Broccoli is good for your heart

“Research has shown eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts to be particularly beneficial for the hearts of elderly women,” The Guardian reports.

Researchers investigating the benefit of a vegetable diet in Australia found that women who consumed the highest number of vegetables displayed less thickening of the walls of a vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The blood vessel is known as the common carotid artery and it has been linked to incidences of stroke, as a blockage in the artery prevents blood getting to the brain.

 

Might it have been a case of merely the consumption of vegetables? After all, we know that vegetables are good for you. Did the consumption of broccoli specifically have health benefits?

When looking at specific types of vegetables, researchers in Australia found that cruciferous vegetables seemed to provide the most benefits. These are a range of vegetables that belong to the same cabbage “family” (Brassicaceae) and include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

While previous research has linked a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables to lower risk of heart attacks and stroke, this study looks at the potential effect of specific types of vegetables.

The study could not merely narrow down the benefits solely to the consumption of vegetables, particularly broccoli But after variances in other factors was taken care of, the results held true after taking account of other factors such as women’s lifestyle, medical history and other components of their diet.

Cruciferous vegetables are good for you and the evidence suggests that older women in particular should make an effort to include them in their diet.

The researchers who carried out the study came from Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Flinders University and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, all in Australia. The study was funded by Healthway Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Heart Association, and is available to read free online.

Surprisingly enough, the Mail Online reported the study results accurately. Nevertheless, as is often the case, did not make it clear that this type of study cannot prove that one factor (cruciferous vegetables) is a direct cause of another (carotid artery wall thickness).

The Guardian headline and introduction said the study showed vegetables provided “heart benefits”, although thickening of the carotid artery is more closely linked to risk of stroke.

The new wonderfood?

Wow, pasta is in the news again. In the 1990s it was claimed that eating pasta would mean consuming large anount of calories, which then get deposited as fat.

And now the surprising media focus is now on how pasta can help you lose weight? It is incredible to think how two pieces of research can have such different results over time.

The latter fact was what was reported in newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and the Independent.

Carbs have become a common focal point for newspapers because it is almost unavoidable that we have to consume them every day. Newspapers tend to focus on common foods such as pasta, rice and bananas because the majority of readers consume them and this makes the news relevant, newsworthy, and inclines the reader to purchase a newspaper or read a web page loaded with adverts.

The common carbohydates that feature in news are white flour, rice and potatoes. They have been criticised for causing weight gain, alongside sugar.

Pasta is a low-glycemic index food, which means the carbohydrates don’t release sugar in the bloodstream when broken down.

But the abundance of carbohydrates in daily food also means that when it is absent, it is newsworthy. Which is why when celebrities go on a zero-carb diet, like the Adkins diet, the news is jumped on.

In the cited research, researchers looked at pasta that was used as a part of an overall low-glycemic index diet, compared to a high glycemic index food.

When pasta was eaten as part of a low GI diet, it was more likely to cause weight loss than if it were eaten as part of a high GI diet.

The research is still out on that one really. But is eating a low GI diet part of the solution that it appears to be? I would suggest not.

I would suggest that those who eat a low-GI diet anyway would be more inclined to eat a high fibre type of pasta.

High fibre pasta keeps you full and you feel fuller on less calories. Thus less calories remain with the body and get deposited as fat. Excess calories end up as fat, you see.

Those who ate pasta as part of a high GI diet would be less likely to be health conscious and hence the type of pasta would be less specific, less high-fibre and more ordinary pasta, requiring one to eat more calories to feel full.

Look at it this way. Less health concious people drink norrmal tea. Health conscious people drink peppermint tea (or some other sort).

Those who drink peppermint tea as part of their daily diet would be more likely to be health conscious, while those that consume normal tea are likely not. But that doesn’t mean you should stretch research and say peppermint tea helps you lose weight.

To summarise, what I would propose is not that pasta helps you lose weight, but that high-fibre pasta means you consume less calories and hence lose weight. It has nothing to do with being used as part of a low glycemic index diet or a high glycemic index diet. But low GI diet followers are more likely to eat high fibre pasta.

This was the bit of information that was not supported by articles.

The researchers found that “when pasta is consumed in the context of low GI dietary patterns, there is no weight gain but marginally clinically significant weight loss.”

