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Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Predictors of Cognitive Decline

New Predictors of Cognitive Decline


By Larissa Long

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.2 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease. As the population of older Americans continues to grow, this number is estimated to reach over seven million in 2025. Jump ahead to the year 2050, and we’re looking at a staggering prediction: Barring the discovery of a cure, almost 14 million will be afflicted with this insidious form of dementia.

Unfortunately, finding a cure for dementias has proven to be quite elusive. Hopefully increased funding in this area will greatly fuel these efforts in the years to come.1
In the meantime, prevention is your best defense—and new findings have revealed a fascinating connection between heart disease risk factors and dementia. In this study out of France, researchers determined that the tools used to calculate the risk of heart disease and stroke can also predict the future decline of cognition and memory.2

The Brain-Heart Connection

Researchers compared two different risk calculators: the Framingham general cardiovascular/stroke risk score and the cardiovascular risk factors, aging and dementia risk score (CAIDE), which estimates the risk of late-life dementia using midlife risk factors.

Using male and female participants (mean age 55.6), researchers also conducted cognitive tests three times over a 10-year period that included reasoning, memory, verbal fluency, vocabulary, and global cognition.

Interestingly, the researchers found that, compared to CAIDE, the Framingham cardiovascular and stroke risk scores showed “slightly stronger associations with 10-year cognitive decline.”

They concluded, “The CAIDE dementia and Framingham risk scores predict cognitive decline in late middle age, but the Framingham risk scores may have an advantage over the dementia risk score for use in primary prevention for assessing risk or cognitive decline and targeting of modifiable risk factors.”
If you’re concerned about cognitive decline, talk to your doctor about assessing your risk using these calculators.

Boost Your Brain Power

Whether or not you’re deemed high-risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, acting now to support healthy brain function can go a long way in preventing problems down the road.

Many nutrients have been studied for their ability to support cognitive health. Here are just a few of the well-researched options to keep your brain working at its peak:

B vitamins—In one study, 274 people (aged 65-79) who had normal cognition were assessed for serum levels of folate and holotranscobalamin (the biologically active fraction of vitamin B12). After seven years, the scientists reevaluated these people for various levels of cognitive performance. They found that higher levels of these two B vitamins were associated with enhanced performance in key cognitive tests.3

Choline—Choline is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Loss of neurons that utilize acetylcholine is associated with reduced memory and cognition. In a study of 1,391 adults between 36 and 83 years of age, researchers found that higher choline intake was linked to enhanced performance in verbal and visual memory.4

Chromium picolinate—Research suggests that this trace mineral is important for maintaining cognitive function in older adults. In one study, participants receiving chromium showed improvement in learning, recall and recognition memory tasks. In addition, functional magnetic resonance imaging indicated that the chromium users had increased activation in specific areas of the brain, as compared to placebo.5

Curcumin—The principle component in the spice turmeric, curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and it prevents accumulation of alpha-synuclein, a protein expressed primarily in the brain that induces the formation of microtubule-associated protein tau. When tau proteins are defective or don’t do their job effectively, it can increase your risk for dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.6

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)—In one study, rats were treated with the neurotoxin aluminum, which caused poor retention of memory, oxidative damage in the brain and increased acetylcholinesterase activity. (Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain that plays a key role in memory, learning and other brain functions.) However, pretreating the rats with NAC resulted in significantly improved memory retention, decreased oxidative damage and reduced acetylcholinesterase activity.7

Finally, exercise—both physical and mental—also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in older adults. If you don’t get regular physical exercise, start by going for regular walks or bike rides, and slowly add strength or resistance training to your routine. Or join a gym and commit to going most days of the week.

In addition, flex your mental muscle by incorporating crossword puzzles, word finds, Sudoku and other brain-challenging activities into your day.


  1. www.rollcall.com/news/alzheimers_advocates_fight_for_piece_of_research_pie-230626-1.html.
  2. Kaffashian S, et al. Neurology. 2013 Apr 2;80(14):1300-6.
  3. Hooshmand B, et al. J Intern Med. 2012 Feb;271(2):204-12. 
  4. Poly C, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Dec;94(6):1584-91.
  5. Krikorian R, et al. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Jun;13(3):116-22.
  6. Ahmad B, et al. J Biol Chem. 2012;12:9193-9.
  7. Prakash A and Kumar A. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009 Aug;105(2):98-104.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Truth About Caffeine: Why We Know So Little About Our Favorite Drug

  Personal Health  


Caffeine has a stronger hold on us than we realize, says author Murray Carpenter.

Photo Credit: racorn / Shutterstock.com


In a culture where we worry about unregulated chemicals and food additives, it’s shocking how little we know about one of the most common ones: caffeine. We spend a lot more time consuming the drug than we do thinking about it, says author Murray Carpenter. Meanwhile, none of the companies peddling it have been willing to talk about it. And the FDA, up until very recently, has been remiss in not regulating it.

“It is a topic that many of us feel we know a lot about,” Carpenter said. “But the more I got into it I found out that a lot surprised me.” What he found was a mixed picture: Caffeine isn’t all bad, but it certainly isn’t all good, either. And the information we need to maintain a healthy relationship with it is, for a large part, inaccessible to us.

