Archive for March, 2011

SAFFLOWER OIL EACH DAY MIGHT HELP KEEP HEART DISEASE AT BAY

Monday, March 21st, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio

A daily dose of safflower oil, a common cooking oil, for 16 weeks can improve such health measures as good cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity and inflammation in obese postmenopausal women who have Type 2 diabetes, according to new research.

This finding comes about 18 months after the same researchers discovered that safflower oil reduced abdominal fat and increased muscle tissue in this group of women after 16 weeks of daily supplementation.

Martha A. Belury
Martha A. Belury
Associate professor
Human nutrition
Ohio State University
Photo: osu.edu

This combination of health measures that are improved by the safflower oil is associated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that can increase risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

These new findings have led the chief researcher to suggest that a daily dose of safflower oil in the diet - about 1 2/3 teaspoons - is a safe way to help reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

“The women in the study didn’t replace what was in their diet with safflower oil. They added it to what they were already doing. And that says to me that certain people need a little more of this type of good fat - particularly when they’re obese women who already have diabetes,” said Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

“I believe these findings suggest that people consciously make sure they get a serving of healthy oil in their diets each day - maybe an oil and vinegar dressing on a salad, or some oil for cooking. And this recommendation can be extended to everyone.”

The research appears online and is scheduled for future print publication in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

Safflower oil contains linoleic acid, which is a PUFA - a polyunsaturated fatty acid. Research dating back to the 1960s has suggested that these dietary oils from plant sources can help prevent heart disease, said Belury, who holds the Carol S. Kennedy professorship in nutrition. But attention to these fats has declined as omega-3 fish oils have gained popularity among consumers, she said.

“The health benefits of omega-3 PUFAs seem convincing, but I think there’s also a place for omega-6 PUFAs. We’ve known for a long time that polyunsaturated oils are very beneficial for cardiovascular disease prevention, and these data we are adding now show that these oils can also help with other aspects of metabolic syndrome, including even glycemic control,” Belury said. “We suspect it could be through a mechanism that is not yet identified.”

In the first study, published in September 2009, Belury and colleagues had compared the effects of safflower oil and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound naturally found in some meat and dairy products, on obese postmenopausal women with Type 2 diabetes. CLA had a reputation from previous studies for contributing to weight loss. Safflower oil’s association with reduced abdominal fat took the researchers by surprise.

For this current research, the scientists performed a secondary analysis of data collected from that clinical trial, applying a powerful statistical analysis to the results and also checking to see how long it took for any effects of the oils to appear in the women’s health profiles. The scientists had taken blood samples every four weeks during the study to obtain these measures.

In almost all cases in this analysis, safflower oil supplementation improved metabolic measures while CLA did not show any effects for glycemic or lipid control. Sixteen weeks of CLA supplementation did reduce total body fat and lowered the women’s body mass index (BMI), a common health measure of weight relative to height.

Several of the beneficial effects of safflower oil were evident after 16 weeks of supplementation. On average among all of the women tested, these included:

An increase in insulin sensitivity of about 2.7 percent as measured by a formula known as the quantitative insulin sensitivity check index. Higher insulin sensitivity is important for the transfer of sugar, or glucose, from the blood into the tissues, where it is used for energy. Insulin resistance, or lowered insulin sensitivity, is the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes.

A small, but significant, .64 percent decrease in a blood protein called HbA1C, which is a marker of long term presence of excess glucose in the blood.

A roughly 17.5 percent decrease in C reactive protein, a protein in the blood that rises in the presence of inflammation. A growing body of research suggests that high levels of this protein increase the risk for a heart attack.

The researchers had documented in the previous study that safflower oil also lowered fasting blood sugar levels by between 11 and 19 points on average. Blood sugar is considered normal if it falls below 110 milligrams per deciliter; the women’s average blood sugar levels ranged from 129 to 148 after 16 weeks of safflower oil supplementation.

