The Year in Review

Health studies that shaped 2013

The Year in Review

What do fecal transplants and telomere length have in common? They're two topics covered in some of the most interesting health studies of 2013.

Each month alive brings you the most recent health studies in “The Latest Word.” Given a limited amount of space on the back page, we’re unable to bring you all the interesting studies we come across. As we look back on the past year, here are a few of the studies we didn’t publish in 2013 that hold promise for our health and wellness.

7.2%
lower risk of high blood pressure was found among study participants who walked briskly over a six-year period, and a 4.2 percent reduced risk in those who ran. Running and walking can help reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers emphasize that it’s the distance covered that matters when running or walking, not how long you exercise. Results from two US studies—one involving 33,000 runners and the other 16,000 walkers—found that the health benefits of walking are as effective as the benefits of running, but walkers must hoof it, not saunter.

Benefits for walkers included

  • 12.3 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • 9.3 percent lower risk of heart disease
  • 7 percent lower risk of high cholesterol

Benefits for runners included

  • 12.1 percent reduced risk of diabetes
  • 4.5 percent reduced risk of heart disease
  • 4.3 percent reduced risk of high cholesterol

23%
of Danish people studied in a representative sample had 40 percent less intestinal bacteria and less diversity of bacteria than the average person. This may cause low-grade inflammation that can create chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and throughout the body, and lead to obesity. Previous research has shown that chronic inflammation increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

How our intestinal bacteria becomes depleted isn’t understood, but researchers are studying genetics, diet, and childhood exposure to antimicrobial agents, such as disinfectants and preservatives, to find the answer.

30 minutes
of listening to music a day, in addition to exercising, improved endothelial function in patients with coronary artery disease by 39 percent over a three-week period. (The endothelium is a thin layer of cells that forms the inner lining of blood vessels.) Improved endothelial function is directly associated with improved exercise capacity. Those who exercised but didn’t listen to music at all showed a 29 percent improvement in endothelial function, while those who just listened to music 30 minutes a day improved by 19 percent.

Did you know?

  • our intestinal bacteria are considered to be an organ, just like our hearts or livers.
  • our intestines are home to trillions of bacteria.
  • if you were to weigh your intestinal bacteria, the total weight would be 3.3 lb (1.5 kg).
  • that by having numerous and diverse intestinal bacteria, we strengthen our immune systems.

6 weeks
on a low-fat diet increased the amount of intestinal bacteria, as well as its diversity, in a group of overweight French individuals. Overweight individuals with low gut bacterial counts tend to gain more weight over time. Improving healthy intestinal bacterial counts by changing what we eat is just one exciting component of the European Union-funded MetaHIT project. Over the next several years, researchers will also be studying how gluten impacts intestinal bacteria count and function.

90 minutes
spent moving—instead of sitting—each day could have major health benefits for people who are at significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A British study found that sedentary behaviour had the strongest associations with cardiometabolic markers for people of all ages. Researchers encourage people to get out of their seats and move more, as well as perform 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week.

10%
increase in telomere length—an indication of biological age—was reported in men who made healthy lifestyle changes, compared to a control group, in a study of 35 men with low-risk prostate cancer. Healthy lifestyle changes included eating a whole foods plant-based diet, exercising moderately, managing stress with yoga and meditation, and seeking greater social support and intimacy. The control group, which was instructed not to make any lifestyle changes, had a 3 percent decrease on average in telomere length. The study was conducted over a five-year period with a focus on determining whether aging could be reversed at a cellular level.

7-gram
increase in fibre consumption each day may result in a 7 percent reduced risk of having a first stroke, according to British researchers who reviewed 20 years of studies. They found that the more fibre one eats, the lower one’s chances of having an initial stroke. However, they were unable to determine which foods offer the best stroke-protective effects. Even a small increase in fibre was found to be beneficial, with an ideal goal being 25 to 30 grams of fibre a day.

30%
reduction in pain was experienced by nearly two-thirds of the participants in a study that used osteopathic manual treatment (OMT) to treat low back pain. Two other groups received sham OMT or ultrasound treatments. Moderate and substantial improvements were experienced by those who received OMT, and pain medication usage was reduced. OMT is a hands-on technique performed by an osteopath that increases range of motion, alleviates tenderness, and improves back function. Ultrasound uses sound waves to cause muscle relaxation.

20%
less risk of developing type 2 diabetes was found in 22,295 Greek participants who scored high on a Mediterranean diet score (MDS) and low in available carbohydrates (glycemic load), compared to those who scored low on MDS and high in available carbohydrates. The 11-year study found that those who consumed the most available carbohydrates were 21 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Factors such as the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil may be the key to health. Research on the diabetes-protective benefits of extra-virgin olive oil is inconclusive, but researchers state that a diet low in glycemic load that follows Mediterranean diet principles could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Principles of the Mediterranean diet

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Consume monounsaturated fats such as extra-virgin olive oil rather than animal fats.
  • Eat fish and poultry, but limit red meat consumption.
  • Have moderate amounts of dairy products.

20 minutes of hatha yoga significantly improved a small group of female undergraduate students’ performances on tests for working memory and inhibitory control, compared to their results after performing 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise. Participants had greater accuracy on cognitive tasks, experienced better reaction times and ability to focus, and processed information quicker.

Research of note

alive asked the natural health experts on our Editorial Advisory Board to share the 2013 study results that impressed them the most.

Fecal transplants

Melissa Carr, DrTCM, says, “Probiotics have long been recognized as beneficial for a wide range of digestive and immune disorders, but for some, supplementation is insufficient. Fecal implants have shown promise as a possible treatment [for Clostridium difficile] with few adverse effects.”

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (January 2013), 81 percent of patients were successfully treated for C. difficile with healthy fecal implants. Of 16 patients who were given a solution of donor feces through insertion of a nasoduodenal tube, 13 required only one infusion to achieve resolution of their illness.

C. difficile causes infectious diarrhea more frequently than any other bacterium in Canadian hospitals and long-term care facilities. Taking antibiotics that destroy healthy gut bacteria can increase your chances of getting C. difficile. While antibiotics may also be prescribed to infected patients, they don’t always work. Fecal implants are a cost-effective, simple way to resolve what’s become a major health care problem, by improving the patients’ healthy microbial diversity. Probiotic promise

Nutritional scientist Allison Tannis, MSc, RHN, says, “It’s fascinating where probiotics research is going. Most amazing is the idea that it may be possible to help or eliminate food allergies with probiotics.”

A healthy bacterial balance in the gut is essential in order for our immune system to respond appropriately to pathogens and harmless antigens, such as the food we eat. A study in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports (August 2013) examines the potential of specific probiotic strains to treat food allergies by

  • balancing gut bacteria
  • repairing the gut barrier
  • modifying antigens
  • restoring immune regulation in the gut and throughout the body

Introduction to common allergens

Tannis says, “But the biggest shift in dietary thinking seen in 2013 is the movement away from delaying the introduction of common allergens to infants.” Near the end of 2012, Health Canada introduced new guidelines for the introduction of solid foods to healthy term six-month-old infants. Along with fortified cereals, fruits, and vegetables, they now recommend introducing

  • whole eggs and fish, if there’s no family history of food allergies
  • soft meats or meat alternatives, such as tofu, to avoid anemia due to iron deficiency 

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