The novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 has been spreading quickly and infecting people so rapidly, that it is now formally a world-wide pandemic. Like other virus strains, it causes ailments ranging from the common cold to acute respiratory syndrome.
The goal shared by billions of people across the globe is to limit the infections. At the societal level, reducing physical interaction in normally busy hubs reduces transmission between people. Additionally, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself – by boosting your immunity.
The immune system
The immune system is the body’s defense complex, protecting against disease. It is comprised of a multi-level biological infrastructure designed to detect a broad range of pathogens, such as viruses, distinguishing them from the body’s healthy tissue. Once identified, the immune system works to neutralize these pathogens.
Building and sustaining a strong immune system is an ongoing endeavor; there is no silver bullet. Here are suggestions for boosting your immunity.
Foods rich in nutrients
Unsurprisingly, the same foods that will help you lose weight, feel healthy, and look great, are the ones that will help your body against toxic pathogens.
There is no single food or diet that has been shown to cure or prevent disease, but malnutrition can impair your ability to fight off illness and infection. By malnutrition, we are referring to a lack of vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients.
The best thing you can do to boost your immune system is to regularly consume copious amounts of produce. Fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of phytochemicals that are extremely beneficial in disease prevention.
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of carotenoids that boost the activity of the white blood cells called lymphocytes. If you can’t find fresh produce, opt for frozen, and even canned. In any case, make dark leafy greens a priority.
A word about garlic. As any food lover can test, garlic is tasty and healthy. Additionally, it possesses antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that garlic can inhibit some flu viruses. however, there is no evidence right now that garlic can help prevent the coronavirus.
Food with zinc
Zinc is a mineral with anti-viral properties. A laboratory study demonstrated its ability to inhibit the replication of coronaviruses such as COVID-19 in cells.
Furthermore, zinc can ameliorate symptoms and shorten the duration of respiratory tract infections including the common cold.
The recommended daily intake of zinc is 11mg for men, and 8mg for women (12mg if pregnant).
Food sources of zinc include:
- Meat – beef, pork (30-40% of the daily value (DV)
- Chicken (20% DV)
- Shellfish – oysters (200% DV) , crab (60%), mussels and shrimp (10-15%)
- Eggs (5% per egg)
- Milk (9% per cup) and cheese
- Potatoes (9% for a large potato)
- Cashews (15% per 1-ounce serving)
- Seeds – hemp (30%), pumpkin, and sesame seeds
- Legumes (12% )
- Avocado (12% per medium avocado)
What about supplements?
Supplements are being promoted like crazy by marketers hoping to make a quick buck from panicked consumers. When people are afraid, they they can easily be convinced that supplements prevent or treat disease.
When it comes to coronavirus (COVID-19) and other flu-like diseases, there is no proof that supplements actually work.
That being said, some supplement may have a limited benefit:
- Vitamin C
- Zinc lozenges (see above)
- Vitamin D
- Elderberry extract
- Garlic supplements
Vitamin C protects the immune system and helps to fight off infections. Vitamin C is most bioavailable when consumed from whole foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi, etc.
Zinc lozenges can reduce the severity and duration of colds caused by viruses. This means that even if you have contracted a virus such as COVID-19, there can be a mitigating effect on the respiratory disease that develops in the upper airway.
Vitamin D supplements can reduce the risk of a respiratory infection from flu-like viruses in people who start out deficient. There is no study pertaining to coronavirus, but if you are low on vitamin D levels despite eating foods with vitamin D, consider supplementing.
Hydrate with water
Drinking water throughout the day may help boost your immunity. Staying hydrated helps the body eliminate toxins naturally through urination. It helps the cells take in nutrients and remove waste.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Consumption of alcohol reduces the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Alcohol disrupts immune pathways thus impairing the body’s ability to defend against infection.
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to adverse immune-related health effects such as increased susceptibility to pneumonia and acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS).
Smoking slowly kills your lungs. Need we add more?
Regular exercise, even mild, has been shown to boost the immune system. You don’t need to do much more than take a 30-minute walk. A study conducted on elderly people who regularly exercised found that they had immune systems comparable to people decades younger than them
Sleep deprivation has a detrimental effect on the immune system. Our modern lifestyle has led to a decrease in quality sleep time, and it has been taking its toll on society. The exact mechanisms are an area of active investigation.
