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2015: The Year in Review

Notable research that impacts our health

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2015: The Year in Review

Curious about what scientists were up to in 2015? These health studies hold some interesting insights into natural health, wellness, exercise, and the environment.

As we near the end of another year, alive brings you some highlights from the world of research. This year’s health studies uncovered good news for MINDful dieters, saturated fats, and tree climbers, along with some ongoing problems for bumblebees, children’s activity levels, and our attention spans.

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52%

of a recent study’s participants who followed the MIND diet were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the blood pressure-lowering DASH diet. It was specifically developed to help improve brain function and reduce dementia. The main MIND diet foods include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The foods that should be limited include red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

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50.2%

of patients with early flu symptoms who were treated with a specific Echinacea purpurea hot drink (containing European elderberry) recovered after five days of treatment. By comparison, 48.8 percent of patients who took the drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir) also recovered by day five. The results of the recently published clinical trial indicate the echinacea hot drink was as effective at resolving flu symptoms as oseltamivir, which is regarded as a go-to flu treatment among conventional medical authorities.

While the effectiveness of the Echinacea purpurea drink and oseltamivir was statistically comparable, a greater number of adverse events—usually nausea and vomiting—was reported with oseltamivir than with the hot drink.

More than 400 patients, including some children, participated in the randomized, double-blind, multicentre clinical trial. The trial’s authors suggested further research is warranted across an even broader cross section of the population.

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184,000

adult deaths worldwide each year may be attributed to health concerns associated with consumption of sugary drinks, such as sodas, fruit drinks, sports/energy drinks, or sweetened iced teas. (Researchers did not include 100 percent fruit juice.) Data was reviewed from 62 dietary surveys conducted between 1980 and 2010 that included 611,971 individuals across 51 countries. The drinks’ direct impact on diabetes and obesity-related effects on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer was calculated. According to researchers, sugar-sweetened beverages provide no health benefits, but reducing their consumption could save tens of thousands of deaths each year.

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22 percent

reduction in diabetes risk was associated with high intakes of beta carotene in the diet, a recent Dutch study involving data from 37,846 people found. Foods that contain the highest amounts of beta carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables, including carrots, pumpkin, spinach, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, tangerines, and winter squash. Public health officials recommend people at risk for type 2 diabetes should also perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

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50

large observational studies were pooled and analyzed to determine the effects of saturated fats and trans fats on a number of health outcomes. The latest findings confirmed results from several other recent large-scale reviews: saturated fat intake is not associated with all-cause death, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes. Sources of saturated fats in our diet include butter, milk, meat, salmon, egg yolks, cocoa, and coconut oil. Trans fats were, however, associated with a 34 percent increase in death for any reason. Study authors are calling for a careful review of dietary guidelines based on this new evidence.

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1 in 8

Canadian men are expected to develop prostate cancer during their lifetime. Researchers studied the effect of substances called catechins—found in decaffeinated green tea capsules—on prostate cancer development in 49 men who had early precursors of prostate cancer. These men showed lower rates of prostate cancer development than did 48 similar men who took a placebo. The men who took green tea capsules also showed decreased prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.

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8 seconds

That’s how long the average human attention span was in 2013 (1 second shorter than a goldfish), down from 12 seconds in 2000, according to newly published Microsoft research. Researchers surveyed 2,000 Canadians and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograph testing. The report indicated that “heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli.” But on the bright side, it also suggests that the tech savvy among us are better able to multitask and to process and encode information to memory.

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30%

of the worldwide population is estimated to suffer from fatty liver disease (FLD), considered the most common liver disease in the Western world. FLD can lead to inflammation and cirrhosis of the liver, and few treatments are available. Researchers in Israel have found that resistance training in the gym can help reduce liver fat. At the end of a three-month study involving 82 subjects with FLD who performed 40 minutes of resistance exercises three times a week, researchers found a decrease in liver fat, as well as blood cholesterol levels.

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Climb a tree!

That’s one of the messages from a recent study looking at how “proprioceptive activities” (activities that involve awareness of body position and orientation in space, such as climbing a tree) affect working memory. Research subjects engaged in activities that included walking or crawling on a beam, running barefoot, paying attention to posture, and navigating around obstacles. Control groups did yoga or listened to a lecture. Those who performed proprioceptive activities showed a 50 percent improvement in working memory while neither control group experienced any benefits in working memory.

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300

minutes per week of light-intensity exercise might be as beneficial for older adults as 150 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity activity weekly—the current guideline for adults. Research from Oregon State University found that adults over 65 who participated in light-intensity activities for 300 minutes or more each week were 18 percent healthier overall than others who were less active. Something as simple as walking while talking on the phone helps to positively increase activity levels.

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“I do”

may mean “you will” gain weight, according to a recent study of 10,226 married respondents in nine European countries. The results from all nine countries indicated that couples have a higher body mass index than singles, whether men or women. Researchers asked a series of questions, including questions about eating and exercise behaviours. They found, for example, that though married men buy more organic and fair trade food than single men, they also engage in less sport and exercise.

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300 km

have been lost to the southern edge of bumblebees’ range in Europe and North America over the last 110 years, according to a comprehensive study by scientists at participating European and North American universities. Scientists say this critical shrinking of habitat significantly reduces the area that bumblebees can pollinate. Scientists believe these findings could adversely affect many plants, including crops such as blueberries, which are pollinated by bumblebees.

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6th

basic taste has been identified by food scientists at Purdue University to describe the unique taste of fat to distinguish it from the other five basic tastes: salty, sweet, umami, bitter, and sour. Although fat has a distinct feel in the mouth that gives it a pleasant, smooth sensation, the taste of fat is very unpleasant. Stinky cheese or foods that go rancid have high levels of fat taste or oleogustus, the name proposed for the newly classified taste.

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18.7%

was the increase in length of forest fire seasons worldwide over a 35-year period due to more rain-free days and hotter temperatures. New research shows that over one decade, rain-free days increased by 1.31 days, but annual worldwide precipitation remained the same. Researchers state that we’re receiving the same amount of rainfall, but it’s falling in fewer days.

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D-

is the score assigned to Canadian kids’ overall physical activity levels in The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. The grade reflects that only 9 percent of 5- to 17-year-old kids get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity they need each day. D- was also the score given for sedentary behaviours. For the first time, the Report Card published a position statement that encourages self-directed play outdoors in all settings, stating that “when children are outside they move more, sit less, and play longer.”

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