#277 Headline Health News

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Be careful about reading health books.
You may die of a misprint.

Mark Twain

Extra! Extra! Health News You Can Use!

By Steve Edwards

Reading NewspaperChances are that anyone reading this is interested in making healthier choices in their daily life. This means that you probably peruse the daily news headlines looking for health information that can improve your lifestyle. And you'll find it. Well, you'll find the headlines. Whether or not the information will do you any good is another matter entirely. Learning to read health articles is a lot like learning to read food labels. It's all written to sound appealing, but you need to learn how to get past the headlines and into the fine print. Here are a few of the latest health headlines and how they may, or may not, have an effect on your life.

Tea strengthens older women's hips

A new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 1,500 elderly Australian women (70 to 85 years old) who participated in a five-year trial testing the effect of calcium supplementation on osteoporotic hip fractures. Information on tea consumption "was collected at the beginning of the study for 275 participants," and "all participants filled out a beverage consumption questionnaire at the end of the trial." By the end of the study, bone mineral density at the hip was 2.8 percent greater in tea drinkers than in non-tea drinkers.

V.M. Hegarty; H.M. May; and K.T. Khaw. "Tea drinking and bone mineral density in older women." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 4, 1003–1007.

What it really means. The scientific community was quick to point out that this study was inconclusive but that it was conducted on a large scale with a broad platform and deserved to get some attention. The benefits of tea have been getting a lot of play over the last decade and this certainly diminishes none of what we've been hearing. Tea's components, particularly its antioxidant flavonoids, are thought to benefit us in myriad ways. Since the only potential downside to tea drinking is a small amount of caffeine (and stuff that you might add to it), it's pretty safe to assume that adding tea to your diet could be a good thing.

Tea is more hydrating than water

TeaFrom the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition comes information that dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates you. Public health nutritionist Dr. Carrie Ruxton and colleagues at Kings College London looked at published studies on the health effects of tea consumption. "Studies on caffeine have found [that] very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate," said Ruxton. "But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid."

E.J. Gardner; C.H.S. Ruxton; and A.R. Leeds. "Black tea – helpful or harmful? A review of the evidence." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007), 61, 3–18. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602489.

What it really means. I added this one next because it's always a good idea to get more information than to believe one study. This one, though academic, was funded by The English Tea Council. The authors stressed that the work was independent, but the results should still be viewed with some skepticism. Regardless of whether or not the whole dehydrating issue was true, a close look at the work reveals that "experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health." Ah, those again. Tip of the week: drink tea.

Convenience foods are not really convenient

DinnerThe British Food Journal published the "first academic study" tracking the dinner routines of American families and found out that "convenience foods" didn't save you much time in the kitchen.

Of the 64 weeknight dinners observed, "70 percent were home-cooked, meaning they were prepared at home, but virtually all of them included some form of packaged convenience food, such as stir-fry mixes, pre-made chicken dishes, frozen vegetables, and canned soup, for example." Despite these conveniences, dinner wasn't prepared much faster. The preparation time difference between meals involving more than 50 percent convenience foods and those with limited use of such items (between 20 to 50 percent) was negligible. Meals still took an average of 52 minutes to prepare.

M.E. Beck. "Dinner preparation in the modern United States." British Food Journal, July 2007, 109(7): 531–547.

What it really means. Unfortunately, the study is far too myopic to be of much use. It doesn't appear to reflect the way most of us use convenience foods. When I make a convenient meal, it's generally tossed into the microwave and done in five minutes. The upside to this study is that those who prepare real meals don't need to use cheaply-produced store-bought sauces and mixes—and this is great. It's just not what most of us think defines convenience.

Refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine

SugarJames Cook University and other research found that sugar was far more addictive than cocaine. Studies showed that 94 percent of rats that were allowed to choose mutually exclusively between sugar water and cocaine chose sugar. Even rats that were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine. There was speculation that "the sweet receptors (two protein receptors located on the tongue), which evolved in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, have not adapted to modern times' high-sugar consumption. Therefore, the abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by our sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in the brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addiction."

