Highly Processed Food Tied to Heart Disease and Earlier Death

People who get many of their meals from packages may have heightened risks of heart disease, stroke and premature death, two large studies suggest.

The findings, published online in the journal BMJ, are the latest to point the finger at “ultra-processed” foods.

They include not only “junk food” — like chips, sweets and fast food — but also the breads, processed meats, jarred sauces and frozen meals that many people consider staples.

In one study, researchers followed more than 100,000 French adults for about five years.

They found that the more ultra-processed foods people ate, the higher their odds of a first-time heart condition or stroke: Those who ate the most processed foods were 23% more likely to suffer cardiovascular trouble compared to those with the lowest intakes.

And it wasn’t only because those foods were loaded with sugar, salt or fat — or because those people were heavier, exercised less or had other unhealthy habits.

Instead, there might be other things about highly processed foods that take a health toll, according to researchers Bernard Srour and Mathilde Touvier, from the University of Paris.

Other studies, they noted, have hinted that additives or contaminants formed during food processing have negative effects on metabolism and the cardiovascular system.

The researchers stressed that their study can’t prove cause and effect.

But taken along with other research linking processed foods to ill health effects, they said the message is straightforward: Strive to eat more “whole” and minimally processed foods.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist not involved in the study, had the same advice.

“I like to say: The longer the shelf life, the shorter your life,” said Freeman, who directs cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.

Based on the overall body of research, he said, the most heart-healthy diet is one rich in whole foods — particularly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.

To make that more affordable and convenient, Freeman pointed to healthy, packaged options — like fresh-frozen vegetables.

Srour agreed that not all packaged food is bad. It’s the degree of processing that seems key.

For example, he said a canned soup made of water, vegetables, vegetable oil, herbs and spices would not fall into the “ultra-processed” category. A dried soup loaded with preservatives would.

The French study included more than 105,000 men and women who were, on average, 43 years old at the start. Over the next five years, just over 1,400 suffered a heart attack or stroke, or developed clogged heart arteries.

The risk was 23% greater among those who ate the most ultra-processed foods — even with a host of other factors considered, including body weight, exercise habits, and salt, sugar and fat intake.

In the second study — of nearly 20,000 Spanish adults — ultra-processed foods were linked to a shorter life span: Those with the highest intake were 62% more likely to die over two decades, compared to those with the lowest intake.

Again, factors such as weight and lifestyle habits did not fully explain the link.

Then what else could be going on?

There is growing evidence that heavy processing itself plays a role, said Mark Lawrence, a professor of public health nutrition at Deakin University in Australia. He wrote an editorial published with the studies.

Food additives and compounds produced by industrial processes — such as acrylamide and acrolein — may help explain the health risks tied to highly refined foods, according to Lawrence.

“It’s ultra-processing that’s the problem,” he said, adding that convenient, minimally processed food can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Simple switches — from sugary drinks to water, or sweet treats to fresh fruit — are good starting points, Lawrence said.

The fewer nutritionally empty foods we eat, the more room there is for nutrient-rich ones, Freeman pointed out.

“It behooves us all,” he said, “to use nature to our advantage — to eat more nutritious foods, and rely less on medication.”

Source: HealthDay


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Among Older Women, 10,000 Steps Per Day Not Needed for Lower Mortality

In the world of step goals and activity trackers, the number 10,000 can sound like a magic one. Many wearable devices that track the number of steps a person takes each day come pre-programmed with a daily goal of 10,000 steps. But while a large body of evidence shows that physical activity is good for a person’s health and longevity, few studies have examined how many steps a day are associated with good health, particularly long-term health outcomes. A new study led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital sought to address this knowledge gap by examining outcomes over an average of more than four years for older women in the Women’s Health Study who had measured their steps for a full week. The team reports that, among older women, taking as few as 4,400 steps per day was significantly associated with lower risk of death compared to taking 2,700 steps per day. Risk of death continued to decrease with more steps taken but leveled off at around 7,500 steps per day — less than the 10,000 steps default goal in many wearables. The team’s results are presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting and published simultaneously in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Taking 10,000 steps a day can sound daunting. But we find that even a modest increase in steps taken is tied to significantly lower mortality in older women,” said I-Min Lee, MBBS, ScD, an epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham. “Our study adds to a growing understanding of the importance of physical activity for health, clarifies the number of steps related to lower mortality and amplifies the message: Step more — even a little more is helpful.”

According to previous studies, the average number of steps taken by people in the U.S. is between 4,000 and 5,000 per day. The origin of the 10,000-step goal is unclear but may trace back to 1965, when a Japanese company began marketing a pedometer called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese.

To conduct their study, Lee and colleagues included participants from the Women’s Health Study, a randomized trial originally conducted to evaluate risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer among women taking low-dose aspirin and vitamin E. When the original trial ended, participants were invited to participate in a long-term observational study. For the present study of steps and health, almost 18,000 women were asked to wear an ActiGraph GT3X+ accelerometer device — a research grade wearable — on their hips for seven consecutive days during all waking hours. The team analyzed 16,741 of the women who were compliant with wearing the device; their average age was 72.

