Office Hours: Monday - Thursday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Air Pollution & Liver Spots

The more traffic-related air pollution in a woman’s life, the more likely she is to develop brown spots on her face. Researchers from Dusseldorf, Germany identified nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrated in traffic-related air pollution as a causative factor in the development these brown spots, popularly known as liver spots. Exposure to NO2 is also associated with lung cancer and compromised lung function. The researchers studied two groups of women - 806 German women ranging in age from 67 to 80 and 743 Han Chinese women ages 28 to 70. The investigators found no link between levels of NO2 and liver spots (known medically as lentigines) on the back of the women’s hands or forearms, but observed a significant link between exposure to NO2 and brown spots on the cheeks of women older than age 50 in both groups. This was particularly evident in the Chinese women over 50. In general, liver spots usually appear on the face, forearms, hands and upper trunk. In the U.S. 90 percent of Caucasians older than age 60 and 20 percent of those under 35 have these brown spots, which are considered benign, as a result of sun exposure.

Lack Of Exercise May Mean Smaller Brain Size

If you want to keep your brain from shrinking as you age, your best bet may be to keep your body physically fit. New research from Boston University School of Medicine found that poor physical fitness in midlife was linked to smaller brain size (a sign of accelerated brain aging) 20 years later. Researchers used treadmill tests to assess the physical fitness of 1,583 people whose average age was 40. All were participants in the long-running Framingham (MA) Heart Study, and none had heart disease when they took their first treadmill test. They were re-evaluated with treadmill tests two decades later and also underwent MRI scans of their brains. Results showed that the poorer the participants performed on their original treadmill tests, the more volume their brains had lost over the 20 years. The researchers also reported that the higher an individual’s blood pressure and heart rate rose during the first treadmill test - changes that could mean lack of fitness - the smaller their brains were likely to be on the MRI scans 20 years later. The study doesn’t prove that poor physical fitness caused the brain shrinkage observed, but does suggest an association.

Exercise + Meditation = Less Depression

A combination of meditation and aerobic exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression, a new study suggests. Researchers at Rutgers University have reported that twice-weekly sessions of exercise and practicing meditation for eight weeks cut symptoms of depression among a group of students by 40 percent. The investigators recruited 22 students diagnosed with depression and 30 mentally healthy students for the study. All agreed to perform 30 minutes of focused attention meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week. They were instructed to focus on their breathing if their thoughts drifted to the past or future. The goal was to enable students with depression to accept moment-to-moment changes in attention.  The researchers reported that the program helped students with major depressive disorder avoid being overwhelmed by problems or negative thoughts. The same combination of meditation and exercise also benefitted a group of formerly homeless young mothers with severe symptoms of depression and high levels of anxiety. The women, who were living in a residential treatment center when the study began, reported  that their depression and anxiety had eased and they felt more motivated and better able to focus more positively on their lives after completing the eight-week program.  This study was the first to combine meditation and exercise to address depression.

My take? These study results are welcome news. I have long recommended physical activity as the most reliable method for immediate, symptomatic treatment of depression. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of a daily workout for improving emotional health and boosting self-confidence. I recommend 30 minutes of continuous activity, at least five days a week for best results. I’m also a strong advocate of meditation, as well as breathing exercises, as part of an integrative approach to addressing mild to moderate depression. 

Clutter Can Mean More Calories

How does clutter affect you? A new study suggests it can prompt you to overeat. Researchers from Cornell and Australia’s University of New South Wales investigated snacking and the effect of spending 10 minutes in a kitchen littered with newspapers on the table, dirty dishes in the sink, and the phone ringing. To begin, the researchers asked about half the 101 women participants to write about a time when they felt out of control and the others to write about feeling in control. Then they asked them to wait for 10 minutes in the messy kitchen or in a clean, organized and quiet kitchen. Bowls of cookies, crackers and carrots were available in both kitchens. The researchers reported that among the women who wrote about being out of control, those who waited in the messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies in 10 minutes as those who waited in the clean kitchen. “Being in a chaotic environment and feeling out of control is bad for diets" noted lead author Lenny Vartanian, Ph.D. adding that he suspects the same results would be observed for men. Bottom line: a clean, organized kitchen may help you cut calories. Learn more about how to create a sanctuary in your home.

Meditation Eases Breast Biopsy Anxiety And Pain

Guided meditation can help women undergoing breast biopsies experience less anxiety and pain. In addition, researchers from the Duke Cancer Institute report that providing meditation can improve the effectiveness of the biopsy procedure, which can be compromised if women move during the procedure. The researchers enrolled 121 women scheduled for a stereotactic and ultrasound guided (needle) breast biopsy and randomly assigned them to a recorded meditation, music or the usual care with a technologist offering support. The meditation, described as a guided “loving/kindness” script, focused on building positive emotions and releasing negative ones. Patients assigned to listen to music could choose from several types available. Before and after the biopsy the women completed questionnaires measuring their nervousness and anxiety and ranking their pain on a scale of zero (low) to 10 (high). “Both meditation and music reduced patient anxiety and fatigue," said study leader Mary Scott Soo, M.D. in a press release accompanying publication of the study. However, the women in the meditation group reported significantly less pain than those in the music group.