If you can add just one extra hour of sleep a night, your body will be better prepared to handle whatever is thrown at it the next day.
Pro tip: leave your phone and tablet devices out of the bedroom.
Find ways to de-stress
Just like sleep-deprivation, stress has become a hallmark of modern living. Stress compromises the effectiveness of the immune system. The negative emotional response to perceived stress leads to hormonal and other changes that weaken immune function.
While easier said than done, there are several things you can do to reduce stress. Some were mentioned above. Getting a good night’s sleep is extremely beneficial. So is exercise. Walking counts. If you can get out to a park or a place with green and trees, even better.
Hygiene is critical
We are all familiar with standard recommendations to prevent the spread of infection:
- regularly wash your hands. Do this with intention, spending at least 30 seconds fully lathering your digits and all the way up to your wrists.
- Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.
- Clean off dirty surfaces.
Social distancing and the need for human connections
If you don’t want to get infected, stay awy from infected people. This is hard to do when the incubation time of the coronavirus is up to 2 weeks. This means people don’t know they are carrying the virus, they are out in public, and infecting others.
This is why so many events have been canceled, why schools are closing, and why many people have started working from home.
While social distancing makes sense, it sure is great that we have digital social networks that help us feel close. Make sure to stay connected with friends, family, and loved ones. We humans are social animals.
Boosting immunity with the Fooducate app
In your Fooducate app settings, turn the “Boost my immune system” option on. Foods that you look up will include information about their contribution to improving immunity.
- Carr, et al – Vitamin C and Immune Function. – Nutrients, 2013
- Thomas, et al – Vitamin C and immunity: an assessment of the evidence. – Clin Exp Immunol. 1978
- Sharma, et al – Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview – Indian J Clin Biochem., 2013
- Velthuis, et al – Zn(2+) inhibits coronavirus and arterivirus RNA polymerase activity in vitro and zinc ionophores block the replication of these viruses in cell culture. – PLoS Pathog. 2010
- Aranow – Vitamin D and the immune system. – J Investig Med. 2011
- Wintergerst, et al – Immune-Enhancing Role of Vitamin C and Zinc and Effect on Clinical Conditions – Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2006
- Bnaventura, et a – Zinc and its role in immunity and inflammation – Autoimmunity Reviews, 2015
- Ried – Garlic Lowers Blood Pressure in Hypertensive Individuals, Regulates Serum Cholesterol, and Stimulates Immunity: An Updated Meta-analysis and Review – The Journal of Nutrition, 2016
- Tsai , et al – Antiviral properties of garlic: in vitro effects on influenza B, herpes simplex and coxsackie viruses – Planta Med 1985
- Sarkar, et al – Alcohol and the Immune System – Alcohol Research: Current Reviews (ARCR) , 2015
- Fernanded et al – Exercise, immunity, and aging – Aging Clinical and Experimental Research – Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 2014
- Bollinger, et al – Sleep, Immunity, and Circadian Clocks: A Mechanistic Model – Gerontology, 2010
- Cohen – Psychological Stress, Immunity, and Upper Respiratory Infections – Current Directions in Psychological Science – 1996
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The health benefits of drinking coffee never seem to end.
Measured by how much people spend on it, coffee is the most popular beverage in the world. In America, the amount of coffee consumed each day is greater than the combined total amount of teas, juices, and soft drinks.
Coffee, however, isn’t a guilty pleasure; it’s a superfood that reduces your risk of serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s, as well as a host of minor afflictions, including constipation and premature ejaculation.
Most important of all, it’s now clear that coffee drinkers are less likely to get cancer than people who drink other beverages, including tea.
Just to be clear, coffee can’t repair your DNA directly, so it’s in no way a cure for cancer. But scientists now know that coffee does reduce cellular damage, including mutations to your DNA that otherwise might lead to cancer.
For example, a meta-analysis of 500 academic papers conducted at UCLA found that coffee had a “strong and consistent protective association” with liver cancer and cancer of the uterus, and a “borderline protective” association with colorectal cancer.
