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Nutrition

Diet modifications – including more wine and cheese – may help reduce cognitive decline

The foods we eat may have a direct impact on our cognitive acuity in our later years.

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The foods we eat may have a direct impact on our cognitive acuity in our later years. This is the key finding of an Iowa State University research study spotlighted in an article published in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study was spearheaded by principal investigator, Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Brandon Klinedinst, a Neuroscience PhD candidate working in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State. The study is a first-of-its-kind large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity.

Willette, Klinedinst and their team analyzed data collected from 1,787 aging adults (from 46 to 77 years of age, at the completion of the study) in the United Kingdom through the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half-a-million UK participants. The database is globally accessible to approved researchers undertaking vital research into the world’s most common and life-threatening diseases.

Participants completed a Fluid Intelligence Test (FIT) as part of touchscreen questionnaire at baseline (compiled between 2006 and 2010) and then in two follow-up assessments (conducted from 2012 through 2013 and again between 2015 and 2016). The FIT analysis provides an in-time snapshot of an individual’s ability to “think on the fly.”

Participants also answered questions about their food and alcohol consumption at baseline and through two follow-up assessments. The Food Frequency Questionnaire asked participants about their intake of fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw vegetables and salad, cooked vegetables, oily fish, lean fish, processed meat, poultry, beef, lamb, pork, cheese, bread, cereal, tea and coffee, beer and cider, red wine, white wine and champaign and liquor.

Here are four of the most significant findings from the study:

  1. Cheese, by far, was shown to be the most protective food against age-related cognitive problems, even late into life;
  2. The daily consumption of alchohol, particularly red wine, was related to improvements in cognitive function;
  3. Weekly consumption of lamb, but not other red meats, was shown to improve long-term cognitive prowess; and
  4. Excessive consumption of salt is bad, but only individuals already at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease may need to watch their intake to avoid cognitive problems over time.

“I was pleasantly surprised that our results suggest that responsibly eating cheese and drinking red wine daily are not just good for helping us cope with our current COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps also dealing with an increasingly complex world that never seems to slow down,” Willette said. “While we took into account whether this was just due to what well-off people eat and drink, randomized clinical trials are needed to determine if making easy changes in our diet could help our brains in significant ways.”

Klinedinst added, “Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we’re looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory.”

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Nutrition

Body clock off-schedule? Prebiotics may help

Dietary compounds shown to protect against jet lag-type symptoms.

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Whether it’s from jetting across time zones, pulling all-nighters at school or working the overnight shift, chronically disrupting our circadian rhythm—or internal biological clocks—can take a measurable toll on everything from sleep, mood and metabolism to risk of certain diseases, mounting research shows.

But a new University of Colorado Boulder study funded by the U.S. Navy suggests simple dietary compounds known as prebiotics, which serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, could play an important role in helping us bounce back faster.

“This work suggests that by promoting and stabilizing the good bacteria in the gut and the metabolites they release, we may be able to make our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption,” said senior author Monika Fleshner, a professor of integrative physiology.

The animal study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, is the latest to suggest that prebiotics—not to be confused with probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut—can influence not only the gut, but also the brain and behavior.

Naturally abundant in many fibrous foods—including leeks, artichokes and onions—and in breast milk, these indigestible carbohydrates pass through the small intestine and linger in the gut, serving as nourishment for the trillions of bacteria residing there.

The authors’ previous studies showed that rats raised on prebiotic-infused chow slept better and were more resilient to some of the physical effects of acute stress.

For the new study, part of a multi-university project funded by the Office of Naval Research, the researchers sought to learn if prebiotics could also promote resilience to body-clock disruptions from things like jet lag, irregular work schedules or lack of natural daytime light—a reality many military personnel live with.

“They are traveling all over the world and frequently changing time zones. For submariners, who can be underwater for months, circadian disruption can be a real challenge,” said lead author Robert Thompson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fleshner lab. “The goal of this project is to find ways to mitigate those effects.”

How a healthy gut may prevent jet lag

The researchers raised rats either on regular food or chow enriched with two prebiotics: galactooligosaccharides and polydextrose.

They then manipulated the rats’ light-dark cycle weekly for eight weeks—the equivalent of traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead every week for two months.

Rats that ate prebiotics more quickly realigned their sleep-wake cycles and core body temperature (which can also be thrown off when internal clocks are off) and resisted the alterations in gut flora that often come with stress.

“This is one of the first studies to connect consuming prebiotics to specific bacterial changes that not only affect sleep but also the body’s response to circadian rhythm disruption,” said Thompson.

The study also takes a critical step forward in answering the question: How can simply ingesting a starch impact how we sleep and feel?

The researchers found that those on the prebiotic diet hosted an abundance of several health-promoting microbes, including Ruminiclostridium 5 (shown in other studies to reduce fragmented sleep) and Parabacteroides distasonis.

They also had a substantially different “metabolome,” the collection of metabolic byproducts churned out by bacteria in the gut.

Put simply: The animals that ingested the prebiotics hosted more good bacteria, which in turn produced metabolites that protected them from something akin to jet lag.