The Mail Online, England’s favourite Health Daily, of course stretched the truth by saying that one should forgetting eating courgettes and going to the gym. Who ever knew a humble common daily event like eating pasta would have such a great effect?

That was the Mail Online’s spin to it, but don’t rush to eat lots of pasta. The extra consumption of pasta would merely make you pile on the pounds again. It is unethical to report like this but in this day and age it sells articles and is inportant though, even if it is peddling mistruths!

Obese children now from lower-income households

In bygone times having large children were prized. It was a sign that you were rich, had the wealth to feed your children and that they ate well. Unlike those skinny people who had no food to eat. Larger children were a mark of status, coming from higher income households where there was more disposale wealth.

This trend appears to be reversing. A study of obese children in England found that many of them were of poorer socio-economic backgrounds.

How has this happened? It is easy to point the finger at an abundance of high fat, high calorie, cheap food. In short, fast food.

Take a walk down your high street. Start by counting how many chip shops you can see, or shops selling fried chicken. You would probably see a fair few. And see what happens when the kids are dismissed after school. You will see many crowding around these shops, getting their fill of fried chicken and chips.

To top that all off: to quench their thirst after consuming the oily, high sodium food, many opt for sugary fizzy drinks.

The high fat, high calorie, high sugar diet is repeated over many days and weeks. We may talk of the social responsibility in allowing fast food places to target school children but that is what happens because fast food shops know where the bulk of their clients lie. To make matters worse, some children assume that eating fried chicken gives them protein to grow big, which is what they want. Chicken is a source of protein, but when fried it is high in fat and the combination of caloric drinks does not help either.

The consumption of such a high fat diet is a ticking time bomb for the NHS. In two or three decades from now many people will increasingly be obese, and there will be a higher population of middle-aged obese that threatens to burden the NHS.

The NHS should encourage exercise, but unfortunately many of the measures – such as to take 10,000 steps a day – are ill conceived. You could do 10,000 steps a day, but if that is done at a slow pace that hardly taxes your heart rate, you are not burning fat. In addition, fat burning only takes place after the body has been active for at least twenty minutes, at a heart rate of at least 60% MHR (Maximal Heart Rate).

The overabundance of cheap fast food has meant that lower income families see it as a cheap affordable way to feed their children. And when their children get obese, they are viewed as being “big” which many think is good for them.

We are at a point of disconnect, but what we have to address is this. Better, nutritional food costs more. And it doesn’t taste as good at the same price. Unless we can introduce subsidies on healthy food, we will only evolve into a society that increasingly consumes junk food. The price we pay for promoting healthy eating through subsidies will go a longer way towards reducing the ticking time bomb of poor social health.

Going to bed with your smartphone is not a good idea

Okay, let’s be clear. When I say going to bed with your smartphone, what I really mean is you have your smartphone on a table by your bedside.

Research has shown that thee quality of sleep is affected for those who have smartphones nearby within arm’s reach.

Why should this research not surprise us? Firstly, those of us who have them nearby are more likely to be more responsive to emails, alerts and vibrations which all signify that more information for us to process has come in. Going to sleep with such a mindset, with work lingering in the mind, interferes with our restful periods when this happens for a long time.

Secondly, the backlight from your smartphone can cause you to waken up earlier than you intend to. While is good news for those of us who have problems waking up and keep having to hit the snooze button, perhaps we should consider that the reason we keep hitting the snooze button is we have not sleep well.

Imagine it is summer and gets light earlier. Even if you sleep in a dark room, the light from your phone will hit your visual sensors and trick you into thinking that it is already later than it is. Even if you glance at the phone and realise it is only 5am (I say only because most people are still asleep then, but maybe you are one of the early risers) you have difficulty going back to sleep now because your restful period has been disturbed and this affect your body clocks.

Do you notice how unseasonal temperatures affect wildlife? If you get a week of warmer weather in the winter, flowers and insects start to think that winter has passed and spring is here, and then emerge, only for the cold to hit again, leaving them vulnerable.

The smartphone provides unwanted stimulus in terms of light and sound. Even if it is fully muted and the screen is completely dark, its presence by the side of the bed means you can never fully switch off.

