April 28th, 2015

Another Study Shows Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight and Keep it Off!

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Introduction:

A new study published in the International Archives of Medicine adds to the growing data supporting the benefits of dark chocolate in promoting weight loss. Of all the foods available on planet Earth, perhaps the most magical (and interesting) is chocolate. This delectably seemingly addictive food is produced from the beans of the cacao tree whose official name Theobroma cacao reflects the long standing love for chocolate (theobroma being the Greek word for “food of the gods”).

Background:

A 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that frequent chocolate consumption was associated with lower body mass index (BMI) – a ratio of height and weight that’s used to measure obesity. It is important to point out, however, that these benefits of chocolate were only apparent with moderate consumption and that consuming large quantities of chocolate would obviously be counterproductive to losing weight. The recommended “dose” of dark chocolate is approximately 30g to 60g/day (roughly 1 to 2 ounces of a bar with a >70% cocoa content).

Other key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption are its effect on cardiovascular disease and brain health. A growing amount of recent research suggests that:

  • Chocolate can be a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants that are especially important in protecting against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries.
  • Chocolate flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots.
  • Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Frequent chocolate consumption is associated with a nearly 40% reduced risk for heart disease and a 30% reduced risk for a stroke.
  • Chocolate can provide significant amounts of arginine – an amino acid that is required in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood flow, inflammation, and blood pressure.
  • Chocolate may help improve cognitive function and memory as we age.

New Data:

In a new study from the Institute of Diet and Health in Germany, men and women between the ages of 19 and 67 were divided into three groups. One group was instructed to keep a low-carb diet and to consume a daily serving of 1.5 ounces of chocolate with 81-percent cocoa content (chocolate group). Another group was instructed to follow the same low-carb diet as the chocolate group, but without the chocolate intervention (low-carb group). In addition, a third group ate at their own discretion, with unrestricted choice of food.

At the beginning and end of the one month study, all participants gave a blood sample and their weight, BMI and waist-to-hip ratio were determined and noted. During the study, participants were encouraged to weigh themselves on a daily basis, assess the quality of their sleep as well as their mental state.

Results demonstrated that the subjects of the chocolate intervention group experienced the easiest and most successful weight loss. This effect began to be statistically significant at the 3-week mark as the weight loss was 10% greater in the chocolate group. Furthermore, in the last week of the study, the low-carb group started showing a rebound effect with weight gain. In contrast, the chocolate group experienced a steady decrease in body weight. This is confirmed by the evaluation of the ketone reduction. Initially, ketone reduction was much lower in the chocolate group than in the low-carb peer group, but after a few weeks, the situation changed.

Improvements in cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels were similar in the chocolate and low-carb group.

Utilizing a detailed questionnaire to assess physical and mental symptoms, the chocolate group experienced significantly higher improvements in well-being compared to the low-carb group. The chocolate group showed significantly less symptoms of fatigue and the sensation of heavy legs.

The researchers concluded consumption of chocolate with a high-cocoa content significantly accelerates weight loss and increases the success of weight-loss diets.

Commentary:

The most significant result from this study was the prevention of rebound weight gain. Considerable evidence indicates that it is very difficult for most people to sustain a low carbohydrate diet and as a result, weight loss. Having a moderate amount of chocolate, in this case 1.5 ounces of a bar containing 81% cocoa, may give people the reward they need to stay on the weight loss course.

In addition to regularly eating 1 to 2 ounces of dark chocolate a day, there are several other ways that I get my chocolate fix. For example, almost every day I have a brew that I create with organic raw unsweetened cacao powder. I put two to three tablespoons of the cacao powder, one tablespoon of xylitol (sweetener), and two packets of stevia in a big mug and then put it under my K cup coffee maker spout and fill it up with decaffeinated coffee. I like it a lot. So much so that it has become part of my daily ritual. Is it helping me improve my health? Absolutely!

Reference:

Bohannon J, Koch D, Homm P, Driehaus A. Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator. International Archives of Medicine 2015;8(55). doi: 10.3823/1654

Dr. Michael Murray
4/28/15

April 21st, 2015

What is the Proper Dosage of Jogging?

Proper Jogging TimeIntroduction:

There is no question that a sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and an early death. But a new study provides data to make it easy to conclude, that people who go to the opposite end of the spectrum and run too much suffer the same consequence. As usual, there is more to the story before “running” to a conclusion.

Background Data:

Regular exercise protects against the development of CVD and also favorably modifies other CVD risk factors including high blood pressure, blood lipid levels, insulin resistance, and obesity. Exercise is also important in the treatment and management of patients with CVD or increased risk including those who have hypertension, stable angina, a prior heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure or are recovering from a cardiovascular event.

Despite the benefits of exercise, throughout history there have been reports of people dying from running too much or too far. The most famous case is that of Pheidippides, a running courier who in 490 B.C. is believed to have run from Marathon to Athens, Greece, a distance of approximately 25 miles, to bring news of the Athenian victory over the Persians. Upon reaching the Athenian Agora, he exclaimed “Nike!” (“victory”), and then collapsed and died.