I was several coffees in when I reached Carpenter to talk about his new book, “Caffeinated,” which delves into the history, science and industry interests surrounding the mind-sharpening white powder. As befits two addicts talking about their shared addiction, things got a bit confessional. As such, this interview has been edited for length, clarity and personal details.

Is caffeine just another drug? Is it something that people are forming real addictions to? And if not, how do we distinguish it from something that is completely unregulated or, say, bought on the street?

Well, yes to your first question. It is just another drug. It’s been well-established for over a century that people know it’s a drug that has very predictable effects when you take it.

In terms of addiction, it’s really fraught, of course. It is certainly addictive in the sense that it has a number of characteristics that we associate with addictive drugs. You crave it, develop a tolerance to it, and certainly most people who are at least moderate to heavy users will undergo some withdrawal symptoms on ceasing its use. These are qualities that we associate with addictive drugs. There are some people who, of course, argue that without some kind of really negative social connotations, a drug doesn’t really deserve the term “addiction.” So some people like to call it a “mildly addictive” drug. This is to say people aren’t missing work because they’re jonesing for caffeine or holding up a bank or ruining their family relationships because they’re addicted to caffeine.

There are also some people who — and this is another characteristic of addictive drugs — either want to moderate or eliminate their consumption of caffeine for various reasons who have a hard time doing it.

Yeah, I’ve been there.

Right, I think a lot of people have. So why did you try to quit? Was it for pregnancy, for fun or for sleep?

No. I’ve just gotten to the point where I’ll get a headache if I don’t start my day with a cup of coffee, which makes me think it can’t be healthy.

So did you quit cold turkey?

I’ve never quit cold turkey. No.

Yeah, OK. But have you gone down to zero?

Not since I really became a daily coffee drinker. I can’t. 

And, you know, this is really interesting. This is one of the things. I think you’re aware of this, but I think for a lot of people, it’s almost like wallpaper. Not just physically in our brains and in our bodies, but the habit is so reflexive that people just tend to take their coffee every day. A lot of people who don’t think about it very much don’t remember the last time they didn’t have a cup of coffee. I’ve certainly talked to people who have for decades not skipped their coffee and still don’t think caffeine is a particularly big deal to them.

You will hear this common perception, though, that it’s an unhealthy habit. And as you write, there is some evidence to the contrary …

You’re dialing in on it. All these questions are really great because I think a lot of us have this sense of unease. Well, we love coffee or we love caffeine, but we feel like, “Hey, maybe it’s not good for us.” So the question everyone wants to know is, what’s the verdict? Is it good for me or is it bad for me?

I think the simplest answer — and this is what you were getting toward, right? — the simplest answer is if you’re not pregnant or expecting or hoping to become pregnant, and you don’t have trouble with insomnia or anxiety, and you’re happy with your caffeine use, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that it’s going to shorten your life or make you less healthy. And, of course, then there are some things that suggest, specifically, that caffeinated coffee — and this is distinct from caffeine — may even have some beneficial health effects.

Is coffee even our main source of caffeine anymore?

It is. We’re taking more caffeinated soft drinks, by volume, and we’re spending more on them. But coffee remains the primary source of caffeine in our diet, by far and away, actually.

So it’s the rise of other foods and drinks being injected with caffeine that’s getting the FDA’s attention, and making people start to rethink things. Things like caffeinated gum … I think I even saw a caffeinated body spray once.

I’ve got that here on my desk. And you’re a caffeine user, so you would appreciate how unappealing this thing is. Right here in the brochure, it talks about how weak it is: “If you still don’t really get the boost you want, you may have just developed a high tolerance to caffeine, in which case we suggest abstaining from other caffeinated products for a week and tryingSprayable again.” Like, oh great, thanks, guys.

Yeah, that wouldn’t do anything for me. 

No. But in the event I quit for a week, I will try this Sprayable stuff.

Anyway, what FDA is concerned about is the new energy products that are appearing in many different forms. It was Wrigley Gum that was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, even though there is nothing particularly new about caffeinated gum. As the FDA explained it to me, one of the biggest, most well-known corporations in the U.S. is putting out a caffeinated gum, it’s sort of time to say, “Whoa! Let’s take a better look at this.”

One of the things that surprised me in your book was how little we know about products’ caffeine content, and how much the content can vary. Is that going to be hard for the FDA to quantify?

Yes and no. This is something I’m absolutely fascinated with. I spent a lot of time talking to people about this, trying to get a sense of how well people understand how much caffeine they use and take. So the opportunity for FDA and the manufacturers of all these different products is anything to which you add caffeine, in which case it’s precisely calibrated. So it’s no trouble at all to say, “This product contains X milligrams of caffeine.” And I think whatever else the FDA is able to do to corral caffeine — and I think the options are sort of limited at this point — really strong, quantitative mandatory labeling would be a really great first step.

Of course, tea and coffee present other problems. But for the products to which you’re adding caffeine, why not just state it upfront? “Here’s how much you have. Here’s how much is in here.” They do it for energy products in Canada.