M. Lenoir; F. Serre; L. Cantin; and S.H. Ahmed (2007). "Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward." PLoS ONE 2(8): e698. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000698.

What it really means. The study is really fascinating. Though we don't really need a study to inform us that sugar is highly addictive. A peak at society—or our Message Boards—can tell you that. The truly interesting thing here is the findings of "excessive reward signals in the brain," which might explain exactly why artificial sweeteners are being linked more and more with obesity.

Diet soda is dangerous

Diet CokeA study of about 6,000 middle-aged men and women, who were observed over four years, at the Boston University School of Medicine showed that those who drank one or more soft drinks a day had a 31 percent greater risk of becoming obese. They had a 30 percent increased risk of developing a larger waist circumference, "which has been shown to predict heart disease risk better than weight alone"; a 25 percent increased risk of developing high blood triglycerides as well as high blood sugar; and a 32 percent higher risk of having low high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol levels. The researchers then analyzed a smaller sample of participants on whom data on regular and diet soft drink consumption was available. Those who drank one or more diet or regular sodas per day had a 50 to 60 percent increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a syndrome marked by the presence of usually three or more of a group of factors, such as high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, low HDL levels, and insulin resistance, that are linked to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

R.S. Vasan, MD, professor of medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.
R. Dhingra. Circulation, July 31, 2007: vol 116: pp 1–9.

What it really means. That diet soda is going to the mat. While it's still a relatively small-scale study (since diet soda is consumed by billions), it's plenty large enough to loft some serious bombs into the "zero calories is all you need to know" theory of fake-sugar marketing. It also adds credence to the sugar addiction study above. There is no good reason why anyone should drink diet soda anymore. It doesn't taste as good as regular soda, has no nutritional value, has at least some health risk, and probably even makes you fat.

Vitamin K helps reduce varicose veins

Leafy GreensVaricosis, also known as varicose veins, may be attributable to a lack of vitamin K, according to a new study in the Journal of Vascular Research. Inadequate levels of vitamin K may reduce the activity of the matrix GLA protein (MGP), which in turn has been identified as a key player in the development of varicosis. Since vitamin K is required to activate MGP, it is believed that adequate dietary intake of vitamin K is a prerequisite for the prevention of varicose veins.

C. Cario-Toumaniantz; C. Boularan; L.J. Schurgers; M.F. Heymann; M. Le Cunff; J. Léger; G. Loirand; and P. Pacaud. "Identification of Differentially Expressed Genes in Human Varicose Veins: Involvement of Matrix Gla Protein in Extracellular Matrix Remodeling." Journal of Vascular Research, July 20, 2007, 44(6):444–459.

What it really means. This is one of those "why not" studies, meaning that there's no reason not to try the solution, just in case it works. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, some meats, and fermented food products. Since most of us could use more green veggies and naturally fermented items in our diet anyway, it's a win-win situation.

Drugs' side effects are worse than the conditions that they're treating

GamblingA 2005 study published in the Archives of Neurology found that dozens of patients using Mirapex or similar drugs developed serious gambling addictions. Hundreds of people have reportedly contacted lawyers about joining class-action lawsuits that allege Mirapex and Requip caused unusual side effects such as compulsive gambling, shopping, painting, and eating.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has updated the package insert for its restless legs syndrome (RLS) drug Requip. According to the new insert, Requip may cause "pathological gambling" and "increased libido including hypersexuality." These side effects are reportedly a drug-class-wide thing, which impacts all the drugs belonging to the non-ergoline dopamine agonist class of drugs. Specifically, the insert reads: "Impulse control symptoms, including compulsive behaviors such as pathological gambling and hypersexuality, have been reported in patients treated with dopaminergic agents."

Another RLS drug, Mirapex (which is also used to treat Parkinson's disease), has reportedly caused similar symptoms. The Mirapex package insert reads: "Patients taking certain medicines to treat Parkinson's disease or RLS, including
Mirapex . . . have reported problems with gambling, compulsive eating, and increased sex drive."