Are supplements worthwhile?

Clinical trials are now underway at CU Boulder to determine if prebiotics could have similar effects on humans.

The research could lead to customized prebiotic mixtures designed for individuals whose careers or lifestyles expose them to frequent circadian disruption.

In the meantime, could simply loading up on legumes and other foods naturally rich in the compounds help keep your body clock running on time? It’s not impossible but unlikely, they say—noting that the rats were fed what, in human terms, would be excessive amounts of prebiotics.

Why not just ingest the beneficial bacteria directly, via probiotic-rich foods like yogurt?

That could also help, but prebiotics may have an advantage over probiotics in that they support the friendly bacteria one already has, rather than introducing a new species that may or may not take hold.

What about prebiotic dietary supplements?

“If you are happy and healthy and in balance, you do not need to go ingest a bunch of stuff with a prebiotic in it,” said Fleshner. “But if you know you are going to come into a challenge, you could take a look at some of the prebiotics that are available. Just realize that they are not customized yet, so it might work for you but it won’t work for your neighbor.”

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Nutrition

The best teas to drink for health

Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.

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While studies have shown the health benefits of drinking tea, the variety of options can be overwhelming. A dietitian from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic, explains how different teas offer different benefits.

Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition with the Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute, says: “Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.”

Here, she discusses which popular teas are advised for common ailments.

Best for Overall Health: Green Tea

“Green tea is the champion when it comes to offering health benefits,” says Czerwony. “It’s the Swiss Army knife of teas. It covers a lot of territory.”

A medical literature review offers a snapshot of those benefits, she adds, linking the consumption of green tea to:

  • cancer prevention;
  • fighting heart disease;
  • lower blood pressure;
  • anti-inflammatory treatment;
  • weight loss; and
  • lower cholesterol.

According to Czerwony, the healing power of green tea is linked to catechin, an antioxidant compound found in tea leaves. It helps protect cells from damage caused by out-of-hand free radicals reacting with other molecules in the body.

Best for Gut Health: Ginger Tea

Studies show that ginger naturally combats nausea, making it a go-to remedy for dealing with morning sickness during pregnancy, notes Czerwony.

Ginger also offers proven digestive benefits by helping the body move food from the stomach to continue its digestive tract journey. Speeding up that process works to calm indigestion and ease stomach distress, she explains.

“Ginger relaxes your gut, which can make you a lot more comfortable if you’re having tummy trouble,” Czerwony says.

Alternatively, peppermint tea can also serve as an aid against indigestion. “Peppermint, however, is best for issues lower in your gut. It can actually aggravate higher-up issues such as acid reflux,” she advises.

Best for Lung Health: Herbal Tea

The anti-inflammatory powers in herbal teas can help loosen airways tightened by conditions such as asthma, says Czerwony. She recommends herbal teas featuring turmeric, cinnamon or ginger as a way to keep the air flowing.

As an added benefit, drinking a hot cup of herbal tea can also help clear congestion by loosening mucus, says Czerwony.

Best for Sickness: Peppermint Tea

“Menthol packs quite the punch when it comes to fighting a cold – and peppermint tea is packed with menthol,” says Czerwony, “It really kicks up your immune system.”

She says peppermint tea works well to relax sore throat muscles, relieve nasal congestion and even reduce a fever. “It’s also loaded with antibacterial and antiviral properties to give you a healthy boost.”

She also suggests trying echinacea, hibiscus or elderberry tea when someone does not feel well.

Best at Bedtime: Chamomile Tea

The daisy-like chamomile plant contains apigenin, an antioxidant compound and snooze inducer, explains Czerwony. She says apigenin attaches itself to receptors in the brain and works to reduce anxiety, building a peaceful calm that leads to drowsiness.

Valerian root tea also is a good option, she says.

What about black teas?

Black tea offers many of the same benefits as green tea, which makes sense when you consider they’re made from the same plant leaves, says Czerwony.

So why are they different? “Leaves used to make black tea are allowed to age and oxidize, turning them brown or black. Green tea leaves are processed earlier when they’re still green. Hence, the name. Black tea generally has more caffeine than green tea— a key selection factor if you’re concerned about limiting your caffeine intake,” she says.

“There are so many teas to choose from,” concludes Czerwony. “Try different varieties and see what works best for you.”

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Nutrition

How to enjoy whiskey this summer

Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.

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Over the years, whiskey has become increasingly popular and is a beverage people typically drink year-round. Shots Box, an alcohol subscription service offering curated, craft, artisanal, and small-batch spirits, is here with some tips on how to best enjoy whiskey during the summer months.

  1. Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.
  2. Choose a lighter variety. When picking a whiskey to enjoy in the summer, single grain Scotch or Irish whiskey are usually lighter malts and bourbons, making them easier to enjoy in the warm weather.
  3. Pick an option that’s lighter, sweeter, and with a natural hint of citrus.
  4. Balance or adjust the flavor by mixing with stone fruits, summer vegetables, or pair with tea.

“As whiskey continues to grow in popularity, there is no better time than the summer to enjoy it,” said J.C. Stock, Chief Executive Officer of Shots Box.

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