Similarly, a study of 43,000 Norwegians found “a positive association between coffee drinking and risk of lung cancer.” Meanwhile, the Gifu University School of Medicine found coffee had “inhibitory effects on chemical carcinogenesis.”
The effect of coffee on each individual varies according to that person’s specific DNA. Because of this, there exist some unfortunate people in this world whose systems, sadly, can’t process caffeine and must therefore avoid coffee.
On the brighter side, though, some individuals are on the other end of the scale and thus receive outsize benefits. I suspect, or at least hope, that people who write online columns for business magazines fall into this category.
Walking, gardening, swimming, dancing and other leisurely activities may prevent brain shrinkage in older adults, a new study finds.
To examine the association between physical activity and brain aging, researchers from Columbia University assessed activity levels of older adults and analyzed the quality of their brains via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
They found that those who were more active had larger brain volumes than their inactive counterparts, indicating that physical activity may help to slow brain volume loss, said Dr. Yian Gu, study author and assistant professor of neurological sciences at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Shrinkage of the brain typically starts around the age of 60 or 70 years, slowing processing and cognitive functions.
“Our results add to the evidence that more physical activity is linked to larger brain volume in older people,” said Gu, speaking about the research she’s presenting at the American Academy of Neurology’s 72nd Annual Meeting in April.
“It also builds on evidence that moving your body more often throughout one’s life may protect against loss of brain volume.”
The activity level of more than 1,500 older adults with an average age of 74 was measured according to calories the researchers thought they burned by performing activities they self-reported engaging in within the last two weeks. They also measured the frequency, duration and intensity of the participants’ activities.
The activities were separated by three different categories: vigorous (aerobic dancing, jogging, playing handball), moderate (bicycling, swimming, hiking, playing tennis), and light (walking, dancing, calisthenics, golfing, bowling, gardening, horseback riding). Adults were then separated into three groups judging by people who had the least to the most activity.
MRI scans measured their brain volume and the volumes of their gray matter, white matter and white matter hyperintensity.
Gray matter of the brain is the cerebral cortex, which controls sensations and functions such as speech, thinking and memory. Beneath the cerebral cortex is the white matter, which coordinates communication between different brain regions. White matter hyperintensities are signs of damage to the white matter, which are common in older adults, according to a 2019 study.
Judging by the MRI scans, the adults who engaged in the highest levels of activity had 1.4% more total brain volume than those who were inactive, which was the equivalent of slowing brain aging by about four years, the report said.
“Brain volume is one marker of success, along with cognitive test performance and daily function,” said Dr. Richard Marottoli, medical director of the Dorothy Adler Geriatric Assessment Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who wasn’t part of the study.
One limitation of the study was that information on physical activity relied on a participant’s ability to remember how often and how long they were active. And the study found an association between activity and brain volume, but not a causal relationship.
“However, there’s no apparent downside to incorporating these activities in our daily routine until we have more definitive evidence, and there may be other benefits as well, such as cardiovascular health,” Marottoli said. “[The findings] add to an expanding body of evidence that a variety of things under our control may have beneficial effects on cognition.”
If larger brain volume is a result of activity, it could have generated from biological processes including growth of nervous tissue, anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise and strengthening of synaptic plasticity, which contributes to learning and memory, Gu said.
Brain shrinkage can stem from degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and diseases of the nervous system, which can result from multiple insults such as inflammation and oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, Gu said. Free radicals are unstable molecules from environmental sources such as cigarette smoke or pesticides that can damage the body’s cells.
Other causes of brain aging include stress, because of the high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol and brain injury induced by stroke events.
To foster brain health, Marotttoli said older adults can identify a mix of low, medium and high intensity activities they can safely enjoy and incorporate into their regular routine, increasing the likelihood they’ll be able to maintain them on a long-term basis.
In a recent study by the same authors, using the same study population, physical activity was associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
“Given the close relationship between brain atrophy and cognitive decline or dementia risk, it will be very interesting to formally test in future studies whether the protective role of physical activity on cognition or reducing dementia risk is indeed through slowing” undesirable changes of the brain such as shrinkage or pathological changes, Gu said.