Participants were followed for an average of more than four years, during which time 504 women died. Participants in the bottom 25 percent of steps walked (average of 2,700 steps per day) were at greatest risk of death, with 275 women dying. Those who walked modestly more (average of 4,400 per day) were at 41 percent lower risk of death. Risk of death continued to decrease with more steps walked, up to 7,500 steps per day, after which risk leveled off. The team also found that for women who walked the same number of steps per day, the intensity — how fast or slow they walked — was not associated with risk of death.

Due to the observational nature of the study, the authors cannot definitively separate cause from correlation (that is, to differentiate between “do more steps lower mortality?” or “do women in better health step more?”). However, the team did take several measures to try to ensure that the association observed was more likely causal than not, such as excluding women with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and less than excellent or good self-rated health and excluding the first year of follow-up data. The findings also are supported by previous experiments showing physical activity causes beneficial changes in short-term markers of health e.g., blood pressure, insulin/glucose levels, lipid profile, inflammation, and more.

The Women’s Health Study included primarily older, white women, and further studies will be needed in younger and diverse populations to determine if the findings are applicable to other groups, especially those who may, on average, take more steps. Other outcomes — such as quality of life and risk of specific diseases — were not assessed, but will be addressed in future studies.

“Of course, no single study stands alone. But our work continues to make the case for the importance of physical activity,” said Lee. “Clearly, even a modest number of steps was related to lower mortality rate among these older women. We hope these findings provide encouragement for individuals for whom 10,000 steps a day may seem unattainable.”

Source: Science Daily


Read also at Reuters:

Daily strides may mean longer life for older women . . . . .


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Sugary Drinks and Fruit Juice May Increase Risk of Early Death

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Most folks know that sugary drinks aren’t healthy, but a new study finds fruit juices are not much better.

In fact, consuming them regularly may help shorten your life, researchers say.

“Older adults who drink more sugary beverages, which include fruit juice as well as sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, may be at risk of dying earlier,” said study author Jean Welsh. She is an associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“Efforts to decrease consumption of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages should also include fruit juices, and these efforts need to include adults as well as children,” Welsh said.

For the study, Welsh and her colleagues collected data on 13,440 men and women, average age 64, who were part of a large stroke study from 2003 to 2007. Among these participants, 71% were obese or overweight.

The participants were asked how many sugar-sweetened drinks they consumed. Over an average of six years, 1,168 of the participants died.

The researchers found that those who drank the most sugar-sweetened beverages — including 100% fruit juice — had higher odds of dying during the study, compared with those who drank the least of these.

Moreover, each additional 12-ounce drink increased the risk even more.

The report was published online in JAMA Network Open.

In the United States, about half of the population consumes at least one sugar-sweetened drink per day, said Marta Guasch-Ferre, a research scientist in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.

“Most people are aware that sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages — including soft drinks, fruit punch and energy drinks — are associated with weight gain and adverse health effects. But fruit juices are still widely perceived by many as a healthier option,” Guasch-Ferre said.

Evidence has shown that sugar-sweetened drinks are tied to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and obesity, she added. The evidence is less clear for fruit juice.

Whole juice contains some nutrients, and that may be beneficial for health, but they also contain relatively high amounts of sugar from natural sources, Guasch-Ferre explained.

Although fruit juices have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, whole fruits have not, she said.

Current recommendations suggest drinking no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day, Guasch-Ferre said.

“Although fruit juices are not as harmful as sugar-sweetened beverages, consumption should be moderated in both children and adults, especially for individuals who attempt to control their body weight,” said Guasch-Ferre, who co-authored an accompanying journal editorial.

Fruit-based smoothies are commonly seen as healthier options. However, their ingredients can vary substantially and there is limited research on their health effects, she said. In addition, smoothies are usually very high in calories and so aren’t recommended as daily beverages. Vegetable juice is a lower-calorie alternative to fruit juice, but may contain a lot of salt.

“The current evidence suggests that water should be the preferred beverage, and the intake of other beverages such as tea or coffee, without sugar and creamers, should be chosen in place of sugar-sweetened drinks,” Guasch-Ferre advised.

Source: HealthDay


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Your Life Span May Be Foretold in Your Heart Beats

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Where your resting heart rate goes, so goes your health.

That’s the suggestion of a new study that found older Swedish men with a resting heart rate of 75 beats per minute had a doubled risk of an early death, even though that rate is well within the normal range of 50 to 100 beats per minute.

That increase in risk held for both death from any cause and death linked to heart disease.

What’s more, every additional heart beat per minute increased a person’s overall risk of early death by 3% and their risk of heart disease by 2%.

