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Different Saturated Fats May Have Different Impacts on Health

Replacing saturated fats, like those in butter, cheese, and red meat, with unsaturated fats, like those in walnuts, olive oil, and avocados, can help reduce risk of heart disease. But are all saturated fats created equal? To better assess this relationship, scientists analyzed the diets of 2 large groups of European adults (from Denmark & the U.K.) totaling more than 75,000 participants, and then monitored their health outcomes more than a decade later. In one of the groups (the Denmark group), saturated fats from meat were linked with a higher risk of a heart attack, but other sources of saturated fat were not significantly linked with heart attack risk in either direction. Scientists also noted that lauric acid and myristic acid (saturated fats found in foods like coconut oil) were also linked with lower heart attack risk in the Denmark group, but not the U.K. group. More research is needed to better understand how different foods might relate to heart attack risk.
International Journal of Cardiology.  2019 Mar 15;279:18-26. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2018.10.064. (Praagman J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Heart Disease

Cochrane reviews are some of the most rigorous reviews in scientific research. In this Cochrane review, researchers analyzed 30 existing randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of nutrition research) and 7 ongoing trials of the Mediterranean diet and its impact on heart disease risk. The study found small to moderate evidence for benefits of the Mediterranean diet for preventing heart disease, but note that more research is needed to better understand the benefits, particularly in patients who already have heart disease.
The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2019 Mar 13;3:CD009825. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009825.pub3. (Rees K et al.)

Frequent Olive Oil Consumption May Be Linked with Making Blood Less Likely to Clot

Olive oil is a well-known heart healthy food, and new research sheds light on a potential explanation behind this benefit. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 63 obese but otherwise healthy adults, and also analyzed the platelet activity in their blood. (Platelets are the building blocks of blood clots when they stick together.) Those eating olive oil at least once per week had significantly lower platelet activation, indicating that their blood may be less likely to clot. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions. Houston, TX. March 7, 2019 (Heffron SP et al.)

Mediterranean Diet in Young Adulthood Linked with Healthier Brain in Middle Age

Eat a nutritious diet while you’re young, and your brain may thank you later. Scientists analyzed the diets of 2,621 young adults (average age: 25) and then assessed their brain health 25 & 30 years later (average ages: 50 & 55, respectively). Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet in young adulthood had a significantly lower decline in cognitive function than those not following a Mediterranean diet.
Neurology. 2019 Mar 6. pii: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007243. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007243. [Epub ahead of print] (McEvoy CT et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Bone Mass in Women

A traditional Mediterranean diet includes frequent, but low-to-moderate amounts of dairy products, mostly in the form of artisanal cheeses and yogurts. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits and bone density in 442 pre-menopausal women in Spain. Following a Mediterranean diet was linked with significantly better bone mass.
Nutrients. 2019 Mar 5;11(3). pii: E555. doi: 10.3390/nu11030555. (Pérez-Rey J et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with 37% Lower Risk of Liver Cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma, a common type of liver cancer, has been on the rise in the US, and researchers wonder if eating habits might play a role. In a study of 125,455 adults followed for 24 years, those eating the most whole grains (33g per day, or about 2 servings) were 37% less likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma than those eating the least whole grains (7g per day, or less than half a serving). When looking at the isolated relationship of fiber, bran, and germ, the results were not statistically significant, indicating that whole grains are greater than the sum of their parts.
JAMA Oncology. 2019 Feb 21. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.7159. [Epub ahead of print] (Yang W et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Improve Athletic Performance

Proper nutrition is increasingly becoming an important aspect of athletic training, and it is easy to see why. In a small study, 11 young adults ran a 5K after 4 days of eating a Mediterranean diet, and after 4 days of eating a typical Western diet. The 5K time after the Mediterranean diet was about 2 minutes faster than the race time after eating a Western diet. However, there were no significant differences in vertical jump height or hand grip strength between the 2 diets.
Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2019 Feb 13:1-9. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1568322. [Epub ahead of print] (Baker ME et al.)

Whole Grains and Fiber Linked with Lower Risk of Many Diseases

Whole grains are one of the most popular food sources of fiber, and both whole grains and fiber are important for overall health. In this study, researchers analyzed data from more than 200 studies encompassing 4,635 participants to better understand fiber and whole grains’ relationship with disease prevention. Fiber was linked with a 15-30% lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and death, with similar findings for whole grains. The researchers noted a dose-response relationship for both whole grains and fiber, indicating that those who eat the most may confer an even greater benefit.
The Lancet. 2019 Feb 02;393(10170):434-445. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31809-9 (Reynolds A et al.)

Combining Statins with Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

Statins are a type of cholesterol lowering medication often prescribed to patients with heart disease. To see how diet might impact the effectiveness of statins, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of 1,180 older adults with heart disease for 8 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean Diet were 30% less likely to die from heart disease over the study period. However, statins only reduced heart disease death risk when taken in combination with the Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, the patients taking statins in combination with a Mediterranean diet had a 50% lower risk of dying of heart disease than those just using one approach (diet or medicine). The researchers suspect that this synergistic effect may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean Diet. 
International Journal of Cardiology.  2019 Feb 1;276:248-254. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2018.11.117. (Bonaccio M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system that can cause stiffness and tremors, and make movement difficult. In a study of 1,731 elderly adults, those most closely following a Mediterranean Diet had a 21% lower probability of showing early signs of Parkinson’s Disease (prodromal Parkinson’s disease) than those not following a Mediterranean diet.
Movement Disorders. 2019 Jan;34(1):48-57. doi: 10.1002/mds.27489. (Maraki MI et al.)

Replacing White Rice with Whole Grain Bread May Lower Diabetes Risk.

White rice has displaced many traditional whole grains across Asia, so researchers wonder how white rice might relate to diabetes risk. In a study of 45,411 Chinese adults followed for 11 years, researchers found that replacing white rice with white bread and whole grain bread can reduce type 2 diabetes risk by 10% and 18% respectively, and that replacing white rice with noodles, red meat, or poultry might actually increase diabetes risk. Rice intake itself was not associated with higher type 2 diabetes. The authors conclude that “recommendations to reduce high white rice consumption in Asian populations for the prevention of [type 2 diabetes] may only be effective if substitute foods are considered carefully.”
European Journal of Nutrition. 2018 Dec 10. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1879-7. [Epub ahead of print] (Seah JYH et al.)

Red Meat Linked with Risk Factor for Heart Disease

TMAO is a potentially dangerous metabolite linked with heart attacks and stroke, so researchers wonder how diet can impact the amount of TMAO that our bodies produce. In this study, researchers assigned 113 adults to a high-saturated fat or low-saturated fat diet for 4 weeks, with a washout period before switching to the other diet. Interestingly, saturated fat did not impact TMAO. However, eating lots of red meat (but not white meat or nonmeat) was linked with significantly higher levels of TMAO through 3 different mechanisms (nutrient density of TMA precursors, increased production from carnitine, and reduced TMAO excretion).
European Heart Journal. 2018 Dec 10. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy799. (Wang Z et al.)

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