How to Choose the Type of Mindfulness Meditation

Kira M. Newman wrote . . . . . . . . .

Many beginner meditators, myself included, start out with a mindful breathing meditation: one breath in, one breath out, the mind wanders, you bring it back.

Armed with an app guiding me through this meditation, I practiced dutifully for several months—but eventually I fell off the wagon. It just stopped feeling right for me.

I didn’t know there were other types of meditation to try. That’s why a new study published in the journal Mindfulness is so encouraging: It compares four different types of meditation, and finds that they each have their own unique benefits. Mindful breathing isn’t the only place to start—and it’s not the end of meditation, either.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute recruited more than 200 adults in Germany who hadn’t meditated before to participate in a nine-month mindfulness training. It taught four types of meditation:

  • Breathing meditation: A practice where you focus your attention on the sensations of breathing.
  • Body scan: A practice where you focus on each individual body part in turn, from head to toe.
  • Loving-Kindness meditation: A practice deigned to foster positive feelings of love and care, initially toward a close loved one and then extended to yourself, others, and eventually the whole world.
  • Observing-thought meditation: A practice that teaches you to notice as thoughts arise, label them—for instance, as positive or negative, focused on yourself or others—but avoid getting absorbed in them.

The program was split into three three-month modules, with breathing meditation and body scan taught together. Each module included a three-day retreat and two-hour weekly group sessions, plus five days a week of practice at home. Before and after every meditation session, participants filled out online questionnaires about their thoughts and feelings in the half hour before the meditation and during it—providing a snapshot of how the practice impacted their minds.

During every type of meditation, participants reported feeling more positive emotions, more energetic, more focused on the present, and less distracted by thoughts than they did before beginning—perhaps thanks to the attention training that’s common to all meditation. But that’s where the similarities ended.

During body scan, participants saw the biggest increases in how aware they were of their bodies (unsurprisingly) and the sharpest decline in the number of thoughts they were having, particularly negative thoughts and thoughts related to the past and future. Lovingkindness meditation led to the greatest boost in their feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others. Meanwhile, the observing-thought meditation seemed to increase participants’ awareness of their thoughts the most.

Participants had been split into three groups, one of which learned only lovingkindness meditation (my personal favorite) for three months. But doing this practice without a foundation of more basic meditation didn’t seem to be problematic. In fact, though they had slightly more negative thoughts during lovingkindness meditation than the other groups (who had already learned mindful breathing and body scan), they saw an even bigger rise in their warm and positive feelings.

As the researchers point out, these findings offer insights to would-be meditators and mental health practitioners. If you’re tackling a specific issue—say, feeling disconnected from your body, in conflict with others, or plagued by rumination—then you can choose to try body scan, lovingkindness, or observing-thought meditation (respectively). Previous research also suggests that the observing-thought meditation has an advantage in reducing our judgmental attitude toward others.

“The type of meditation matters,” explain postdoctoral researcher Bethany Kok and professor Tania Singer. “Each practice appears to create a distinct mental environment, the long-term consequences of which are only beginning to be explored.” In fact, this study is part of a larger investigation called the ReSource Project, which is also examining how these different meditations affect brain structure, stress, and social behavior.

But if you’re looking for broad benefits, any of these types of meditation could help you cultivate positivity, energy, and focus. In that case, whichever meditation you’re likely to stick with is probably the best choice.

Source: Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley


Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Greater Risk of Diabetes

Scott LaFee wrote . . . . . . . .

An epidemiological study conducted by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University suggests that persons deficient in vitamin D may be at much greater risk of developing diabetes.

The findings are reported in the online issue of PLOS One.

The scientists studied a cohort of 903 healthy adults (mean age: 74) with no indications of either pre-diabetes or diabetes during clinic visits from 1997 to 1999, and then followed the participants through 2009. Vitamin D levels in blood were measured during these visits, along with fasting plasma glucose and oral glucose tolerance.

Over the course of time, there were 47 new cases of diabetes and 337 new cases of pre-diabetes, in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be categorized as type 2 diabetes.

For the study, the researchers identified the minimum healthy level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in blood plasma to be 30 nanograms per milliliter. This is 10 ng/ml above the level recommended in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine, now part of The National Academies, a health advisory group to the federal government. Many groups, however, have argued for higher blood serum levels of vitamin D, as much as 50 ng/ml. The matter remains hotly debated.

“We found that participants with blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that were above 30 ng/ml had one-third of the risk of diabetes and those with levels above 50 ng/ml had one-fifth of the risk of developing diabetes,” said first author Sue K. Park, MD, in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine in South Korea.

Study co-author Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, said persons with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 30 ng/ml were considered vitamin D deficient. These persons, the researchers found, were up to five times at greater risk for developing diabetes than people with levels above 50 ng/ml.

Garland, who has previously investigated connections between vitamin D levels and various types of cancer, said the study builds upon previous epidemiological research linking vitamin D deficiency to a higher risk of diabetes. Epidemiological studies analyze the distribution and determinants of health and disease conditions. They do not necessarily prove cause-and-effect.

