I’ve been on a bit of a personal rage lately – a rage about weight gain and the ‘pause.
No time like the present to give yourselves the gift of a lifetime: aim for a healthy weight before you hit menopause.
We’ve discussed it time and again on Flashfree; weight gain and menopause go hand in hand like a horse and carriage. And with that weight gains comes an increased risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and the dreaded metabolic syndrome. However, last year, researchers from the University of Ottawa reported that entering full menopause with a healthy body mass index (BMI) actually confers protection.
In the study (which appeared online in the journal Menopause), researchers evaluated and observed 102 premenopausal women for body composition and changes in their cardiovascular health profiles. The women, all of whom were between 47 and 55 years of age, did not smoke, had a BMI between 20 and 29 and had had a stable weight for at least 6 months before the study started, were followed for five years. Each year, the researchers gauged if they had entered menopause, measured body composition (i.e. total fat mass, trunk fat mass and total fat free mass), waist size, the degree of abdominal fat and took blood to examine glucose, insulin and blood fat levels.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Denis Prud-homme explains that by simply observing the women and not imposing any structured interventions (e.g. diet or exercise) they were able to assess changes within a more naturalistic environment. At the study’s end, they discovered that despite significant increases in fat mass, visceral abdominal fat, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, most of which were the natural result of hormone fluctuations and aging, the women did not appear to have any declines in their heart or metabolic profiles that would indicate an increased risk for disease. Dr. Prud-homme says that a possible explanation might be that “even if the area of visceral fat is increased, it is still under the critical threshold associated with cardio-metabolic deterioration.” In other words, by maintaing a healthy lifestyle and BMI premenopausally, these women were able to change their risk equations once they fully entered menopause.
The bottom line is that the present you give yourself now will last long into your later years. Exercise. Eat right. And pay attention to your health.
No time like the present. For a present. Give yourself one.Read More
Last week I told you about research findings linking green tea to a lower stroke risk. However, while green tea rocks your socks off when it comes to health, one of my favourite elixirs – coffee — isn’t too far behind in that department. In fact, despite years of negative publicity surrounding coffee, its rightful place in health and diet is being reclaimed. Mind you, too much of a good thing is never a good thing, but there has been renewed interest the multitude of compounds in coffee that extend far beyond the most popular, i.e. caffeine.
Globally, 7 million tons of coffee is consumed per year. Wow! That’s a a lot of beans. Moreover, just think of the infinite tons that have been consumed since coffee’s energizing properties were first discovered prior to the start of the 14th Century in Ethiopia. Aside from it stimulative properties, what other treasures lurk each time we reach for a cuppa?
According an extensive review in the online edition of Maturitas, there may be a lot to be gained by consuming this delightful beverage (can you tell how excited coffee makes me?!). Indeed, when the researchers searched and evaluated 22 years of articles, they discovered that the compounds in coffee that are most beneficially linked to health are polyphenols, the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet. Much like chocolate and even green tea, coffee is rich in polyphenols, and the most common are known as phenolic acids, which appears to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This may be an important reason why research has repeatedly shown that coffee has a protective effect against diabetes, although one needs to have a moderate to high intake (4-6 cups a day) to achieve the best protection.
Drinking coffee may also help defend against liver damage, regardless if the culprit is a virus, drugs, alcohol or abnormal, malignant cells, although experts can’t yet explain why. Still, in studies, this protection was seen in both healthy and at-risk populations in numerous studies.
Another potentially important benefit of coffee is a reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease; significant reviews have suggested that this reduction may be as high as a third. An important part of this story is that in postmenopausal women, HRT may shift this benefit to the negative side, and actually convert the protective role of caffeine into a risk factor for Parkinson’s (yet another reason to reconsider taking hormones).
So, what about heart disease? The buzz has long been that drinking coffee can increase blood pressure, worsen irregular heart rhythms and raise cholesterol levels. The review authors say that better and more ample clinical data, coupled with a greater understanding of the multiple components of coffee other than caffeine, have changed the paradigm. Importantly, the very compounds mentioned earlier — phenolic acids – and the pattern they form depending on the variety of coffee, roasting and processing, may help neutralize or reverse the negative. The most important hero in this story is a derivative of a common type of phenolic acid: chlorogenic acid.
Chlorgenic acid improves the function of cells that line the blood vessels and may work to attenuate increases in blood pressure. In women, coffee intake and perhaps the activity of chlorogenic acid may lower coronary heart disease. Moreover, detailed evaluation of available evidence fails to demonstrate a higher risk for abnormal heart rate or sudden cardiac death. And, while the verdict is still out, the researchers say that coffee may even exert a protective effect against cancer, possibly asa result of its antioxidant/antiinflammatory effect.
Before you up your daily caffeine intake, keep in mind that there is still much to be discovered about coffee. Many of these studies were observational studies, meaning that there was no attempt to control the outcomes with treatment. And response to certain compounds within coffee may be individually-driven. Still, in moderation, coffee may be less harmful (and more beneficial) than we have been led to believe.
Coffee equals the black, irreplaceable elixir in any language. To your health? Indeed!
a reduced stroke risk?!
I have some exciting news for you dear readers: the American Heart Association announced yesterday that incorporating two cups of green tea and even a cup of coffee a day can help reduce stroke risk.
