OCD May Be Linked to Inflammation in the Brain: Study

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have high levels of brain inflammation, a discovery researchers say could lead to new treatments.

In OCD, people typically have frequent, upsetting thoughts that they try to control by repeating certain rituals or behaviors, such as washing hands or checking door locks.

Canadian researchers compared 20 OCD patients and a control group of 20 people without the condition. In the OCD patients, inflammation was 32 percent higher in six brain regions that play a role in OCD, according to the study.

“Our research showed a strong relationship between brain inflammation and OCD, particularly in the parts of the brain known to function differently in OCD. This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD, and may lead to the development of new treatments,” senior author Dr. Jeffrey Meyer said.

Meyer is head of the Neurochemical Imaging Program in Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Inflammation or swelling is the body’s response to infection or injury. While it helps the body heal, it can sometimes be harmful. Altering the balance between helpful and harmful effects might be a key to treating OCD, Meyer said in a center news release.

He said medications developed to target brain inflammation involved in other disorders might help treat OCD.

Finding a new approach to treatment is important, because current medicines fail to help nearly a third of OCD patients. About 1 percent to 2 percent of teens and adults have the anxiety disorder.

“Work needs to be done to uncover the specific factors that contribute to brain inflammation, but finding a way to reduce inflammation’s harmful effects and increase its helpful effects could enable us to develop a new treatment much more quickly,” Meyer concluded.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Source: HealthDay

How Bad for You Are Fried Foods?

Stephanie Watson wrote . . . . . .

Few of us are under the illusion that french fries – or any fried foods — are good for us. But could eating them actually shorten our life?

Although the connection between eating fried foods and obesity and heart disease is well known, a study published earlier this month is the first to link eating fried potatoes to death risk.

The study found people who ate fried potatoes (including french fries, fried potatoes, and hash browns) more than twice a week were more likely to die early than those who ate fried potatoes less often.

The report included 4,440 people, ages 45 to 79, who were enrolled in a study that looked at ways to prevent and treat knee osteoarthritis. Researchers followed participants over an 8-year period and asked them about their diet — including the amount of fried and unfried potatoes they ate.

Study author Nicola Veronese, MD, said they focused on potatoes because the link between eating them and death risk hadn’t been studied before. Some studies had found that potatoes raise the odds of having heart disease and other medical conditions, says Veronese, a researcher at the Institute of Clinical Research and Education in Medicine in Padova, Italy.

After 8 years, the chance of early death was about twice as high in the group that ate fried potatoes more than 2 times a week. What about french fries might have contributed to the participants’ premature demise?

“We think that several mechanisms could lead to mortality,” Veronese says. First, he says, people who eat more potatoes have a higher incidence of medical conditions that can increase the risk of death. Also, “The potatoes are fried in unhealthy oils rich in trans fats. Finally, the high amounts of salt used further increase the risk of death.”

Are French Fries Really Deadly?

Before you swear off french fries forever, here are a few things to consider. First, the study didn’t determine exactly how the study participants died. “Those deaths might have had nothing to do with diet. They could have been run over by a car,” says Ken Lee, PhD, a professor in the department of food science & technology at the Ohio State University Food Innovation Center.

Second, it relied on the participants’ memory of what they ate. “That is one of the least reliable forms of diet studies,” Lee says.

The researchers also didn’t prove that french fries caused an early death. “We don’t know what other things in their diet and lifestyle may have contributed to their death,” says Lisa Sasson, a clinical assistant professor of nutrition in the NYU Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

She adds that unless a food is poisonous or tainted with bacteria, it’s not likely to kill you on its own. “That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it.”

Fried Food Risks

That doesn’t mean you should go on a french fry binge — or binge on any fried foods. Fried foods are high in fat, calories, and often salt. A few studies, including one published in 2014, have linked fried foods to serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“Fried foods may influence risk of these diseases through several key risk factors: obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol,” says lead author Leah Cahill, PhD, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. “The process of frying is known to alter the quality and increase the caloric content of food.”

Fried foods served in fast-food restaurants are often cooked in hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fats. Many restaurants use these oils because they give food a satisfying taste and crunch. But they’re not good for you. Trans fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels, and raise your chance of having heart disease.

