Monthly Archives: March 2015
What are the health benefits of chia seeds?
Despite their small size, chia seeds are packed full of important nutrients. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol that helps protect against heart attack and stroke). Chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants and full of fiber, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium. Remember the chia pets that were a popular item in the 1990s? Yep, those are the same small seeds you used to grow an Afro in your Homer Simpson terracotta vase. chia seeds It provides a nutritional breakdown of chia seeds and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more chia seeds into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming chia seeds.

Nutritional breakdown of chia seeds

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one ounce of chia seeds (approximately 28 grams) contains 138 calories, 8 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. Eating one ounce of chia seeds per day would provide 18% of daily calcium needs, 27% of phosphorus, 30% of manganese and smaller amounts of potassium, zinc and copper. When compared to flaxseed, chia seeds provide more omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus and fiber – all essential nutrients that most people are not getting enough of.

Possible health benefits of consuming chia seeds

Consumption of plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality. Maintaining a diet high in plant-based foods has also been shown to support a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Chia and the power of fiber

The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institute of Medicine suggests that men under the age of 50 consume 38 grams per day and women under the age of 50 consume 25 grams per day. For adults over 50 years age, the recommendation for men is 30 grams per day and for women is 21 grams per day. Most people are not consuming even half of that recommendation in a day. The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to increase your consumption of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and unprocessed grains. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50. Why is fiber so important?

Treating diverticulosis

High fiber diets have been shown to decrease the prevalence in flare-ups of diverticulitis by absorbing water in the colon and making bowel movements easier to pass. Eating a healthful, fruit and vegetable and fiber-filled diet can reduce pressure and inflammation in the colon. Although the cause of diverticular disease is still unknown, it has been repeatedly associated with a low fiber diet.2

Weight loss

Foods that are high in fiber help to keep you feeling full longer and are usually lower in calories. Increased fiber intakes and high fiber diets have been shown to help with weight loss.

Cardiovascular disease and cholesterol

Increased fiber intakes have also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A review of 67 separate controlled trials found that even a modest 10-gram per day increase in fiber intake reduced LDL (the harmful type cholesterol) as well as total cholesterol. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may even play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation, consequently decreasing the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Diabetes

High fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes and eating high fiber meals to keep blood sugar stable. Based on a review of findings from several large studies, The National Institute of Medicine found that diets with 14 grams fiber for every 1,000 calories were associated with significant reductions in the risk of both coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

Digestion and detox

A diet with adequate fiber prevents constipation and promotes regularity for a healthy digestive tract. Regular bowel movements are crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool.

Omega-3s to fight heart disease

Research to date suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk for thrombosis and arrhythmias, which can lead to heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac death. Omega-3s may also decrease LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, improve endothelial function, and slightly lower blood pressure. The richest sources of plant-based omega-3s are chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil and walnuts.

How to incorporate more chia seeds into your diet

Chia seeds are relatively easy to find in any major supermarket and are only slightly smaller than a strawberry seed. They are black in color and have a very mild, nutty flavor.

chia seed parfait Chia seeds can be eaten raw or cooked and added to yogurt, cereal and smoothies.

You can eat them raw or cooked. Sprinkle chia seeds on cereal, yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies. Add them to baked goods like bread and muffins. If are experimenting with vegan baking or you just run out of eggs, you can mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water, let them sit for a few minutes, and watch them turn into a gel that you can use as a substitute for eggs in baking.

Potential health risks of consuming chia seeds

Chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. This posed a problem for one man with a history of swallowing problems who, doctors say, developed an esophageal obstruction after eating a tablespoon of chia seeds dry and trying to wash them down with a glass of water. The seeds formed a thick gel in his esophagus that he was unable to swallow down without medical treatment. Although this case was rare, make sure to mix chia seeds into another food or liquid before consuming, especially if you have a history of swallowing problems. Avoid giving chia seeds to small children. It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

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Better joint replacement outcomes for obese patients who have weight-loss surgery

Obese patients who undergo weight-loss surgery prior to having a knee or hip replacement may have better outcomes than those who do not undergo weight-loss surgery before such procedures. This is according to the findings of two new studies recently presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in Las Vegas.

X-ray of a hip replacement

Past research has documented the benefits of weight-loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, for patients who are severely overweight. In November 2014, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming weight-loss surgery is highly effective for preventing type 2 diabetes.

Other studies have found weight-loss surgery may also reduce the risk of heart disease and even some types of cancer for patients who are obese.