The accruing evidence for the value of green tea or coffee in the fight against certain diseases has been steady but mixed. In other words, there has been a mixed bag of findings with some research showing green tea’s advantage when it comes to heart disease risk (but not stroke) and coffee’s ability to reduce the likelihood of diabetes and certain types of cancer. But these studies have focused on different outcomes, have been small and have’t always included the same type of people in terms of age, gender or overall health.
This time, Japanese researchers asked over 83,000 adults about their daily green tea and coffee drinking habits and then followed them for 13 years. Over this time period, they also measured stroke, heart attacks and sudden death from heart disease, and accounted for factors that could also affect stroke risk, such as smoking, alcohol, BMI, diabetes, high blood pressure, exercise, and daily diet (fruit, vegetables and fish intake). The age range was between 45 and 74, the pool was pretty equally balanced in terms of gender and all were free of cancer and heart disease at the start.
So, what did they learn?
Drinking two to three cups of green tea a day was linked to a 14% lower risk of stroke; four or more cups was linked to a 20% lower risk. Among coffee drinkers, just one cup a day (6 oz serving, caffeinated) appeared lower stroke risk by as much as 20%. And for either group? Both had about a third lower risk of experiencing a type of stroke (intracerebral hemorrhage) in which a blood vessel bursts and there is bleeding inside the brain.
There are a lot of theories why green tea and coffee are heart disease busters. Green tea, for example, contains antioxidants called catechins, which are believed to protect the vascular system. Coffee contains substances that may decrease insulin sensitivity and improve overall blood glucose levels. Together, they appear to create a super heart protective benefit.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women and risk grows as we age. Diet and exercise, cigarette smoking and alcohol all play important roles. And it looks like just a few cups of green tea or a cup of coffee daily can help cut our risk substantially while still enriching our health in other ways. Cuppa anyone?!
If you are interested in learning more, the study is reported in Stroke: Journal of The American Heart Association.Read More
Yes, it’s Monday and I’ve already posted today’s piece. However, nothing like bursting the ol’ Wednesday Bubble early. So, ladies, listen up! When it comes to heart disease, namely a heart attack, your diet matters. In fact, researchers report that eating three or more servings of blueberries or strawberries a week can cut the risk of heart attack by as much as a third.
Nevermind the early Wednesday Bubble; have I got your attention yet?!!
Aging is a risk factor for heart disease, a leading cause of death in women. Moreover, the reason that more and more women start to die from heart disease as they grow older appears to have everything to do with the ability of cells to repair and replenish circulation and not much at all to do with waning hormone levels. You can read about that here. Cholesterol levels and weight gain also play a role. As does diet, in particular, the incorporation of flavonoids — compounds that are ubiquitous in nature — and found in many plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. Yet, of the 4,000 some odd flavonoids that exist, which are the most beneficial in heart disease?
To tease out this answer, researchers followed over 93,000 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study II over a period of 18 years. During this time, the women, all of whom were between the ages of 25 and 42 at enrollment, completed questionnaires about their diets every four years. Their findings? Women who reported eating higher levels of a subclass of flavonoids known as ‘anthocyanins,” which are responsible for the red, purple and blue colours of many fruits and vegetables, had as much as a 32% reduction in the risk for heart attack. Indeed, for every 15 mg increase in dietary intake of anthocyanins, the relative risk of having a heart attack declined by 17%. Importantly, these results remained unchanged even when researchers factored in other plant-based food constituents (such as potassium or folate), total fruit and vegetable intake, as well as alcohol drinking, and the presence of high blood pressure and/or diabetes.
The researchers point out that anthocyanins are believed to dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and inhibit other mechanisms that contribute to atherosclerosis. Understanding how they work to counter the risk of a heart attack is important because the mechanisms underlying heart attack in younger and middle aged women versus their older peers, are different.
Of note, blueberries and strawberries were part of the analysis because they are the most eaten berries in the U.S. That aside, it is possible that eating other foods that have high levels of anthocyanins could produce similar benefits.
Want to stave off your risk of a heart attack? Eat more berries every week. It’s an easy fix for what could be a huge problem and there’s no time like the present to start on the path to heart health.
(This study appears in the online version of Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association.)
I cannot lie?
Okay, I don’t know if I aspire to ‘quite a spread’ but I am here to tell you that things could be worse. In fact, if you’ve ‘got back’ you may be healthier than some women.
It seems that a large derriere and thighs may actually extend your life. The reason? Researchers say that fat particles that end up in these areas help trap harmful fatty acids in our diet.
Although they are unsure of the exact reasons why, researchers do say that unlike abdominal fat, which has been linked to metabolic syndrome, lower body fat, i.e., fat that accumulates in the thighs and backside, has actually been confirmed to play a protective role in the body. And, it not only stores unhealthy fatty acids, but may also release harmful compounds more slowly than say, abdominal fat.
So if you’ve got back, are you in the clear to eat whatever you want? Not so fast. Even though your derriere offer a protective role, there are other reasons to eat and stay healthy – not only to maintain optimal cholesterol levels, but also to counteract some of the natural effects of declining estrogen, such as weakening bones.
(The study appeared in the January 12 online edition of the International Journal of Obesity.)Read More