The Dangers of Too Little Sleep

Try not to lose sleep over the results of the latest sleep studies. Those lost hours of rest could lead to a variety of health issues, according to recent research – the common cold, depression, even heart disease or Parkinson’s.

Insomnia may cause alarming changes in the brain.

The findings of a recent study published in Radiology link chronic sleeplessness to alarming changes in the brain. Researchers in China used an advanced MRI technique to compare the brains of 23 people suffering from insomnia with the brains of 30 people with normal sleep patterns.

The images allowed them to analyze the brain’s white matter tracts. “White matter tracts are bundles of axons–or long fibers of nerve cells–that connect one part of the brain to another,” study author Shumei Li said in a news release. “If white matter tracts are impaired, communication between brain regions is disrupted.”

The scientists found that the insomnia patients had reduced white matter integrity in several right-brain regions and the thalamus. The affected areas control sleep, wakefulness, alertness, cognitive function, and sensorimotor function. The cause of these changes in the white matter may be the loss of myelin, the protective sheath that coats nerve fibers.

Sleep loss may lead to heart disease.

A team of researchers at the University of Helsinki recently discovered that lack of sleep affects the way the human body metabolizes cholesterol. By analyzing small blood samples, they observed that the genes responsible for controlling cholesterol transport were less active in people experiencing sleep loss than in those who got adequate sleep. They also found that people who slept less had fewer high-density HDL lipoproteins (the “good cholesterol” transport proteins) than those who slept sufficiently.

These risk factors may contribute to the higher risk of atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease in people suffering from sleep deprivation.

Chronic lack of sleep may increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

A study published earlier this month in Molecular Psychiatry reveals that chronic sleep loss and irregular sleep-wake cycles may be risk factors of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) examined how disturbances in circadian rhythms affected the development of Parkinson’s in a mouse model of the disease.

The mice were divided into two groups. The first, the control group, was exposed to a normal circadian schedule – 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day. The second group was exposed to 20 hours of light and 4 hours of dark. All the mice developed Parkinson’s, but those exposed to the altered circadian schedule experienced significant learning impairments and drastic reductions in motor coordination and motor learning skills – much worse than those observed in the control group.

The findings lend support to the research team’s theory that sleep disorders and disrupted circadian cycles may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.

Sleeping fewer than 5 hours may increase your risk of cold and other infections.

People who sleep no more than five hours each night may be at higher risk of suffering from a cold or other infection than those sleeping more, according to a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Surveys of 22,000 Americans showed that 19 percent of those sleeping five hours or fewer each night suffered from a head or chest cold in the last 30 days, compared with 16 percent of those who slept for six hours and 15 percent of those who slept more than seven hours.

Lack of sleep may affect cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning, which in turn heightens your risk of disease or infection. In addition, “poor sleep may lead to health behaviors that raise one’s risk for poor heath,” study author Aric Prather told Reuters Health. “Short sleepers are less likely to exercise and more likely to engage in less than ideal nutrition that, again over time, can affect health.”

Insomnia may lead to depression.

Insomnia may increase your risk of depression by impairing your ability to regulate emotions. Published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the study surveyed 880 current and retired United States firefighters between the ages of 18 and 82 years. 52.7 percent of participants reported insomnia symptoms, while 39.6 reported suffering from depression.

Analysis of the firefighters’ survey responses revealed that emotional regulation difficulties had a significant impact on the relationship between insomnia and depression. These difficulties included a lack of problem-solving skills and the inability to control negative emotions.

“Our study findings suggest that firefighters with sleep difficulties are likely to experience greater struggles accessing strategies to regulate their emotions, especially when feeling upset. This, in turn, may lead to or worsen feelings of depression and low mood,” said lead author Melanie Hom said in a news release. “These results are important because they provide a plausible explanation for why and how sleep problems may contribute to depression, which are critical questions for prevention and intervention.”

Article sources:

Aho, Vilma. “Prolonged sleep restriction induces changes in pathways involved in cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses.” Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24828 (2016), doi:10.1038/srep24828.

Doyle, Kathryn. “Short Sleep May Be Tied to Cold or Infection Risk.” Reuters.com.

Hom, Melanie A. “The association between sleep disturbances and depression among firefighters: emotion dysregulation as an explanatory factor.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, http://dx.doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.5492.