Hydrogenated oil is especially unhealthy when it’s reused, which restaurants often do. Oils break down with each frying, which changes their composition and causes more oil to be absorbed into the food, Cahill says. These changes further boost your chances of having high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The FDA ban on trans fats, which takes full effect in 2018, won’t necessarily make fried foods healthier, Cahill says. Many restaurants have already switched to other oils in advance of the ban.

“The trans fat ban will make fried foods safer theoretically, but restaurants will still be able to use unhealthy oils, including oils that have been reused a lot. It will be important to monitor the long-term health effects of the new oils being used.”

Add Sasson: “Eating fried foods (deep fried) is not a healthy choice. Fried foods add a lot of calories to food and don’t offer healthy nutrients.”

The Acrylamide Connection

Another worry with fried food centers on acrylamide, a chemical that forms in foods cooked at high temperatures, such as fried and baked foods. Acrylamide has been shown in animal studies to cause cancer.

When food is cooked at very high heat, an amino acid — asparagine — in the food reacts with sugars to produce acrylamide. This chemical can form in many fried foods, but it’s especially common in potatoes, which are high in sugars like fructose and glucose.

How much you fry the food also matters. “The darker the food, the more acrylamide there is,” says Lee, who was on the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee evaluating acrylamide safety. “A dark potato chip, dark french fry, or darker fried chicken would have more.”

If you’re healthy, eating moderate amounts of acrylamide-containing fried foods is probably not dangerous, he says. But if you have a family history of cancer, “You need to be conscious of how many fried foods you eat.”

Safer Frying and Frying Alternatives

If you’re going to eat fried foods, make them yourself at home, where you can control the type of oil you use. “Liquid oils are the healthiest options, because they contain high amounts of the ‘healthy fats’ — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats,” Cahill says. Olive, soybean, and canola oils are all good choices. These oils are also high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Never reuse oil when you fry. Start with a fresh batch each time. And when you’re done frying, use paper towels to soak any excess oil off the food.

To cut down on acrylamide levels, don’t let your foods get too brown. Another trick is to store your potatoes at room temperature, not in the fridge. “When potatoes sit in the refrigerator, it creates more sugar, and the sugar makes more acrylamide,” Lee says.

A few easy food hacks will let you enjoy the taste and texture of fried food, without the frying. Spritz sliced white or sweet potatoes with an olive oil spray and roast them in the oven, Sasson suggests. Dip chicken cutlets in egg whites, roll them in breadcrumbs, and spray them with olive oil to mimic fried chicken. “It’s going to be crisp and crunchy, and you use very little oil,” she says.

You don’t have to give up fried food, but you also don’t want to overdo it. “Have fried potatoes once in a while as more of a treat than a daily part of your diet,” Sasson says. Order them with a salad rather than a burger, to boost the nutrition in your meal.

“Moderation and variety with any food is the key to healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle,” Lee adds. “It’s habitual consumption that could get you into trouble.”

Source: WebMD

Lifestyle Changes Might Prevent or Slow Dementia

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . .

Simple changes to your lifestyle might delay the start of dementia or slow its progression, a new report suggests.

Some scientific evidence indicates that keeping your mind active through “cognitive training,” controlling your blood pressure and exercising more may pay dividends in terms of brain health, researchers determined.

Although not yet proven to thwart the cognitive decline that accompanies aging or dementia, the public should have access to this information, said Alan Leshner. He led the committee at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that compiled the report.

“There are a few domains where the evidence that does exist suggests they might have an effect,” said Leshner.

“At least two of those, we know, are good for a whole lot of other things that people do or that they could suffer from. That’s controlling your blood pressure if you have hypertension and engaging in physical exercise,” said Leshner, CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Leshner’s group was asked by the U.S. National Institute on Aging to research measures that might delay mild mental decline or Alzheimer’s-like dementia.

Specialists welcomed the findings, which the researchers deemed encouraging even if not definitive.

“It’s high time that people are given information about things they can do today to reduce their risk of cognitive decline and possibly dementia,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Everyone is worried” about their mental functioning, he said. “But you shouldn’t feel helpless. You should take control of your brain health,” he added.