Pregnant? Another Reason To Avoid Fructose

Pregnant women whose diet is high in fructose could be setting their babies up for high blood pressure and obesity later in life. This finding comes from a study in mice by researchers at the University of Texas, Medical Branch, Galveston. They provided pregnant mice a solution of either fructose or water as their only drink from their first day of pregnancy through delivery. All of the baby mice were given standard mouse meals and their health was evaluated when they were one year old. The researchers found that both the male and female mice whose mothers drank the fructose solution had higher peak glucose levels compared to the offspring of the mother mice who drank only water during pregnancy. The female mice born to moms in the fructose group were heavier, had more abdominal fat and more fat in their livers than the females whose mothers drank water. These differences weren’t observed in the males from the fructose group. While this study was done in mice, lead researcher Antonio Saad, M.D. commented that the results show that consuming a high fructose diet during pregnancy puts offspring at risk for obesity and the many health problems it can cause.

My take? These are very interesting findings, even if conducted in animals. It wouldn’t be ethical or desirable to perform the same study with pregnant women to see what effects a high fructose diet might have on the health of their children. However, we already know that the body doesn’t utilize fructose well, and I am especially concerned about the potentially disruptive effects of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the main sweetener used in beverages and in a wide variety of processed foods. Some evidence suggests fructose may disturb liver function. It also may elevate triglycerides in men, increasing the risk of heart disease. The vulnerability of a developing child adds another layer of concern. I don’t think fructose or high fructose corn syrup is good for anyone, pregnant or not. 

Want To Lose Weight?

The notion that the more you exercise, the more weight you’ll lose could disappoint you. You would be better off focusing on what you’re eating. That’s the word from a study examining daily energy expenditure of 332 adults in five countries, including the U.S. The participants wore devices that recorded their activity levels for a week, and the researchers used that information to calculate the number of calories each person burned using standard measurements. They found that moderate activity - the equivalent of walking a couple of miles per day - burned about 200 calories more than amounts expended by sedentary people, but that more strenuous activity didn’t add up to more calories burned. The findings suggest that the body adapts itself to the extra effort and burns the same calories more efficiently. "The most physically active people expended the same amount of calories each day as people who were only moderately active," explained study leader Herman Pontzer, a professor at the City University of New York.  He emphasized that exercise is good for you and can help with weight loss, but its impact isn’t as great as you may have thought.

My take? Practical experience shows us that exercise won’t always result in significant weight loss, especially for those who take in more calories as they increase physical activity. My own experience is that exercise alone is much less effective at promoting and maintaining weight loss than exercise combined with a positive change in eating habits. Diet is key.

Can’t Sleep? Blame Social Media

Spending too much time on social media - or at least checking these Internet sites frequently - could spell sleeping problems for some young adults. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine collected data from 1,788 adults ages 19 through 32 about their use of social media and how well they sleep. The study participants were asked about the amount of time they spend on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and seven other social media platforms. The researchers reported that, on average, study participants spent 61 minutes a day on social media and visited various social media sites 30 times per week. The sleep assessment showed that nearly 30 percent of the participants had a lot of trouble sleeping. Those who spent the most time on social media daily had almost twice the risk of sleep disturbances as those who spent the least time on these sites. The researchers concluded that use of social media can disturb sleep, especially if a user stays up late posting photos on Instagram or gets involved in an argument on Facebook. They also suggested that the bright light emitted by devices used to access social media disturbs sleep by disrupting circadian rhythm. Another possibility: individuals having trouble falling asleep might increase their use of social media, which could worsen their sleeping problems.

Why It’s So Hard To Give Up Sugar

Blame it on the brain. Researchers at Yale have found that our brains respond differently to sweet tastes and to calories. The brain is hardwired to seek out sugar to provide itself calories, but it considers sweetness separately, and it will go for the calories - energy - every time. "It turns out the brain actually has two segregated sets of neurons to process sweetness and energy signals," the Yale study’s senior author explained in a press release. "If the brain is given the choice between pleasant taste and no energy, or unpleasant taste and energy, the brain picks energy." The study found that both sweet taste and nutrient value register in an ancient brain region called the striatum, which is involved in processing rewards. In studies with mice and sugar, the researchers found that signals for taste and nutrients are processed in two separate areas of the striatum. One, the ventral striatum processes taste signals while the other, the dorsal striatum responds to energy signals. As far as eating behavior is concerned, the study showed that the brain chose signals that sugar (even sugar made to taste very bad) was delivering calories every time. The bottom line: Our human sweet tooth evolved to ensure that we eat enough to provide our brains with the calories it needs to operate at peak efficiency, but it is our brains desire for calories - not sweetness - that dominates our strong cravings for sugar, the researchers reported. 

New Way To Remember Names And Faces

The trick to putting names and faces together after meeting someone for the first time may be a good night’s sleep. That conclusion comes from a small study at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Researchers there recruited 14 young adults in their 20s to see how a good night’s sleep affects the ability to match names and faces. During the study the participants stayed at the hospital’s Center for Clinical Investigation. Each study volunteer was shown 20 photos of faces with names attached and asked to memorize them. After 12 hours, they were shown the photos again, matched with either a correct or incorrect name. The researchers asked if the name was correct and also asked the participants to rate their confidence in their answers. Each participant took the test twice, once after sleeping for eight hours and once when they had remained awake during the day. The investigators reported that after sleeping the participants correctly matched 12 percent more of the faces and names than when they had remained awake. The research team now wants to explore how sleep affects memory for names and faces among older adults.