Lauretti, E. “Circadian rhythm dysfunction: a novel environmental risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.” Molecular Psychiatry, 5 April 2016, doi:10.1038/mp.2016.47

Li, Shumei. “Reduced Integrity of Right Lateralized White Matter in Patients with Primary Insomnia: A Diffusion-Tensor Imaging Study.” Radiology, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1148/radiol.2016152038.

Prather, Aric A. “Association of insufficient sleep with respiratory infection among adults in the United States.” JAMA Intern Med. Published online 11 April 2016, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0787.

News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

News release, Radiological Society of North America

News release, Temple University Health System

News release, University of Helsinki

 

 

 

 

Study Reveals Mediterranean Diet Reduces Heart Attack Risk

Research has shown us that the Mediterranean diet has many benefits. However, many people, especially those in the United States, are slow to believe in them. The latest research continues to push this diet saying that it has an impact on the risk of heart disease.

The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Previous research has shown the Mediterranean diet benefits people’s health in many ways:

  • Helps your bones
  • Keeps your brain healthy and young
  • Improves longevity
  • Manages weight
  • Lowers the risk of cancer
  • Reduces the chance of cardiovascular diseases

The newest study supports these benefits to give the Mediterranean diet another healthy push in the direction of being a lifesaver for many who may be headed towards heart problems.

The study included 15,000 participants in 39 countries. All of them suffered from heart disease and had an average age of 67 years. Researchers analyzed their diet by asking them how many times a week they consumed:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Whole grains
  • Refined grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Desserts
  • Sweets
  • Sugary drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Alcohol

The responses were scored with a Mediterranean diet score or a Western diet score depending on how much of each food they consumed. After four years, they followed up with participants to see how many of them had a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or had passed away.

Researchers found the 100 people of those who scored high with the Mediterranean diet score suffered three fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths than those who didn’t eat that type of diet.

In conclusion, the study found that people who consumed Mediterranean foods reduced their risk of heart disease by one third.

Mediterranean Foods

Mediterranean foods are simple to find in your local grocery store. All you have to do is purchase them and create delicious meals by combining them in different ways. The following is a list of Mediterranean foods you should pick up the next time you go grocery shopping.

  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Beans (White, kidney, black, red, pinto, green, navy)
  • Chicken thighs
  • Lean ground beef
  • Bone-in pork chops
  • Eye of round
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries)
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Potatoes
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Lentils
  • Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • 2% milk
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheese (part-skim mozzarella and parmesan)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazils, pistachios)
  • Italian spice mix
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic

As you can see, there are many combinations you can make with these foods to cook delicious meals. For example, you can flavor chicken thighs with the Italian spice mix, bake it and eat it with some fresh squash and zucchini sautéed in a pan with canola or extra virgin olive oil.

Moderation Is Key

The Mediterranean diet is a great diet to focus on, but remember the best diet is one that incorporates moderation. If you eat many of these foods, you will gain weight. It still has a lot to do with calories in and calories burned. Be mindful of how much you eat to gain all of the benefits of these foods.

You probably noticed this list does not include sweets. Sweets are something many people have a difficult time controlling. Many experts say that sugar is just as much of an addiction as drugs. It’s important to limit the amount of sugar you consume. They are empty calories, which means they do not provide any nutrition to your body, so you will likely feel hungry after eating a sugary food. Enjoy a treat when you’re rewarding yourself for a job well done. This should not be every day.

Introducing a new diet can be difficult. Do the best you can as you learn to eat differently. Some days, you will be able to make good choices all day, while other days you may make some mistakes. Don’t give up on the diet because you think you can’t do it. Just try to incorporate as many of the Mediterranean foods as much as possible. It won’t be long before you start to eat them without even thinking about it, and that’s when you’ll start to gain all of the benefits.

 

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee

Do you worry that your coffee habit is getting out of hand? Don’t put down that cup of joe just yet. Numerous research studies in recent months point to ways in which coffee may actually improve your health. Here are their findings:

It reduces your risk of premature death.

People who drink a moderate amount of coffee daily (fewer than five cups per day) have a lower risk of death from heart disease, neurological disease, type 2 diabetes and suicide, according to researchers from Harvard University. In a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the scientists looked at the effects of drinking caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. They observed health benefits from both. This led them to believe that coffee’s protective effects come not from caffeine, but from other chemical compounds.

“Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation,” said study author Ming Ding, MD, in a news release from the American Heart Association. “They might be responsible for the inverse association between coffee and mortality.”

