Lose Weight for Brain Gain

Two new studies – both published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN, vol. 31, no. 2, 2012) show how healthy nutrition habits can boost brainpower.

 

Being overweight is a well-known risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia – with people who are overweight experiencing a 74% higher risk for developing dementia later in life compared to people of normal weight (and the dementia risk is much higher if your overweight is also combined with diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure). Previous studies have shown that even modest weight loss is associated with improvements in insulin resistance (“pre-diabetes”) and blood vessel function (vascular reactivity) – and those changes in glucose control and blood flow are associated with improved memory, faster problem solving (“executive function”) and a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

The first JACN study found that overweight adults who lost about 10% of their initial body weight also had significant improvements in cognitive function (memory, speed of problem solving, mental flexibility, etc). The study participants consumed approximately 1500 calories per day (22% protein, 25% fat, and 53% carbohydrate) and took an average of 4 months to reach their weight loss goal of 10% body weight. These results and the results of several related studies show us the clear relationship between nutrition habits – body weight – and overall brain function, and remind us that healthy diet and exercise habits are good for both the body and mind.

 

The second JACN study found that kids who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight and less likely to score well on motor coordination tests than kids who eat breakfast on a regular basis (the breakfast-skippers were almost 10% fatter).  Several previous studies, including a review of 13 studies with almost 60,000 kids and teens, have found a protective effect of breakfast consumption on weight, coordination, and cognitive function.

 

I’ve written before about the importance of eating breakfast – whether for enhancing weight loss or improving mental function – but it’s important to note that study after study is supporting the fact that breakfast is clearly a “2-fer” – you get 2 amazing health benefits for the price of one easy decision (to eat something before you rush out the door in the morning).

 

Why don’t people eat breakfast? If you’re like most people, you skip breakfast because you’re either too busy to find 5 minutes in the morning or you’re not hungry (which is a sign of a suppressed metabolism that really needs to be bumped up with breakfast). The only other logical reason for skipping breakfast on a regular basis is that you’ve been doing it for so long that your brain function has suffered and you’re already experiencing the early signs of dementia – so get with the program! (ha ha).

 

Mornings in the Talbott house are probably a lot like mornings in your house. Nobody wants to get up as early as required to get everyone off to work and school – especially the kids. We use the simple “Helping Hand” approach to eating that I write about in some of my books (and which you can read for free online) – so pulling together a quick and nutritious breakfast is usually a breeze. However, on a lot of mornings, we really don’t have time to cook eggs or whole-grain waffles or even something fast like oatmeal – so we’re big fans of protein smoothies (or “MRPs” = meal replacement powders). A cup of milk or soymilk, a scoop of chocolate or vanilla MRP powder, and a handful of frozen berries (for vanilla) or banana plus peanut butter (for chocolate) – and you’re done. Lots of mornings, all 4 of us (mom, dad, and 2 kids) are having smoothies for breakfast – and reaping the body and brain benefits all day long because we spent a few minutes in the morning.

 

We use the “RVL” MRP powder from MonaVie because it not only provides a balanced blend of macronutrients (pure proteins, healthy fats, and low-glycemic carbs), but it also delivers perhaps the market-leading “nutrient density” (blend of vitamins/minerals/phytonutrients/flavonoids/carotenoids) for wide-ranging brain and body benefits. If you do just one thing for your health everyday, be sure that you make your breakfast that “one perfect meal” of the day.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Shawn

 

About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) who studies how to help people Feel, Look, and Perform Better. He is the author of 10 books and a frequent competitor in Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons – as well as a frequent breakfast eater.

 

Can Acai Make You Smarter?

Just a few days ago at the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, researchers from the Aging Research Center at Tufts University presented a new study showing that acai can slow the aging process and actually reverse the effects of again on the brain.

 

 

Previous studies of older humans and older animals have shown reduced coordination, balance, and mental/cognitive function. Most researchers believe that these age-related changes in brain function and motor skills are due in large part to both oxidative and inflammatory stress. Research over the last decade has shown convincingly that polyphenol/flavonoid compounds from fruits and vegetables have potent antioxidant/anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce and even reverse age-related damage through a variety of cell-signaling and cellular “cleanup” processes in the brain (such as improved autophagy).

 

In this most recent study, aged rats were fed either a typical diet or one supplemented with 2% acai for 6-7 weeks. Note = this amount of acai is roughly equivalent to a little less than ¼ cup (2 ounces) of acai per day in a human diet – so these results showing improvements in balance, coordination, muscle strength, and memory are very likely to be seen in humans undergoing the process of aging (which is all of us).

 

The rats that received acai in their diets were able to reverse age-related brain deficits in motor function (coordination/balance) and cognitive function (memory). For you and I, these results indicate that daily consumption of acai (2-4 ounces daily of acai juice), with its high level of flavonoids, can help us to “maintain our brains” in ways that may increase our “health span” and significantly slow the aging process. Whether consistent acai consumption can go even further – and actually prevent the onset of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia – remains to be seen in future studies, but the existing research evidence is good enough for me to be drinking my acai every day.

 

Here is the full abstract from the Society for Neuroscience:

 

Acai fruit improves motor and cognitive function in aged rats

 

B. SHUKITT-HALE, A. N. CAREY, M. G. MILLER, S. M. POULOSE;

USDA, ARS, Human Nutrit Res. Ctr. On Aging, BOSTON, MA

 

Aged rats show impaired performance on motor and cognitive tasks that require the use of spatial learning and memory. In previous studies, we have shown the beneficial effects of various berry fruits (blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries) in reversing age-related deficits in behavioral and neuronal function when fed to rats from 19-21 months of age. These effects may be the result of increasing antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory levels, or by direct effects on signaling and autophagy, in the brain. Acai is a black-purple fruit (genus Euterpe) cultivated in the Amazon delta and in Brazil (Euterpe oleracea Mart. -EO), as well as southern Central America and Columbia (Euterpe precatoria Mart. – EP), and it is known to be rich in polyphenolics that may affect cell-to-cell signaling, receptor sensitivity, inflammatory enzyme activity or gene regulation. Thus, the present studies were carried out to determine if EO or EP, fed in the rat diet at 2% for 8 weeks, would be efficacious in reversing the deleterious effects of aging on motor and cognitive behavior in 19 mo Fischer 344 rats. Results for the motor testing showed that the EO diet improved performance on wire suspension, while the EP rats turned more on the planks, leading to improved balance performance. Additionally, the EO diet improved reference and working memory in the Morris water maze compared to control, but not the EP, diet. We are currently assessing whether alterations in signaling and autophagy may be involved in the mechanisms of action through which the acai polyphenols could be producing their effects.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Shawn

 

About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) who studies how to help people Feel, Look, and Perform Better. He is the author of 10 books and a frequent competitor in Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons – so he drinks his acai juice everyday to keep his brain and body as young as possible.

 

Acai Purity and Safety

Earlier this morning, a colleague sent me a newspaper clipping with the headline, “Stop Use of Acai Berry Products.” The article outlined an increasingly common situation of nutritional products being contaminated (or intentionally spiked) with pharmaceutical drugs. In this case, the article indicated three different acai-containing products that were found to be contaminated with sibutramine (a dangerous stimulant used in FDA-approved weight loss drugs).

 

The newspaper article was somewhat misguided in its advice to “stop using acai berry products,” and would have been more accurate to advise readers to “stop using THESE specific acai berry products.” It’s unfortunate that a few unscrupulous people can break the law by spiking their nutrition products with dangerous drugs; but just because a few fly-by-night companies try to use this practice (and get caught), does not mean that consumers should completely avoid a certain nutrient. Instead, it means that consumers must be careful about who they buy their nutrition products from, and should be sure to purchase only from a reputable manufacturer that adheres to Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMPs, a set of stringent quality standards by which reputable nutrition products are manufactured).

 

The acai berry products with perhaps the most extensive research database (MonaVie) undergo a wide range of quality control steps to ensure the absence of microbes, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, or other unwanted contaminants. MonaVie acai berry products have been the subject of dozens of scientific studies that have shown their effectiveness and safety.