The solution, even is to go low-tech. Get an alarm clock, or a watch if you need to set an alarm as a wakeup call. Leave your phone in a different room like the living room. Try to keep your bedroom sacrosanct, as a place where work does not intrude. You will find it makes a difference to your restful periods.

 

Disconnect for a better quality of life

We live in a world that is more technologically advanced than our grandparents’ generation. For some, the gulf between generations is even closer. Those of us who have parents in their late forties and fifties will almost certainly find that their version of the twenties is much more different than ours. The difference can almost solely be put down to the impact that technology has had on our world.

When computers were rolled out en masse, and the influence of technology was making its way into daily life, we were told that they would simplify life. Computers would do the drudge work that humans used to do, giving us more free time to explore leisure pursuits. At least, that was how it was sold to us.

 

Has that happened? Not really. The average citizen found himself needing to be more computer literate. As the society became more dependent on things like emails, mobile phones, and computers, human beings found themselves needing to know how to work such devices and all their functions. Remember the days when all you had was a simple choice of a digital or traditional film camera? Nowadays the choices have exploded exponentially. Of course, unless you are a purist, you would say having digiital cameras isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t. But making the transition to using them as part of daily life has only increased the mental burden of information we hold in our heads, and that is making us actually less productive. And that arguably is one of the problems with technology. It has resulted in an explosion of information – the information overload that overtaxes our mental processes and leaves us mentally fatigued and less able to focus on important issues.

Social media is another area – touted to enhance links between people from your past, now the need to catch up with the latest social gossip, to promote yourself, to be on track with it all, to be in … all that has a bearing on one’s mind and mental health. It is no wonder that some people report being depressed after scrolling through social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Has technology enhanced our lives? It has made it easier for companies to push work that used to be done by employees onto users. For example, if Wikipedia existed in the 1980s, it would have had big offices and employees to research and type out the information on its databases. Now it encourages collaborative work – in short, it makes uses do it for them.

The problem is that information is endless and cannot be fully captured, and runs perpendicularly to our innate need to grasp everything. We want to box it all, yet it cannot be boxed. The human civilization generates terrabytes of data every year, and trying to keep on top of it all will leave us tired and fatigued and restless and depressed, an ever-insatiable need.

The solution? Disconnect. It would do you a (real) world of good. And if that is too drastic, trying limiting the amount of screen time you have.

Ultra-processing the causes of cancer

Diet is one of the most basic human concerns. And why shouldn’t it be? The human body needs food and water to survive. But perhaps over the last few decades there has been a sort of over-focus on foods, fads, low-carb diets, low-fat diets, high protein-diets and others that have been taken a bit to extreme. And when you realise that another of the human obsessions (at least the media one anyway) is exercise – low-intensity? high intensity? intervallic? strength? – you realise that these two can be a deadly combination. While they purport to help you lose inches, the amount of column inches they generate is amazing!

It is no surprise to find the Guardian reporting that ultra-processed foods can be linked to cancer in a recent study done by French researchers. Ultra-processed foods are those that have undergone processing that relies on chemicals outside the normal realm of preservation. In the kitchen, we normally put salt on meat to preserve it, but an ultra-processed food could be one that is cooked and then preserved using special chemicals to allow it to be stored in a can and have a long shelf life.

The diets of 100,000 people were studied and those individuals who consumed the highest proportion of processed food were found to have increases in the overall rate of cancer.

But because the consumption of processed foods covered a wide umbrella, it was difficult to isolate the specific chemical purporting to create a rise in cancer.

The rise in cancer may not necessarily be linked to a specific chemical either.

Certain chemicals might work in combination to create an increased cancer risk. The chemicals themselves may be safe, but may interact in unknown ways.

Furthermore, it might be a lifestyle issue anyway – as those who eat more ultra-processed foods are more likely to live a more stressful or hectic lifestyle, consume a higher-fat diet, exercise less and be more likley to smoke.

The risk of cancer is minimised with a reduction in smoking, and increased in physical activity, and a healthy diet that includes minimising the consumption of alcohol and eating fruits and vegetables. It is also perhaps managed by a comfortable level of stress. We could take the combination of these factors to give a “lifestyle score” to assess the risk of developing cancer, instead of looking at individual factors and trying to determine their individual impact. While certain individual factors do have a pre-dominant influence when taken far beyond the boundaries of normal well-being – for example, a person who drinks excessively and then develops cancer can have his cancer retrospectively linked to his alcohol consumption – the examination of how factors combine within a smaller boundary is perhaps useful research for the future. For example, if a person does not exercise, but eats healthily, is he or she more likely to develop cancer than someone who eats healthily but has a stressful lifestyle?