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By Ashley Laderer
Leafy greens, fruits, and nuts are magnesium-rich foods. Westend61/Getty Images
Magnesium is a mineral that’s crucial for your body to function. It’s found throughout the body in bones, soft tissues, and cells, and plays a part in over 300 enzyme systems responsible for everything from controlling blood pressure, to synthesizing DNA, to generating energy for your body to function.
Since the mineral is responsible for so many bodily functions, a magnesium deficiency has the potential to be detrimental to your health. Here’s what you need to know.
Causes of magnesium deficiency
Magnesium deficiency is not common, but it does happen. It’s estimated that 2.5% to 15% of the general population have hypomagnesemia, aka low levels of magnesium in the blood. There a few possible causes of magnesium deficiency:
Long-term excessive alcohol consumption: Drinking can trigger your body to excrete more magnesium than normal.
Gastrointestinal diseases: Certain gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac disease or irritable bowel disease (IBD) result in chronic diarrhea and hinder the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Old age: According to a 2008 study published in Magnesium Research, aging itself is a risk factor for magnesium deficiency. In fact, people most at risk of magnesium are the elderly and people who are critically ill. As we age, the body has a harder time absorbing magnesium and other nutrients, due to changes in stomach acid. Older adults are also more likely to be taking medications that might interfere with magnesium absorption.
Type 2 Diabetes: Diabetes, particularly type 2, is a risk factor. People with type 2 have insulin resistance, which makes them more likely to pass excessive amounts of magnesium through their urine.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
According to Tyler Ladue, MD, a family medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health, symptoms of magnesium deficiency are as follows.
- Loss of appetite
Advanced magnesium deficiency:
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle contractions and cramps
- Personality changes
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Coronary spasms
According to Cleveland Clinic, the most common symptoms are fatigue, weakness, and nausea. Fatigue and weakness are due to the fact that magnesium is necessary for converting food into energy for the body to use.
Magnesium deficiency can also result in low levels of other minerals. “Severe magnesium deficiency can manifest as hypocalcemia [low levels of calcium in the blood] or hypokalemia [low levels of potassium in the blood] due to magnesium’s important role in mineral homeostasis or balance,” says Ladue.
However, a severe deficiency isn’t common, though insufficiency is very common. “Despite most individuals in the United States not getting their daily estimated average requirement of magnesium, the above symptoms are relatively uncommon in the general population with a balanced diet,” says Ladue.
How to treat a magnesium deficiency
Treating a magnesium deficiency is relatively easy since many foods are rich in magnesium. The National Institutes of Health recommend that men get 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily and women get 310 to 320 milligrams.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include:
- Leafy green vegetables (such as spinach or kale)
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts)
- Beans and legumes (black beans, kidney beans, edamame, peanuts)
- Fruits (avocados, bananas, apples)
- Fortified cereals (meaning vitamins and minerals have been added)
Of course, you can also take magnesium supplements, but it’s preferred to get nutrients straight from foods since food is packaged with complementary nutrients that can help you absorb magnesium better and that aren’t found in supplements.
If you’re considering a supplement, it’s also worth talking to your doctor or registered dietitian. Magnesium supplements come in different forms with varying absorption. Some of the most commonly sold forms are poorly absorbed and may cause unpleasant GI symptoms, like gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Ladue recommends asking your healthcare provider about your magnesium level if you’re at increased risk of magnesium deficiency. Additionally, if you’ve been experiencing the aforementioned symptoms and think a magnesium deficiency could be the culprit, head to your doctor for testing. Physicians can test for magnesium deficiency by measuring magnesium in your saliva, urine, blood plasma, or serum.
Leafy greens, fruits, and nuts are magnesium-rich foods. Westend61/Getty Images
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- February 09, 2020
If you’ve stepped outside at some point in the last few decades, you’ve probably noticed two things. One, we’re in the middle of an “obesity epidemic,” and two, we have entire aisles in our stores dedicated to weight loss products. But shouldn’t that second thing have nullified the first? Isn’t it kind of weird that this epidemic has grown right alongside the industry that claims to sell its cure? What if these products and plans aren’t merely wasting your money? What if they’re a cause?
An estimated 45 million of us go on a diet every year. We’ve covered before how losing weight and keeping it off is almost impossible with dieting alone. But there’s a theory that takes this idea much further. And the more you learn about it, the more it makes sense.
