Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Diet Sodas and the Brain

The question becomes, ‘Are diet drinks better than those containing sugar?’ The short answer is, ‘Not likely.’ Diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners (to compensate for not having real sugar), such as aspertame. Excitotoxins can cause gradual damage to your brain. Research presented at a conference of the American Stroke Association indicates that drinking diet soda daily is linked to a significantly higher risk of vascular events that correlate with vascular dementia. Other research published in the journal Natural Chemical Biology reported that phenylalanine, an amino acid found in aspartame, can form the toxic amyloid fibrils that are the hallmark of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Drinking pure water continues to be your best bet.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sodas and the Brain

What happens in your brain and body when you have a soft drink? Several rather undesirable things. As the sugar from the soda or sugary drink is absorbed into your blood stream, your brain’s hypothalamus sends a message to your pancreas, telling it to secrete insulin to deal with the higher level of blood sugar. The insulin now instructs your fat cells to pull the excess glucose out of your bloodstream and store it for future use. The problem is that you likely won’t be pulling the stored glucose out of those fat cells any time in the near future because you keep drinking sodas or sugary drinks or you keep eating refined foods, which packs even more into those fat cells—and you continue to gain weight, a little bit at a time. In addition, you are less likely to drink water, which can dehydrate the brain and interfere with its effective functioning. The brain is largely composed of fluid and needs water, a nutrient, in order to function efficiently.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Belly Fat and Aromatase

Age-associated testosterone decline is closely associated with deep abdominal fat (visceral fat), a component of the metabolic syndrome. Fat tissue is an extremely active hormonal modulator, particularly for testosterone and estrogen. An enzyme in fat tissue known as aromatase converts testosterone into estradiol, the major estrogen in humans. Excess aromatase activity decreases testosterone and increases estrogen levels, which can result in a number of deleterious body changes for men. Low serum testosterone concentrations are closely correlated with high body mass index (BMI), along with elevated ratios of body fat to lean mass.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Female Obesity and Cancer Recurrence

Studies have shown a connection between obesity in women and an increased risk for symptoms of mental deterioration. Now studies have connected being overweight with an increased risk of cancer reoccurrence, especially in relation to hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The trials were led by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (now part of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group). They involved 6,885 women treated with standard chemotherapy for breast cancer and followed for eight years. Results, published in the American Cancer Society Journal, showed a 30 percent higher risk of recurrence and a 50 percent higher risk of death when compared with death rates for women of normal weight who had breast cancer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Belly Fat and Testosterone Levels

Testosterone plays a vital role in how the body balances glucose, insulin, and fat metabolism. Studies have shown a correlation between belly fat and lowered levels of testosterone. Evidence developed over the past few years now shows that, while obesity does cause low testosterone, low testosterone causes obesity. A 2008 epidemiological study of 1,822 men by the New England Research Institutes (NERI) concluded that a man’s waist circumference is the single strongest predictor of low testosterone levels. And in women, studies have shown that in the presence of abdominal visceral obesity the usual low-level processes of androgen conversion seen in fat cells is turned off.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recommend Waist Measurements

Too much sitting may contribute to an increase in belly fat, which isn’t good for anyone although there may be slightly differing consequences by gender. For adult males, waist measurement should be 40 inches or less. Estimates are that more than half of adult males in the USA have a waist measurement greater than 40 inches. For adult females the measurement should be 35 inches or less. The majority of women between the ages of 50 and 79 are believed to have a waist measurement greater than 35 inches. Waist measurements are linked with many different conditions. A larger waist measurement has been found to increase one’s risk for type 2 diabetes, asthma, and some forms of heart disease and cancer. People with high amounts of belly fat are more than three times as likely to develop memory loss and dementia later in life.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sitting, Diabetes, and CAC

Are you sitting more than is good for you? Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, led by Jacquelyn Kulinski, MD, cardiologist, and colleagues the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, examined data from 2031 participants in the Dallas Heart Study ages 20 to 76. They found that:

·                 Sitting for too long doubles the risk of diabetes.
·                 Each hour of sedentary time was associated with a 10% increase of having coronary artery calcification as seen on CT imaging.
·                 Each added hour spent sitting was associated with a 14% increase in coronary artery calcium (CAC) score.