According to the report, which was released June 22, three promising areas for future research include:

  • Cognitive training. These structured programs, sometimes computer-based, are said to enhance reasoning, problem-solving and memory. However, they remain controversial and are not yet proven to prevent or slow dementia, Leshner said. Still, the report notes that one well-designed trial suggested that cognitive training practiced over time might improve long-term mental function in healthy adults.
  • Blood pressure: Evidence suggests lowering high blood pressure through medication, diet and exercise — especially in midlife — might prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. But again, that’s not absolutely proven, Leshner said.
  • Exercise: Getting more physical activity might also delay or slow age-related mental decline. Physical activity has many health benefits, such as preventing stroke, which is related to brain health, Leshner said.

He said the committee did not try to pinpoint which mental activities might be best; how low blood pressure should go; or how much exercise one needs to get the most benefit.

These are areas that need more research. Randomized trials are the “gold standard” of research and are the only ones that can prove or disprove a benefit from an intervention, he said.

One dementia specialist said some biological evidence supports the benefit of exercise, but in the final analysis, genetics might be the biggest determinant of whether you develop dementia.

“There is good evidence that physical exercise delays onset or slows progression [of dementia], perhaps because exercise stimulates release of nerve cell survival substances,” said Dr. Sam Gandy. He directs the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

There is also good evidence that in people who carry the APOE4 gene mutation, which predisposes them to Alzheimer’s, exercise can erase amyloid from their brains. Amyloid plaque is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, he said.

However, it’s also possible that “genetic loading” for dementiais so strong in some people that diet and lifestyle will never be enough to prevent mental decline, he said.

Even without scientific backup for these lifestyle improvements, Leshner said they’re worthwhile in their own right to improve other aspects of your health, such as preventing heart disease and strokes and improving the quality of your life.

“They’re good for a whole bunch of other things,” Leshner said.

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic

One of the World’s Great Cheeses Might Be Going Extinct

Larissa Zimberoff wrote . . . . . .

On the face of it, Camembert doesn’t seem like an endangered species.

In fact, the soft-ripened cheese seems like the opposite: Three hundred and sixty million wheels are produced annually in France. It’s ubiquitous in the U.S. with the cheese and crackers set, and the second-most-popular fromage sold in French markets. Trader Joe’s even hawks “Camembert Cheeese & Cranberry Sauce Fillo Bites” (the three e’s in cheese are purposeful). But if you’re a connoisseur of the cheese spelled with just two e’s, then you’re looking for a wheel made to the exacting specifications that allow it to be stamped PDO—the French label that signifies provenance from a specific region in France, made in an historically accurate way. That cheese is called Camembert de Normandie, and its increasing scarcity means we’re keeping our eyes glued to its curd. You should, too.

Like its even better-known relative, Brie, Camembert is a soft cheese. When you see it on a fancy cheese platter, you’ll recognize its thick, creamy center. If your party hosts have left it out long enough, it will be squeezable. (Brie, on the other hand, will be runny.) The rind, which you must eat, should appear to have a little brown mottling. Too brilliantly white and you’re eating an industrial version. (Of course, too much brown and it’s past its prime.) Cheese experts get a bit swoony when you bring up Camembert and the descriptors are as funky as the culture: “mushroom,” “butter,” “cream,” “truffle,” and “stewed cabbage.” Believe it or not, stewed cabbage is a good thing.

A PDO Camembert de Normandie must be made with unfiltered raw milk with a fat content of at least 38 percent that comes from cows from France’s northern Normandy province, fed under strict conditions—grass and hay from local pastures. The milk must be hand-ladled in four or more layers into specific molds. Milk is transported no farther than the distance that cows can slowly dawdle in search of a fresh blade of grass.

If this is the cheese you’re seeking, particularly outside of France, then good luck. Today, only four million of the 360 million wheels produced annually—just a little over 1 percent—are the real deal, and, as small farms are scooped up by the big guys, the number is rapidly dwindling.

Today you can count on just a few fingers the farmstead operators (cheesemakers who also tend to the animals that supply the milk) who are making Camembert to the exacting nature of the PDO stamp. A decade ago, that number was greater. All three—La Ferme du Champsecret, Domaine de Saint Loup, and Fromagerie Durand—are in Normandy. They are the gold standard of Camembert. And they exist for as long as the fickle laws governing raw milk cheese sales allow them to.