It reverses the effects of liver disease.

Scientists in Europe recently studied the effects of coffee on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). When mice with a high fat diet were also given a daily dose of coffee, there was significant improvement in several markers for NAFLD. They also experienced less weight gain than other mice fed the same diet. The dose of coffee given was equivalent to 6 cups of coffee for a human weighing 155 lbs. The scientists concluded that coffee protects the liver from NAFLD because it reduces the permeability of the gut.

It prevents type 2 diabetes.

Three to four cups of coffee per day could reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a report in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, scientists revealed that two naturally occurring compounds in coffee have an impact on insulin levels in the body.

Insulin is a hormone that the body produces to convert glucose from food into energy. People with type 2 diabetes develop a resistance to insulin. The pancreas then makes more insulin to overcome this resistance, but eventually it just can’t make enough. When there’s not enough insulin, the glucose can’t be converted to energy and remains in the blood. High blood glucose levels are dangerous and can lead to blindness, nerve damage, and other health issues.

The researchers discovered that two compounds in coffee, cafestol and caffeic acid, both increase insulin secretion when glucose was present. They also found that cafestol increased glucose uptake in muscle cells, leading to lower blood glucose levels.

It’s rich in antioxidants.

When researchers from Monash University in Australia observed the behavior of free radicals in coffee, they discovered that coffee acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds found in food that keep free radicals in check and prevent them from inflicting damage on cells and DNA.

Free radical reactions may be responsible for most degenerative diseases, such as atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia and degenerative eye disease. By stabilizing free radicals, the antioxidants in coffee may help to prevent these diseases and slow the aging process.

It lowers your risk of dying from heart disease.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, where it’s responsible for one in every four deaths. Drinking coffee may prevent this deadly condition. Researchers from the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee report that three to five cups of coffee per day may reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by up to 21%.

Article sources:

Centers for Disease Control – “Heart Disease Facts”

Florence, TM. “The Role of Free Radicals in Disease.” Aust N Z J Ophthalmol. 1995 Feb;23(1):3-7.

News release: American Chemical Society

News release: American Heart Association

News release: European Association for the Study of the Liver

News release: Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee

News release: Monash University

 

 

 

5 Reasons You Should Not Take Aspirin Daily

Research has found that aspirin can help people who are at risk for heart disease. People have started aspirin therapy on their own because of this research. If you’re one of these people, you need to know these five reasons you should not be taking it.

#1: It’s a Preventative for Low Risk Individuals

According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, one in 10 patients were found to be taking aspirin inappropriately. Aspirin therapy is recommended as a primary prevention, which reduces the risk of a first heart attack or stroke. Those who are at risk for heart attack or stroke because of previous one or other factors should not take aspirin, as it does not reduce the risk of dying from subsequent episodes.

#2: Users Need a Cardiovascular Risk Assessment

Anyone interested in starting aspirin therapy should seek an assessment from their doctor. When speaking to your doctor, be sure he is not using the Framingham Risk Score, as it is outdated. Your doctor should look at risk factor and perform a simple, safe, but effective test. Most experts believe the best way to assess heart attack risk is with a CT scan. This shows coronary calcium in the heart, or atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries. A calcium score should show how much you have inside the arteries, which then provides a reasonable prediction of a heart attack or stroke.

#3: Gastrointestinal Bleeding Is Possible

A study in Heart finds the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding increases with age. Aspirin therapy can further increase the risk, especially in women. This means that the risk of aspirin therapy far outweigh the risks of it.

Usually, men are only prescribe a daily aspirin regimen when their calcium score is high and they have other risk factors for heart attack or stroke. It is taken with caution though, especially those over the age of 65.

#4: Risk of Cerebral Hemorrhage

Aspirin has been linked to cerebral hemorrhage. Even the smallest dose of 81 milligrams can increase the risk of this devastating medical condition. Knowing the symptoms of cerebral hemorrhage can save your life:

  • Severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Weakness in the extremities
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased alertness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficult time swallowing
  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Problems with coordination
  • Abnormal sense of taste
  • Unconscious
  • Falling or feeling unstable when standing

#5: Possible Drug Interactions

Aspirin should not be mixed with other drugs that treat certain medical conditions. For example, when aspirin is taken with angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, the effects of the drugs may be reduced or eliminated. When aspirin is taken with anticoagulant therapies such as Heparin and Warfarin, the risk of bleeding is extremely high.

You should always speak to your doctor whenever you start taking a new medication while on aspirin therapy. It’s important you know the risks of taking both of them.

Other Important Information to Consider

If you’re generally healthy, but have a high risk of heart disease, aspirin therapy may be best for you. The only person who can tell you that you should start a daily aspirin regimen is your doctor, after he has given you a thorough examination and assessment for heart disease.

When you begin your aspirin therapy, be sure to let your doctor know of any side effects. This can help prevent any bleeding conditions that could result from taking the aspirin.

Never take more aspirin as recommended by your physician. If you suffer from another medical condition, such as a headache, check with your doctor before you increase your dose. It may be possible to take another pain reliever with the daily aspirin without increasing your risk of other medical conditions.

If you’re concerned about taking aspirin, there are many other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Healthy eating and exercise are the first steps. You should also work on your stress levels to keep them as low as possible. You may want to consider supplements such as Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10 and fish oil. Garlic and green tea have been found to lower the risk of heart disease too.

Take care of yourself as best as you can each and every day, and follow the advice of your doctor. Heart disease is a risk, but you can reduce your risk.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Fiber

Fiber – You’ve probably heard the word millions of times. Health experts continuously urge people to eat more fiber. Despite their recommendations, most adults still don’t usually get enough of it. An average adult needs about 25 grams of fiber a day. Adults currently only get about half of that amount each day. This can lead to many health problems. The following can help you see how important fiber is in your diet.

You Become Constipated

Everyone is different when it comes to bowel movements. Some people have one every day, while others have it only every two or three days. The problem is when someone goes from having daily bowel movements to only having one every few days – this is constipation.

Fiber helps you stay your regular. Since your body can’t digest fiber, it must clump to stool to get out of the body. This causes the stool to stay flexible making it easier to find its way out of the body.

Some people will suffer from hemorrhoids because of constipation. This is just another sign that they are not getting enough fiber in their diet.

To ensure you don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable and painful effects of constipation, eat a diet high in fiber every single day. In time, you will know whether you’re getting enough based on your bowel movements.

You Feel Hungry

Have you ever had a meal and then a few minutes later feel hungry? It’s likely because you didn’t eat enough fiber.

When you eat fiber, it swells up in your stomach. This takes up much more space than foods that do not contain it. This will keep you satiated for longer, since it takes longer to digest fiber.

You Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. For many people, it’s because they don’t eat enough fiber.

Fiber helps you keep your cholesterol in check. Experts say that it’s because cholesterol sticks to fiber since it doesn’t break down in the body. When you have a bowel movement, the cholesterol leaves the body along with the fiber.

Since people who eat a lot of fiber are at lower risk for high cholesterol, their chances of heart disease are also decreased. What’s even better is that most people who get enough fiber also maintain a healthy weight. This further protects their heart.

Your Blood Sugar Levels Spike

Any sharp rises in sugar levels often result in a crash. That crash is what makes you feel so sluggish later in the day.

Foods high in carbohydrates are mostly to blame for sugar spikes. It’s important to stay away from them as much as possible.

Getting more fiber in your diet will help you stabilize your body’s sugar levels. This way you can feel alert and energized throughout the day.

What’s even more important to know is that fiber can not only help people suffering from diabetes, but it can prevent it as well. If your sugar levels remain constant, you’ll be less likely to end up with diabetes later in life.

How to Get More Fiber in Your Diet

It’s not too hard to get enough fiber in your diet. Raspberries have a lot of fiber with 8 grams in just one cup. You can add raspberries to yogurt, in a smoothie, or just eat them as they are because they are great for a sweet treat.

Oranges are another great fiber food. Not only that, they are loaded with vitamin C, which can keep you healthy. You can also add oranges to a salad, eat them alone, or squeeze yourself some fresh orange juice.

For all of the nut lovers out there, almonds can help you get the fiber you need. It also has magnesium, which is important in moving stool through your intestines. Almonds are great alone, in salads, or choose almond flour next time you’re baking.

One cup of beans has a whopping 15 grams of fiber for black ones. You can throw beans in just about anything or eat them right from a bowl. If you don’t like black, eat other types of beans because they all have a good amount of fiber in them.

Start making changes to your diet to ensure you get enough fiber. It’ll make you feel good AND protect your health.