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Cold-Activated Brown Fat May Help Fight Obesity

brown fat

Have you heard of brown fat—aka “good” fat? Naturally present in humans (particularly infants), brown fat consumes calories to generate heat. The catch? Researchers are still looking for a way to activate it in the body. Several studies have shown that it can be activated by cold exposure in a process called non-shivering thermogenesis, and now a recent study suggests that exposure to cold temperatures may indeed flip the switch.

Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center tested 10 study subjects in three ways. They were each separately given injections of ephedrine (which has been used as a weight-loss drug), given injections of saline as a control, and made to wear “cooling vests” that had water cooled to 57 degrees pumped into them. After each intervention, the brown fat activity was measured using PET/CT scans.

Though brown fat activity was the same after the ephedrine and saline injections, after wearing the cooling vests for two hours, subjects’ brown fat activity was significantly stimulated.

Aaron Cypess, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant investigator and staff physician at Joslin and lead author of the study, noted that although both interventions —ephedrine injections and the cooling vests—did result in the same number of calories being burned, the stimulation in brown fat activity was only noted after wearing the vest.

Though the study was small, the results are encouraging and may offer a glimpse into a method of helping prevent or reverse obesity. Researchers hope that with these results, cooling vests and drugs that mimic the effects may not be too far off in the future.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if someone wore a cooling vest at the same time as a pair of that fat-burning underwear from Japan…Sounds confusing, no?

Would you wear weight-loss clothing? 

Your New Favorite Beauty Tools: Fruits & Veggies

Another reason to eat the rainbow: Bonobos' famous nori rolls

I’m sure you’ve heard before that fruits and veggies will make you feel healthier, but a recent study shows that getting your daily dose(s) of produce can make you look healthier too.

Ross Whitehead, lead researcher from the School of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, noted, ”We found that within a six-week period, fluctuation in fruit and vegetable consumption was associated with skin-color changes.” The skin of participants who upped their intake (as opposed to those who lessened it) was judged to be more attractive at the end of the study, which was published March 7 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Researchers credit the carotenoids—the yellow and red pigments in the fruits and vegetables—for adding a glow. Specific carotenoids studied included beta-carotene (found in carrots, yams, spinach, peaches, pumpkin and apricots, among other things) and lycopene, which is found in foods such as apricots, watermelons, tomatoes and pink grapefruits.

However, it should be noted that the study was small, with only 35 participants (who were mostly white, which doesn’t show how produce intake might affect other complexions) and that it really only shows an association between the appearance of skin and fruit and vegetable intake, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

Still, it’s promising. Like you needed another excuse to add a side salad at dinner or top your breakfast with fruit…

What fruits and veggies are you loving lately? 

Arsenic in Baby Formula?

Brown rice syrup is often used as an organic alternative to high fructose corn syrup, but researchers suggest rice can be a source of inorganic of arsenic. Arsenic is toxic at high doses and may also damage the liver, skin, kidney and cardiovascular system with chronic exposure. Inconvenient, no? A recent sampling of brown rice syrup-sweetened products, including baby formula and cereal bars, has found arsenic levels exceeding US standards for bottled water.

Following a Consumer Reports analysis of arsenic levels in juice, researchers at Dartmouth College tested 17 baby formulas, 29 cereal bars and three energy shots that were purchased in the Hanover, New Hampshire area.

In the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the team reported that of the two formulas that listed organic brown rice syrup as the main ingredient, one had a total arsenic concentration that was six times the federal limit for bottled water, which is 10 parts per billion.

Of the 29 cereal bars and high energy bars studied, the 22 with rice-based ingredients among the first five ingredients showed higher arsenic concentrations than comparable products without the rice-based sweetener.

While Brian Jackson, the lead researcher, told Reuters that eating a cereal bar every few days would probably not do much harm, that babies and toddlers should probably avoid formulas containing brown rice syrup until levels have been regulated, as it’s a source of arsenic that hasn’t been considered before.

The team said there is an “urgent” need for regulation in food,  as arsenic and its metabolites can become absorbed in rice through natural microbes as well as traces of pesticides in the soil. The FDA says they recognize that there may be trace amounts of arsenic in many foods and that it has expanded its surveillance of rice.

