We look back at some of the research studies of 2014 that focused on health. Learn the highlights that researchers have uncovered!
Each December, alive presents some of the intriguing research studies of the previous year. Increasingly, studies show that where we live—our proximity to green space—not just how we live has a major impact on our health and well-being. These studies from 2014 offer some food for thought on simple healthful practices we can adopt.
5 eggs and two 3 oz (85 g) servings of red meat each week, and one serving of poultry a day are the only dietary restrictions we’d each have to make to help reduce climate change. As more people around the world adopt a meat-heavy Western diet, unsustainable pressure is being put on the environment. By consuming an “average” balanced diet that restricts meat, sugars, and fats we can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Researchers predict that these dietary changes, combined with cutting food waste in half, and closing crop yield gaps (using best farming practices to grow maximum crop yields) could cut GHG emissions from their 2009 level by 48 percent and ensure food security.
2 to 5 mm drop in mercury (mmHG) was found when people’s blood pressure was taken in outdoor sunlight. This mild drop in blood pressure measurement occurred due to sunlight reacting with nitric oxide, stored in the skin’s top layers, which widens blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Researchers were surprised to discover that skin plays a role in blood pressure regulation. More study is needed, but researchers recommend balancing sun exposure for heart health and skin cancer risk by spending a moderate amount of time outdoors.
20% lower rate of “very” preterm births and 13 percent lower rate of “moderate” preterm births were found in new mothers who lived in neighbourhoods with more grass, trees, and green space. The link between green neighbourhoods and full-term births remained valid when researchers took into account all other environmental factors, such as income, air pollution, noise, and walkability. Green space may help to reduce stress and depression, or it may enhance social connections and a sense of belonging.
50 grams of quinoa can be eaten safely by people with celiac disease as part of a gluten-free diet, according to a small US study. Celiac patients were given just under 2 oz (50 g) of quinoa every day for six weeks. The patients’ health was monitored with blood, liver, and kidney tests. Quinoa consumption didn’t aggravate the condition and may also have a mild cholesterol lowering effect. >>
1 or more stressful events experienced the day before eating a high-fat meal can slow down our metabolism and lead to weight gain. Women who reported one or more stressful events, such as arguments with their spouse or work-related problems during the previous day, burned 104 fewer calories than women who weren’t stressed, after both groups ate a high-fat meal. Stressed participants also had higher levels of insulin, which can contribute to fat storage. Researchers caution that when we’re stressed, we sometimes make poor food choices, which may also lead to weight gain.
2 or more servings of fish per week was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of hearing loss in women, according to data from the Nurses’ Health Study II which followed 65,215 women from 1991 to 2009. Researchers hypothesize that long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish may be associated with a lower risk of hearing loss. Eating any type of fish appeared to be beneficial, including tuna, dark or light fish, and shellfish.
3 to 20% of pregnant Canadian women are at risk of developing gestational diabetes. A UK study of 2,000 women found that eating flavone- and anthocyanin-rich foods was associated with better regulation of blood sugar, lower insulin resistance, and reduced levels of inflammation. Further research is required to determine how much of these compounds are required to reduce the risk of diabetes. Foods that contain these healthy compounds include
- red wine
- red- or blue-coloured fruits and vegetables
- berries and red grapes
- parsley, thyme, and celery
3 days of fasting before chemotherapy may protect cancer patients from its toxic side effects. In human and animal studies, researchers have found that two to four days of fasting causes stem cells to regenerate new immune cells and destroy old, damaged cells. When a person doesn’t eat, the body uses up its stores of fat, glucose, and ketones, and it also recycles its old, damaged immune cells. More clinical trials are needed as researchers explore fasting’s effect on chemo patients. Fasting should only be undertaken with the supervision of a health care practitioner.
1 marathon run every year for 25 years, along with training and racing, appear to have negative effects on the heart. When researchers compared a group of sedentary overweight men (average age 55) to a group of marathon runners (average age 59), they found that while the endurance runners had lower weight, body mass index, hypertension, and resting heart rates, they also had more total plaque buildup in their arteries. Non-calcified plaque can break away from the artery wall and cause a stroke or heart attack. Researchers caution that more studies are necessary to determine whether artery plaque in endurance runners poses the same risk as it does in the general population. But don’t stop running! Until researchers come up with a definitive answer, running is better for your health than being sedentary.
