Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Alcohol: Good For The Heart?

A new review of past research on alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease concludes that light to moderate daily alcohol consumption might reduce risk of heart disease by %14 to %25.  The analyses was led by Paul Ronksley at the University of Calgary.

Association of alcohol consumption with selected cardiovascular disease outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis -- Ronksley et al. 342 --

Of course, this news get's big headlines all around the world.

Let's look at some other recent research on alcohol that did not get big headlines..

Light to moderate drinking increases risk of esophageal cancer

Alcohol drinking and esophageal squamous cell carc... [Int J Cancer. 2010] - PubMed result

ScienceDaily (Nov. 11, 2010) — Alcohol can do much more harm to the body than just damaging the liver. Drinking also can weaken the immune system, slow healing, impair bone formation, increase the risk of HIV transmission and hinder recovery from burns, trauma, bleeding and surgery.  

Sleep quality negatively affected by alcohol intoxication; contrary to popular belief, booze does not help you sleep better.

Sleep Following Alcohol Intoxication in Healthy, Y... [Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011] - PubMed result

If you have high blood pressure, binge drinking can increase risk of cardiovascular disease by 12X.

Alcohol Consumption, Blood Pressure, and the Risk ... [Curr Hypertens Rep. 2011] - PubMed result

Some peoples brains are more permeable to alcohol, increasing risk of alcoholism.

Alcohol Effects on Cerebral Blood Flow in Subjects... [Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011] - PubMed result

Healthy living is best for reducing risk of breast cancer.  Healthy living includes avoiding alcohol. Healthy living index: "defined as the joined effect of moderate and/or vigorous-intensity physical activity, low consumption of fat, processed foods, refined cereals, complex sugars, and the avoidance of tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption"

Healthy lifestyle on the risk of breast cancer. [Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011] - PubMed result

Alcohol consumption increases risk of brain tumours

Alcohol consumption and risk of glioblastoma; evid... [Int J Cancer. 2011] - PubMed result

Alcohol abuse shortens telomere length

 Shortened telomeres in individuals with abuse in a... [Int J Cancer. 2011] - PubMed result

We see lot's of press for possible positive effects of boozing because drinking is a coveted social pastime.

The facts are, compared to healthy living: good sleep, regular exercise, and good nutrition, daily consumption of alcohol has no benefit, but is fraught with health risks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Just one high fat meal starts clogging arteries

I've written before about research showing that just one high fat meal can cause arteries to stiffen for a few hours after slugging down the lard.  The medical folks call this artery stiffening "endothelial dysfunction".

The first thing most people think of is,  "so what.  I only eat high fat meals occasionally". Usually the infamous, "it's just one time" excuse is rolled out.

You've heard me address this jewel before.. yeah, it was just one time last week.  And the week before.  Oh, right.. that wedding last month.. nice buffet!  Christmas.. huge spread this year. Office party, Superbowl party, birthday party.. you get the picture.

Then there's the "treat" thing.  Yeah I know.. I like to treat myself a little now then.. I know I should cut back, but it's.. it's just a treat and I deserve a treat!

No doubt the food tastes good. But is fat gain a treat?  Are high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure a treat?  "Cris, you're a patronizing jerk!"  Yeah, I hear that sometimes, or sometimes that sentiment is so strong I don't need to hear it, I can taste it.  Most of the time though it's just laughed off because there isn't a strong connection with the real and immediate health risks associated with overeating.. overeating has a well established reward profile.

When I was a smoker I had the same defence when someone would say I should quit smoking.

I don't see smoking as a "treat" anymore, and the very thought of assigning cancer sticks the "treat" moniker is simply insane.

The latest research shows that one high fat meal increases inflammatory responses that lead to clogging arteries; in this case the study fed a serving consisting of two breakfast sandwiches, hash browns, and an orange juice from a fast food restaurant to willing study subjects.

The most interesting part of what was discovered was that if your waist girth was greater than 32 inches and you already had high triglycerides, you had a greater inflammatory response.

What's worrisome is that the inflammatory response that's causes here is a specific kind of lipoprotein increases and this is directly related to making fats stick to arterial walls, or "clogging arteries".

It's a self feeding mechanism.. overeating causes fat gain and rise in blood triglycerides. Having increased abdominal fat and high triglycerides increases the artery clogging effect of overeating, and every time a high fat meal is consumed, this process occurs.

 Endothelial inflammation correlates with subject triglycerides and waist size following a high fat meal — AJP - Heart

Is there anything that can be done about this?

Practice disassociating reward with high fat meals.

Eating healthy is the real treat.  Eat healthy, tasty meals and eat less.

We'll feel great, have more energy, and won't feel trapped by thinking we need high fat unhealthy foods to feel rewarded.  Oh yeah.. and we won't have high tryglicerides, clogged arteries, or be overweight.. that's worth more than a high fat meal.. isn't it?

Obesity rates and life expectancy increase

Life expectancy has been increasing since about the 1400's when the average life expectancy was around 40 years.  Historically sanitation and medicine are two of the largest improvements that have increased human life span.