M.L. Dodd, MD; K.J.K., MD; J.H.B., MD; Y.E.G., MD; K.A.J., MST, MD; and J.E.A., PhD, MD. Arch Neurol. 2005, 62:1377–1381.

What it really means. Do some homework before taking your meds. This is in no way an isolated incident. Why do you think all of those pharmaceutical ads have to list a string of possible side-effects that generally take longer to recite than the rest of the commercial? What really gets me is that many of these conditions that drugs are treating are minor and could be remedied by living a healthier lifestyle.

Non-drug intervention works better than drugs for ADHD in children

Healthy ParentingA five-year study of 135 preschool students with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that non-medicinal interventions work effectively to prevent the related behavioral and academic problems in infants. "While medications for ADHD may treat the symptoms," said George DuPaul, professor of school psychology at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa. and lead author of the study in School Psychology Review, "they do not improve the children's academic and social skills the way behavioral interventions may."

The study evaluated early intervention techniques and their ability to decrease aggressiveness and behavior problems while improving academic and social skills in children aged three to five. The interventions, which included individualized programs that emphasized positive support to reinforce behavior at home and school, were highly effective. Specifically, children who received the intervention techniques had:

  • A 17 percent decrease in aggression and a 21 percent improvement in social skills at home
  • A 28 percent improvement in both categories at school
  • Improvements in early literacy skills of up to three times over their baseline status

ADHD, which affects about 7 percent of school-aged children, makes it difficult for children to pay attention and control their behavior. Up to 40 percent of toddlers with ADHD symptoms are suspended from preschool, and 16 percent are actually expelled.

A.K. Jitendra; G.J. DuPaul; R.J. Volpe; K.E. Tresco; R.E. Vile Junod; J.G. Lutz; K.S. Cleary; L.M. Flammer-Rivera; and M.C. Manella. "Consultation-Based Academic Intervention for Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: School Functioning Outcomes." School Psychology Review, August 2007, Vol. 36, #2.

What it really means. While the research is inconclusive, it makes a lot of sense. Our "take a pill and get better" reaction to behavior issues doesn't seem to be working, which is becoming clearer as the U.S. continues to slide down the scale in terms of world scholastic achievement. It's promising research, however, and will hopefully lead to us having more accountability about our lifestyles. After all, getting proactive is the Beachbody way. We know it works, and it stands to reason that it will work for kids, too.

Obese children benefit from peer support

Kids at PlayThe Journal of the American Medical Association took a first look at whether heavy kids benefited from being encouraged to play with more physically active peers. A team led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that obese children who lost weight kept it off if they were in a maintenance program. The research, involving 150 overweight 7- to 12-year-olds, is one of the first large-scale studies to evaluate the long-term effects of weight loss maintenance strategies in children. The kids initially lost weight on the same program, and then were split into groups—some with support, others left to their own devices. The longer the kids remained in the active support network, the longer they tended to keep their weight off.

D.E. Wilfley; R.I. Stein; B.E. Saelens; D.S. Mockus; G.E. Matt; H.A. Hayden-Wade; R.R. Welch; K.B. Schechtman; P.A. Thompson; and L.H. Epstein. "Efficacy of Maintenance Treatment Approaches for Childhood Overweight: A Randomized Controlled Trial." JAMA, October 10, 2007, 298: 1661–1673.

What it really means. That you should use the Message Boards and Beachbody's virtual gym called WOWY® (Work Out With You), and get your friends, family, and kids to be more active. There's no reason to scope the small print on this one. We know that it works.

Related Articles
"12 Teas to Brew Up Better Health"
"The Great Diet Soda Debate"
"Miracle Foods to Tame That Sugar Spike"
"From the Newswire"

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Your Brain on Exercise

By Tony Horton

There was an astonishing article in Newsweek a few weeks back about the benefits of exercise on the brain that just blew my mind/brain/cranium/noggin. Here's what I've learned from this article and further research.

