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A healthy gut could help to stave off heart disease

Eating a diet that encourages a healthy gut microbiome and avoiding central obesity (fat in the stomach region) are among the many dietary and lifestyle factors that may help to protect against heart disease and stroke. This is according to the findings of a new Task Force report from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), entitled Cardiovascular Disease: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Rask Factors: 2nd Edition.

Scientific research shows that eating plenty of wholegrains and other fibre-rich foods is important for a healthy gut, but the Task Force report highlights that the fermentation of fibre by our gut bacteria may also influence our risk of heart disease. Sara Stanner, Science Director at the BNF and editor of the Task Force report said: “As a nation we’re consuming well below the recommended intake for fibre. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, choosing high-fibre or wholegrain varieties of starchy carbohydrates, and eating plenty of pulses, like beans, peas and lentils, will contribute to fibre intakes and can help to keep your gut healthy and decrease your risk of heart disease.”

It’s known that being overweight increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, but where you carry any excess fat is also important in determining the risk of heart disease and stroke. The new Task Force report explains that people who have excess fat around the stomach are at increased risk because the cells secrete a number of substances that can contribute to risk. Stanner said: “Regardless of height or BMI, people should try to lose weight if their waist measures more than 94cm (37ins) for men and 80cm (31.5ins) for women.”

The evidence for other emerging risk factors that may increase risk – such as being sedentary for long periods, and poor diet in pregnancy – were presented at a conference for academics and health professionals to launch the Task Force report in London.

New findings about fat cells

Researchers have discovered that fat cells in the human body work different ‘shifts’ throughout the day. The researchers from the University of Surrey found that fat cells have their own ‘internal clocks’ and circadian rhythms, which affect critical metabolic functions. Misalignment of ‘human clocks’ with each other and the environment is believed to be a major contributor to obesity and poor health.

Fat cells play an important role in our body, acting as energy stores and controlling metabolism and appetite via hormone secretion. The findings of the study showed that the body’s fat cells naturally complete their functions at different times during the day, meaning that this could have an impact on metabolic processes.

Lead author, Dr Jonathan Johnston, said: “This provides us with more information about how human metabolism changes across the day and possibly why the body processes foods differently during day and night.” The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Brain training apps could help alleviate symptoms of depression

A new study has revealed that brain-training apps could help alleviate symptoms of depression. The report, which was conducted at Queens College of the City University of New York, indicates that computerised cognitive training is linked to significant improvements in mood, cognition and everyday functioning.

The study involved 46 young adults who showed mild to moderate depressive symptoms, including depressed mood, loss of interest, concentration and energy and difficulty sleeping. These participants trained using the Peak brain training app on their mobile devices five days per week over an eight-week period, with their depressive severity, everyday functioning and cognition evaluated pre and post-training. By the end of the study, the group showed significant improvements in both self and clinician-rated depressive severity, everyday functioning and cognition. The results were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Eggs encouraged as nutritious food for youngsters

A new research review advises parents to make sure their babies are given eggs once they start weaning – not only to obtain vital nutrients but also to reduce the risk of developing an egg allergy.

The new paper, published in the Journal of Health Visiting, reports on recent changes in official advice on both food safety and allergy, which mean that eggs – even when runny – are now actively encouraged as a highly nutritious food for both young babies and pregnant women. The paper also highlights recent research on some little-known nutrients found in eggs which are particularly important in pregnancy, infancy and early childhood, including several crucial to brain development – iodine, choline and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – which many people in the UK may be lacking.

In 2018 the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended that eggs can be given to babies from around six months, when weaning should begin, and then should be included regularly in their diet, to avoid increased risk of developing egg allergy later in childhood.

Focus on food waste and recycling a positive step forward

Positive steps have been put in place by the Government to tackle food waste, cut plastic pollution and encourage recycling. A series of consultations has been launched by the Government which will reportedly make up a key part of its upcoming Environment Bill, to be introduced later this year. The measures included in the proposals include packaging producers paying the full cost of dealing with their waste, more consistent household recycling, and a Deposit Return Scheme for cans and bottles. The consultation also includes a tax on plastic packaging that does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30 per cent recycled content.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has welcomed the move, saying: “This focus on reducing waste and boosting recycling is a very welcome step forward. Climate change and ecological and environmental degradation is reaching crisis point. These are critical public health issues. Recycling and reducing waste is imperative as part of the response needed to meet these challenges.”

Cancer nutrition study launching in Scotland

Maintaining a healthy diet and being physically active are important steps for cancer survivors, and this is the focus of a new study being launched across the North of Scotland.

The new study, which is being overseen by Robert Gordon University (RGU) and CLAN Cancer Support, invites men and women who have completed their cancer treatment to attend the two-day course – EatWell@CLAN – in either Aberdeen, Elgin or Kirkwall, with dates taking place over the next two months. The course will be made up of small, supportive groups and will include presentations from health professionals, practical activities and group discussions with other individuals who have been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. A team of researchers from RGU’s School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences and School of Nursing and Mifwifery will collect data from each of the participants and hope to identify barriers people may face in achieving their dietary and physical activity goals, and possible solutions. This will inform the development of a future study to improve diet and physical activity in cancer survivors. Anyone interested in taking part in the course and research study can contact Dr Lindsey Masson for more information at l.f.masson@rgu.ac.uk or on 01224 262856.

Berries could help narrow the 'folate gap'

The UK is currently experiencing a folate ‘gap’, particularly in woman of childbearing age, whereby people are not getting enough folate in their diet.

However, new research shows that eating berries could help to narrow this gap.

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is an important water-soluble vitamin that needs to be obtained from the diet to support good health. Folate status has been linked to cardiovascular and cognitive wellbeing and has a crucial role to play in women of childbearing age and early pregnancy, with shortfalls being linked to the risk of spina bifida (known as neural tube defects).

Recent data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition survey show that blood folate levels have dropped over the last nine years. Dietary guidelines advise men and women aged between 15 and 64 to aim for 200µg of folate daily. It is recommended that women of childbearing age take a 400µg folic acid supplement daily until the twelfth week of pregnancy.

At the moment, daily intakes of folate from food sources average just 193µg for girls aged 11 to 18 and 205µg amongst women of childbearing age (16 to 49) with around 1 in 10 (8 per cent) having intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (the level below which deficiency may occur). New research published in the journal Food Chemistry has shown that berries are excellent providers of folate with strawberries and blackberries providing the highest amounts of total folates: 93 to 118 µg per 100g, which is a quarter of a typical punnet.

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