Category Archives: The Aging Process

Research finds being overweight makes brain ‘10 years older’ than if you are slim

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Diet & Aging

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.

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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

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Turin mayor wants entire Italian city to go vegetarian

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Turin

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

Study finds working in the office for 8 hours a day is as bad as smoking

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Office Work

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

Few Americans engage in health behaviors that prevent chronic disease

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Exercise

Body & HealthThere are five key health behaviors that can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, according to researchers, but little more than 6 percent of Americans adhere to them. This is the finding of a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy.

According to the CDC, chronic diseases – such as stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – are among the most common and costly health problems in the United States. Approximately half of all adults in the United States – around 117 million people – had at least one chronic health condition in 2012, while 1 in 4 adults had two or more. What is more, in 2010, more than 83 percent of healthcare spending in the United States was for people with at least one chronic health condition, with heart disease and stroke costing $315.4 billion alone.

However, there are a number of health-related behaviors that can lower the risk of such diseases. Dr. Yong Lu, of the Division of Population Health at the CDC, and colleagues set out to investigate the proportion of Americans that adhere to them. The team analyzed data from the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) – a system of telephone surveys that gathers health-related information from residents across all U.S. states.

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The data included almost 400,000 adults aged 21 and older, and the team looked at what proportion of these individuals adhered to five health behaviors known to reduce the risk of death from chronic disease. These five health behaviors are: Not smoking, Exercising regularly, Avoiding alcohol consumption or only drinking in moderation, Maintaining a healthy body weight, Getting a sufficient amount of sleep. 

Only 6.3 percent of adults engaged in all five key health behaviors. The results of the study did have some good news; they revealed that only 1.4 percent of the adults failed to engage in any of the five health behaviors. A total of 8.4 percent of the adults engaged in one of the health behaviors, 24.3 percent engaged in two, 35.4 percent engaged in three, and 24.3 percent engaged in four.

However, only 6.3 percent of the adults engaged in all five behaviors, with women, older adults, college graduates, and Asians most likely to report doing so. Compared with adults living in southern U.S. states, adults who lived in the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states were more likely to adhere to all five health behaviors. Based on their results, Dr. Lu and colleagues believe there needs to be increased focus on strategies that encourage more Americans to engage in all five health behaviors, which may reduce their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. –Medical News Today

Five ways obesity may affect the brain

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Obesity and the Brain

DIET & HEALTH The obesity epidemic is not only bad for our waistlines, but it could have a significant effect on our minds, as well. “Obesity not only impacts how you look … or physical health, it also impacts your brain,” says Ranjana Mehta, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health in College Station, Texas.

Putting on the pounds not only transforms your belly, but it also alters your brain, a number of studies suggest. These brain changes may, in turn, fuel overeating, leading to a vicious cycle that makes losing weight and keeping it off challenging. Here are five ways obesity changes the brain:

Desensitizes the brain:

Gaining weight may desensitize the brain to the pleasure we get from sugary and fatty foods, prompting us to eat more cookies and cake than we did when we were leaner, research shows. A similar effect is seen in drug users, who eventually require more cocaine or heroin in order to achieve their original high. In a study published Sept. 29 in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers scanned the brains of women as they drank a milkshake. They saw the sugary drink activated an area known as the striatum.

Half a year later, the researchers repeated the experiment on the same women some of whom had gained some weight. The more weight the women had put on in the interim, the less their brains responded to the milkshake in the second experiment. Research on animals has also shown rats fed a diet rich in sugar and fats are less sensitive to the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine.

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Obesity makes us more impulsive:

In obese children, a region of the brain in charge of controlling impulsively, called the orbitofrontal cortex, appears to be shrunken compared with that of lean children, according to a study presented this year at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry meeting in New York. Moreover, the smaller this brain region was, the more likely the adolescents were to eat impulsively, the researchers said.

Increases the risk of dementia:

Having more belly fat is associated with a decrease in total brain volume in middle-aged adults, according to a study published in May in the journal Annals of Neurology. It’s possible that the extra fat triggers inflammation, which puts stress on the body and perhaps impacts the brain, the researchers said. The finding suggests something particular about belly fat, also known as visceral fat the fat located between organs in the abdominal cavity may play a role in reducing brain size.

Visceral fat releases a unique profile of hormones, which may impact the body in a manner different from the hormones released by subcutaneous fat, or fat under the skin, the researchers said. Previous studies have found that people with smaller brain volumes are at higher risk for dementia, and tend to do poorer on cognitive tests.

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Yo-Yo dieting may prompt binge-eating under stress

Dieting may change how the brain responses to stress , so that the next time we find ourselves in a bind, or just plain frazzled, we eat more, according to a study published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Neuroscience. In the study, researchers put a group of mice on a diet so that they lost 10 to 15 percent of their body weight. Then, the mice were allowed to put the weight back on, similar to the way human dieters often see the pounds creep back. When the mice were exposed to stressful situations, such as hearing sounds at nighttime, they ate more food than those who had never been placed on a diet.

The mice also had what are known as epigenetic changes changes in the way genes are expressed that don’t involve changes in the gene sequences themselves particularly in genes involved in regulating responses to stress. The researchers said these modifications may have altered the animals’ eating behavior during stress.

Obesity may impair memory

Obesity may impair memory, at least for women after menopause. A study published July 14 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society looked at memory test scores for 8,745 women ages 65 to 79. The researchers found a 1-point increase in a woman’s body mass index (BMI) was associated with a 1-point decrease on a 100 point memory test. Hormones released by fat could impair memory, the researchers said. These hormones can cause inflammation, which may affect cognition.  –Live Science