But according to lead investigator Dr. Emily Dodwell, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York, NY, and colleagues, how weight-loss surgery affects patient outcomes for joint replacements was unclear.

“We know that bariatric surgery is a cost-effective intervention for morbid obesity,” notes study co-author Dr. Alexander McLawhorn, a chief orthopedic surgery resident at HSS. “Yet, the cost-effectiveness of bariatric surgery to achieve weight loss prior to joint replacement and thus decrease the associated complications and costs in morbidly obese patients was unknown.”

Findings may help ‘re-evaluate weight-loss surgery as a covered benefit’

With a view to finding out, Dr. Dodwell and her team recruited a number of obese patients who required either a hip or knee replacement. Some patients had a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, while others had a BMI of at least 35 and a minimum of one obesity-related health condition.

The patients were divided into two groups. One group underwent a hip or knee replacement without having weight-loss surgery beforehand, while the other group had weight-loss surgery and underwent a hip or knee replacement around 2 years later.

For the purpose of this study, the researchers assumed that around a third of patients who received weight-loss surgery lost their excess weight prior to having a joint replacement, as patients normally lose weight after the procedure.

“For the study, we chose a decision analysis design because we could use a mathematical model to simulate the outcomes and costs of each treatment path based on results and costs that have already been published in the literature,” explains Dr. Dodwell.

She says their findings indicate that weight-loss surgery for obese patients prior to a joint replacement is “likely a cost-effective option from a public payer standpoint in order to improve outcomes in obese patients who are candidates for joint replacement.”

Dr. Dodwell adds:

“Some health care systems do not include weight-loss surgery as a covered benefit, and it is possible that studies such as this will be helpful in re-evaluating whether weight-loss surgery may be a reasonable covered benefit.”

Dr. McLawhorn points out that it would be “impractical” for obese patients with severe knee or hip pain to delay a joint replacement in order to have weight-loss surgery beforehand, particularly since patients with arthritic pain often present to an orthopedic surgeon first.

“Ideally,” he says. “a team approach would be used to treat morbidly obese patients with hip and knee arthritis in which various health care professionals are in place to help a patient lose weight, improve his or her health, and optimize nutrition before joint replacement to maximize its benefits.”

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Study finds why drug for type II diabetes makes people fat

Medication used to treat patients with type II diabetes activates sensors on brain cells that increase hunger, causing people taking this drug to gain more body fat, according to researchers at Georgia State University, Oregon Health and Science University, Georgia Regents University and Charlie Norwood Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The study, published on March 18 in The Journal of Neuroscience, describes a new way to affect hunger in the brain and helps to explain why people taking a class of drugs for type II diabetes gain more body fat.

Type II diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, affects 95 percent of diabetes sufferers. People with type I or type II diabetes have too much glucose, or sugar, in their blood. Type II diabetes develops most often in middle-aged and older adults and people who are overweight and inactive, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The research team found that sensors in the brain that detect free circulating energy and help use sugars are located on brain cells that control eating behavior. This is important because many people with type II diabetes are taking antidiabetics, known as thiazolidinediones (TZDs), which specifically activate these sensors, said Johnny Garretson, study author and doctoral student in the Neuroscience Institute and Center for Obesity Reversal at Georgia State.

The study found peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor &Upsih; (PPAR&Upsih;) sensors on hunger-stimulating cells, known as agouti-related protein (AgRP) cells, at the base of the brain in the hypothalamus. Activating these PPAR&Upsih; sensors triggers food hoarding, food intake and the production of more AgRP. When AgRP cells are activated, animals become immediately hungry. These cells are so potent they will wake a rodent up from slumber to go eat, Garretson said.

TZDs help to treat insulin resistance, in which the body doesn’t use insulin the way that it should. They help the body’s insulin work properly, making blood glucose levels stay on target and allowing cells to get the energy they need, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

“People taking these TZDs are hungrier, and they do gain more weight. This may be a reason why,” Garretson said. “When they’re taking these drugs, it’s activating these receptors, which we believe are controlling feeding through this mechanism that we found. We discovered that activating these receptors makes our rodent animal model eat more and store more food for later, while blocking these receptors makes them eat less and store less food for later, even after they’ve been food deprived and they’re at their hungriest.”

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Crave chocolate? A 15-minute walk will magic those bad feelings away

We are all familiar with the temptation of chocolate and its soothing makes-everything-better properties. We also know the guilt that comes with obeying that craving. However, a new study suggests that a 15-minute walk is enough to quell even the most desperate desires for chocolate.