This seems to suggest that the health consequences of being too sedentary may differ from those of not getting enough physical exercise. That may speak to the potential benefit of having the option of a ‘standing desk’ at which to do at least portions of one’s computer work. According to Kuilinski, reducing one's daily sitting time by even 1 or 2 hours potentially could have a significant, positive impact on future cardiovascular health.   http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/841248.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Video Games Resources

Do you have a compulsion to play video games: Are you devoting too much time to this activity? Remember, that as with all other addictive-like behaviors, you may need help objectively determining this. If you are spending too much time playing video games (or playing games with content that may negatively impact your brain and your subsequent behaviors)—or know someone who is, you may want to check out this internet resource.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Video Games and Warning Signs

Most people who experience compulsions to play video games eventually show some addictive-like behaviors. What are some indicators that a person might be devoting too much time to playing video games? Common signs include:

. Forgetting to maintain personal hygiene such as bathing and teeth-brushing
. Cutting down on the amount of time spent sleeping
. Exhibiting frustration, hostility, or anger when something interferes with playing
. Attempting to hide the amount of time spent playing or lying about it
. Feeling or acting anxious, restless, and unsettled when not playing
. Failing to eat regular, balanced meals
. Neglecting important school, work, or family responsibilities

. Making excuses to avoid doing things with friends they used to enjoy 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Video Games - the Down Side

As the controversy regarding the benefits of playing video games continues, concerns continue about potentially negative consequences for excessive time devoted to playing. And because what goes into the brain does impact the individual, there are concerns about video games that involve violence and/or discrimination against others (race, gender, religion). With the perception of mirror neurons in the pre-frontal cortex—they fire as if the action being observed was being done by the person watching—there is also increasing concern related to content. A person caught in a compulsion to play video games may experience negative consequences both personally (relationships) and professionally (school or work). The physical downside can include symptoms of carpal tunnel, headaches, dry eyes, backaches, weight issues, and depression—to saying nothing of lack of appropriate physical exercise.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Video Games and Addictive-like Behaviors

As with foods and their addictive-like behaviors, the American Medical Association has not formally adopted a diagnosis of video game addiction or mental disorder. That doesn't mean a problem for some people does not exist. It is possible for individuals to develop a compulsion to play video games, which like other compulsions can escalate. As with many compulsions, this can interfere with living a balanced life and following through appropriately and consistently on responsibilities at school, work, and home.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Video Games Controversy

Last week my blogs related to Foods with addictive-like behaviors. That reminds me of the controversy regarding video games and their level of desirability or undesirability. There are many things to consider with video games and the controversy continues to rage. There can be benefits to playing video games such as enhancing eye-hand coordination, enjoying a hobby and play time, and building motor connections in the cerebellum. There can be negatives, too, related to the amount of time spent playing to the exclusion of other activities and connections that constitute a balanced life. The content of the video can be important, as well, with the perception about mirror neurons in the pre-frontal cortex: they fire as if the action was being done by the person watching. Companies who  create video games are releasing versions that are increasing complex, compelling, realistic, and you name it. All of this is designed to capture and hold the attention of those playing the games and, of course, to sell more games. But are they addictive-like? More tomorrow.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tend To Your Own Rat-Killing

The emerging research on foods with addictive-like behaviors reminds me of hearing my little French grandmother say, “Tend to your own rat-killing.” This phrase would pop out whenever she perceived someone was officiously pointing the proverbial finger of disapprobation about what someone else was choosing to do. In adulthood, I asked her about that phrase that had stuck in my memory and she remarked that ‘housekeeping begins at home.’ My brain's opinion is that emerging research could serve as a  sort of wake-up call to brains around the world who rather complacently think: "I have no addictive-like behaviors--it's all those other folks. How dreadful." My guess is that every brain has some type of addictive-like behavior: something it does to trigger the brain reward system and make the person feel better. After all, addictive-like behaviors are addictive-like behaviors be it tobacco, alcohol, street drugs, food, sex, gambling, pornography, or you name it; they all trigger the brain reward system, although they may differ in the type of undesirable consequences.  Before we get too vocal about what another brain is doing, it might be a good idea to check first on what our own brain is doing. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Foods as Addictive Substances

The American Medical Association does not yet have a specific diagnosis for “food addiction.” That may be going changing. Neal D. Barnard, M.D. wrote an interesting article about foods as addictive substances. Here is an excerpt: Recently conducted, but previously unpublicized studies suggest that cheese, chocolate, sugar, and meat all spark the release of opiate-like substances that trigger the brain’s pleasure center and seduce us into eating them again and again. Cheese is an especially interesting case. In our own research studies at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, we’ve noticed that participants moving to a vegetarian diet have a harder time giving up cheese than almost any other food. In fact, cheese’s popularity may have less to do with its meltability and mouth-feel and more to do with its addictive qualities.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Foods Least Likely to Trigger Addictive-like Behavior