It is these kinds of combinations that could form the basis for useful research in the future.

Dogs can sense fear – and seek release

What makes some people more susceptible to being bitten by dogs? A recent study suggests that dogs, with a sense of smell keener than humans, can sense fear in us. And this suggests that perhaps the sense of fear trips or triggers the dog into a fright or flight response that results in the human being bitten.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the best form of prevention against a bite from a dog could be to adopt a slight self-confident front, almost seemingly like a swagger, in order to convince the dog of a sense of confidence to override the inner sense of fear. However, this approach does not address how the dog might deal with the presentation of a confident person yet sense the underlying fear. It is like you meeting a person who you know is lying, yet smiling at you. What do you know? You revert to what psychologists might call the memory bank, the “type 2” kind of thinking which is more analytical, and less immediately responsive – but do dogs have that kind of ability to think and fall back on?

The research was carried out by researchers from the University of Liverpool in the form of a survey in a bit to understand why the likelihood of people being bitten by dogs seemed to be in a higher case of incidence for certain individiuals.

The results from the survey said that the likelihood of taking a nip from a four legged friend was almost 2.5 times more common than the current official figure, which estimates that 7.4 in 1,000 people get bitten by a dog every year in the UK. The figure is likely to be higher, because dog owners who get bitten by their own dogs are unlikely to report them for fear of getting their own dogs put down. Dog bites which also happen within the family – where the dog belongs to a family member – are unlikely to be reported for the same reason.

The results also showed that people who are nervous, men and owners of several dogs were more likely to be bitten.

This study was dependent on the date from questionnaires. This sort of information collection is a good way to obtain responses quickly. However, the limitations of this study include the fact that in this particular instance an assessment of behaviour is difficult, both in a recollection situation – having to do it in hindsight. Also there was the earlier reported case of perhaps dog owners not wanting to get their dogs taken in, and amending their queries.

The current guidelins for dog bit preventions suggest the following:

Never leave a young child unsupervised with a dog – regardless of the type of dog and its previous behaviour.

This is of course a good point, especially with attack dogs or more aggresive breeds. Even if the child is known to the dog, there have been many cases where dogs left alone with toddlers have seized the chance and attacked them. It is almost as if the removal of an adult boldens the dog into an attack it would not normally make, and being left alone with a young child heightens the fright or fight syndrome within a dog.

Another guideline is to treat dogs with respect – don’t pet them when they’re eating or sleeping. Dogs dislike being disturbed when they are meeting their basic needs, and the disturbance awakes and breeds aggressive responses that may evolve later.

A third guideline is to avoid stroking or petting unfamiliar dogs – when greeting a dog for the first time, let it sniff you before petting it. A good idea is to actually converse with the owner first so that the dog has already established you are friendly.

This study was carried out by researchers from the University of Liverpool and was funded by the Medical Research Council Population Health Scientist Fellowship. While the media reporting of the study was fairly accurate, The Guardian pointed out that people’s emotional stability was self-rated. In other words, if respondents were asked to rate their feelings, this may not be an accurate assessment – one person’s level of anxiety may not be the same as another’s.

So can dogs actually sense fear and anxiety? How does this explain the incidence of people being bitten by dogs? The answer to these questions can be answered best perhaps in two parts.

The first is the level of aggression in the dog. This depends of course on the genetic makeup, but also how it is treated. If its needs are met then it is likely that the level of aggression is typically lower than what it would be than if it were harrassed or disturbed persistently, which can build up latent aggression.

The second is the dog’s sense of fear. If a dog is often emotionally angered and there is opportunity to release this tension, even in a moment of madness, then this may result in biting as an emotional release.

So can dogs sense fear? Possibly. Does this explain their tendency to bite? Well, dogs that are treated well and genetically not prone to attacking will be less prone to nipping. Dogs that are not attack dogs but mistreated, or dogs that habitually have their attack responses nurtured, are more prone to biting, when the opportunity presents itself in the form of a less defensive target.