Researchers are increasingly looking to the contribution that snacking behaviors and factors that interrupt self-regulation might make to rising obesity levels.

Previous studies have found that, on average, 97% of women and 68% of men experience food cravings, and that specific situations – such as being stressed or feeling down – tend to drive the cravings for sugary snacks that are high in calories.

Also, studies have found that while eating these foods is associated with an instant reduction of emotional tension and tiredness, the effects are purely short term, with both tension and tiredness increasing in the long term.

Some studies have found that exercise can reduce the cravings for snacking and for chocolate in particular. Because exercise can make people feel more active and positive, researchers have wondered if this is the mechanism that lowers the urge to consume stimulants to regulate mood.

The researchers behind the new study, from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, wanted to investigate whether replacing sedentary behavior with a 15-minute bout of physical activity is an effective aid for breaking the habitual consumption of snack food.

For the study – the results of which are published in the journal PLOS ONE – the team recruited 47 overweight people with a mean age of 28 who reported eating chocolate or other high-calorie sugary snacks on a daily basis. The participants were asked not to eat these foods for 3 days before they were randomized into one of two groups.

Researchers induced stress in the subjects before offering them candy

Half of the participants had a brisk walk on a treadmill while the other half were simply required to sit quietly for the same period. This was followed by 5 minutes of sitting quietly for both groups, and then all participants took a test that is known to elicit high levels of stress – the Stroop test.

In the Stroop test, the names of various colors are presented in a different color (the word “blue,” for example, might be colored red), and the participants are asked to distinguish between the color of the lettering and the written name of the color.

The next challenge may have been even harder. Participants were offered a selection of sugary snacks and asked to unwrap one snack of their choice and handle it for about 30 seconds. While doing so, the researchers measured the participants’ heart rate and blood pressure to gauge their level of craving and “emotional arousal.”

The authors found that the Stroop test did induce stress among the participants and that this stress increased candy cravings in turn. However, participants who had been part of the treadmill group reported decreased cravings compared with the sedentary group.

Similarly, the participants who exercised demonstrated lower levels of cravings while handling the sugary snacks, whereas the participants who did not use the treadmill showed elevated pulse rates and reported stronger cravings while handling the snacks.

“Short bouts of physical activity may reduce the craving for sugary snacks in overweight people,” the authors conclude. “When snacking has become habitual and poorly regulated by overweight people, the promotion of short bouts of physical activity could be valuable for reducing the urge to consume at times when the person may be particularly vulnerable, such as during stress and when snack foods are available.”

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Weight discrimination has major impact on quality of life

Weight discrimination is linked to significantly lower quality of life, and accounts for approximately 40% of the negative psychological effects associated with obesity, finds new UCL research funded by Cancer Research UK. The study, which analysed data from 5,056 UK adults, found that those who felt discriminated against on the basis of their weight had a 70% increase in symptoms of depression, a 14% drop in quality of life and 12% lower life satisfaction relative to those who did not perceive weight discrimination.

To assess weight discrimination, participants were asked whether they experienced day-to-day discrimination that they attributed to their weight. Examples of discrimination include being treated disrespectfully, receiving poor service in shops, and being harassed.* Psychological wellbeing was assessed with standard measures of quality of life, life satisfaction and symptoms of depression.

The data come from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), a study of adults aged 50 or older. The researchers analysed the results to check whether the known association between obesity and poorer psychological wellbeing could in any part be explained by weight-related discrimination. They found that when perceived weight discrimination was accounted for, differences in wellbeing between obese and non-obese individuals were reduced substantially, suggesting that discrimination may be an important cause of low wellbeing for obese people.

“In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 legally protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, disability, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, or gender reassignment; making it clear that discriminatory behaviour of this nature is not to be accepted,” says lead author Dr Sarah Jackson (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health). “However, our results indicate that discriminatory experiences contribute to poorer psychological wellbeing in individuals with obesity, but there are currently no laws prohibiting weight discrimination. This might send the message to people that weight discrimination is socially acceptable.”

Senior author Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at UCL, says: “Combined with our previous work showing that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, we can see that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution. Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals; and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight, and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.”

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Body temperature & obesity: new study suggests connection

A new study suggests that a biological inability to create sufficient core body heat could be linked to the obesity epidemic. “Evidence of a diurnal thermogenic handicap in obesity” is featured in Chronobiology International.