 

According to a recent scientific article published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements (“An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Acai;” 9(2):128–147, 2012), acai-berry products are considered both safe and effective for a wide range of health benefits. In particular, MonaVie products were highlighted for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-supporting benefits. In terms of safety, acai-berry products from MonaVie were specifically noted as “likely safe” (the highest safety ranking) —even when consumed in extremely high amounts (up to 140 grams at one time). Finally, acai-berry products from MonaVie were specifically highlighted as one of the only commercial brands of acai used in clinical trials and subjected to third-party testing.

 

Back to the newspaper article; I think that the reporter was trying to alert readers to the possible danger of consuming contaminated/spiked products, and for that, I applaud their efforts. But as both a researcher and consumer of nutritional products, I cannot overemphasize the importance of always selecting your nutrition products from a reputable manufacturer that follows Good Manufacturing Practices, conducts extensive quality control, and supports their products with scientific research. MonaVie products satisfy each of these three important criteria and, as such, should be considered the leading choice for consumers looking for acai-based nutrition products.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Shawn

 

About the Author: Dr. Shawn Talbott is MonaVie’s Vice President for Innovation & Education. He holds a MS in exercise science (UMass Amherst), a PhD in nutritional biochemistry (Rutgers), and is the author of 10 books about nutrition and health.

 

Antidepressant Use Skyrocketing

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NCHA Data Brief #76, October 2011), use of antidepressant drugs has increased by 400% in the last two decades (since 1998).

 

This means that antidepressant drugs are the MOST frequently used medication among  adults (ages 14-44) – with nearly 1-in-4 of middle-aged women taking antidepressant drugs (23% use among ages 40-59 – the highest of any age group). The CDC report also noted that women are 2.5 times more likely to take antidepressant drugs as males.

 

Many experts believe that both elevated stress levels caused by the struggling economy and drug company advertising campaigns are the main reasons for the astonishing increase in such a short period of time.

 

As I’ve written about previously, MOST people who are taking antidepressant drugs DO NOT need them – and by taking them, they are putting their health (and lives) at risk. Antidepressant drugs carry the FDA’s most stringent “Black Box” warning – alerting users to a significant risk of death from the use of these drugs (death is a pretty risky side effect). Antidepressant drugs have been approved to treat severe depression – not the mild forms of stress-induced depression (and the associated fatigue and burnout) for which most people get an antidepressant prescription. Patients who are using antidepressant drugs to “treat” stress-induced burnout (the opposite of vigor) are not only putting their health at risk, but they’re using the wrong tool for the job (a sledgehammer to swat a fly) – and there are MUCH better options.

 

Since at least 20% of women will develop moderate/major depression at some point in their lives – and upwards of 80% of women are exposed to enough daily lifestyle stress to result in mild/moderate stress-induced depression (burnout) – it makes sense to try some natural approaches to warding off the detrimental effects of chronic stress. Here are a few suggestions:

 

Drink Coffee or Tea – Harvard researchers have recently shown that women who drank 2-4 cups of coffee each day had a 15-20% lower risk of developing depression compared to women who drank 1 cup or less. The study looked at lifestyle habits among more than 50,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (September 2011). Keep in mind that too much caffeine can cause insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and stomach upset – so cut it off after about 200-400mg of caffeine (about the amount in 2-4 cups of coffee).

 

Get Your Sleep – Researchers from the University of Chicago have shown (in several different studies) that getting less than the required 8 hours of nightly sleep results in overexposure to cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Excess cortisol exposure can interfere with neurotransmitter metabolism in the brain – leading to the familiar feelings of burnout, fatigue, mental fog, tension, and depression experienced by millions of people and often “brushed off” as the normal signs of aging and stressful lifestyles.

 

Supplement Wisely – As I write about in many of my books, including the most recent Secret of Vigor, there are a wide range of natural dietary supplements that can help to restore biochemical balance in the body and help alleviated burnout and depression. Balancing biochemistry (such as lowering cortisol or reducing inflammation) restores normal states of Vigor (physical energy, mental acuity, emotional well-being) – and some of the most effective supplements include Eurycoma longifolia, Cordyceps sinensis, and Theanine (but there are many others covered in the book that are also very effective in different ways).