Within 12 weeks, the safflower oil led to a 14 percent increase in HDL, or “good,” cholesterol, as well as an increase in adiponectin, a hormone that regulates levels of blood sugar and fats and which influences insulin levels. Higher levels of adiponectin could be expected to increase the efficiency of dietary fat burning, Belury said.

People with metabolic syndrome generally have three or more of the following conditions: excess fat in the abdominal area, borderline or high blood pressure, cholesterol problems that foster plaque buildup in arteries, insulin resistance or glucose intolerance and a high level of triglycerides, a form of fat in the blood.

At the start of the study, the women were obese and had Type 2 diabetes, low HDL cholesterol and high levels of C-reactive protein and the HbA1c protein. Though in many cases their health measures were still high or low enough at the end of the study to leave them at increased risk for heart disease, Belury said the safflower oil could function as a complementary intervention in combination with medications used to control their disorders.

“We don’t know the long term effects of safflower oil from this study alone, but I certainly think it’s possible that the risk for cardiovascular problems could be significantly decreased in this high-risk group if supplementation were continued,” Belury said.

She noted that the total dose of dietary oils the women took between their normal diets and the safflower oil supplementation amounted to 9.8 percent of their daily calories - a level that falls within federal guidelines for vegetable oil consumption. The women had been instructed not to change their diets during the study, and self reports of their food intake showed that their eating habits did not change while they were taking the supplements.

“A small change in eating behavior to alter the fatty acid content of the diet might improve metabolic measures in people already consuming what is considered to be an adequate amount of dietary linoleic acid,” Belury said. “What is needed in our diet is PUFAs to help with cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of men and women in this country.”

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TAI CHI FIGHTS DEPRESSION IN ELDERLY

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Los Angeles, CA

The numbers are, well, depressing: More than 2 million people age 65 and older suffer from depression, including 50 percent of those living in nursing homes. The suicide rate among white men over 85 is the highest in the country - six times the national rate.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky
Dr. Helen Lavretsky
UCLA professor
in residence
of psychiatry
Photo: ucla.edu

And we’re not getting any younger. In the next 35 years, the number of Americans over 65 will double and the number of those over 85 will triple.

So the question becomes, how to help elderly depressed individuals?

Researchers at UCLA turned to a gentle, Westernized version of tai chi chih, a 2,000 year old Chinese martial art. When they combined a weekly tai chi exercise class with a standard depression treatment for a group of depressed elderly adults, they found greater improvement in the level of depression - along with improved quality of life, better memory and cognition, and more overall energy - than among a different group in which the standard treatment was paired with a weekly health education class.

The results of the study appear in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the benefits of tai chi in the management of late life depression, and we were encouraged by the results,” said first author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor in residence of psychiatry. “We know that nearly two thirds of elderly patients who seek treatment for their depression fail to achieve relief with a prescribed medication.”

In the study, 112 adults age 60 or older with major depression were treated with the drug escitalopram, a standard antidepressant, for approximately four weeks. From among those participants, 73 who showed only partial improvement continued to receive the medication daily but were also randomly assigned to 10 weeks of either a tai chi class for two hours per week or a health education class for two hours per week.

All the participants were evaluated for their levels of depression, anxiety, resilience, health related quality of life, cognition and immune system inflammation at the beginning of the study and again four months later.

The level of depression among each participant was assessed using a common diagnostic tool known as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, which involves interviewing the individual. The questions are designed to gauge the severity of depression. A cut off score of 10/11 is generally regarded as appropriate for the diagnosis of depression.

The researchers found that among the tai chi participants, 94 percent achieved a score of less than 10, with 65 percent achieving remission (a score of 6 or less). By comparison, among participants who received health education, 77 percent achieved scores of 10 or less, with 51 percent achieving remission.

While both groups showed improvement in the severity of depression, said Lavretsky, who directs UCLA’s Late Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program, greater reductions were seen among those taking escitalopram and participating in tai chi, a form of exercise that is gentle enough for the elderly.