The study found that obesity is associated with a significant reduction of body core temperature during daytime hours. Journal Editor Francesco Portaluppi explains that the reduced ability of obese people to spend energy as heat compared to lean individuals could result in long term weight gain (about 2 kg (4.5 lb.)) per year, depending on the lifestyle.

Originally understood as an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure, obesity is viewed in this article by comparing the body core temperature of obese subjects to lean, healthy controls. The study concluded that a significantly reduced temperature was much more prevalent in the obese subjects. This biological handicap, the authors believe, can predispose subjects to becoming obese.

“Since body core temperature represents a marker of energy expenditure, results from this study suggest that a diurnal thermogenic handicap can play a crucial role in favoring weight gain in obese subjects,” said article co-author Pietro Cortelli, MD, Ph.D.

Cortelli stresses the importance of this study, which strongly supports the possibility of a new therapeutic target for the treatment of obesity.

Although there will be more studies needed, Portaluppi said this study can open the door for more innovative ways to treat obesity.

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Is too much artificial light at night making us sick?

Modern life, with its preponderance of inadequate exposure to natural light during the day and overexposure to artificial light at night, is not conducive to the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.

It’s an emerging topic in health, one that UConn Health (University of Connecticut, Farmington, Conn.) cancer epidemiologist Richard Stevens has been studying for three decades.

“It’s become clear that typical lighting is affecting our physiology,” Stevens says. “But lighting can be improved. We’re learning that better lighting can reduce these physiological effects. By that we mean dimmer and longer wavelengths in the evening, and avoiding the bright blue of e-readers, tablets and smart phones.”

Those devices emit enough blue light when used in the evening to suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, the biological mechanism that enables restful sleep.

Stevens and co-author Yong Zhu from Yale University explain the known short-term and suspected long-term impacts of circadian disruption in an invited article published in the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

“It’s a new analysis and synthesis of what we know up to now on the effect of lighting on our health,” Stevens says. “We don’t know for certain, but there’s growing evidence that the long-term implications of this have ties to breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and depression, and possibly other cancers.”

As smartphones and tablets become more commonplace, Stevens recommends a general awareness of how the type of light emitted from these devices affects our biology. He says a recent study comparing people who used e-readers to those who read old-fashioned books in the evening showed a clear difference – the e-readers showed delayed melatonin onset.

“It’s about how much light you’re getting in the evening,” Stevens says. “It doesn’t mean you have to turn all the lights off at 8 every night, it just means if you have a choice between an e-reader and a book, the book is less disruptive to your body clock. At night, the better, more circadian-friendly light is dimmer and, believe it or not, redder, like an incandescent bulb.”

Stevens was on the scientific panel whose work led to the classification of shift work as a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency on Cancer Research in 2007.

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Following gestational diabetes, obese women who put on 5 kg are more than 40 times more likely to develop full blown type 2 diabetes

New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) shows that in women who have developed gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy, being obese before the pregnancy and putting on more weight after it massively increases the risk of later developing type 2 diabetes (T2D).

For women who are obese before pregnancy (BMI 30 or higher) and put on 5 kg or more after giving birth, the risk of developing T2D is 43 times higher than for women who remain lean before pregnancy and gain 5 kg or less. The research, which underlines the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight both before and after pregnancy, is led by Dr Cuilin Zhang, senior investigator, and Dr Wei Bao, post-doctoral fellow, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the US National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD, USA, and colleagues.

The worldwide epidemics of both T2D and GDM are increasing in parallel, as risk factors for both conditions (unhealthy diet, obesity, lack of physical activity) increase in almost all countries of the world. Previous studies have shown that up to a third of women with T2D have a history of GDM during pregnancy, and as a result, women with a history of GDM are usually advised to control their weight after delivery.

In this new study, the authors used data from women with a history of GDM in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), as part of the ongoing Diabetes & Women’s Health study. The Diabetes & Women’s Health Study aims to identify determinants of the progression from GDM to T2D among participants in NHS II and the Danish National Birth Cohort. Women were eligible for the present study if they reported incident GDM from 1991 to 2001, and this meant 1695 women were included in this study. They were followed up until the return of the 2009 follow-up questionnaire. The 2001 questionnaire was the last time questions regarding GDM were included, as the majority of NHS II participants had passed reproductive age by then.