Why don’t they do that now? Is it just because they don’t have to?

Yeah, they don’t have to. And to be clear, some companies are just starting to and some companies always have. Red Bull always has labeled the precise amount of caffeine that they have. And the larger soft drink bottlers have over the past few years started to voluntarily label the amount — the quantity — of caffeine. So Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Snapple — those products — you can see it. It’s typically small and it’s in the nutrition label section, so it’s not ideal. I think a lot of parents, if they get their kid a Sunkist, they have no idea it has caffeine in it. But still it’s heading in the right direction. But I think bigger labels with the quantity would be a great first step.

So would helping people understand what those amounts mean. I got the impression that people don’t really have a good sense of what a standard measurement of caffeine is.

Right. As opposed to a unit of alcohol or something, we don’t. That’s why I came up with this term, a “SCAD” (standard caffeine dose). I don’t know if that will stick or anything, but I’m hoping that it’s something that gets people thinking that it would be helpful to have some kind of measuring stick. A more easily understandable way to quantify a dose.

In products that naturally contain caffeine, it’s a lot harder. You wrote about the person who went to Starbucks and measured the caffeine in the same cup of coffee every day, and it varied wildly — like the difference between a glass of wine and two shots of hard alcohol. Is there any way of standardizing that?

I think it’s hard. I think it’s really, really hard. Again, the best way to do it, if you’re making your own coffee, is to stick to the same blend, use approximately the same measurement and drink the same amount. It’s going to help, but growing conditions, roasting conditions, different things can influence the coffee caffeine levels. It’s a natural product.

So, interestingly, one of the things I hadn’t really thought about before I started reporting this book is if you really want to precisely calibrate your caffeine, one of the best ways to do it is to use a soft drink that has the amount precisely marked. One of the attributes of soft drinks is you can see, for example with Coke or Diet Coke, how much caffeine you’re consuming in that product.

Why do you think people aren’t more riled up about caffeine, and the way in which it’s so unregulated?

I guess I have a couple of thoughts on that. One is, of course — and the word denial is probably too strong — but we all are conflicted about it, because the vast majority of us are taking this drug every day. So it’s already there in another category. If we were choosing, for example, to take some GMO product every day, I think we might be less up in arms about GMOs.

That’s one thought, and I think the other thing is that certainly the industry plays a role here. The industry — the coffee industry and the soft drink industry — have consistently downplayed the importance of caffeine in terms of the marketing and sales of their products.

How have they gone about doing that?

Well, I think the big tactic is just to ignore it, and when it comes up to simply say, “Caffeine’s safe. It’s been studied for a long time. Move along. Nothing to see here.” And I really don’t blame them, because it’s a tough conversation to have. But early in my reporting I approached both Coca-Cola and Starbucks as the exemplars of caffeine culture in the U.S. and said, “I’m not on deadline, I’d love to have a conversation face to face with someone about caffeine.” Neither of them would do it.

So before the FDA can get involved, it seems like there’s still a lot they need to investigate and understand. What are some of the big things they need to look into?

Great question. You probably know they had this workshop at the Institute of Medicine last summer, and they came up with an executive summary recently. One of the big ones, with the energy products, is: What are the effects of the other, noncaffeine ingredients? They often have advertised very conspicuously taurine, B vitamins and amino acids, etc. So what is the effect of all of these ingredients, either additively or synergistically?

Another question is: How are these products being marketed to different populations? And what effect do they have on vulnerable populations, like children or pregnant or nursing mothers? What kind of physiologic responses can they have in naive users — people who aren’t used to using caffeine? There’s a lot of research to be done, believe it or not, on cardiovascular effects still, and some people are concerned particularly that there may be some people who have a particular genetic susceptibility to caffeine-related heart problems.

Are you confident that the FDA is going to be able to address these things, or be able to bring serious regulations into effect? Is it possible that there’s just too much to catch up with?

I think they’ve got a very full plate at this point. They’ve got a lot to catch up with. I think it will be a slow, deliberative process and I wouldn’t want to predict what the outcome would be. But I’d say the FDA’s got a lot on its plate.

You know, caffeine is a product that presents challenges unlike anything else, because it is a drug and we all are taking it daily, so it’s automatically in just a whole different category than anything else the FDA has to deal with. One of the really interesting things in terms of regulation that did surprise me in the process of reporting the book is how many of these same questions that the FDA is asking right now came up 100 years ago in the Chattanooga Trial in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Back when there was a whole lot more caffeine in soda.

Right. It was almost exactly like a Red Bull is today. And the questions are the same. Are the effects of caffeine different when you add them to a product such as Coca-Cola — which they were doing — versus when you drink it in coffee? Should we be more protective of children? And what is the role of the federal government in regulating this? It’s really remarkable how the parallels are there 100 years later.

And we still haven’t figured any of those things out. 

Yeah, it’s true. In the interim there has been some great research. Knowing what we know now with a lot more specificity about how caffeine affects us — for most of us, it’s probably not going to kill you, and it might even be beneficial. But a lot of those questions still linger today.

