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Study reveals that humans possess “nutritional wisdom”

A new study from the University of Bristol has revealed that people seem to have “nutritional wisdom,” whereby foods are selected in part to meet our need for vitamins and minerals and avoid nutritional deficiencies.

A total of 128 adults participated in two experiments where they were shown images of different fruit and vegetable pairings so their choices could be analysed without putting their health or wellbeing at risk. The first study showed people prefer certain food combinations more than others. For example, an apple and banana might be chosen slightly more often than an apple and blackberries. These preferences appeared to be predicted by the amounts of micronutrients in a pair and whether their combination provided a balance of different micronutrients. To confirm this, the researchers ran a second experiment with different foods and ruled out other explanations. To complement and cross-check these findings, real-world meal combinations as reported in the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey were studied. Similarly, these results demonstrated that people combine meals in a way that increases exposure to micronutrients in their diet.

Lead author Jeff Brunstrom, Professor of Experimental Psychology, said: “We’ve shown humans are more sophisticated in their food choices, and appear to select based on specific micronutrients rather than simply eating everything and getting what they need by default.”

The findings were published in the journal Appetite.

Lifelong exercise keeps muscles healthy

Lifelong physical activity could protect against age-related loss of muscle mass and function, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, found that elderly people who kept physically active throughout their adult life had a greater number of muscle stem cells, otherwise known as satellite cells in their muscle. These cells are important for muscle regeneration and long-term growth and protect against nerve decay.

The researchers studied 46 male participants who were divided into three groups: young sedentary, elderly lifelong exercise and elderly sedentary. They were measured during a physical exercise and had blood samples taken as well as muscle biopsies. The researchers found that the elderly lifelong exercisers outperformed both the elderly and young sedentary adults.

Lead author, Casper Soendenbroe, University of Copenhagen, Denmark said: “This is an encouraging finding which can hopefully spur more people to engage in an activity that they enjoy.”

The findings were published in The Journal of Physiology.

Nature link to dietary diversity

Researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia have investigated how the feeling of being connected with the natural world benefits dietary diversity and fruit and vegetable intake.

The team surveyed over 300 adults to measure their self-reported connection to nature. This included their experience with and perspective of nature, and the foods and beverages they had consumed the previous day. The results of the survey showed that participants with a stronger connection to nature reported a more varied diet and ate more fruits and vegetables.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Supplement shows promise in Covid-19 patients

A food supplement containing turmeric, quercetin and vitamin D has shown positive effects in hospitalised patients with Covid-19. Turmeric, quercetin and vitamin D are already known to have antiviral, antibacterial and immunomodulatory properties. Therefore, the researchers wanted to know what positive effects the combination of these three substances could have not only on the virulence of Covid-19, but also on the development of the associated pneumonia.

The Belgian clinical trial CHOPIN was conducted with 49 patients aged over 18 and hospitalised with a severe form of Covid-19. They were separated into two groups. In addition to standard care, the first group received a dietary supplement, Nasafytol®, consisting of turmeric, quercetin and vitamin D. The second group received vitamin D (equivalent dose of 800 IU), in addition to standard care.

The study showed that in the group receiving the supplement there was a significant reduction in the number of patients hospitalised on day seven and day 14. There was a significant acceleration in recovery to a state of health which allowed a return home. There was a significant increase in the number of patients discharged from hospital on day seven, with an improvement in the clinical score on day seven. Lastly, no serious complications occurred (no ICU transfers or deaths). However, in the vitamin D group, four patients were transferred to intensive care and one patient died.

Sleep loss increases abdominal fat

New research shows that a lack of sleep combined with free access to food increases calorie consumption and consequently fat accumulation, especially unhealthy fat inside the belly.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic studied 12 healthy people during two 21-day sessions. They were randomly assigned to the control (normal sleep) group or restricted sleep group during one session and the opposite during the next session, after a three-month break. For the first four days, all participants had nine hours in bed to sleep to acclimatise. For the following two weeks, the restricted sleep group was allowed four hours of sleep and the control group had nine hours. This was followed by three days and nights of recovery with nine hours in bed for both groups. Each group had access to free choice of food throughout the study. The researchers monitored energy intake; energy expenditure; body weight; body composition; fat distribution, including visceral fat or fat inside the belly; and circulating appetite biomarkers.

The participants consumed more than 300 extra calories per day during sleep restriction compared to the acclimation stage. The increase was highest in the early days of sleep deprivation and tapered off during the recovery period. The lack of sleep led to a 9 per cent increase in total abdominal fat and an 11 per cent increase in abdominal visceral fat, compared to the control group. The findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Reducing sodium can help heart failure patients

Cutting back on sodium intake could help people with heart failure improve their symptoms and their overall quality of life, new research has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Alberta, Canada, studied 806 patients who were suffering from heart failure. This is a condition in which the heart becomes too weak to pump blood effectively. Half of the participants received usual care while the rest received nutritional counselling on how to reduce their dietary salt intake. The target sodium intake was 1,500 mg per day. Before the study, patients consumed an average of 2,217 mg per day. After one year of study, the usual care group consumed an average of 2,072 mg of sodium daily, while those who received nutritional guidance consumed 1,658 mg per day.

The researchers found that reducing salt intake did not lead to fewer emergency visits, hospitalisations or deaths for patients with heart failure. However, it did result in an improvement in symptoms such as swelling, fatigue and coughing, as well as better overall quality of life. The findings were published in The Lancet.

Bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have found a link between certain bacteria and aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

Project lead Prof Colin Cooper from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We already know of some strong associations between infections and cancer. For example, the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the digestive tract can lead to stomach ulcers and is associated with stomach cancer, and some types of the HPV virus can cause cervical cancer. We wanted to find out whether bacteria could be linked to the way prostate cancer grows and spreads.”

The team identified five types of bacteria which were common in urine and tissue samples from men with aggressive prostate cancer. Dr Rachel Hurst, first author of the work, said: “Among the things we don’t yet know is how people pick up these bacteria, whether they are causing the cancer, or whether a poor immune response permits the growth of the bacteria. But we hope that our findings and future work could lead to new treatment options, that could slow or prevent aggressive prostate cancer from developing.”

The results were published in the journal European Urology Oncology.

Will you take on the challenge?

“Eat well for you and the planet” is the theme of this year’s Healthy Eating Week campaign from the British Nutrition Foundation. The aim is to help debunk misunderstandings and empower people to achieve a diet that is both healthy and sustainable.

The campaign takes place from 13 to 17 June and will revolve around five daily challenges. These will be supported by a series of informative, evidence-based resources and fun activities suitable for the classroom, workplaces or for individuals to take on.

The 2022 challenges are:

To find out more and to register, visit: www.nutrition.org.uk/healthy-eating-week/