 

Depression can be a terribly vicious cycle to break because once you have it, you often have no motivation to take the steps required to help dig yourself out of the hole. Getting your sleep, grabbing a coffee, and adding a daily supplement can be easy steps for anybody to take to give them a “biochemical edge” against depression.

 

Thanks for reading – and please “stay tuned” to this blog and to my YouTube Channel for future updates about some of the natural approaches to Beating Burnout and restoring your natural Vigor

 

Shawn

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About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers), physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) and lifestyle entrepreneur (EMP, Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Dr. Talbott is the author of 10 books translated into multiple languages and has appeared on numerous media outlets including The Dr Oz Show (to talk about vigor) and The White House (to talk about obesity). He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons – which help keep him in a good mood!

Why Aren’t We Eating Our Veggies?

Antioxidants Related to Heart Health
A recent study published this month in the American Journal of Medicine (Oct 2012) found a strong relationship between antioxidants in the diet and risk for heart attack. The researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that women who had the highest levels of “total antioxidant capacity” from fruits, vegetables, coffee, and whole grains also had the lowest risk for heart attack over a 10-year period (approximately a 20% reduction compared to women with lower antioxidant intake).

 

You would think this new study would be terrific news because eating more high-antioxidant foods like fruits/veggies and whole grains is a low-cost and effective way to significantly reduce a primary killer of millions of people every year. Unfortunately, we know from numerous population surveys that despite the widespread understanding that dietary antioxidants are “good” and that eating more fruits/veggies is associated with reduced risk for chronic diseases including obesity – we’re simply not consuming nearly enough fruits or vegetables to make a meaningful difference for our health.

 

For endurance athletes, the importance of getting enough antioxidants in your diet cannot be overstated. Every time we’re out there going hard, we’re also bombarding ourselves with damaging free radicals – from the sun, the air we’re breathing, and the ramped-up metabolism that is simply the cost of high-intensity exercise. The more we exercise – and the higher the intensity – the more free radicals we produce and the more havoc they can wreak throughout the body. Luckily, exercise also stimulates our body’s own production of protective antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, glutathione, and super oxide dismutase. Unfortunately, if we’re truly training hard – such as for a marathon or Ironman or ultra – its likely that our free radical protection overwhelms our ability to produce enough of our own antioxidants – meaning that getting them from the diet is even more important.

 

Pitiful Diets

The recommended intake of fruits and vegetables is 10-12 servings per day (which varies slightly based on age, gender, calorie needs, and slight differences between guidelines from different health organizations). Data from both the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the USDA (United States Dept of Agriculture) indicate that the average consumption of fruits and vegetables in the USA is 1.8 servings per day (which is pitiful).

 

A recent study from the CDC of fruit and vegetable intake among adults and teens in the USA found pretty much the same pitiful intake (Medscape J Med 2009; 11(1):26), with fewer than 1 in 10 Americans meeting the recommendations for daily fruit/veggie intake. Only 3% of adult women were found to meet the recommended intake of both fruits and vegetables – with men (2%) and teens (1%) doing even worse.

 

The most-consumed “fruit” in the CDC study was orange juice  (followed closely by apple juice and bananas) – and the most-consumed “vegetable” was potatoes (as French fries) followed by lettuce and pizza sauce. Some of the most nutritious vegetables – those that are dark green and orange because they are rich in carotenoids – were almost non-existent in the CDC study, despite their intake being linked to reduced risk for stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

 

Research results like these are almost enough to make a nutritionist like myself rip my hair out (if I had any hair) because we KNOW that if people ate more fresh fruits and veggies that their antioxidant levels would rise and their risk for a wide range of chronic conditions would fall (along with their weight). Alas, we’ve been encouraging people to eat more fruits/veggies for decades and the numbers just don’t seem to budge – lots of people just don’t seem willing to eat their peas.