Another question we now have to contend with is chemically synthesized caffeine: How concerned should we be about that? 

There’s an interesting question, and it’s also on the FDA’s plate. Now I don’t know if you’ve been following this, but FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg just got back from India and she had a press conference. A big initiative is to try to ramp up inspections on overseas pharmaceutical plants. And it’s no secret that the FDA has been way behind on this for a long time. They’re underfunded and they’re scrambling to keep up with some of these pharmaceutical plants. And it’s not just caffeine. The pharmaceutical industry has to a large extent been offshore.

So, I’ll answer your question two ways. One, synthetic caffeine versus natural caffeine, chemically, should be exactly identical. You could do stable isotope analysis or carbon dating to distinguish between the two, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that physiologically they would have any different effect on you. If one has some impurities or the other has some impurities that would be in effect. But other than that, no. What little I saw of the Chinese caffeine industry I would say, maybe consumers don’t have as much assurance that their caffeine is coming from a clean plant as it might if it was made in the U.S.

So how about you? Did you try to quit while writing the book?

I did. I did. I quit. I was writing a chapter on withdrawal and I thought, “God, this sounds horrible. Can it really be this bad?” So I tapered and went down to zero and I didn’t really like it very much and I ramped back up. So, yeah. I did it.

Yeah, but you don’t recommend it, huh?

Not unless you have a great reason to do it. I do think I’ll do it again. One of the cool things about quitting is that you do pretty quickly reset your baseline. So from zero, a Coke or a Pepsi feels pretty great. A small amount of caffeine.

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why It's Impossible to Create a Top 10 List of the Most Neurotoxic Man-Made Chemicals

  Personal Health  

Toxins are hard to classify, harder to regulate, and even harder to remove from the products we consume.

Classifying human neurotoxins can be tricky. While laboratory research has identified more than 1,000 chemicals to be animal neurotoxins, the known list for humans is small by comparison. Only 214 chemicals have been classified as human neurotoxins, and only 12 have been identified as impacting fetal and child development. 

So why is it that only a fifth of the known animal neurotoxins are identified as posing risks to humans? Even more worrisome, why are only 1% identified as hazardous to infants and fetuses? The reason lies in the ethical and practical considerations of scientific research: You can't study toxicity on humans by feeding people arsenic and comparing their levels of brain damage with a control group. So no authoritative top 10 list of the deadliest neurotoxins is possible. We're in the dark. 

Still, a new study out of Denmark argues that while human neurotoxins can be clearly identified when people who are exposed to them later become ill, it's not so easy to show whether or not small amounts of chemical exposure may have impacts on developing fetuses and infants, and what those affects may be. Or as David P. Rall, the former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, who is quoted in the study, says: “If thalidomide had caused a ten-point loss of intelligence quotient (IQ) instead of obvious birth defects of the limbs, it would probably still be on the market."

So, the study points out, we often do not know which chemicals can cause lost IQ points or other developmental problems in children. However, research has identified more developmental neurotoxicants in recent years — doubling the list since 2006 — as scientists do what are called “epidemiological birth cohort studies.”

These studies examine exposure levels of chemicals to fetuses and infants, while comparing growth and development of the children over time. This helps show the chemicals that may cause problems, but the method is not perfect. As individuals, we're all exposed to our own unique cocktail of potentially toxic chemicals over time, and how they may impact us may vary based on many factors.

Still, it can also be assumed the more comprehensive lists of known animal and human neurotoxins will likely have impacts to fetuses. And prenatal exposure to many of these chemicals is common, at least at low levels; more than 200 foreign chemicals have been identified in umbilical cord blood.

Moreover, the study notes that known human neurotoxins are not at all rare: About half are widely used and disseminated around the world, and they include pesticides, organic solvents, metals, and other compounds.

Even if developmental toxicity can be measured in lost IQ points during childhood, the researchers also question impacts of chemicals later in life. Could in-utero exposure increase the chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia? And if the effects do not show up until a person’s sixth or seventh decade, will we continue to expose future generations to chemicals until we can confirm their toxicity decades from now? 

Questions like these motivate Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center. His organization's research website, HealthyStuff.org tests common consumer products and then reports the results to consumers—but also works with manufacturers to make products safer in the future.

Gearhart says the chemicals listed in the Danish study are the ones commonly identified as neurotoxins, but says there is a larger universe of chemicals used in consumer products that might pose health risks. So while we all have the common understanding that lead should not be used in consumer products, there is a considerable amount of concern about many of the chemicals used in common products, particularly in plastics.

Yet Gearhart still finds well-known neurotoxins like lead in the consumer products he tests. He notes that while we still had a significant problem with lead in toys only a decade ago, it took public outrage and federal regulations like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to greatly reduce the number of toys with lead in them. Today, says Gearhart, only 2-3% of products they test have lead in them, a significant reduction.

But the products Gearhart still finds lead in may surprise you. His organization recently found lead in a pair of infant shoes, and found dangerous levels of lead, other toxic metals and toxic flame retardants in Mardis Gras beads.