At Least One Study Says Dieting Is Actually The Problem
Let’s start with a 2015 study from the American Journal of Public Health. It claims that not only does dieting not work, but also that it may be a major cause of the so-called obesity epidemic. I know, it sounds nuts. Isn’t watching what you eat a good thing? How could people eating less and trying to be healthier cause them to gain weight? Wouldn’t this run contrary to decades of data we’ve been give in the form of “before” and “after” photos in dieting ads? “The person on the left is overweight and sad! The one on the right is clearly thin and happy! Checkmate.”
But if you know a little bit about the physiological effects of dieting — i.e. abruptly changing eating habits to drastically cut calories — this makes a scary amount of sense. When it comes down to it, dieting is a form of self-imposed famine. And when we’re starving, our bodies do some seriously intense stuff in response. Stuff that may keep you overweight forever.
Other Studies Back This Up
There’s a reason nobody seems to know anything about long-term weight loss, and why every year there’s a new diet fad that’s just the flip of the last one. (“Actually, you should only eat the bacon! It’s the bun that was bad!”) Most studies of food and nutrition are notoriously unreliable. They often get their data from self-reporting, which any fourth-grader who has “totally finished their homework” knows is questionable. But studying nutrition any other way would actually be pretty unethical. I mean, you can’t just lock people up and force them to eat exactly the way you want them to. Except in the best study we have, that’s pretty much exactly what they did.
The Minnesota Semi-Starvation Experiment was originally embarked upon to study how to re-feed starving people at the end of World War II, but its most compelling findings were about what happens to our bodies when we starve in the first place. The wartime desperation meant volunteers were happy to put up with constraints that under normal circumstances would result in the researchers involved getting called into the chief’s office to have their science badges taken away. And unlike most modern nutritional studies, this study used perfectly healthy men who had no history of attempting weight loss.
The men in the study were fed an average of 1,800 calories a day (more than many modern weight-loss diets suggest), and their reactions to this deprivation were telling. These formerly happy and healthy dudes experienced severe psychological problems, temper tantrums, violent outbursts, and an extreme obsession with food. They basically became hangry toddlers. And most importantly, even after the experiment was over, they experienced lifelong changes in desires and attitudes around food. Even when they were allowed to eat normal amounts, they had serious trouble following basic hunger cues, like figuring out when they were full, and reported frequent binge-eating. One man even compulsively broke the diet with a huge string of ice cream sundaes and malted milkshakes, and wound up having to be removed from the study.
It Turns Out That Dieting Can Really Mess You Up
So to break that down, the very caloric limit that we now see in modern-day diets like Noom, Jenny Craig, Medifast, and Nutrisystem made the men in that study way hungrier and way more likely to binge if given the chance. And it’s not just this experiment that tells us restriction leads to binging. Studies also show that eating disorders like binge eating are a physical response to starvation — even self-imposed starvation like dieting.
If you’re wondering whether this is a psychological or physical response, please remember that those are not separate things. Your brain is just another organ, and like all of your organs, it has built-in mechanisms to help you survive. Under the right circumstances, though, those very reflexes can work against you; ask any lifeguard how hard it is to save a drowning person who is thrashing around. That’s why dieting long-term can also mess with your metabolism, making it much harder to burn calories efficiently. Your body is trying to adjust to these mixed signals. “Are we starving? Or is there lots of readily available food around? It can’t be both!”
And while some people, like your cousin Deb who has been on and off Weight Watchers 15 times, will desperately disagree and say that [Insert Latest Diet Fad Here] saved their life, the scientific argument for rapid weight loss plans is very thin (sorry). Most studies that claim dieting works have some major flaws. They often define success within a short time frame, like under a year, even though most people who regain weight after diets do so in the two-to-five-year range. Oh, and they’re also usually based on self-reporting. How well do you think that works when people have been trained to credit the diet when they lose weight but blame themselves when they gain?