Researchers at University of Michigan, using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, reported  foods they found least likely to trigger addictive-like behaviors. Here are twelve of those foods:

  1. Cucumbers
  2. Carrots
  3.  Beans (plain)
  4. Apples
  5. Brown Rice
  6. Broccoli
  7. Bananas
  8. Salmon
  9. Corn (plain)
  10. Strawberries
  11. Granola Bars
  12. Water

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More than Addictive-Like Behaviors

U of Michigan researchers, using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, found that top scoring foods with addictive-like behaviors included pizza, chocolate, and French fries. While these foods aren’t much of a surprise, the reasons (according to the researchers) are shocking and unexpected.

These foods tended to lead to physical discomfort and mental distress, plus addictive-like behavior. This distinctive trend pointed to processed foods—high in added sugars, fats, and composed of refined carbohydrates.

The high scoring foods on the list usually lead to high glycemic levels, meaning people’s blood sugar levels are likely to rise as a result of eating such foods. High glycemic spikes are not good for the brain!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Foods with Addictive-Like Behaviors

Studies have shown that some foods make you want to eat them over and over again. So what types of foods have addictive-like behaviors? According to Researchers at the University of Michigan, using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, here are the top dozen. Foods with Addictive Like Behaviors:
  1. Pizza
  2. Chocolate
  3. Chips
  4. Cookies
  5.  Ice Cream
  6. French Fries
  7. Cheese Burgers
  8. Sodas
  9. Cake
  10. Cheese
  11. Bacon
  12. Chicken


Friday, March 6, 2015

Yale Food Addiction Scale

University of Michigan researchers have investigated the way in which some foods can produce addictive-like behavior. Using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, they ranked foods from “most problematic” to “least problematic” in terms of producing addictive-like behavior. They plotted these foods on a scale of 1 (least) to 7 (most). Next week I’ll share with you information about some of the foods on their list.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Food as Addictive Substances

Can food really be addictive? I suppose it depends on your definition of “food.” Refined sugar, for example, is often thought of as ‘food’ because it is used so often in food (especially processed foods and desserts), but it can also be thought of as a chemical additive. Food addiction is not yet a recognized medical diagnosis—that may happen sooner than later—because some foods have been found to trigger the same brain reward system as do drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, gambling, and so on. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Genetic Links

Some wrote to ask about the research showing potential genetic links with several conditions, including Autism. This is the information I received: A new study recently published in the Lancet, reported that an international group of scientists have identified genetic links among several conditions including ADHD, autism, depression, manic-depression (bi-polar), and schizophrenia, which could help explain the reason that some of these diagnoses seem to cluster in families. Jordan W. Smoller, MD, ScD, a psychiatry professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, reportedly explained that the portions of the genome identified (that appeared to increase the risk for these five conditions) also seemed to be involved in how calcium channels operate in the brain, which impact how brain cells communicate. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hypothalamus and Eating

Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have done studies reinforcing that eating is controlled in the brain, directed by the lateral hypothalamus in particular. They have also identified specific cell populations within the Hypothalamus that appear to work like the gas pedal and the brake in a vehicle (to use that metaphor). For example: a group of LH GABAergic (Vgat-expressing) neurons enhances both appetitive and consummatory behaviors. When these neurons are inactivated, appetitive and consummatory behaviors decrease. Although these cell groups appear to live right next door to each other in the brain, each primarily appears to be responsible for one or the other of these behaviors (eating or not eating) but rarely both. This points out yet again the complexity of the brain.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Brain Eating Centers

Eating is controlled in the brain, of course. For more than half a century researchers have known that that basic motivated behaviors, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping, are controlled within the lateral hypothalamus, which is similar in all mammals. But have you ever wondered what part of the brain pushes you to eat or not to eat? Recent studies have shown that within the lateral hypothalamus (LH) there are distinct groups of cells, living right next door to each other, if you will. There is the Orexin cell population, the MCH, and the Vgat, to name a few. There are also the LH GABA activation cells and the LH GABA inhibition cells. The LH GABA activation cells push you to consume food and get a reward while the LH GABA inhibition cells encourage you not to consume. More tomorrow.