Based on these results, doctors might want to keep an eye on a person’s resting heart rate, said American Heart Association expert Dr. Vincent Bufalino. A gradual rise in heart rate could mean trouble ahead for your heart health.

“You wouldn’t have thought you’d have that level of impact from a change in your resting heart rate,” said Bufalino, senior vice president and senior medical director of cardiology-AMG at Advocate Health Care in Naperville, Ill.

At the same time, Bufalino said, it’s a “bit of a stretch” to consider resting heart rate as an independent heart health risk factor.

Rather, a rising heart rate probably is a red flag for other well-established heart risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking and a family history of heart problems, he explained.

But, “if the heart rate’s higher, it’s going to possibly point you in a direction to be more vigilant with those folks,” Bufalino said.

For this study, researchers led by Dr. Salim Bary Barywani, from Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, tracked about 800 men born in 1943 and living in Sweden.

In 1993, these men filled out questionnaires on their lifestyle and health, and underwent a comprehensive medical exam that included measuring resting heart rate, the study authors said.

Resting heart rate was measured again in 2003 and 2014 for those still alive and willing to take part.

During the 21-year period, about 15% of the original group of men died before their 71st birthday, while about 30% developed cardiovascular disease, the researchers reported.

A resting heart rate of 75 or higher in 1993 was associated with a doubled risk of death or heart disease during the subsequent years, compared with a resting heart rate of 55 or lower, the findings showed.

At the same time, a stable resting heart rate between ages 50 and 60 was associated with a 44% lower risk of heart disease between ages 60 and 70, according to the report published online April 15 in the journal Open Heart.

The researchers noted that because this is an observational study, a true cause-and-effect relationship can’t be established.

Dr. Prashant Vaishnava, a cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, agreed with Bufalino that resting heart rate is probably an indicator of other heart risk factors.

“It seems as if that’s where attention should continue to be focused rather than on resting heart rate, which can vary due to a whole slew of reasons, frankly,” Vaishnava said. “If I see a patient in that age range with a resting heart rate of 75 beats per minute, I’m not necessarily going to look at that as a risk factor, but I would continue to look at the rest of their risk factor profile.”

Doctors generally tend to look for extremes when checking heart rate, Bufalino said.

“We know as your heart starts to fail, your heart rate goes up for sure,” Bufalino said.

Too slow also isn’t good — a heart rate down in the 40s also can indicate that the heart’s natural pacemaker might be failing, he added.

“The extremes of real slow and real fast, those are well-established markers for us to observe and intervene,” Bufalino said.

Vaishnava said people should probably “take these findings with a grain of salt,” given that the study involved only men and that other factors might have played a role in those who died early.

People who have an elevated resting heart rate can improve it through more aerobic exercise, Bufalino said. They also ought to talk with their doctor about managing other heart health risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Source: HealthDay

Diet Rich in Animal Protein Is Associated with a Greater Risk of Death

A diet rich in animal protein and meat in particular is not good for the health, a new study from the University of Eastern Finland finds, providing further backing for earlier research evidence. Men who favoured animal protein over plant-based protein in their diet had a greater risk of death in a 20-year follow-up than men whose diet was more balanced in terms of their sources of protein. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Men whose primary sources of protein were animal-based had a 23% higher risk of death during the follow-up than men who had the most balanced ratio of animal and plant-based protein in their diet. A high intake of meat in particular seemed to associate with adverse effects: men eating a diet rich in meat, i.e. more than 200 grams per day, had a 23% greater risk of death during the follow-up than men whose intake of meat was less than 100 grams per day. The men participating in the study mainly ate red meat. Most nutrition recommendations nowadays limit the intake of red and processed meats. In Finland, for example, the recommended maximum intake is 500 grams per week.

The study also found that a high overall intake of dietary protein was associated with a greater risk of death in men who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the onset of the study. A similar association was not found in men without these diseases. The findings highlight the need to investigate the health effects of protein intake especially in people who have a pre-existing chronic medical condition. The mean age of the men participating in the study was 53 years at the onset, and diets clearly lacking in protein were not typical among the study population. “However, these findings should not be generalised to older people who are at a greater risk of malnutrition and whose intake of protein often remains below the recommended amount,” PhD Student Heli Virtanen from the University of Eastern Finland points out.

Earlier studies have suggested that a high intake of animal protein, and especially the consumption of processed meats such as sausages and cold cuts, is associated with an increased risk of death. However, the big picture relating to the health effects of protein and different protein sources remains unclear.

The study is based on the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD) that analysed the dietary habits of approximately 2,600 Finnish men aged between 42 and 60 at the onset of the study in 1984-1989. The researchers studied the mortality of this study population in an average follow-up of 20 years by analysing registers provided by Statistics Finland. The analyses focused on the associations of dietary protein and protein sources with mortality during the follow-up, and other lifestyle factors and dietary habits were extensively controlled for, including the fact that those eating plenty of plant-based protein followed a healthier diet.

Source: University of Eastern Finland