What do you think? Are you concerned? Should arsenic levels in food be regulated? 

Does (plate) size matter?

courtesy of Dietitians-Online

Health professionals often recommend smaller plates to people looking to eat less. While a lot of research has shown visual cues to be a major aspect of satiety, a recent study published in the recent issues of Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics suggested that eating off of a smaller plate may not necessarily lead people to eat less.

10 overweight or obese women and 10 women with a normal BMI were randomly assigned to have lunch using either a small (8.5-inch) or large (10.8-inch) plate and to serve themselves, eating until they were satisfied. This was done on two different days, using a different sized plate each time. Results showed no difference in energy intake due to plate size, weight status or plate size by weight status. Subjects ate the same amount regardless.

According to senior researcher Meena Shah, a professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, the overweight and obese women “reported lower levels of hunger and prospective consumptions before the meals and felt less full after the meals compared to normal weight subjects despite no difference in energy consumption between two groups. This suggests that overweight/obese individuals may have a lower ability to sense hunger and fullness than normal weight adults.”

However, it’s worth noting that this was a very small study, and the subjects were told to eat until satisfied. Had they been given a one-plate rule or  at least not known which size plate they were using, it might have shown more directly whether the , uh, size mattered.

Sorry, I just giggled a little.

What do you think—does plate size matter?

Do you think sugars should be regulated?

Earlier this week, British science journal Nature published a commentary called “The Toxic Truth About Sugar“, in which authors Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis (all researchers at the University of California medical center in San Francisco) argue that “added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol.”

The paper details some of the specific ways in which increased sugar consumption has been linked to a rise in obesity and related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It also goes into the ways in which sugar’s effects on the body can be similar to those of alcohol (by acting on the brain, for example, to encourage further consumption). By using alcohol and tobacco as two other substances that have been linked to disease and are now regulated, the authors make a case for doing the same with sugars. Read More »

Could secrecy be key to weight loss?

When starting out, let your morning your workouts be your little secret...

Just this morning I read an article about a couple that lost over 300 pounds together, but unfortunately, many people with an overweight or obese partner have a completely different experience. Family and friends, even when they say they want to be supportive, often resist the change, making it hard for that individual to reach their health goals.

This article explores a few other reasons why keeping a new diet or exercise plan to yourself may be a good idea.  Research performed by Dr. Peter Gollwitzer, a professor of psychology at New York University who studies how goals and plans affect cognition and behavior, describes what happens when we reveal our plans in his research paper, “When Intentions Go Public.”

One thing Gollwitzer found was that when announcing a plan, acknowledgment of the change made a person feel they had accomplished their goal, thus stalling the process of putting it into action.

He suggests that one way to avoid this effect is simply to “keep your mouth shut,” but go about making those positive changes and enjoying the benefits. However, it may be helpful to have one or two trusted people to whom you know you will feel held accountable so that you have someone to talk to.

Another reason many may feel more comfortable starting a new plan in secret is that, hey, if you fall off the wagon or take longer to meet your goal than planned, only you have to know.

I actually think this makes a lot of sense—I’ve always wondered why I tend to be secretive about plans and ambitions in my life, health-related and otherwise. I guess it may actually be a good thing.

What do you think? Do you like to share your plans or do you play it close to the vest? Have you ever wrestled with whether to tell someone about lifestyle changes you were making? 

Junk food addiction may be real

Hooked on the sweet stuff?

While I don’t think I’d equate a cookie with, say, cocaine, I do believe that people can become “addicted” to certain foods. Sugar and fat seem to hold considerable power over many, many people—I’ve seen people cry over their inability to give up ice cream. Research continues to show that this addictive effect may in fact be very, very real.

Studies on animals as well as on obese individuals and compulsive eaters reveal that fatty and sweet foods, in addition to being just plain unhealthy, can wreak havoc on the brain in a similar way to cocaine, nicotine, and other drugs. For example, sugary drinks and fatty foods have been shown to produce addictive behavior in animals,  and brain scans in humans reveal disturbances in the brain’s “reward” circuits similar to those in drug abusers.

As stated in a Bloomberg News article, according to a National Library of Medicine database, 28 studies and papers on food addiction have been published this year alone. “The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

This article offers summaries of some particularly fascinating studies on food addiction. Read More »

New Research Shows “Freshman 15″ is BS

When you went to college, did you gain or lose weight? Neither?