In these enlightened times, how is it that we're still finding lead in common consumer products? Gearhart says chunks of waste electronics, which contain hazardous compounds, are being recycled, shredded and finding their way back into consumer products. In Mardis Gras beads, this toxic recycled material is used as filler.

When lead and other chemicals pop up in seemingly random ways like this, danger could lurk around any corner—or in any product. So what's the fix for this problem? Gearhart calls for a systemic approach to fix our problems.
“Our public policy on how we regulate chemicals in our material economy is not proactive,” says Gearhart, so we should come to expect lead to show up in seemingly random places. “We don't have a comprehensive way to have public policy around chemistries going into commerce. As a result, why should you be surprised about things popping up where they shouldn't be?”

“We have the right tools in place, we can actually change things. But the key thing is that we have to bring that systems approach to that," says Gearhart.

The current status quo is to react to chemicals in products when they're identified to be hazardous. For example, BPA (bisphenol A), a compound found in plastic bottles was found toxic, many manufacturers switched to a different "safer" plastic, Tritan, now suspected of posing health risks. Gearhart says were "jumping from one hazard into another."

Gearhart is proposing a systemic approach to thoroughly test chemicals before using them in consumer products. He believes that this would give the most protection to consumers.

Even pesticides, compounds created solely for their toxic properties, are not thoroughly tested before commercial use as they should. There are legal loopholes in place that allow for them to be tested after they're put on the market. 

Most other chemicals are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. But the TSCA, which is four decades old, grandfathers in the chemicals on the market before its implementation, and gives the government very little leeway to stop new chemicals from entering the market or removing them after they're already there.

Gearhart works directly with retailers and manufacturers to put safer products on the market and has found success using this approach.

“It's leap-frogging where we are in terms of policy,” Gearhart says. Companies are evolving from a chemical-by-chemical approach to product safety and are now using a systems-oriented approach. For example, a company is using flammable polyurethane foam in a product that requires them to use a chemical flame retardant, they might consider using a less flammable alternative to polyurethane to avoid the need for flame retardants. 

But Gearhart admits that appealing to retailers and manufacturers has its limits. “We've got to have the policy piece in place to make the whole market change, particularly the international component,” he says.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

New Study: Eating Meat Could Be as Harmful as Smoking


It's time to kick the high-protein habit!

Photo Credit: racorn/Shutterstock.com
Whenever I order a veggie burger, the question comes up. A member of the group will lean over between tearing meaty chunks out of their double-beef special, and make a concerted effort to feign benevolent interest as they ask: "So, you're a vegetarian, are you? Is that because you prefer it or for, well, ethical reasons?"

Here, the questioner is offering the questioned a polite way out. It is phrased so you can apologetically gesticulate towards your halloumi and mutter something self-deprecating about a weak stomach and a delicate constitution. You can chow down quietly on your balls of fried falafel and then scuttle off with your quiet personal views about factory farm conditions, global warming and antibiotic overuse like someone who secretly believes in a particularly suspect 9/11 conspiracy theory. Either that or you can admit that your food choices are, yes, "technically for ethical reasons", and then endure the 212th exhaustive conversation about exactly why you stick to them. Inevitably, this will end up with some well-informed carnivore telling you all about how you are a hypocrite for eating cheese while bacon fat drips slowly down his chin.

Personally, I am completely on board with the idea that most of my views are hypocritical while I still buy butter and enjoy mozzarella. I accept that my position on food is complicated, as well as everybody else's, and I couldn't care less about the bacon fat or the spaghetti bolognese or the rare steak being consumed next to me. Like the majority of people in Sudbury, Suffolk, I don't think that butcher's shops should have their dead animal displays censored when all they do is quite rightly draw attention to the reality of where meat comes from. And to be perfectly honest, a sizeable chunk of my reasoning for vegetarianism comes from a selfish place: I've always had the vague notion that meat – and, in particular, red meat or processed meat – doesn't do the human body much discernible good.

According to the latest study into protein consumption, it turns out that this theory may well have something to it. The National Health and Nutrition Survey has been collating data on 6,381 people across the US, and found that diets rich in animal protein (as opposed to protein routinely taken from plant sources) could be as harmful to health as other vices such as smoking. Those under the age of 65 who regularly consume a lot of meat, eggs and dairy are four times more likely to die of cancer or diabetes – although it's worth noting that, if you make it to 66, beginning to eat a high-protein diet for your remaining years is a better shout than sticking with the steamed kale.

Perhaps you would accuse me of perpetuating the "everything gives you cancer" agenda. But it's not only sensationalist carcinogenic claims that deserve attention in light of these findings. Consider the diets endlessly touted in women's magazines and the most successful self-help books of the late 20th and early 21st century: the Dukan diet, for instance; the internationally renowned Atkins plan; and of course "going paleo". All of these emphasise a drastic cut in carbohydrate intake and a regular protein overload. All of them claim to base their advice on medicine (and, in the case of the paleo diet, sketchy pseudo-scientific claims about what we are "naturally intended" to eat if we are to "mimic the diets of our caveman ancestors".) Now it turns out that losing all that weight for your health might be backfiring spectacularly, taking months of your life off with every spare tyre you shed.