The data showed 259 incident cases of type 2 diabetes during up to 18 years of follow-up. There was an increased risk of developing T2D of 16% for each increase of one unit (1 kg/m2) in either baseline BMI or most recent BMI. Moreover, each 5 kg increment of weight gain after GDM development was associated with a 27% higher risk of T2D. Jointly, women who had a BMI of 30 or higher, and gained 5 kg or more after GDM, had a 43-times increased risk of developing T2D compared with women who had a BMI of 25 or less at baseline and gained 5 kg or less after GDM.

Upon further analysis, these associations of BMI and weight change with risk of T2D persisted across different categories of age, family history of diabetes, diet quality, physical activity, breastfeeding duration and time since GDM pregnancy.

The authors say their findings support the recent call to action from the National Diabetes Education Programme (NDEP) of NIH, which underlines the importance of weight management after giving birth after a diagnosis of GDM.

“Before our study, the associations of BMI and weight change with risk of type 2 diabetes among women with a history of GDM–a population at high risk of type 2 diabetes–had not been comprehensively examined,” says Dr Zhang.

The authors conclude: “Among women with a history of GDM, we observed significant and positive associations of risk of type 2 diabetes with initial BMI within 2 years after diagnosis of GDM, the most recent BMI before diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and weight gain after GDM. Our findings provide evidence to support the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight in these high-risk women to prevent future development of type 2 diabetes.”

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Losing weight substantially reduces atrial fibrillation

Effect greatest in those who lose more weight, keep it off longer and have less weight fluctuation

Obese patients with atrial fibrillation who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight were six times more likely to achieve long-term freedom from this common heart rhythm disorder compared to those who did not lose weight, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session.

The study is the first to track the long-term effects of weight loss and the degree of weight fluctuation on atrial fibrillation burden. Patients who lost more weight and maintained a more stable weight over four years showed marked reductions in atrial fibrillation burden and severity, the study’s primary endpoints.

“Previous studies have shown that weight management can reduce atrial fibrillation symptoms in the short term and improve outcomes of ablation [a surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation],” said Rajeev Pathak, M.D., a cardiologist and electrophysiology fellow at the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia and the study’s lead author. “We sought to shed light on the long-term outcomes of sustained weight loss, the effects of the amount of weight lost and the impact of changes in weight over time.”

An estimated 5.6 million U.S. adults have atrial fibrillation, which can cause episodes of weakness, shortness of breath and palpitations and increases the risk of more serious problems such as stroke. Obesity, seen in more than one-third of U.S. adults, is associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

“We found that sustained weight loss is achievable in obese patients and that it can significantly reduce the burden of atrial fibrillation,” Pathak said. “Weight loss also led to favorable changes in cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea and diabetes, along with improvements in the structure and function of the heart.”

Researchers enrolled 355 participants in a dedicated weight loss clinic and tracked their health annually for an average of four years. All participants were obese and had atrial fibrillation at the start of the study. To encourage weight loss, the clinic used a motivational, goal-directed approach that included three in-person visits per month, detailed dietary guidance, low-intensity exercise, support counseling and maintenance of a daily diet and physical activity diary.

Participants returned to the clinic annually for a health exam and atrial fibrillation monitoring. To assess the frequency, duration and severity of symptoms, patients completed questionnaires and wore a Holter monitor, a machine that tracks the heart’s rhythms, for seven days. An echocardiogram, a sonogram of the heart, was also conducted to assess measures of heart health including the volume of the left atrium and the thickness of the left ventricular wall.

After an average of four years, 45 percent of patients who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight and 22 percent of patients who lost 3 to 9 percent of their weight achieved freedom from atrial fibrillation symptoms without the use of any atrial fibrillation surgery or medication. Only 13 percent of patients who lost less than 3 percent of their body weight were free of symptoms without these treatments. Even with the use of surgery or medication, those who lost more weight were substantially more likely to achieve freedom from atrial fibrillation symptoms.

Sustained weight management and a linear weight loss trajectory were also associated with greater freedom from atrial fibrillation. Patients who lost and then regained weight, causing a fluctuation of more than 5 percent between annual visits, were twice as likely to have recurrent rhythm problems than those who did not experience such fluctuations.

Weight loss was also associated with significant beneficial structural changes in the heart and significantly improved other markers of heart health including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In an analysis that took all of these factors into account, patients who lost at least 10 percent of their weight were six times more likely to achieve freedom from atrial fibrillation than patients who lost less than 3 percent of their weight or gained weight.