1 week of consuming artificially sweetened food and drink was all it took to induce glucose intolerance in a healthy group of volunteers. Researchers found there are two types of gut bacteria: one that induces glucose intolerance and one that doesn’t. It’s believed that the first type of gut bacteria reacts with artificial sweeteners to release substances that create an inflammatory response. The response is similar to a sugar overdose as it inhibits the body’s ability to use sugar. For people with this type of gut bacteria, artificial sweeteners are creating health problems they were designed to prevent, such as obesity and diabetes.
1.4 fewer migraines per month were endured by study participants who learned how to do mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) than a group who received standard medical care. After eight weekly classes followed by 45 minutes of meditation five days a week, the meditation group reported that their migraines were shorter and less disabling. They also felt they had more personal control over their headaches. Although this was a small study, researchers plan larger studies to further test this new safe way to deal with migraines.
80% of the world’s population lives in urban centres. British researchers studied the mental health of people who moved from grey urban settings to greener urban settings and vice versa. They found that people who moved to greener areas were significantly happier over the three years of the study than those who moved to greyer city areas. Increasing green space may provide long-term mental health benefits.
40% of the world’s adult population has hypertension, although 50 percent of hypertension is considered mild. Yet over half of people with mild hypertension are treated with medication. Studies show that taking drugs for mild hypertension hasn’t reduced heart disease or death and may not be required for low-risk patients. People classified as low risk are those with hypertension who don’t have heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease. Some experts are now recommending lifestyle changes for mildly hypertensive individuals instead, such as losing weight, exercising more, quitting smoking, and decreasing alcohol consumption to combat high blood pressure.
96% of students in grades 1 to 4 preferred playing in the woods compared to a playground or an athletic field. Students at six US schools took part in this study. Researchers found that when students played in natural terrain schoolyards that had dirt, trees, and water features, children built supportive relationships and increased their feelings of competence. Students said green areas made them feel peaceful and calm. Playing in a natural habitat reduced children’s stress and inattention levels.
Our experts weigh inalive asked our natural health experts for their views on the most promising research findings of 2014.
Elvis Ali, ND
Elvis Ali is a naturopathic doctor, registered acupuncturist, writer, lecturer, and member of alive’s editorial advisory board.
“I believe any type of condition that produces pain can be helped by using alternative or complementary therapies,” he says. “Parkinson’s disease, ALS [amyotrophic], and MS [multiple] are being studied, as well as epilepsy.
“I truly believe that, based on research, medical marijuana is a good choice [for]. It has fewer side effects compared to prescription drugs and other allopathic treatments,” says Ali.
An early study found that 70 percent of Canadian MS patients surveyed had tried complementary or alternative medicine (75 percent of patients surveyed were women). Small studies have also researched linoleic acid, massage, Feldenkrais work, yoga, magnetic field therapy, and medical marijuana for the treatment of MS.
While research is ongoing in this area, a 2014 study found that medical marijuana in pill or oral spray forms may ease some symptoms of MS, such as spasticity and related pain, and frequent urination.
When it comes to cancer, an in vivo study showed that colorectal cancer cell growth was inhibited by a standardized Cannabis sativa extract that had a high content of cannabidiol, one of the many active compounds found in this plant.
Several preclinical studies have examined the anticancer effects of cannabinoids on various types of cancer cells, including lung, thyroid, prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancers. Research is ongoing in these, and many other areas.
Lisa Petty, ROHP, RNCP
Lisa Petty, nutritionist, health coach, author, and master’s degree student, took some time out from her busy schedule to share her thoughts.
“I’m excited about all the new research on omega-3 fats from fish oil and how these fats help us with proactive aging,” she says. “They protect breast health, boost insulin sensitivity—even in the brain, and they may protect telomeres, which are a marker of accelerated aging. Maybe we’ve found the fountain of youth!”
A 2014 meta-analysis showed that when women increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease their intake of omega-6 fatty acids, they may lower their risk of breast cancer. Eating more organic foods and increasing the intake of polyphenols (powerful antioxidants found in a variety of spices, berries, coffee, nuts, flaxseed, and vegetables) may also help decrease breast cancer risk.
In a small six-month randomized control study of elderly people with mild cognitive impairment, participants received supplementation with either long-chain EPA or DHA omega-3 fatty acids, or short-chain linoleic omega-3 fatty acid. The groups given DHA and EPA had less telomere shortening than the linoleic acid group. Shortening of telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes has been associated with aging.
Mouse studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, may be helpful in preventing fatty liver disease. Researchers found that omega-3s affect many biological pathways, including improved vitamin, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism as well as protein and amino acid function.