Having been raised in a vehemently anti-veggie northern English city on a steady diet of chicken nuggets and turkey dinosaurs, years before Jamie Oliver began to suggest there was anything wrong with feeding kids the components of dog food, I don't expect to reap the benefits of a lifelong healthy diet anytime soon, either. But if it's true that 39% of women report being on a diet "most of the time", and that the average woman spends 31 years on a diet, then we in particular are setting ourselves up for serious middle-aged falls.

Where protein shakes for "bulking up" and adverts that demand to know whether or not a passerby is "man enough" to eat a five-tiered burger have remained masculine domains since time immemorial, the high-protein dieting phenomenon is fairly new for women. The long-term effects haven't emerged in enough numbers to draw definite conclusions, but this latest finding shouldn't be ignored. It is a credible warning about a society currently obsessed with protein and weight loss, operating in meat production hyperdrive with some of the most accessible fast food that ever existed.

Ultimately, it makes no difference whether you did it for the love of fluffy lambs in spring or deep-seated narcissism combined with a fierce survival instinct: the fact is you should probably eat less meat. You may well have to face a couple of awkward questions over a bowl of hummus, but hey, we all have our crosses to bear. And so, for the love of the NHS, please consign your well-thumbed paleo book to the dustbin. Because it turns out that you may be taking its simpering promises to make you thinner literally at your own peril.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Diet High in Meat Proteins Raises Cancer Risk for Middle-Aged People



Diet High in Meat Proteins Raises Cancer Risk for Middle-Aged People

For people aged 50 to 65, a high-protein diet increased the risk of cancer fourfold, comparable to the risk associated with smoking 

image of two raw steaks on a grill

Sean Dreilinger, Flickr Creative Commons
People who eat a high-protein diet during middle age are more likely to die of cancer than those who eat less protein, a new study finds.

However, for people older than 65, a moderate protein intake may actually be beneficial, and protect against frailty, the researchers said.

The researchers looked at more than 6,000 people ages 50 and older, and followed them for 18 years. They found that people ages 50 to 65 who ate a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age were more than four times as likely to die of cancer during the study period than those who ate a low-protein diet, according to the study published today (March 4) in the journal Cell Metabolism.

"Popular diets in many cases have high proteins and low sugars. They may make you lose some weight, but that's not a good diet to increase life span," said study researcher Valter Longo, professor of biology at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the USC Longevity Institute.

The risks of a high-protein diet are even comparable to smoking, the researchers said. People who smoke are four times more likely to die of cancer compared with nonsmokers, Longo said.

"Of course we cannot be sure of the reasons, but we have a pretty good idea, based on this study and also previous studies, as to why this is happening," Longo said.

The study also found that middle-age people who ate foods rich in animal proteins — including meat, milk and cheese — were 75 percent more likely to die of any cause than those who ate a low-protein diet within the study period. [5 Diets That Fight Diseases]

The researchers defined a "high-protein" diet as deriving at least 20 percent of daily calories from protein, a "moderate" protein diet as deriving 10 to 19 percent of calories from protein, and a "low-protein" diet as less than 10 percent of calories from protein.

However, what's bad for people at one age may be healthy at another. In the study, people older than 65 were less likely to die of cancer or other causes if they consumed more protein.

"So, not all people benefit from low protein. Older people actually seem to benefit from moderate intake of protein," Longo said. Having enough protein in the diet may be important for older people to maintain a healthy weight and protect against frailty, the researchers said.

The link between high-protein intake and risk of cancer almost vanished when the researchers considered participants whose protein mainly came from plants, such as beans.

This may be because proteins in plants have a different composition, and don't stimulate growth hormones as efficiently as meat proteins, Longo said.

The study suggests that the Mediterranean diet, which is low in animal protein and high in carbohydrates, may be best for extending life span, Longo said.

The researchers said they recommend eating about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day in middle age. For example, a 130-pound person should eat about 45 to 50 grams of protein a day, with a preference for plant proteins, the researchers said.

To investigate why there may be a link between protein consumption and cancer, the researchers looked at mice that were injected with mouse skin cancer cells. They showed that a high amount of protein in the mouse diet promoted the tumor's survival and growth by increasing the levels of a growth hormone, called IGF-1.

The researchers also measured the levels of IGF-1 for 2,000 people, randomly selected among those in their study, and found that for every 10 nanograms per milliliter increase in IGF-1, those on a high-protein diet were 9 percent more likely to die of cancer than those on a low-protein diet.

"When you have a lot of protein, these growth factors go up, and we've shown that they help normal cells become cancer-like cells, and then they help the cells grow," Longo said.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Help! I’m Poor But Want to Eat Healthy!

Help! I’m Poor But Want to Eat Healthy!


“I can’t eat healthy, it’s too expensive!”

Unhealthy food is indeed often more accessible and cheaper than healthy alternatives.  Unfortunately, it’s these very foods that make us unhealthy and overweight, causing all sorts of INCREDIBLY expensive medical problems down the road.