Patients with permanent atrial fibrillation, a previous ablation or a severe medical illness were excluded from participating in the study. While the researchers used standardized procedures and follow up to reduce bias in the patient selection and evaluation process, all patients voluntarily opted to participate in the weight loss program and this may contribute to some level of bias, Pathak said. Future studies that involve a more diverse patient population could help to further refine understanding of the relationships between obesity and atrial fibrillation.

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You are when you eat

A new study finds that limiting flies to specific eating hours protected their hearts against aging

If you’re looking to improve your heart health by changing your diet, when you eat may be just as important as what you eat. In a new study published in Science, researchers at San Diego State University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that by limiting the time span during which fruit flies could eat, they could prevent aging- and diet-related heart problems. The researchers also discovered that genes responsible for the body’s circadian rhythm are integral to this process, but they’re not yet sure how.

Previous research has found that people who tend to eat later in the day and into the night have a higher chance of developing heart disease than people who cut off their food consumption earlier.

“So what’s happening when people eat late?” asked Girish Melkani, a biologist at SDSU whose research focuses on cardiovascular physiology. “They’re not changing their diet, just the time.”

Melkani, one of the paper’s senior authors, teamed up with Satchidananda Panda, a circadian rhythms expert at the Salk Institute, to address whether changing the daily eating patterns of fruit flies could affect their heart health. Fruit flies have long been used as model organisms to identify the genetic basis of human disease, including cardiovascular disease.

Shubhroz Gill, a postdoctoral researcher in Panda’s lab and now at the Broad Institute in Boston, was the lead author on this study. Hiep D. Le of the Salk Institute also contributed to the study.

Time flies

In their experiments, one group of 2-week-old fruit flies was given a standard diet of cornmeal and allowed to feed all day long. Another group was allowed access to the food for only 12 hours a day. Over the course of several weeks, Melkani and Gill recorded how much food the flies were eating and tested a battery of health measures related to their sleep, body weight and heart physiology.

After three weeks, the results were clear: Flies on the 12-hour time-restricted feeding schedule slept better, didn’t gain as much weight and had far healthier hearts than their “eat anytime” counterparts, even though they ate similar amounts of food. The researchers observed the same results after five weeks.

“In very early experiments, when we compared 5-week-old flies that were fed for either 24 hours or 12 hours, the hearts of the latter were in such good shape that we thought perhaps we had mistaken some young 3-week-old fruit flies for the older group,” Gill said. “We had to repeat the experiments several times to become convinced that this improvement was truly due to the time-restricted feeding.”

What’s more, another set of experiments revealed that the benefits of a time-restricted diet weren’t exclusive to young flies. When the researchers introduced these dietary time restrictions to older flies, their hearts became healthier, too. (The average lifespan of a fruit fly is about 60 days.)

“Even if you introduce time-restricted feeding very late, you still have some benefit,” Melkani said.

Some degree of heart protection persisted even for flies that went back to eating whenever they wanted, he added.

Key genes

Next, the researchers sequenced the RNA of the flies at various points in the experiment to find which of their genes had changed as a result of time-restricted feeding. They identified three genetic pathways that appear to be involved: the TCP-1 ring complex chaperonin, which helps proteins fold; mitochondrial electron transport chain complexes (mETC); and a suite of genes responsible for the body’s circadian rhythm.

Melkani and Gill repeated their experiments using mutant strains of flies with nonfunctional versions of the TCP-1 and circadian rhythm genes. In these flies, time-restricted feeding granted no health benefits, strengthening the case that these genetic pathways play key roles.

Conversely, in mutant flies with altered mETC genes, the flies showed increased protection against cardiac aging.

“If and how these three pathways all work together, we don’t yet know entirely,” Melkani said.

Nix the late-night snacks

The results complement earlier research from Panda’s lab showing benefits of time-restricted feeding for obesity, metabolic diseases and type-2 diabetes in rodents.

“All together, these results reinforce the idea that the daily eating pattern has a profound impact on both the body and the brain,” Panda said.

Gill noted that there are some hurdles to clear before extrapolating this research to humans.

“Humans don’t consume the same food every day,” he said. “And our lifestyle is a major determinant of when we can and cannot eat. But at the very minimum, our studies offer some context in which we should be pursuing such questions in humans.”

Melkani is optimistic that the results could one day translate into cardiac- and obesity-related health benefits for humans. “Time-restricted feeding would not require people to drastically change their lifestyles, just the times of day they eat,” Melkani said. “The take-home message then would be to cut down on the late-night snacks.”

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