One of the largest databases of “successful” weight loss is the National Weight Control Registry, which you stay on even if you stop reporting your weight. So if you’ve regained weight and are ashamed to admit it, you’re still on that list as a skinny person. Those factors — along with small sample sizes, an inability to isolate specific factors, and other shortcomings — are in virtually every pro-diet study. If you want to pull back and see the real results, well, it’s not hard to find that data. Obesity rates are higher than ever. If any other industry had this kind of track record, the backlash would be massive. Would we keep buying fire extinguishers if it turned out that instead of putting out a blaze, they just made the flames invisible for a while?
Dieting Is To Blame For A Whole Lot Of Unhealthy Habits And Attitudes
For what seems like such an intractable problem, the obesity epidemic doesn’t actually go back that far. It started in the 1980s, and accelerated from there. There is no shortage of theories about what caused it, from a rise in sedentary hobbies and jobs (thanks, computers) to increased sugar consumption (thanks, lobbyists) to a shift toward fast food (thanks, chaotic work schedules). But the weight loss industry itself probably deserves a spot on that list.
The ’80s, after all, saw the rise of extreme fads like the Cabbage Soup diet. It’s hard to look back on people eating nothing but fruit for 10 days followed by bread and three cobs of buttered corn and think it was a good idea. It’s also easy to see the formation of a vicious cycle. Obesity starts rising, and along with it comes an extreme cultural fear of being overweight (think of Oprah’s enormous wheelbarrow of fat). But where you’d think this cultural obsession with weight loss would shift the tide (the way Americans drastically cut back on smoking thanks to awareness, legal restrictions, and stigma), the opposite happened.
Remember, these weight loss diets aren’t just unhealthy and ineffective. There’s an entire marketing-driven culture that comes along with it. Obese people declare their weight gain to be a personal moral failure, rather than trusting the overwhelming amount of research that says weight loss is not about motivation or willpower. If it was, a generation of sitcom fat jokes would have shamed everyone back into shape. Instead it turns out that stigma can cause physical effects, like spiking cortisol levels that can lead to a loss of self-control, binge-eating, and weight gain. It’s like if every time you thought of how much you hate spiders, a spider walked up and slapped you in the face. And then everyone around you said “Oh my god, she is not doing enough to avoid spiders.” And then more spiders showed up and everyone was suddenly drowning in spiders. I’ve lost the metaphor, but I think you get it.
So What Do We Do?
If scientists and dietitians agree that dieting can make obesity worse in the long term, how else can we solve the supposedly big problem of our big selves? How are we supposed to get to a healthy weight if we can’t diet?
If we were selling a diet plan, here’s where we’d hit you with the sales pitch, something like “Westerners need to learn the diet secret ancient tribes have known for centuries. You can kill hunger and burn fat with GUAVA ROOT EXTRACT GUMMIES (TM).” But this is one of those cases where any answer that’s simple is also wrong.
Continue Reading Below
Experts have been studying nutrition for decades, and humans have been eating food for millions of years, but the more we learn about the subject, the more complicated it gets. Even something that sounds simple, like calorie absorption, can fluctuate wildly depending on how a food is cooked, the length of our intestines, and even how we feel about what we’re eating.
So it’s ridiculous to suggest that eating nothing but cabbage for a month will undo all of the dozens of factors that got us here, from our genes to our hormones to habits that took a lifetime to cement. Our mental health, our sleep schedules, nonstop marketing of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat … it all ties in to an increase in hunger urges that, statistically, cannot be resisted by “pride” or “grit” or “willpower.” Telling an overweight person to “just stop eating” is like telling someone with bronchitis to “just stop coughing.” They can do it for a while, if they really concentrate. But eventually the body takes over.
Maybe we can start by building a culture of being healthy versus just looking healthy. Many a coke addict has had co-workers tell them they look fantastic because they dropped 40 pounds in two months. Our health is impacted by our environment, how much money we have, our mental health, how socially isolated we are, and even the buildings we spend time in. Some people live to 104 by drinking Dr. Pepper, while others get cancer in their 20s. Excess weight is just one component, and is often just a symptom of what’s really wrong.
That’s part of the point of movements like Health At Every Size. Instead of setting goals around making your body conform to beauty standards, find healthier habits that you can stick with for the rest of your life. It means realizing you have to find healthy foods and activities that you actually want to do, versus bitterly complying out of fear of ridicule. And maybe most of all, it means realizing that the weight gain/loss cycle will never be broken by the industry that profits from that cycle.