The line must be drawn here!”

Healthy eating on a budget IS possible, it just takes a game plan and a little creativity.

Today we’re going to talk about specific foods that are a great bang for your buck. Whether you’re simply trying lose weight and get in shape, or build some muscle and put on weight without looking like Jabba the Hut, making the right dietary choices will always be 80-90% of your success.

(A Star Trek AND Star Wars reference within three sentences of each other? That’s how we roll around here.)

Let’s go!

Break conventional thinking


It’s not exactly a secret that our culture is obsessed with size: Bigger is better.

Over the last few decades we’ve been eating and drinking more and more, and we developed the idea that a “good deal” means a lot of food. In other words, we tend to associate a deal by looking at the price per calorie.

I got SOO many fries, what a great deal!” 

Sure, you could buy pasta and ramen and live on mere dollars a day, but we want a game plan that doesn’t skip out on practically every macro and micronutrient – a strategy that builds Rebel Superheroes.

The aim will be to reshape the way you evaluate ‘good deals.’ Instead of price per calorie, we’ll be looking at the price per nutrient. We want the most nutrients for the least amount of money. The choices below will:
  • Target nutrient dense foods, but understand that we’re looking for the most economical choices. If food A costs $10 and has 50 of nutrient x, we’ll pick  food B instead, which only provides 45 of x but costs just $2.
  • Limit our draw to ‘good caloric deals,’ avoiding nutrient deficient options such as white bread or ramen.
  • Identify foods with high caloric AND nutritional value, for those currently trying to gain weight through strength training.
Let’s do this!



While vegetables can often be expensive, when we looked at some of the best choices, veggies  are actually pretty awesome. One study showed:

“…that although fruits and vegetables are an expensive source of dietary energy (calories), they provide key nutrients at a reasonable cost.”

For starters, don’t be afraid to buy frozen vegetables in the freezer section of your local grocery store (or even canned vegetables).  Sure, I love fresh veggies, but since frozen veggies are picked and then frozen at peak ripeness (and thus most nutritionally dense), they are often a better value while being edible for months longer.

Kale and leafy greens (such as mustard or collard): If there is one super cheap superfood, kale and leafy greens are it! Practically nature’s multivitamin, kale is packed full of protein, vitamin K, C, and A, dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, and more (a whole lot more). The catch is that kale and leafy greens can be bitter raw, so they need to be cooked. But don’t worry, there are tons of quick and easy ways to make kale delicious. You do NOT want to miss out on one of the most economical superfoods. To get you started, check out Kale Chips or this try this kale and bacon recipe.
Cabbage: A sister food to kale and leafy greens, from antioxidant to fiber to vitamin C, cabbage is both affordable and nutritionally dense. Cabbage is extremely versatile (soup, salad, stir fry,  or sandwiches), and looks like it may have some superfood cancer fighting qualities as well.
Broccoli: I knew I was a Rebel in training when as a kid, I didn’t understand why everyone else hated Broccoli. Whether fresh or frozen, broccoli provides an excellent price per nutrient value.
Spinach: Rich in both minerals and vitamins, fiber and protein, spinach should be your go-to choice for salads over cheaper but nutritionally deficient greens like iceberg lettuce. The difference between spinach and lettuce is so large, this comparison is a great example to demonstrate why we should be making choices based on price per nutrient, rather than price per calorie.
Carrots: Carrots are one of my favorite nutritionally dense snacks. Crazy amounts of vitamin A, good carbs, and a little bit of everything else; carrots are a solid choice to supplement a salad or soup.
Be sure to check out your local farmers’ market, as you may find some great deals on fruits and veggies depending on the season and where you live.


Protein Meats

While Steve is a huge fan of the Paleo Diet, today we’re going to explore all cheap protein sources, Paleo or non Paleo. If you’re on a strict Paleo Diet, be sure to check out the Nerd Fitness app, Paleo Central, to determine what’s Paleo and what’s not:

Meats (chicken/turkey/beef): When we looked at prices across the U.S., chicken and turkey consistently offered better values. However, don’t count beef out; there is almost ALWAYS a specific cut of beef on sale, and by targeting cheaper (and fattier) cuts, you can usually leave the meat section with a killer deal. We aren’t targeting these cuts simply because they’re cheaper. As one of Steve’s favorite videos explains (Why You Got Fat), we understand that dietary fat is not the enemy, but an important part of a balanced diet.
Eggs: There’s a reason eggs are usually a staple among those seriously strength training: eggs are a simple yet nutritionally dense source of protein. Toss hard boiled eggs in a salad, scramble eggs in a stir fry, or prepare a regular breakfast staple, eggs are usually too cheap to pass up.
Canned Tuna:  One can of Albacore Tuna contains approximately 120 calories, 28g of protein, and can cost $1 or less. This makes canned tuna a superb value and an awesomely lean protein source. Check out other canned fish, such as salmon, for some variety. And be sure to rotate canned tuna in and out of your diet to reduce risks associated with mercury. 
Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, oh my! Legumes (especially when purchased in bags), are one of the best price per nutrient values out there. Legumes such as beans work great in a salads, soups, or even dips. Providing copious amounts of both protein and carbs, legumes offer a great value and easily satisfy macronutrient requirements. Be wary though, nutritional value will vary depending on your specific legume of choice!
Protein Powder: If the above above recommendations don’t work for you and you’re still a little short on protein, try a huge tub of protein powder online. Make yourself a quick protein shake breakfast or post workout meal.
Other cheap protein options that may be a great deal include quinoa, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and one of the many types of nut butter.