Why aren’t there more small, farmstead Camembert makers? Because in 2007 there was a cheese war. Several large-scale Camembert producers (names some people might recognize: Lactalis and Isigny-Sainte-Mere) pushed to cut corners. They went to court to change the rules. Instead of raw milk, they asked, could they use pasteurized milk? Pasteurized cheese is cheaper to make because producers can use multiple milk sources and make the cheese in larger batches, creating a cheese with less variability that’s easier to handle. Small producers, who wanted to stick to the old way, wound up on the opposite side of the battle.

After a year long “Camembert war,” the small guy came out on top: The French government ruled that only raw milk could be used for an official PDO Camembert. The bigger producers dropped out of the true Camembert race. They still make a version, but it’s a poor substitute—the kind with the impenetrable rind and soft, rubbery plastic center. This cheese is Camembert fabrique en Normandie, which isn’t the same thing.

Do we really care whether it’s raw milk or pasteurized? Yes and no. Industrial cheese isn’t just cheaper to make, it’s cheaper to buy. (There are also industrial versions of raw milk cheeses, but they too are uniform, without the variation between wheels that connoisseurs treasure.)

On the raw milk side, your cheese is all about your milk. When milk is heated, it loses all the lovely microorganisms that imbue cheese with a sense of place and unique funk. Raw milk cheesemakers live and breathe by the health of their animals, the quality of their grass, the care with which they ladle their milk. Industrial producers deliberately bulk and standardize the milk they use. “They are treating it as a blank canvas for cheesemaking rather than trying to reveal its potential,” says Francis Percival, co-author of Reinventing the Wheel, a book on single-farm cheeses. Even Prince Charles has weighed in on the debate, advocating for the raw milk stuff at a 2015 climate conference.

Camembert is complicated if you live in the U.S. Raw milk PDO Camembert isn’t imported domestically, not even through Amazon Prime. Since 1949, the FDA has regulated all raw milk cheeses. Anything aged less than 60 days—the length of time that the government agency reasons any harmful pathogens will be killed—can’t legally be exported into the U.S. Because Camembert is aged for only half that time, typically one month, it’s blocked. Some people talk of a black market for cheese darlings like this, but other than smuggling it home in your suitcase, your best bet is to go the legal route and buy a pasteurized version in America.

Finding a cheese made like the original farmer did in 1791, the date when many say Camembert was created, is increasingly impossible, even in France. But Percival champions a solution in his book: “To help a rare breed survive, you have to eat it.” So before it goes extinct, do your best to enjoy it back to life. If you live in the U.S., there are makers that can send you a wheel worthy of your baguette: Murray’s Cheese sells a pasteurized version under its own name, or you can try Bent River from Alemar Cheese Co. in Minnesota. And then, when you have the time and resources, head to France and find a truly authentic Camembert to devour.

Source: Bloomberg

Prunes May Help Lower Cholesterol

A study published in Pharmaceutical Biology shows that prunes may help regulate intestinal microflora and thereby effectively lower total cholesterol levels. Prunus domestica Linn (Rosaceae) has been considered a functional food, owing to its various pharmacological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and anticancer. In this placebo-controlled, randomized study, the researchers wanted to check the beneficial activity of prune essence concentrates (PEC) in corroboration with intestinal function and lipid profile in subjects with mildly high cholesterol.

Sixty healthy subjects with mildly high cholesterol were randomly chosen and segregated into three groups as placebo (consume 50 mL of simulated prune drink), PEC I (consume 50 mL of PEC/day), and PEC II (consume 100 mL of PEC/day) for four weeks with two weeks of follow-up without PEC consumption.

The researchers found that subjects who consumed PEC (I and II) experienced a remarkable improvement in the population of beneficial bacteria’s community, especially Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus spp., and total anaerobic bacterial count on comparison with the baseline. During the follow-up (6th week), C. perfringens and E. coli levels were slightly increased, whereas Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus spp., and the total anaerobic bacterial count was markedly reduced due to stoppage of PEC consumption.

In addition, intake of PEC (I and II) remarkably lowered the levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and mildly increased the levels of HDL cholesterol as compared with baseline. However, on the 4th week of intervention, PEC (I and II) group presented lesser levels of both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in comparison with the placebo group.

The researchers concluded that PEC intake could positively alter the human intestinal flora and thereby enhance various physiological functions and favor various health benefits. In future studies, the researchers plan to isolate the active components of PEC and test them for their ability to lower choelsterol.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists