Even the somewhat stodgy medical community seems to becoming aware that the old model of "another pill for another ill" needs updating. Instead, it's time to emphasize healthy lifestyle messages.
Most of the exciting medical research from the past year reinforces age old lessons: eat a diet high in quality plant based foods, avoid toxins, move your body as much as possible, and recognize the role of stress in disease while managing it with mind-body practices like yoga and meditation. And don’t smoke.
There were several studies of note last year that are worth highlighting, including:
1. Splenda was downgraded from a "safe" rating to a "caution" rating.
The Center for Science in Public Interest plays a role as a watchdog on health issues. Based on an Italian study in mice showing increasing ingestion of Splenda (sucralose) linked to an increased risk of leukemia, Splenda was downgraded in June from a "safe" rating to a "caution" rating. It joined saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame as products to avoid, and rebiana as safe.
2. Dr. Dean Ornish proved that a healthy lifestyle lengthens telomeres.
Dr. Dean Ornish and UCSF researchers examined telomere length in two groups of men with low grade prostate cancer. The group following the Ornish program (eating a low-fat and plant-based diet, walking, managing stress, and group support) demonstrated a lengthening of telomeres in five years, associated with extended lifespans—while the control group had the more typical shortening of telomere length.
3. Researchers found that exercise can be as effective as medication.
Researchers at the London School of Economics analyzed data from trials performed in over 300,000 people. They found that regular exercise and prescription drugs were equally effective in promoting health in persons with heart disease and diabetes. While the average number of prescriptions for these patients is over 10 a year, fewer than a third meet exercise guidelines.
4. We learned that exercise may prevent neurologic disease.
Exercise is frequently recommended as an activity that promotes brain health, but the mechanism was not known. Scientists at Harvard Medical School found that in studies of mice, exercise boosted a muscle protein PGC 1 alpha, which released a brain protective protein, BDNF, in the hippocampus. This elegant science is the first glimpse of which pathways activated during exercise may protect the brain.
5. Turns out that an apple equals a statin.
Statisticians in England used modeling to explore the question: which would be better for everyone over age 50: to eat an apple a day or take a cholesterol lowering pill? The researchers found that the gain would about the same with either plan. The power of whole foods—encompassing thousands of chemicals and fiber—remains an underused miracle for health.
6. Meditation reduces inflammatory gene activity.
The mechanism by which meditative practices promote wellness, and reduce death rates in heart patients, was not known. Doctors at the University of Wisconsin measured levels of gene activity after 8 hours of meditation and showed that the production of gene products associated with inflammation dropped.
7. Whole fruit, not juices, reduces diabetes.
Three large nutrition studies were combined to provide data on over 180,000 people in regards to their risk of developing diabetes. Turns out that three or more servings a week of blueberries, grapes, pears, apples and raisins reduced the risk of diabetes, while fruit juices actually increased the risk.
8. Oreos are similar to cocaine in rats ... but more addictive.
Students at Connecticut College used Oreos as a model of high fat, high sugar foods and found that rats preferred Oreos over rice cakes and behaved as if they'd been given cocaine. In fact, the rats spent more time with the cookies than they did when given cocaine or morphine.
9. Want to improve your heart health? Eat breakfast.
The Harvard School of Public Health studied data from 26,000 healthy men who were tracked for 16 years. The risk of heart attack or death increased by 27% among those who skipped breakfast. Men who didn't eat their morning meal also tended to also exercise less, smoke and work more, and remain single. It remains unclear if missing breakfast alone was to blame. Men eating late at night also suffered more heart disease than those that did not.
10. To beat disease, stop sitting.
In England, scientists found that the amount of time sitting was a strong risk factor for diabetes in people at risk for developing the disease. Reducing sitting by 90 minutes a day was recommended to reduce the risk of progressing to diabetes. Other studies this year linked sitting to cancer and heart disease.
Once again we learn that health does not happen in a doctor’s office but where we work, live, play and pray. Wishing you a healthy and active 2014!