One of the most famous studies on the effect of exercise and jogging on heart health is the Copenhagen City Heart Study. One analysis of this study was performed in a random sample of 1,878 joggers who were followed for up to 35 years and compared with 16,827 non-joggers showed that the increase in survival among joggers was 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. This particular analysis also indicated that jogging up to 2.5 hour per week at a slow or average pace and a frequency of ≤3 times per week was associated with the lowest mortality. Those who jogged >4 hours per week, at a fast pace, and >3 times per week appeared to lose many of the longevity benefits noted with less strenuous doses of jogging. These findings were not entirely unexpected by the researchers as some other studies had shown that excessive exercise was just as bad for the heart as too little.

New Data:

In an effort to better evaluate the ideal dosage of jogging to improve longevity, researchers looked at a different set of data from the Copenhagen City Heart Study that used 1,098 healthy joggers and 3,950 healthy non-joggers being followed up since 2001. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between jogging and long-term, all-cause mortality by focusing specifically on the effects of pace, quantity, and frequency of jogging.

The joggers were divided into light, moderate, and strenuous joggers. Light joggers had a slow or average pace, approximately 5 miles per hour, <2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week. Moderate joggers had a slow or average pace, ≥2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week or fast pace, ≤4 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of ≤3 times per week or slow or average pace with a frequency of >3 times per week or fast pace, <2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of >3 times per week. Strenuous joggers had a fast pace of more than 7 miles per hour and either >4 hours of jogging per week or ≥2.5 hours of jogging per week with a frequency of >3 times per week.

Compared with sedentary non-joggers, 1 to 2.4 hours of jogging per week was associated with the lowest mortality (71% reduction in risk). The optimal frequency of jogging was 2 to 3 times per week (68% reduction in risk) or less than 1 time per week (71% reduction in risk). The optimal pace was slow (49% reduction in risk) or average (62% reduction in risk).

The highest reduction in risk for mortality was found in light joggers (78%) followed by moderate joggers (34%). The strenuous joggers actually showed a mortality rate that was not statistically different from that of the sedentary group.

Commentary:

As someone that is extremely active and believes in the value of regular exercise, this study on the surface seems to go against that practice. However, as usual in these types of studies, there is more to the story. What do we really know about the value of exercise in the promotion of health? Quite a lot actually and there is significant value with regular exercise, but excessive exercise may be quite harmful as this study suggest.

First, higher intensity and dosages of exercise is associated with many health benefits including improved cardiovascular and respiratory function, reduced body fat percentage and in particular reduced abdominal adiposity (belly fat), improved blood sugar control, and better cholesterol levels. Exercise intensity may also improve mood, sleep, and self-esteem in a dose-dependent manner. So, this study does not represent the end-all in terms of evaluating the effects of exercise on longevity.

Other studies that have looked at exercise have also reported this U-shaped curve showing that too much exercise had the same risk of early mortality as too little exercise. In terms of running, it was suggested that the limit of health benefits started to erode when people started running more than 35 miles per week or walking more than 46 miles per week.

Before commenting on the findings of this study, I have to admit that I am not a runner. I do, however, put in considerable amount of time on elliptical and stair climbing machines and push my heart rate at about 70-80% for 45 minutes or up to an hour at least three times per week. I do get on the treadmill occasionally and will run 1 or 2 miles at what would be considered an average to fast speed (6-7 mph). So, in the context of the researched reviewed above, am I am working out too hard? Absolutely, but I am not worried about it at all for several reasons. In fact, I am convinced I am doing really good things for my heart and body by pushing my exercise frequency, duration, and intensity.

Let me explain. It is thought that the detrimental effects of excessive exercise are due to the fact that exercise promotes inflammation and oxidative damage. Yep, the very things linked to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). However, a little dosage of exercise stimulates the body to produce anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substance. That is a great thing, but at an excessive dosage exercise may lead to damage to the heart and blood vessels in a way that accelerates heart disease and hardening of the arteries. I am not worried about my reaching the level to be considered excessive exercise because of all of the things I do with my lifestyle, diet, and dietary supplements that fight against atherosclerosis. In essence, I flood my body with protective factors such as getting plenty of sleep; promotion of the relaxation response through meditation and prayer; eating heart health promoting foods like richly colored fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, cacao polyphenols, and beneficial oils like olive; and I take a big dosage of protective dietary supplements such as fish oils, Theracurmin, numerous flavonoid-rich extracts, and many others.

For more information on how to protect your heart and vascular system, please down my free book on Cholesterol and Heart Health. You may also what to view my webinar on An Honest Appraisal of Statins and Their Alternatives

Reference:

Schnohr P, O’Keefe JH, Marott JL, Lange P, Jensen GB. Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9.