New Canadian research has found that eating less than three portions of fruit and vegetables per day appears to be linked to a higher risk of having an anxiety disorder.
Led by researchers from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, the new study looked at data gathered from 26,991 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85 taking part in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.
From the data, the researchers found that participants who ate less than three portions of fruit and veg per day had at least a 24 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
The findings, which are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, also showed that as a participant’s levels of total body fat increased past 36 percent, the likelihood of anxiety disorder increased by more than 70 percent, which the researchers say could be partly explained by the lack of fruit and vegetables in the diet.
“Increased body fat may be linked to greater inflammation. Emerging research suggests that some anxiety disorders can be linked to inflammation,” explained lead author Karen Davison.
The researchers also found that in addition to diet and measures of body fat, the rate of anxiety disorders among the participants also appeared to be linked to gender, marital status, income, immigrant status and several health issues. While one in nine women had an anxiety disorder, just one in 15 men had been diagnosed with anxiety; 13.9 percent of participants who had always been single had been diagnosed with a disorder compared to 7.8 percent of those who lived with a partner; rates of anxiety were almost double among those with household incomes under $20,000 per year compared to wealthier participants; rates of anxiety among those with three or more health conditions was 16.4 percent compared to 3 percent among those with no chronic conditions; and 6.4 percent of immigrants to Canada had anxiety disorders compared to the 9.3 percent of participants born in Canada.
The results were unsurprising for the researchers, with previous researchers suggesting that women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders than men, while factors such as poverty and chronic pain can be stressful and anxiety-producing situations to be in.
“It is estimated that 10 percent of the global population will suffer from anxiety disorders which are a leading cause of disability” says Davison “Our findings suggest that comprehensive approaches that target health behaviors, including diet, as well as social factors, such as economic status, may help to minimize the burden of anxiety disorders among middle-aged and older adults, including immigrants.”
Swapping out sugar for Splenda triggers a strange, potentially dangerous effect on the body if the swap is paired with food high in carbohydrates, suggests new research.
It turns out artificial sweeteners and carbs — when consumed together — trip up the brain and mess with metabolism. These effects can lead to insulin intolerance, diabetes, and weight gain. This research suggests that downing a diet soda isn’t so bad for you if consumed alone. What could be bad for health is when the drink comes with a side of fries.
“If you’re going to have a diet drink, don’t have it with French fries,” co-author Dana Small, a researcher at Yale University, tells Inverse. “Have the diet drink by itself and if you’re going to have a diet drink, give an hour on either side and it should be fine, at least in small quantities.”
The study was published Tuesday in the journal Cell Metabolism.
This research also posits that, if you’re on a sugar detox or aim to skip sugar-related calories, artificial sweeteners may not help as much as you think. Anytime you increase the sweetness of anything and it’s not actual sugar, it could have a negative impact, Small says.
“The finding that we saw could be the TIP OF THE ICEBERG in the sense that there are many, many things where the sensory properties and the energetic properties are mismatched or combined and created and processed, unlike anything in the natural food environment,” Small explains.
Small and her team recruited a group of 45 healthy young adults who didn’t regularly consume artificial sweeteners. All of the participants maintained a healthy weight and showed no signs of metabolic dysfunction.
The participants were randomly assigned into three groups and, over the course of a two week period, visited Small’s lab 13 times. By the end of the study, each participant drank seven fruit-flavored beverages mixed by the researchers.
One group drank beverages sweetened with the artificial sweetener SUCRALOSE (zero-calories, 0.06 grams of sucralose adding up to about two packets of Splenda). Sucralose goes by the brand name Splenda and is one of the most common artificial sweeteners. It’s 600 times sweeter than table sugar, the FDA says, and has been on the market since 1998.
Sucralose goes by the brand name Splenda. Other popular artificial sweeteners, such as Equal (pictured), contain aspartame.Mike Mozart
Another group drank beverages with regular table sugar (120 calories, 30.38 grams of sugar) and, as a control, the final group consumed drinks including both an artificial sweetener and added carbs — a non-sweet substance called maltodextrin (120 calories, 31.83 grams of maltodextrin). Each drink was the size of a typical soda can (355 milliliters or about 12 ounces).