With medical advancements in treating cancer and other serious diseases, people are beating the odds or living longer with disease due to improvements in early detection and treatment regimens.

We've been hearing for the last two decades that we're becoming too overweight and out of shape, which will reduce our quality of life and ultimately shorten our lives.

It's true that being overweight and physically unfit increases your risk of developing illnesses that can reduce your life span, and it's true that every year more of the population is overweight and out of shape.

Despite this, life expectancy for the population as a whole continues to increase due to mostly to medical advancements, up to 2008.

For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the US dropped by a couple months in the US, according to this press release from the CDC (average life expectancy was 77.8 in 2008 in the US):

CDC Media Relations - Press Release: December 9, 2010

In canada it looks like this:

So what does all this mean?  Not much to any individual.  Just a bunch of numbers. That's the problem with population averages; the average does not explain each individuals circumstances.  Those who smoke and drink daily and are overweight are less likely to see the endpoint of these life expectancy predictions or averages.

In reading reports on life expectancy I found that statisticians and medical researchers reported they don't always have precise explanations for fluctuations in trends. Some of the year to year changes are due to how data is collected and processed.  In general researchers are still predicting a drop in life expectancy if we continue to become more overweight and out of shape, but increases in medical care may offset this.

Being overweight as a population may compensate for the impact smoking had on our population; fewer people smoke now compared to the 40's through 60's so death rates due to smoking related illness is down, but more people are overweight so death rates due to complications from obesity are on the rise.

Let's make this practical.

Out of all I read on the subject here are the things that take years off your life:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol 
  • Poor diet
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • Parents or grandparents died young from cancer or heart disease
  • High stress
  • Being bitter and angry most of the time
  • Limited access to health care/ not getting regular medical check ups after age 40

Here are the things that add years to your life:

  • Maintaining healthy body weight
  • Daily exercise
  • Good nutrition. Specifically, eating less
  • Good sleep
  • Low stress
  • Having a positive outlook
  • Close friends and family
  • Access to healthcare over entire life

For smokers, the most significant improvement to health and life expectancy comes from quitting smoking.

An important detail; the last 20 years of your life are much higher quality, retaining a higher level of physical mobility, cognition, and fewer health complications, when you do the things in the second list.

That sounds pretty good!  Live healthy, and love it :-)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

iPhone app part of international study

Innovative iPhone app developed to carry out psychological and social research

How good are we at recognizing real words from none real werds?

There's an app for that.  The app is free.

Check out the link above for the full story

Short breaks while studying improves focus

It's thought that our vigilance towards studying decreases over time so we lose focus and don't want to pay attention anymore.

But why is it then that we can instantly focus on something else other than what we're studying?  Like say, a TV show, or conversation with someone?

Attention span may not be an issue.

That was an idea that professor Alejandro Llears decided to put to the test of science.

Turns out taking short breaks while studying prevents our brain from ignoring a constant, and therefore "ignorable" variable in our environment.. that book in front of us.

Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Exercise Makes You Smarter

Back in 1999 the Howard Hughes Medical Institute published some interesting data:

Running boosts the growth of new nerve cells.

 “These observations support the idea that exercise enhances the formation and survival of new nerve cells as well as the connections between nerve cells, which in turn improves long-term memory.”
Terrence J. Sejnowski

Since then other research has shown that aerobic exercise stimulates neurogenesis in the hippocampus

In short, exercise grows brain cells.

A german study in 2008 raised the point that in casual observation "not all athletes are necessarily smarter than more sedentary fellows".

OK, so maybe we need more research to learn where the causal link is; in what way does exercise affect the brain, and do these changes necessarily result in becoming more smart.

Here's a few studies that begin to reveal how exercise specifically makes your brain cells grow.

Warning; You may want to run before reading these.. might need the extra brain cells..

So aside from wordy studies done on mice, is there any indication that exercise will help humans learn?

In 2008 John Ratey MD published his book SPARK, in which he takes readers on a fascinating journey that explains how exercise makes us smarter, and there are plenty of practical examples.

Here's a short CBC News documentary, "Brain Gains" (about 15 min) on how teacher Allison Cameron at Saskatoon School City Park Colligate put her students on treadmills for the first half of math class, and got better learning results from her students:

Also in the book Ratey talks about what now is a famous reference for this topic; how schools in Naperville changed their curriculum so that students could exercise before exams and just prior to classes where their academic performance was lower.

The results?  Better learning and better test scores.

Here's another great reference, Active Living Research published in 2007;

"Students whose time in PE or school-based physical activity was increased maintained or improved their grades and scores on standardized achievement tests, even though they received less classroom instructional time than students in control groups."

Getting a good nights sleep also increases cognition.  

Want a good score on an exam?  Workout before class, make it continuous moderate to vigorous aerobic activity at least 20 minutes in duration (but don't go until you're totally wiped out, that defeats the purpose!)

Workout within two hours prior to an exam.

Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day, and don't mess with the sleep cycle by staying out late on weekends just prior to exams.

Happy studies!