Dr. Michael Murray
4/21/15

April 14th, 2015

New Study Shows Probiotics May Prevent ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism & ADHD Prevention in Children
Introduction:

There is a growing amount of medical research indicating that alterations in the type of bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract can influence brain function, mood and overall mental health. A new study from Finland is the first to show that probiotic supplementation early in life may be an effective way to reduce the rising tide of brain disorders in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders.

Background Data:

Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances are very common in children with brain disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) including Asperger’s syndrome (AS). A number of mechanisms have been suggested linking these brain disorders as well as some of the common digestive disturbances these kids experience to alterations in the gut bacteria.

One novel theory is that lower levels of beneficial gut bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in children with ASD and ADD leads to an increase in toxin-producing bacteria such as Clostridium species. One study that supports this link that a gut microbial imbalance, such as the presence of toxin-producing Clostridium species, could contribute to ASD behavioral symptoms involved 11 children with ASD who were treated for 8 weeks with vancomycin. This antibiotic is often used in the treatment of chronic diarrhea due to Clostridium difficile. In this small study, scores for behavior and communication improved significantly during the treatment period; however, these gains only lasted while the children were given the antibiotic. This study raises the possibility that using probiotics, rather than antibiotics, may be helpful in at least some cases of ASD and, perhaps, ADHD as well.

In addition to the possibility that children with ASD and/or ADHD may be influenced by the absorption of gut-derived bacterial toxins, an altered gut flora also leads to increased gut permeability. Several studies have shown that the integrity of the intestinal lining is compromised in both ADHD and ASD. Increased gut permeability could lead to the absorption of microbial byproducts as well as partially digested food-derived compounds that may affect brain cell function directly or lead to immune responses that could also affect brain cells. Since probiotics can also improve the gut barrier, they may provide additional benefits in ADHD and ASD through this mechanism as well. Furthermore, since approximately 80% of the immune system resides in and around the intestinal lining, probiotics may also favorably affect the immune system to reduce the GI inflammation often observed in children with ADHD and ASD.

Lastly, a recent study in healthy women showed that supplementation with a mixture of probiotic bacteria had significant effects on brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation indicating that the probiotic bacteria themselves may be capable of exerting beneficial effects directly on brain function and mood.

New Data:

To test the hypothesis that probiotic supplementation may protect against the development of ADHD and AS, researchers in Finland looked closer at a study that was originally designed to test the effect of early supplementation with a probiotic in infancy on the later development of eczema. The mothers of 159 children were recruited in the and randomized in double-blind, placebo-controlled manner to receive 10 billion colony-forming units of Lactobacillus rhamnosus or placebo daily for 4 weeks before expected delivery. After delivery, the capsule contents were given either to the children, or continuously to the mothers, if breast-feeding, for 6 months.

To evaluate for a possible link between probiotic supplementation and ADHD or AS, 75 of these children were evaluated by an experienced child psychiatrist or neurologist not involved in the study or follow-up and the children were randomized and blinded so as not to produce any study bias. Results showed that ADHD or AS was diagnosed in 6/35 (17.1%) children in the placebo and none in the probiotic group (0/40). The probability value of this occurring was 0.008 indicating that it was not due to chance, but rather to a clear effect.

Because fecal samples were stored, the researchers were able to analyze the children for gut bacteria during their first six months of life. What the researchers found was that the numbers of Bifidobacterium species bacteria in feces during the first 6 months of life was lower in children with ADHD and AS compared to the healthy children.

The researchers concluded “Probiotic supplementation early in life may reduce the risk of neuropsychiatric disorder development later in childhood possible by mechanisms not limited to gut microbiota composition.”

Commentary:

When I read this study, my immediate response was WOW. Not because the results were unexpected, but rather my surprise that someone actually studied the possibility that probiotic supplementation may offer significant protection against the development of AS and ADHD.

What are the takeaways from this study? Alterations in gut bacteria and/or GI function/integrity may be a major factor in the development of childhood behavioral disorders. I strongly encourage all expecting mothers to supplement their diets with a high quality probiotic supplement, continue with that supplement while breastfeeding, and give their infants a probiotic supplement when they are no longer being breastfed.

My specific product recommendations are for women to use the Ultimate Probiotic Women’s Formula from Natural Factors at a dosage of one capsule per day for general support that will provide 12 billion live bacteria. For infants and children, I recommend the Ultimate Probiotic Children Formula from Natural Factors. For children 0-5 years old: 1/2 teaspoon, 1 to 3 times per day. For children 6-12 years old: 1 teaspoon, 1 to 3 times a day. Both of these formulas contain a good dosage of Lactobacillus rhamnosus along with compatible other probiotic bacteria.

Reference:

Pärtty A, Kalliomäki M, Wacklin P, Salminen S, Isolauri E. A possible link between early probiotic intervention and the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders later in childhood: a randomized trial. Pediatr Res. 2015 Mar 11. doi: 10.1038/pr.2015.51.

Dr. Michael Murray
4/14/15