Before and after they downed their drinks, the participants went through a barrage of tests measuring brain activity, taste perception, and metabolic function. The scientists also used functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanning to look at how the participant’s brains responded to sweet, savory, salty and sour tastes. The researchers also documented the group’s taste perception and did an oral glucose tolerance test to look at insulin sensitivity.
At the start of the study, the researchers wanted to test the “uncoupling hypothesis.” This hypothesis works off the idea that we’ve evolved to have a special relationship with sugar: We want sweet food, like fruit, because sweet food gives us energy. But when we consume something that is sweet that doesn’t contain calories — like artificial sweetener — the body becomes consumed. The taste is there, but the calories that give us energy are not.
In this case sweetness, Small explains, “is no longer a useful clue.” According to the hypothesis, this confusion causes the body to stop producing insulin and metabolizing sugar — which it normally would if the sweetness was paired with calories. This can lead to metabolic dysfunction and weight gain.
But Small’s results DISPROVE this theory: If the uncoupling hypothesis were correct, the group who drank artificially-sweetened drinks would have experienced negative brain and metabolic changes.
That didn’t happen: Only the group that drank the carb-artificial sweetener combo showed changes in the brain’s response to sweet taste and impaired insulin sensitivity or sugar metabolism. This result shocked the researchers so much, that they conducted an additional test where participants drank beverages with the added carbs (maltodextrin) only.
On their own, sucralose, sugar, or carb-heavy drinks didn’t seem to have negative metabolic and neurologic effects. Only the artificial sweetener-carbohydrate mixture disrupted the brain’s sugar response and kicked off downstream metabolic changes.
The sweetener-carbo group participants’ brains also showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain linked to regulating metabolism and processing rewards. These participants also because slightly insensitive to insulin.
Taken together, the results suggest carbs and sucralose work together TO CONFUSE THE BRAIN and set off a cascade of miscommunication through the body.
Since the brain’s response to sugar is “blunted” the body can’t metabolize sugar properly. In turn, if this blunting effect happens regularly, it can make it difficult for the brain and body to recognize sugar and respond appropriately.
Small describes this as a “circuit change.” This neural circuit change is adaptive in the sense that the body’s trying to understand how to process nutrients, but it is getting inaccurate signals, Small says. Whether the brain would eventually be able to self-correct isn’t clear, since the study was only for two weeks.
RETHINKING ARTIFICIAL SUGAR
While no one in this study was at risk of becoming diabetic, the results do suggest that people who habitually eat or drink artificial sweeteners with a side of carbs may have a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes or becoming obese, Small explains.
Whether other common artificial sweeteners — from aspartame to stevia — could also ignite this disruptive effect when paired with carbs isn’t known, but Small predicts research will reveal similar results.
Artificial sweeteners, Small points out, aren’t necessarily used by food and drink companies because they are trying to make “diet” products — it’s because they’re artificial sweeteners are less expensive than sugar. In turn, her research suggests it’s time to rethink how healthy a “diet” version of a product (containing artificial sweeteners) is compared to foods and drinks that contain actual sugar.
To be the healthiest you can be, Small advises you avoid process foods and eat naturally. But if you’re in the mood for a treat, pair your pizza slice with a sugary drink like a Sprite — and not a Diet Coke.
Abstract: There is a general consensus that overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to the prevalence of obesity and related comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes (T2D). Whether a similar relationship exists for no- or low-calorie ‘‘diet’’ drinks is a subject of intensive debate and controversy. Here, we demonstrate that consuming seven sucralose- sweetened beverages with, but not without, a carbohydrate over 10 days decreases insulin sensitivity in healthy human participants, an effect that correlates with reductions in midbrain, insular, and cingulate responses to sweet, but not sour, salty, or savory, taste as assessed with fMRI. Taste perception was unaltered and consuming the carbohydrate alone had no effect. These findings indicate that consumption of sucralose in the presence of a carbohydrate rapidly impairs glucose metabolism and results in longer-term decreases in brain, but not perceptual sensitivity to sweet taste, suggesting dysregulation of gut-brain control of glucose metabolism.