 

Where Do Antioxidant Supplements Fit In?

If you’re not eating your fruits and veggies – please make an effort. But if you can’t – or won’t – eat the recommended amount, then maybe an antioxidant supplement can “make up” for some of the health benefits that you’re missing? Yes and No.

 

It’s not uncommon for people to learn about the potential health benefits of antioxidants, get excited, and run off the deep end with mega-doses of isolated vitamin supplements. Yes, it’s true that “too few” antioxidants in your body can lead to a range of health problems – but it’s also true that “too many” of certain antioxidants can also lead to problems. We see this most clearly in situations where people supplement with mega-doses of isolated synthetic antioxidants such as vitamins C or E or minerals such as zinc or selenium. Such mega-doses can actually create an imbalance in the body that causes oxidative damage from free radicals – rather than prevents the damage. Talk about unintended consequences!

 

However, a well-formulated and balanced antioxidant supplement (such as Intense Defense) can certainly deliver the “antioxidant equivalent” of 10-12 servings of fruits and vegetables (depending on the content of vitamins/minerals, carotenoids, and flavonoids). Intense Defense is the only dietary supplement specifically formulated for endurance athletes to:

 

  • Provide (essential nutrients)
  • Protect (from environmental toxins and tissue damage)
  • Promote (optimal endurance, energy metabolism, and lean muscle mass)

 

Intense Defense provides your body with a comprehensive balance of essential nutrients – vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and phytonutrients to ensure optimal nutrition & support health and wellness.

 

  • Full complement of highly-absorbed essential vitamins, chelated minerals, and plant-derived fatty acids including:

◦       A full clinically-effective amount of Vitamin D (2,000IU)

◦       Proprietary blend of natural Vitamin E Complex including Annatto Tocotrienols to support cardiovascular function with all 8 members of the vitamin E super-family (alpha- beta- gamma- and delta- forms of both tocopherols & tocotrienols)

◦       Minerals are provided as fully-reacted amino acid chelates to optimize tolerance (no GI issues) and absorption

 

Intense Defense protects your body with our “Wicked-Mend” proprietary blend of nutrients. Wicked-Mend accelerates tissue repair by controlling oxidation, reducing inflammation, and supporting liver detoxification pathways to protect you from the harmful effects of toxins in the environment (air and water pollution) as well as those generated by exercise (oxidizing free radicals and inflammatory cytokines).

 

Wicked-Mend includes:

◦       Anti-inflammatory plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids

◦       Network of antioxidant phytonutrients (Curcuminoids, Phenols, Zingerberenes, & Ursolics)

◦       Support of Phase I & Phase II Detoxification pathways (Glucarates, Silymarins, & Thiols)

 

Intense Defense promotes optimal energy metabolism with our “Wicked-Burn” proprietary blend of nutrients. Wicked-Burn maintains lean muscle mass, enhances endurance performance (glucose-management and blood flow), and promotes fat-burning.

 

Wicked-Burn includes:

◦       Bioactive amino acids, Leucine & HMB (hydroxymethylbutyrate)

◦       Mitochondrial supportive nutrients, Beta-Alanine & Quercetin

◦       Beta-oxidation enhancers (fat-burning), Fucoxanthin & Fucoidin

 

Combined with Energ-Ease (before exercise) and Recover-Ease (post-exercise), Intense Defense gives your body a broad-spectrum array of premium nutrients to help you perform at your peak potential.

 

This is all great – and Intense Defense can truly make a meaningful difference in your training nutrition, but keep in mind that supplements can never fully “replace” our need for fruits/veggies because missing from the supplement will be the soluble and insoluble fiber as well as miscellaneous phytonutrients that are naturally found in the plants. Remember – your first approach to ensure optimal antioxidant protection is to consume 10-12 servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables on a daily basis – but when “life” gets in the way and you find yourself short on fruit/veggie intake, you can reach for a balanced antioxidant supplement to help fill the gap and help protect your health.

 

About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst). He competes in Ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons – which he finds easier than getting his 10-12 servings of fruits/veggies everyday.