I remember I lost quite a few pounds in the first weeks thanks to suddenly being in the middle of Boston, where you walk everywhere, and living a half-mile from the dining hall, which served pretty mediocre food. That I tend to be one of those people who loses weight during big life changes or in response to stress didn’t help either. Studying nutrition has helped me learn to be aware and to not slack on self-care, but at 18, physical health tends to be the last thing on a person’s mind. Sinister laughter implied.

By the time I returned home for Thanksgiving, my favorite clothes were falling off me and I just felt off—not to mention completely unattractive. This was also when I stopped cutting my hair regularly, which is why I tend to think of undergrad as “Jess’ Scruffy Period.”

For better or worse, this is one of the only photos I have of myself from that year. Haha it was either gonna be that or one of my climbing a bunch of male audio students. Totally more innocent than it sounds, but still!

According to a new study, 90% of students do not experience the mythical 15-pound weight gain their first year of college.

Researchers Jay Zagorsky and Patricia K. Smith of the University of Michigan, Dearborn analyzed data on the weight of more than 7,400 college students and found that while students do gain some weight over in college (9 pounds for females and 13.4 pounds for males), it happens very gradually and is thought to be related to the fact that many students do not enter college as full-grown adults. These numbers are similar for individuals who do not attend college.

That said, there are various factors associated with college that promote weight gain, such as reduced physical activity, late-night studying (and not-studying), students having to adjust to “fending for themselves” at mealtime, and everyone’s favorite, alcohol.

The 10% of students who did gain at least 15 pounds their first year of college tended to be the heaviest drinkers, researchers noted.

So where does this deep-seated “Freshman 15″ myth come from then? Researchers cite a 1989 Seventeen article. Go figure.

What do you think about the Freshman 15? Were you afraid of gaining weight in college? 

Low-fat dairy impacts kids’ health but maybe not weight

Photo courtesy of FYI Living

Did you get milk in school? I did, at least in elementary school. At the beginning of the year, our parents would sign us up for either red milk (whole), blue milk (low-fat) or light blue milk (skim). There was also chocolate milk. Every day on the way into the multi-purpose room, I’d grab a blue milk off the tray and go sit at whichever table my grade was assigned to.

While I don’t remember if I actually drank this milk, the endearingly curmudgeonly lunch lady, Elsie, used to walk around instructing, “Drink ya milk!” For her sake, I hope I did.

Dairy products like milk have long been considered healthy options for growing kids, but whole milk products are the main source of saturated fat in kids’ diets. Too much saturated fat has been linked to elevated cholesterol levels and other health conditions rarely seen in children until the past generation.

A piece I wrote on a study of kids and low-fat dairy products is up on FYI Living. Researchers looked into whether switching kids from full-fat to low-fat dairy products would improve their health and/or weight. Take a look and see what they found out.

In my humble opinion, both full-fat and low-fat dairy products have their place in a healthy, balanced diet so long as parents keep overall calories in mind and offer a variety of healthy options. Kids with lactose intolerance may benefit from lactose-free products and milk alternatives like soy, almond, rice or coconut milk products.

Did you get milk in school? Do you drink milk now? 

Could a roller-coaster stock market make you fat?

 

"survival mode" sundae

A new study suggests that if you find yourself reaching high-cal sweets instead of fruit in tough economic times, it may not be simply run-of-the-mill lack of willpower to blame but your survival instincts.

Researchers from the University of Miami found that people tend to pick highly caloric foods over low-calorie foods when led to believe that resources are scarce. They felt that bad news about the stock market or high unemployment rates can trigger that survival mode.

Said researcher Anthony Salerno,when someone is in this mindset, they feel their resources are in jeopardy, so they may compensate by choosing calorie-rich, life-sustaining foods.

So how can you avoid falling into this trap?

  • Know your personal nutritional needs—and your weaknesses.
  • Keep a food diary to help you stay on track.
  • Be aware of the subtle tricks and cues food companies use to make you want to eat their products.
  • Focus on feeding yourself well, not on getting the most bang for your buck.
  • Exercise. It’s a great stress-reliever.

What do you do when the going gets tough? 

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