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Plant-based diet linked to lower diabetes risk

Eating healthy plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), new research has shown.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston. The aim was to identify the metabolite profiles related to different plant-based diets and investigate possible associations between those profiles and the risk of developing T2D. A metabolite is a substance used or produced by the chemical processes in a living organism.

The researchers analysed blood plasma samples and the dietary intakes of 10,684 participants. The participants were grouped into three groups based on their intake of various foods: an overall Plant-based Diet Index (PDI), a healthy Plant-based Diet Index (hPDI), and an Unhealthy Plant-Based Diet Index (uPDI). The team distinguished between healthy and unhealthy plant foods according to their association with T2D, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other conditions, including obesity and high blood pressure.

The study found that compared with participants who did not develop T2D, those who were diagnosed with the disease during follow-up had a lower intake of healthy plant-based foods, as well as lower scores for PDI and hPDI. In addition, they had a higher average BMI, and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, use blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, have a family history of diabetes, and be less physically active.

The authors concluded: “Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigation.”

The findings were published in the journal Diabetologia.

Study highlights link between gut microbiota and strokes

A new study has identified strains of gut microbiota that are associated with more severe strokes and worse post-stroke recovery.

The research identified multiple types of bacteria which were associated with ischaemic stroke risk. An ischaemic stroke occurs when a clot or other blockage blocks the blood supply to the brain and is the most common type of stroke. Other types of bacteria were associated with a more severe stroke in the acute phase (at six and 24 hours respectively) and another variety was related to poor functional outcomes at three months.

Dr Miquel Lledós, lead author from the Sant Pau Research Institute Stroke Pharmacogenomics and Genetics Laboratory in Barcelona commented: “In this study we took faecal samples – the first samples taken after the event – from 89 humans who’d suffered an ischaemic stroke. Comparing with a control group, we were able to identify multiple groups of bacteria that were associated with a higher risk of ischaemic stroke. The discovery opens the exciting prospect that, in the future, we may be able to prevent strokes or improve neurological recovery by examining the gut microbiota.”

The findings were presented at the European Stroke Organisation Conference (ESOC 2022).

Did you know?

“Rose hips are very antioxidant-rich, high in vitamin C and have anti-inflammatory effects,” explains Bergitte McGovern, a NIMH-registered medical herbalist (www.herbsbybee.co.uk). “They help to strengthen capillaries, other blood vessels and the heart, along with having beneficial effects on the skin and digestive system. Rose hips can be enjoyed in teas, as a purée or powdered and added to smoothies. Red ripe rose hips may be harvested from any type of rose – just remember to leave some for wildlife and that the itchy hairs around the seeds at the centre need removing too!”

Dairy products linked to increased risk of cancer in Chinese population

Researchers have found that a greater intake of dairy is associated with higher risks of liver cancer and female breast cancer in Chinese adults.

The researchers collected data from over 510,000 Chinese participants (59 per cent female, 41 per cent male and aged from 30 to 79), who joined the study between 2004 and 2008 and had no previous history of cancer. They were questioned about their dairy intake and placed into three groups: regular dairy consumers (at least once a week), monthly dairy consumers, and people who never or rarely consumed dairy products (non-consumers). Overall, 20 per cent of the participants consumed dairy regularly, 11 per cent consumed it monthly, and 69 per cent were non-consumers.

It is worth noting that in China dairy consumption is much lower than in Western countries. Most Chinese adults cannot properly metabolise dairy products due to lack of lactase, a key enzyme for breaking down the milk sugar lactose. The participants were followed up for around 11 years and any new cancer diagnoses were recorded. During the study period 29,277 new cancer cases were noted. The results showed that people who consumed dairy products regularly had significantly greater risks of developing liver and breast cancer. For each 50g/day intake, the risk increased by 12 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. Regular dairy consumption was associated with an increased risk of lymphoma (though this was not statistically significant). There was no association between dairy intake and colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, or any other type of cancer investigated. The results were published in BMC Medicine.

Cranberries could improve memory and brain function

Adding cranberries to your diet could help improve memory and brain function, and lower “bad” cholesterol. These were the findings from new research carried out at the University of East Anglia (UK).

The study involved 60 cognitively healthy participants aged between 50 and 80. For 12 weeks, half of the group consumed freeze-dried cranberry powder, equivalent to 100g of fresh cranberries, daily. The other half consumed a placebo.

The results showed that consuming cranberries significantly improved the participants’ memory of everyday events (visual episodic memory), neural functioning and delivery of blood to the brain (brain perfusion). The cranberry group also demonstrated a significant decrease in LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.

The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

Mediterranean diet helps depression in young men

Young men who switched to a healthy Mediterranean diet experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms of depression, a new study has revealed.

The 12-week randomised control trial involved a group of 72 young men aged between 18 and 25 and was carried out by researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney. The diet used in the study was rich in colourful vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, oily fish, olive oil and raw, unsalted nuts.

Lead researcher Jessica Bayes said: “The primary focus was on increasing diet quality with fresh wholefoods while reducing the intake of ‘fast’ foods, sugar and processed red meat.”

She added: “There are lots of reasons why scientifically we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 per cent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis. To have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fibre, which is found in legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Bayes concluded: “Nearly all our participants stayed with the programme, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention. It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Krill oil may benefit muscles in older adults

Krill oil may be a supplement worth taking for adults aged 65 and over, following the results of a new study. Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences have found that krill oil supplementation is linked with increased muscle size and function in older adults.

Krill oil contains high concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which have been shown to be important nutrients for the body as it ages. The randomised, double blind, controlled trial included 102 men and women all above the age of 65. The participants were randomly divided into two groups: a control group that received a placebo and a test group that received 4g per day of Superba krill oil.

After six months, the findings showed that the group taking the krill oil supplements demonstrated statistically and clinically significant increases in muscle function and size.

The findings were published in Clinical Nutrition.