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Archive for the ‘NUTRITION & AGING’ Category

If women live long enough, all will experience menopause. Will what they eat affect their quality of life during this phase of the life cycle?

Each day about 6,000 women reach menopause. Some 80 percent will experience night sweats and vasomotor symptoms—better known as hot flashes. Up to half of those will have moderate to severe discomfort.

Women with larger body sizes, whether because of a higher body mass index or greater amounts of fatty tissue, tend to have more frequent or greater severity of symptoms. Likewise, as women gain weight or increase fat cells, they boost their chances of more problems.

A study reported in the journal Menopause supports evidence that weight loss can lessen symptoms. Nearly one-fourth of women who lost at least 10 pounds experienced fewer menopausal difficulties. The greatest relief occurred, however, in more than 50 percent of the participants who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight.

Some studies have indicated that a high-fiber, low-fat diet may reduce symptoms. In the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, the women most likely to become symptom-free after one year were those who daily consumed a low-fat diet (20 percent or less of calories from fat) with five or more high-fiber servings of fruits and vegetables and six servings of whole grains. They also lost more weight than the control group.

Questions remain as to whether the high-fiber, low-fat diet lessened symptoms or if improvement resulted from losing weight. Regardless, weight-loss made a difference in the quality of life. The results from these studies seem like a win-win situation for women plagued with unpleasant side-effects of menopause.

What have you got to lose—except weight and hot flashes.

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English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Plan...

English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Planta de Cacao (Theobroma cacao) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s exciting news for chocolate lovers. New studies have found more health benefits from chocolate.

This decadent food comes from cacao (or cocoa) beans. Actually, they aren’t beans but seeds from the theobroma cacao tree. The name Theobroma originated from the Greek “food of the gods”—theos meaning “god” and broma meaning “food.” Few would disagree that tasty chocolate morsels fit that definition. Unlike many fruits and seeds, cacao grows along the tree trunk. Once harvested, seeds are fermented, dried, roasted, and milled to produce chocolate liquor.

Health benefits of chocolate come from flavanols, one of several well-known antioxidants. Chocolate, like other foods with high flavanol levels, seems to lessen risks of cardiovascular (heart) disease. Likewise, it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol. Chocolate influences other health conditions which may or may not relate to heart disease.

  • Cognitive function: By the age of seventy, 6% of older adults have developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Those with MCI who are otherwise in good health may benefit from chocolate. Three groups of elderly participants consumed drinks with 990 milligrams (mg), 520 mg, and 45 mg of cocoa flavanols daily for eight weeks. The two groups who consumed drinks with more antioxidants seemed to think faster, respond more rapidly to questions, and demonstrate better verbal fluency. Additionally, they showed improvement in insulin resistance and blood pressure.  Results could be directly from flavanols in cocoa or as a secondary effect related to better cardiovascular function.
  • Blood Pressure: Healthy people who used approximately 100 grams daily of chocolate or cocoa experienced a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Flavanol promoted vasodilation and thus reduced blood pressure.
  • Stroke: In a ten-year study, men who ate high levels of chocolate had a lower risk of stroke. Typically, the subjects ate the equivalent of one-third cup of chocolate chips each week. Those who ate chocolate had a 17% lower risk of stroke than those who avoided it.

Is chocolate a panacea? Chocolate can be part of a healthy diet for those of appropriate weight. For the overweight and obese, increased amounts of chocolate may aggravate weight problems since foods with chocolate tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and calories. Other foods with high flavanol content may be better choices for the weight conscious, but who wants to choose broccoli over chocolate? Indulge your taste buds occasionally with chocolate but stay mindful of the calories.

Additional information on these studies can be found at:

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/020612p24.shtml

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/769223

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/08/14/elderly-brains-get-boost-from-dark-chocolate/

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How long do you want to live? We seem to have a built-in urge to live longer. Normal healthy people don’t want the grim reaper at their doorstep.

Deaths occur from numerous causes. Several things may cut the lifespan, but science is closing in on many factors that seem to increase longevity. Some lifestyle patterns, like smoking, may shorten life while others such as exercise seem to add more years. Unscrupulous wonder-potions with claims to extend existence surface then disappear. Do specific foods or nutrients impact survival?

Insufficient amounts of vitamin D may cause or worsen several health conditions—osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, some cancers, auto immune diseases, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. These infirmities decrease quality of life, and some shorten the lifespan. Sufficient quantities of vitamin D may help prevent various health problems, especially certain types of cancers and diabetes.

Researchers studied the role of vitamin D in more than 10,000 people with an average age of fifty-eight. Based on blood levels below thirty nanograms per milliliter, they classified seventy percent as vitamin D deficient. Those with deficiencies were more prone to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and increased mortality. Survival rates improved when they treated the vitamin D-deficient with supplements.

How much vitamin D do older adults need? Like other nutrients, it’s best to get vitamins from food sources. Unlike other nutrients, the sun is an excellent source of vitamin D. In the elderly, loss of the skin’s ability to generate vitamin D from sunshine aggravated by immobility or limited exposure to outside physical activities causes even greater risks for deficiency. The most plentiful natural food supply is fatty fish. Mushrooms, eggs, cheese, and liver contain limited amounts. The food industry supplements many products— namely milk, yogurt, cereal, and orange juice—with vitamin D to close the nutrient gap in diets.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin D after age seventy is 800 International Units (IU) per day. The Institute of Medicine set a level of 4,000 IU as the upper limit for supplementation. Although other health professionals increase that limit to 10,000 IU, the lower level reduces the potential for harm from an overdose.

While studies show definite health improvements in those treated for deficiencies, too much vitamin D has a downside. We cannot assume that if a little is good, more is better. Doses of vitamin D above the upper recommended levels can cause health issues, especially for those with kidney problems. However, the potential consequences from deficiency outweigh the less life-threatening conditions of overdose.

Will vitamin D delay aging and cause you to live longer?  Maybe. Evidence seems clear that vitamin D plays a role in longevity. If you fail to consume vitamin D rich foods, either natural or fortified, supplements may make a difference. You don’t have to wait until old age to start. After all, if you delay consuming adequate amounts, you may not get there.

 “Healthy Eating & Diet,” http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/are-you-getting-enough-vitamin-d

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