“Further research is needed on whether high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels might prevent type 2 diabetes or the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes,” said Garland. “But this paper and past research indicate there is a strong association.”

Garland and others have long advocated the health benefits of vitamin D. In 1980, he and his late brother Frank C. Garland, also an epidemiologist, published an influential paper that posited vitamin D (produced by the body through exposure to sunshine) and calcium (which vitamin D helps the body absorb) together reduced the risk of colon cancer. The Garlands and colleagues subsequently found associations with breast, lung and bladder cancers.

To reach 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels of 30 ng/ml, Garland said would require dietary supplements of 3,000 to 5,000 international units (IU) per day, less with the addition of moderate daily sun exposure with minimal clothing (approximately 10-15 minutes per day outdoors at noon).

The current recommended average daily amount of vitamin D is 400 IU for children up to 1 year; 600 IU for ages 1 to 70 years (less for pregnant or breastfeeding women) and 800 IU for persons over 70, according to the National Institutes of Health. Higher daily amounts of vitamin D are generally considered safe, but blood serum levels exceeding 125 ng/ml have been linked to adverse side effects, such as nausea, constipation, weight loss, heart rhythm problems and kidney damage.

Source: University of California – San Diego

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Bananas Are Good for You

Julia Calderone wrote . . . . . . . .

Americans eat an average of 27 pounds of bananas per person per year—making it the most heavily consumed fruit in America.

But some carb- and calorie-conscious consumers have relegated bananas to the “do not eat” list because of the fruit’s high sugar and calorie count relative to some other fruits.

That rationale is misguided, says Jessica D. Bihuniak, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “Nobody gets fat or develops diabetes from eating too many bananas,” Bihuniak says—or from eating too much of any fruit, for that matter. And as with all fruits, bananas are loaded with a bevy of nutrients, some of which promote a healthy heart, gut, and waistline.

The Carbohydrate Concern

Bananas are on the sweeter side compared with other fruit. One large banana has about 120 calories and 17 grams of sugars—that’s more than double what you’d get in 1 cup of strawberry slices, which has 53 calories and about 8 grams of sugars.

But, Bihuniak says, when nutritionists say to limit sugars in your diet, they’re talking about added sugars—the kind that’s in regular soft drinks, mixed into baked goods, and sprinkled into coffee. “If you’re eating just a banana,” Bihuniak says, “there’s no added sugar.”

Plus some of the carbohydrates in bananas come in the form of dietary fiber—3.5 grams per large banana, or about 15 percent of your daily need.

Green bananas contain a type of carb called resistant starch. (As bananas ripen, the starch turns into sugars, making the banana sweeter.) Because resistant starch isn’t easily digested, it reduces the amount of sugar released into the bloodstream, helping control blood sugar. Research also suggests that resistant starch helps maintain the balance of healthy gut microbes.

A Note for Parents

Be mindful about your kids eating a banana before bedtime, Bihuniak says, because the fruit is particularly sticky and the sugars can adhere to the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities. As always, make sure young children brush their teeth before bedtime.

Bananas Have a Bunch of Nutrients

Bananas are perhaps best known for their potassium count, with a large banana containing about 490 mg of this electrolyte—a mineral that becomes electrically charged in your bloodstream and that governs heart rate and nerve and muscle function. The body carefully maintains levels of potassium and sodium (another electrolyte) to keep fluid levels in balance.

Americans tend to consume too much sodium and not enough potassium, Bihuniak says, and when the two get out of sync, it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, and therefore up the risk for heart attack and stroke. Research also suggests that keeping those levels harmonized can be beneficial for bone health.

“Most people need 4,700 mg of potassium each day,” says Ellen Klosz, a nutritionist at Consumer Reports. “So if you eat bananas in addition to other healthy, potassium-rich foods—such as legumes, other fruits, veggies, nuts, and dairy—they can be a great way to help meet your daily need.”

Bananas also supply about a third of your daily recommended vitamin B6 need. Vitamin B6 helps regulate the levels of the amino acid homocysteine in your blood, which when unchecked can harden the arteries and increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, and blood clots, Bihuniak says.

A Versatile Package

Bananas are most easily eaten raw as a snack, but there’s a surprising number of other ways you can enjoy them. They can be crushed into a juice, puréed into a smoothie, dehydrated into a chip, and even turned into flour. You can freeze bananas and purée them into an ice-cream-like frozen dessert.

“Topping oatmeal, plain yogurt, or peanut butter and toast with banana slices is an excellent way to add nutrition and sweetness without added sugar,” Klosz says.

Bananas are also portable. “They come in their own protective cover,” Klosz says, “making them an easy, healthy snack on the go.”

And at about 56 cents per pound, they’re hard to beat at the checkout counter.

