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Vitamin D plays a role in heart health, study finds

Researchers from the University of South Australia have discovered that vitamin D deficiency can play a part in causing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The study, which was published in European Heart Journal, used information from up to 267,980 individuals. It showed that people with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to suffer from heart disease and higher blood pressure than those with normal levels of vitamin D. For participants with the lowest concentrations, the risk of heart disease was more than double that seen for those with sufficient concentrations.

Chief investigator, Prof Elina Hyppönen commented: “Severe deficiency is relatively rare, but in settings where this does occur it is very important to be proactive and avoid negative effects on the heart. For example, deficiency can be a problem for people living in residential care who may have limited exposure to sun. We can also get vitamin D from food, including oily fish, eggs and fortified foods and drinks. This said, food is unfortunately a relatively poor source of vitamin D, and even an otherwise healthy diet does not typically contain enough. If we don’t get any vitamin D through the sun, this is one of the rare nutrients for which we sometimes need to take a daily supplement to keep up with the requirements. Understanding the connection between low levels of vitamin D and CVD is especially important, given the global prevalence of this deadly condition. Our results are exciting as they suggest that if we can raise levels of vitamin D within norms, we should also affect rates of CVD. In our study population, by increasing vitamin D-deficient individuals to levels of at least 50 nmol/L, we estimate that 4.4 per cent of all CVD cases could have been prevented.”

Report offers insights on UK health trends

According to new research, 50 per cent of UK consumers say they’re more conscious about looking after their physical health since the pandemic – just 9 per cent disagree.

The findings, from market research specialists GWI, also reveal that 24 per cent of UK consumers say their physical health worsened during the pandemic, while 20 per cent say it improved.

The Connecting the Dots 2022 report lists the most popular strategies that respondents utilise to manage their physical health. At the top of the list is exercising regularly, followed by eating more healthily, getting more sleep, taking vitamin supplements and, lastly, spending time outdoors.

Are you up for the challenge?

January marks that time of year when we’re invited to take on the Veganuary challenge and go plant-based for a month. Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that was founded in January 2014 and which encourages people to try going vegan for January and beyond. Findings from the 2021 campaign showed that more than 580,000 people from 209 countries took part and 40 per cent of participants planned to remain vegan. What’s more, half of the respondents saw some improvements to their overall health, including improvements to their energy levels, mood, skin appearance and body weight. So, what are you waiting for? Will you give it a go?

You can find delicious vegan recipes here.

Did you know?

Olive trees are a rich source of oleuropein, a compound which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is this compound that protects the olive tree from the invasion of insects and disease. Oleuropein is found in various parts of the olive tree, but the highest concentrations are found in the leaves. Olive leaf extract has many benefits for health and wellbeing, and one of the most notable is its ability to support the immune system. For more ways to support your immune system, go here.

Plant-based diet linked to reduced cognitive decline

Researchers have found that consuming a diet high in plant products cuts the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly. The European study took place over the space of 12 years and involved tracking the diets of 842 people aged over 65 in two different regions of France. The participants were regularly tested for signs of cognitive decline.

The people who ate more foods rich in polyphenols (such as apples, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, oranges or pomegranates) and those containing certain metabolites (such as cocoa, coffee, mushrooms and red wine) demonstrated a significantly lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia as they aged.

Lead author, Professor Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, from the University of Barcelona, concluded that: “A higher intake of fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline due to ageing.” The paper was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Probiotics can help lessen pregnancy sickness

Probiotics can help the symptoms of pregnancy-related nausea, vomiting and constipation, researchers have found.

Researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine in California carried out a 16-day study involving 32 participants who took a probiotic capsule twice a day for six days and then took two days off. They then repeated the cycle. Each capsule contained approximately 10 billion live cultures, mostly from the bacteria Lactobacillus.

The participants also contributed stool samples before and during the study. Upon analysing the samples, the researchers were able to find that variations in the levels of certain types of gut bacteria were linked with the severity of symptoms. The findings of the study showed that taking the probiotic significantly reduced nausea, vomiting and constipation.

“Over the years, I’ve observed that probiotics can reduce nausea and vomiting and ease constipation. It’s very encouraging that the study proved this to be true,” said Albert T. Liu, lead author for the study and a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology.

The researchers have pointed out that due to the small sample size, further studies will be needed to confirm the effects of the probiotics. The findings were published in the journal Nutrients.

How we boost our mood with food

According to new research, 89 per cent of Brits use food to boost their mood. Whilst the most popular foods for boosting mood are sweet and savoury snacks, like cakes, biscuits and crisps, some people turn to more unusual items. Four per cent enjoy sushi to boost their mood and six per cent drink a cup of green tea and have a portion of oily fish, according to the survey, conducted by Yakult.

The research shows that most are not aware that it is scientifically proven that what we eat also affects our brain, and how we feel. This is thanks to the two-way communication between our gut and brain called the gut-brain axis.

Psychologist Dr Aria Campbell-Danesh explains: “What we eat and how we feel are closely linked, with one having a powerful impact on the other. When it comes to mood boosting, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, also known as ‘happy hormones’, are often involved. Foods that are rich in the amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan are important in the production of dopamine and serotonin, respectively. Examples are eggs, chicken, fish, and soy. We can also increase diversity in the gut through consuming prebiotics that feed the bacteria already there (including garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, banana, oats) and fermented foods with live bacteria (e.g. yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, pickles etc.) The key is to find a good balance between nutrient-rich, fibre-dense foods and more processed snacks, in order to positively impact how you feel.”

Overweight children at risk of heart problems, study finds

Researchers from the University of Georgia have discovered worrying evidence that overweight children are at risk of developing heart problems.

The scientists measured the abdominal visceral fat levels and arterial stiffness in more than 600 children, adolescents and young adults. Visceral fat is wrapped around the abdominal organs and is linked with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and high cholesterol. Arterial stiffness forces the cardiovascular system to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

The researchers found significantly higher levels of visceral fat and arterial stiffness in the overweight children, suggesting that abdominal fat may contribute to cardiovascular problems in youngsters. The findings also showed that of the study’s participants, 145 had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Joseph Kindler, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of nutritional sciences in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, said: “The stiffer the artery, the faster blood is going to move through those blood vessels, and that can be detrimental and overstress our system. As these issues build up, unfortunately, it’s sort of this game of dominoes. You tip one over, and the rest of the systems start being overtaxed. That’s when really pervasive health issues can occur.”

He added: “One really important take-home message is that arterial stiffness, which predisposes children to cardiovascular disease down the line, looks to be the most pronounced in individuals who have a high BMI.”

The finding were published in the journal, Pediatric Obesity.