Fruits provide one of the biggest challenges, especially in the United States, because they are so expensive relative to other food groups. Fruits can also be tricky. Grapes, which seem to be a moderate value, end up being one of the worst price per nutrient options out there. This may lead to the completely understandable reaction that I had, “SCREW IT! I love grapes, and I’m buying them!”

But don’t worry, there are still some excellent cost efficient options for fruits:

Watermelon: I know, I know. My first thought too was, “isn’t it mostly water?” Well yes. But as it turns out, since watermelon is so darn cheap, it is an incredible value per nutrient. Packed with lycopene (antioxidant), vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, watermelon is a wonderful and easy to eat nutritional deal.
Bananas: If you’re following the Paleo Diet and avoiding most grains, bananas are a great source of carbs. Bananas are super cheap and provide you with tons of potassium. They can be added to oatmeal, eaten as a snack, or my favorite, as a desert (frozen bananas).
Plums: Packed full great micronutrients like vitamin A, K, and C, plums are an excellent source of fiber and carbs.
Pears: Although pears possess a good amount of natural sugars, they are another great source of fiber and vitamin C…and usually even cheaper than plums.
Other fruits that may be great nutritional deals in your area: cantaloupe, apricots, kiwis, and nectarines.
Don’t forget about dried fruit – although high in sugar, bulk dried fruit can be an nutrient incredible value.

How to eat big and healthy

Balance Scale

If you are training like crazy or are working hard to get bigger by packing on muscle and size, then chances are you’ll require more and more food (read: fuel) to reach your goals.  If you’re strength training and not getting bigger, then you’re not eating enough – it’s that simple.

We can see from this graph that as calories become more important, fats and oils, beans and legumes, and dairy products become more cost effective than vegetables and fruits (however, don’t neglect vegetables to make sure your…um…”plumbing” can handle the extra calories!).

Calories Per Unit Cost Graph

Oats: Oats are incredibly cheap, provide ridiculous amounts of both carbohydrates and protein, and fulfill other micronutrient and mineral requirements such as thiamin, folate, magnesium, and phosphorus. Oats are simple to make, can be prepared a variety of ways (sweet or savory), and can be bought and stored easily in bulk!

Whole Milk: When Steve gained 18 pounds in a month, and then another 12 pounds while traveling, whole milk was a huge part of his diet. Although milk isn’t Paleo, its low cost combined with high amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamin D makes it an attractive option when trying to meet high calorie requirements (if your body can handle the lactose).

Avocados: Avocados are perhaps the densest food listed in this entire article, both calorically and nutritiously. Although they may appear costly, avocados can be an incredible price per nutrient value.  Put them in salads, on sandwiches, or eat them plain with a little bit of salt! When your local grocery store puts avocados on sale, be sure to stock up!

Sweet Potato: A better nutritional value than normal potatoes (plus a lower glycemic load), sweet potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and incredible amounts of vitamin A. Steve is a huge fan of sweet potatoes sliced, covered in olive oil, and thrown in the oven at 375 for 12 minutes each side.  So simple, even a nerd could cook it.

Olive Oil: One of the best ways to add good fat without cholesterol or sodium is olive oil. Add extra olive oil to salads, meats, and legumes.  Need even more calories?  Drink it.  Seriously.  Take a few big swigs before each meal and you can add 700-1000 calories to your intake each day, no problem.

Almonds/Walnuts/Almond butter: Hailed by Mark’s Daily Apple, raw almonds are a versatile option that can serve as a great supplementary source of protein and fat. While almonds can be a great value,  be sure to buy them in bulk to optimize your price per nutrient deal. And if you haven’t tried almond butter and apple slices, one of Steve’s staples, you’re missing out.

Eat Smart

Legos surround cheeseburger

No matter what value foods you plan to buy, be sure approach eating healthy on a budget with a plan of attack. You will find that if you take advantage of healthy foods on sale (especially buy one get one free deals), many foods that aren’t listed here will suddenly become a great value!

Remember: If your goal is weight loss, the majority of your calories should come from fat and protein, NOT carbohydrates/grains!  This is the whole premise of the Paleo Diet that we’re so fond of.

Concerned about pesticides and have a bit more money to spend? Here are nine foods you should try to buy organic, and seven organic options you can pass up.  

As long as you’re no longer thinking “more is better,” but instead searching for value healthy foods, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Rebel Superhero.

What foods did I miss that you find to be an incredible value?
Leave any other healthy budget eating tips or tricks in the comments below!



photo source: piggy bank, veggies, watermelon, meat, lego cheeseburger, balance scale, mcdonalds