Source: Consumer Reports

Losing a Spouse Late in Life Linked to Cognitive Decline

Carolyn Crist wrote . . . . . . . .

Older adults who lose a spouse may be more vulnerable to cognitive decline in subsequent years and require extra support and monitoring, researchers say.

In the study of nearly 7,000 middle aged and older men and women, cognitive functioning declined over time for everyone, but it degraded slightly more and slightly faster for those who had been widowed, regardless of whether they remarried.

At the same time, having a high level of education or at least one living sibling appeared to protect against the decline associated with widowhood, the study team reports in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“We’ve all come to know the importance of cognitive functioning among older adults,” said study co-author Giyeon Kim, a psychology researcher at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea.

“While we expected to find the effect of widowhood status on cognitive decline, we were fascinated by our findings on the protective effects of having at least one living sibling and higher education,” Kim told Reuters Health by email.

On the theory that stress contributes over time to cognitive decline, and widowhood would bring added stress, the researchers analyzed data on 6,766 U.S. adults over age 50 who took part in the 1996-2012 Health and Retirement Study. The study team assessed widow/widower status, cognitive functioning test scores and other factors such as bereavement, education, remarriage, health status, race and living family members.

The cognitive functioning score was based on several tasks, including immediate word recall, delayed word recall, counting backwards from 20, and ability to name objects, data and current president and vice president.

The analysis found that 2,742 adults overall experienced widowhood, and in the oldest age group – over age 70 – the majority of individuals were widowed by the end of the study period.

Cognitive scores for widows/widowers were consistently more than half a point lower than for peers who were not widowed. Further, every additional year of widowhood decreased individuals’ cognition score by a quarter of a point. The decline occurred regardless of remarriage status or the spouse’s condition before death, the researchers note.

The loneliness associated with widowhood may be a major part of the cognitive decline, and having living siblings, adult children and friends can provide that social interaction to prevent some decline, said Anna Sundstrom of Umea University in Sweden, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Widowhood has a deep negative impact on both mental and physical health,” Sundstrom said in an email. “The growth of the aging population worldwide may bring with it an increasing number of lonely elderly.”

“There are also things you can do now to protect your cognition as you age,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a resource called 10 Ways to Love Your Brain listing lifestyle habits that help stave off cognitive decline. For instance, healthy eating, exercise, sleep, education and social activity help the brain to age slower, Fargo said.

“It’s easy to fall into a fatalistic attitude that our cognition will get worse as we get older, but we can do things now to keep it as healthy as we can,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Now is the time to start,” Fargo added. “Don’t wait until something negative such as widowhood happens. These are lifelong habits that you can’t start too soon.”

Source: Reuters

Read also at Alzheimer’s Association:

10 Ways to Love Your Brain . . . . .

Hypertension Plus Prediabetes a Dangerous Duo for the Heart

High blood pressure and prediabetes together may do more harm to the body than either one alone.

The first study of its type looking into the association between slightly elevated blood sugar levels and high blood pressure found that prediabetes didn’t increase cardiovascular risk by itself. But when researchers looked at prediabetes paired with high blood pressure, they found a significant increase in coronary artery disease severity and cardiovascular events.

The study’s senior author Dr. Jian-Jun Li, director and professor at the National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, provided a scenario to explain how the conditions’ coexistence can make matters much worse.

“For example, when there is a crack on the road, the combination of a heavy rainstorm and rolling of vehicles will make it bigger more rapidly than either one alone,” she said.

People should take the conditions seriously. Prediabetes and high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affect blood vessel integrity. Both conditions could lead to stroke, the second-leading cause of death in the world and a leading cause of disability.

A systolic blood pressure of 120-129 with a diastolic of less than 80 is consider elevated. High blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of 130 or above, or a diastolic pressure of 80 or above. Prediabetes is considered to be present when blood sugar or hemoglobin A1c readings are above normal range but not yet in the range of diabetes.

Prediabetes increases the odds of a person developing Type 2 diabetes and its many complications. Diabetes alone is projected to grow by 41 percent worldwide, from 422 million cases in 2014 to 642 million cases in 2040.

That’s in part because prediabetes and diabetes are associated with the growing obesity rate worldwide, which has been called a “global epidemic” by the World Health Organization. Health care costs related to obesity are expected to cost more than $150 billion each year in the United States.

China is also following the trend, said Li. Researchers decided to look at the two chronic diseases “because of the increasing number of either obese or hypertensive people, especially in China.”

The results showed hypertension and prediabetes together elevate cardiovascular risks, which could have implications for most of the U.S. population. About half of all Americans have hypertension and more than a third have prediabetes. (Ninety percent of them don’t even know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

The study authors said that special attention should be paid to patients who have both issues.

Dr. Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist and physician-scientist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who wasn’t involved in the study, said its results raise concern. But Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association, cautions that guidelines for the American College of Cardiology/AHA cardiovascular disease risk estimator use diabetes as a component not prediabetes.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Hypertension.

Source: HealthDay

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