Just 20 minutes of exercise

WorkoutWe all know that working out and exercising do amazing things for our bodies, and the benefits, other than weight loss and getting fit, are endless. Most of us also know that when our hearts, legs, and lungs get pumping, we feel much better than if we did nothing. Turns out that doing 20 minutes or more of cardiovascular and/or high-paced resistance workouts affects every aspect of our lives.

The science behind the brain magic

LungsThe great thing about the Newsweek article is that it really laid out the scientific findings over the last few years. Here's the scope. When you're forced to pull more oxygen into the body through exercise, you break what's called "the blood-brain barrier." It happens when you climb a long flight of stairs and when you're busting through any kind of workout that gets your heart rate pumping. This oxygen-filled blood makes its way into the temporal lobe of the brain. Inside that temporal lobe is an area called the hippocampus. Inside the hippocampus lies the seahorse-shaped area known as the dentate gyrus. As you exercise, these oxygen-filled blood cells rush into this area of the brain. A chemical/protein called IGF-1 is formed and released inside the dentate gyrus, which ramps up another chemical/molecule called BDNF; both IGF-1 and BDNF are "Miracle-Gro" for the brain.

Benefits for all, from kids to adults

Tony's P90X®Studies with kids right up to seniors have proven that high-paced workouts (Power 90®, Power Half Hour®, Power 90® Master Series, P90X®, Tony & the Kids!, etc.) cause the release of the chemicals mentioned above into the brain. Combine this with even more "brain drugs" like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine and you've got yourself a feel-good party in your head. Aerobic physical movement causes the release of these chemicals, and they all help you focus and give you energy when you need it. They also help you relax and rest properly. It's like a homemade chemistry set inside your skull that produces a cocktail that simulates the effects of Prozac and Ritalin.

Children PlayingChildren who play outdoors more often score better on tests than kids who don't. Regular physical activity improves memory, mood, and problem-solving abilities. Consistent exercise raises self-esteem and decreases anxiety. Study after study has proven that people who exercise 5 to 6 days a week greatly decrease their need for psychotherapeutic drugs. If your brain goes without regular bouts of exercise, the hippocampus will shrink and erode, which can lead to neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease. When the dentate gyrus is stimulated, neuro-genesis or neuro-plasticity occurs. I'm not talking about just slowing the aging process; I'm telling you that the brain creates new cells through exercise—brand-new cells that assist in the reversal of aging.

If you're looking for the fountain of youth, you can find it inside your head every time you exercise for more than 20 minutes.

Related Articles
"4 Ways Exercise Boosts Your Brain"
"Diet, Exercise, and Your Kid's Grades"
"8 Foods to Boost Your Metabolism"
"12 Steps to Having Fit and Healthy Kids"

Tony Horton If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Brain Facts IQ!

By Monica Gomez

True or False?

  1. Brain TRUE: Brain cells are the longest living cells in your body. Brain cells can actually live an entire lifetime. The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons—brain cells. And during early development, neurons can reproduce at a rate of 250,000 per minute.

  2. FALSE: The brain uses 10 percent of the oxygen you breathe. Though your brain only accounts for 2 percent of your body mass, it uses 20 percent of all the oxygen you breathe. The amount of oxygen used by particular areas of the brain can actually change due to damage or activation of those areas.

  3. Scale FALSE: A hippopotamus brain weighs more than an adult human brain. The average hippopotamus brain weight is 582 grams. That's approximately 1.3 pounds. On average, the adult human brain weighs 1,300 to 1,400 grams. That's about 2.8 to 3.1 pounds.

  4. TRUE: The brain generates 25 watts of power while you're awake. It's true! Your brain does in fact generate 25 watts of power while you're awake—enough to illuminate a 10-watt lightbulb.

  5. Neurons TRUE: About 20 to 30 percent of the calories you consume are used by the brain. To survive, the brain requires one tenth of a calorie per minute. While you're thinking, millions of neurons, or brain cells, send messages back and forth to each other and to other parts of the body. And these neurons need fuel.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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