“Depression can lead to serious consequences, including greater morbidity, disability, mortality and increased cost of care,” Lavretsky said. “This study shows that adding a mind body exercise like tai chi that is widely available in the community can improve the outcomes of treating depression in older adults, who may also have other, coexisting medical conditions, or cognitive impairment.

“With tai chi,” she said, “we may be able to treat these conditions without exposing them to additional medications.”

>>>>>Read more on aging in our HeartVigor.com Aging Page.

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HERBAL TEA - BENEFITS AND LORE

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Boston, MA

These days, there is a lot of talk about health benefits from drinking teas. Green, black, and oolong are considered the three major classes, and each comes from the age old Camellia sinensis tea bush. But there is an even wider variety of herbal teas - infusions derived from anything other than C. sinensis.

Diane McKay and Oliver Chen
Antioxidants Research
Laboratory scientists
Diane McKay and Oliver Chen
Photo: Stephen Ausmus

According to folklore, some herbal teas also provide benefits. But there is little clinical evidence on the effects of drinking these teas. Now, Diane McKay and Jeffrey Blumberg have looked into science based evidence of health benefits from drinking three of the most popular herbals in America. McKay and Blumberg are with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. Both work at the center’s Antioxidants Research Laboratory, which Blumberg directs.

One popular herbal, chamomile tea, has long been considered a soothing brew. In the early 20th century, it was mentioned in a classic children’s book about a little rabbit named Peter. At the end of a rough day, Peter’s mom served him some chamomile tea. Interestingly, when Blumberg and McKay reviewed scientific literature on the bioactivity of chamomile, they found no human clinical trials that examined this calming effect.

They did, however, publish a review article on findings far beyond sedation - describing test tube evidence that chamomile tea has moderate antioxidant and antimicrobial activities and significant antiplatelet clumping activity. Also, animal feeding studies have shown potent anti inflammatory action and some cholesterol lowering activity.

The researchers also published a review article describing evidence of bioactivity of peppermint tea. In test tubes, peppermint has been found to have significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities, strong antioxidant and antitumor actions, and some antiallergenic potential. When animals were fed either moderate amounts of ground leaves or leaf extracts, researchers also noted a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue and an analgesic and anesthetic effect in the nervous system.

The researchers found several human studies involving peppermint oil, but they found no data from human clinical trials involving peppermint tea. McKay and Blumberg have concluded that the available research on herbal teas is compelling enough to suggest clinical studies.

McKay has led a human clinical trial to test whether drinking hibiscus tea affects blood pressure. She tested 65 volunteers, aged 30 to 70 years, who were pre or mildly hypertensive. Blood pressure readings of 120/80 or greater are considered a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

For 6 weeks, about half the group was randomly selected to drink 3 cups of hibiscus tea daily. The others drank a placebo beverage containing artificial hibiscus flavoring and color. All participants were advised to follow their usual diet and maintain their normal level of activity. Before the start of the study, blood pressure was measured twice - 1 week apart - and at weekly intervals thereafter.

The findings show that the volunteers who drank hibiscus tea had a 7.2 point drop in their systolic blood pressure (the top number), and those who drank the placebo beverage had a 1.3 point drop.

In a subgroup analysis of the 30 volunteers who had the highest systolic blood pressure readings (129 or above) overall at the start of the study, those assigned to drink hibiscus tea showed the greatest response to hibiscus tea drinking. Their systolic blood pressure went down by 13.2 points, diastolic blood pressure went down by 6.4 points, and mean arterial pressure went down by 8.7 points.

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The 2010 study was published in the Journal of Nutrition. “This data supports the idea that drinking hibiscus tea in an amount readily incorporated into the diet may play a role in controlling blood pressure, although more research is required,” says McKay.
By Rosalie Marion Bliss, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS national program (#107) described at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.

Diane L. McKay is with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington St., Boston, MA 02111-1524; (781) 608-7183.

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