smaller volume of white matter compared with their lean counterparts – amounting to a difference of 10 years.” Scientists expected to see differences in cognitive abilities, but these were not shown in the tests, which will be repeated as participants get older.
“As our brains age, they naturally shrink in size, but it isn’t clear why people who are overweight have a greater reduction in the amount of white matter. We can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes.” Professor Paul Fletcher, from the Department of Psychiatry, said: “We’re living in an ageing population, with increasing levels of obesity, so it’s essential that we establish how these two factors might interact, since the consequences for health are potentially serious.” –Telegraph
Italian city wants to turn vegetarian: The mayor of Turin, the northern Italian city of 870,000 that hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006, has made a controversial new pitch: local citizens should give up their bollito and carne cruda in favor of a vegan or vegetarian diet. Chiara Appendino, who was sworn in as mayor last month, unveiled her plan for the city yesterday, and one major platform was promoting a plant-based diet for Turin’s residents.
“The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals,” Appendino wrote in the proposal. She detailed a plan for the next five years—the length of a mayoral term—to work toward this veggie-friendly utopia. “Leading medical, nutritional, and political experts will help promote a culture of respect in our schools, teaching children how to eat well while protecting the earth and animal rights,” the plan continued.
While the mayor’s plan could be seen as grandstanding, it appears that Italy’s food culture is shifting. Younger Italians are more open to trying new foods, and immigrants have brought different cuisines with them from around the world. (Roughly 30 vegetarian or vegan restaurants have opened in Turin, Italy’s fourth-biggest city by population, within the past few years.) Appendino herself belongs to the relatively young Five Star movement, which was founded by the Italian comedian-turned-political activist Beppe Grillo, an outspoken vegetarian who is one of the major names leading the conversation about food culture in the country. Italian parliament member Luigi Di Maio, who also belongs to the Five Star party, even had a vegan cake at his birthday this year.
Yet food as social activism isn’t new in this part of Italy: the “slow food” movement, which encourages people to use locally-grown food over chain restaurants and fast food, began in the nearby town of Bra. Still, despite some shifts in the area’s food scene, many people are opposed to Appendino’s plan. Turin resident Elena Coda complained to The Local that losing meat from the area’s cuisine was a metaphor for losing local Piedemontese culture. “Great foods like wild boar ragu and Chianina steak are already disappearing from the menu once famed for its meats, wines, and cheeses,” she said. The good news? Wine is (almost always) vegan. – Condé Nast Traveler, by Lilat Marcus
Office work bad for your health: Office work is the new smoking, helping to kill millions of people because of increased physical inactivity, a new study has found. The study, which appeared in the Lancet journal, said sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60% and was posing as great a threat to public health as smoking. Inactivity, the study said, was linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers and was associated with more than five million deaths a year. Increased physical activity lowers the risk of at least 13 cancer types.
The researchers analyzed data from more than a million people in 16 studies, and warned that too little was being done to tackle the pandemic of physical inactivity. The good news is doing at least an hour of physical activity a day such as walking or cycling can eliminate this increased risk of death. “For many people who commute or have office jobs, there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time. For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it’s getting out for a walk at lunchtime, a run in the morning or cycling to work.
An hour of physical activity a day is ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk,” said lead author Ulf Ekelund of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences. “This lack of physical activity is the new smoking,” said Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health, who added that fast-rising numbers of people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease caused by an unhealthy lifestyle were taking a toll on medical aids. –Times Live
Walking for Health: Is it time to rethink traditional work meetings? Replacing a seated work meeting with a walking meeting can increase workers’ physical activity and lead to positive health effects, according to researchers from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. As part of a study, the researchers recruited 17 workers who led weekly meetings. The workers agreed to wear an accelerometer to track their physical activity at work during a three-week period. They also adhered to guidelines for conducting meetings and note-taking while walking. The protocol included following a set route and walking for at least 30 minutes per meeting.
Results showed that, by the third week, participants had increased their moderate-vigorous physical activity to 117 minutes – up from 107 the first week and 114 the second week. Walking meetings and other interventions to increase physical activity are necessary to “counter the negative health effects of sedentary behavior,” Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, the study’s principal investigator and assistant professor of public health sciences, said in a press release.
Brisk walking for as little as 15 minutes per day can increase a person’s life expectancy by up to three years, researchers said. “Walking is known to have tremendous health benefits,” Hannah Kling, lead study author and project director, said in the release. “Having sedentary, white-collar workers consider walking meetings feasible suggests that this intervention has the potential to positively influence the health of many individuals.” The study was published June 23 in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease. –Safety & Health
Diet & Health – Extra “good fats” from nuts and olive oil in a Mediterranean diet may help older adults lose weight, or at least avoid gaining it, a Spanish study suggests. “Our hypothesis is that not all fats are the same; we have to differentiate fats from vegetables and fats from animal sources,” said lead study author Dr. Ramon Estruch of the University of Barcelona. “Vegetable fat such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts help to reduce body weight when these foods are consumed in a healthy diet such as a Mediterranean diet,” Estruch added by email.
A Mediterranean diet typically includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. This diet also tends to favor lean sources of protein like chicken or fish over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. While some previous research has linked a Mediterranean diet to weight loss and a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, scientists haven’t conclusively proven that the diet itself is responsible, rather than other lifestyle choices made by people who eat this way.
For the current study, Estruch and colleagues randomly assigned 7,447 older adults at risk for cardiovascular disease to follow one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with one liter (about 34 fluid ounces)of extra virgin olive oil a week, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 grams (1 oz) of nuts a day, or a low-fat diet. At the start of the study, the men were 55 to 80 years old and the women were 60 to 80. All of them had either diabetes or three or more other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as a smoking habit, elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol.
None of them were told to restrict calories or exercise during the study. After almost five years, people in all three groups had slightly reduced body weight but the change was bigger with the two groups assigned a Mediterranean diet, researchers report in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. People assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts lost 0.08 kilograms (less than half a pound) more weight than the group on the low-fat diet after five years, the study found.
Those on the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, lost 0.43 kilograms (almost one pound) more weight than participants on the low-fat diet. Researchers also looked at waist circumference over the five years and found little difference between the people on the Mediterranean diet with extra nuts and the participants assigned to a low-fat diet. The group assigned to a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil had a slightly smaller increase in waist size than the low-fat diet group. –Fox News