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    Archive for the ‘Alzheimer’s’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: How Much Coffee?

    cappuccinoYou recently tweeted that 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day are linked to a lot of health benefits.

    Does that figure refer to drip coffee?

    If so, how many espresso shots is that amount of black coffee equal to?

    Also, is going above the 24 oz figure bad?

    — Travis (last name withheld)
    La Jolla, CA

    The vast amount of research on coffee concludes that 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day provide plenty of health benefits for adults — from lowered diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease risk to cardiovascular protection.

    If you’re more of a latte drinker, consider that your average espresso shot contains 100 milligrams of caffeine.

    This means, then, that a single Starbucks venti latte fully provides health-promoting levels.

    Does surpassing the 300 milligram mark pose health risks?  No.  In fact, large-scale studies (some almost two decades long) saw even higher percentages of decreased disease risk in subjects who drank 500 – 600 milligrams of coffee each day.

    However, many individuals find that much coffee difficult to tolerate (they may develop gastrointestinal symptoms, heightened anxiety, or sleep disturbances).  This is also a good time to point out that pregnant women are strongly encouraged to keep their daily caffeine intake below the 200 milligram mark.

    If you find that you are able to tolerate that much caffeine on a daily basis, though, there is no reason to worry or cut back.

    Keep in mind that a lot of these benefits assume you are having unsweetened — or very lightly sweetened — coffee.  If your lattes are a vehicle for 3 tablespoons of added sugar, you aren’t doing yourself many favors.  This is precisely why coffee is much preferred to energy drinks high in caffeine.  Some of those drinks provide as much sugar as a can of soda.

    Similarly, coffee-based desserts (i.e.: Frappuccinos) are certainly not the desired way to consume caffeine.

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    In The News: Excess Weight Goes To Your Head

    brain scanAn absolutely fascinating study courtesy of the journal Human Brain Mapping — “obese people have 8 percent less brain tissue than normal-weight individuals [and] their brains look 16 years older than the brains of lean individuals.”

    Those in the overweight category, meanwhile, have “4 percent less brain tissue [and] brains [that] appear to have aged prematurely by 8 years.”

    The neurosurgeons who conducted the study noted that obesity has a particularly depleting effect on cognitive reserves, increasing one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

    Also of note — “obese people had lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes, areas of the brain critical for planning and memory, and in the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), hippocampus (long-term memory) and basal ganglia (movement).”

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    You Ask, I Answer: Aluminum & Plastic Wrap

    aluminum-foil-00A lot has been written and said about the negative effects of aluminum – especially in regard to Alzheimer’s disease.

    Is there any evidence that aluminum in cooking foil and and deodorant is present in levels high enough to cause concern?

    While we are on the subject of foils and wraps – is cling-film plastic something we should be wrapping our food in?

    Lastly, is it true that micro-waving food wrapped in cling-film is yet another way to slowly kill yourself?

    — Jake Shields
    Valley Stream, NY

    Great questions — let’s cover them one at a time.

    The connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease is still being determined.

    What we do know is that the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease contain much higher concentrations of aluminum than those of individuals who do not have the neurodegenerative disease.

    What we don’t know is whether those high concentrations of aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease or if they are a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease.

    If you look at the scientific literature, there is no clear consensus either way.

    As far as aluminum intake from the diet is concerned, we know that acidic foods cooked in aluminum pots absorb higher amounts of the metal than non-acidic foods.

    We also know that a very small percentage of the aluminum in aluminum foil can be leached into foods when exposed to high heat (e.g.: a baked potato wrapped in foil).

    As with anything else relating to nutrition, it is important to keep context in mind.

    I, for instance, use aluminum foil in my cooking approximately once a month (there’s a particular dish I make that requires me to cover it in foil during the first 15 minutes of cooking).

    I don’t worry about it, in the same way that I would not be concerned if someone with consistently nutritious habits eats a large Big Mac value meal once a month.

    If lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s disease is a concern, there are more established things you can do:

    • Follow a heart-healthy diet (rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids)
    • Engage in strenuous physical activity three or more times a week
    • Continually challenge your brain (whether it’s by doing crossword puzzles or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand)

    These three things all help to lower risk either by keeping certain parts of the brain active or by keeping arteries healthy.  Remember, the health of your arteries has a significant effect on your neurological health — the brain needs adequate blood circulation to remain in tip-top shape.

    Remember, too, that many over-the-counter antacids contain very high amounts of aluminum (about twenty or thirty times as much as you would from cooking with aluminum pans).

    As far as clingwrap goes, studies have found that foods high in fat can absorb plasticides in traditional clingwrap (which is made from polyvinylidene chloride, also known as PVC).

    While pretty much all clingwrap was once made from PVC, alternative varieties made from low density polyethylene are becoming more common.

    These newer varieties do not leach plasticides and are considered microwave-safe.  Of course, you can always  err on the side of caution and heat food in other containers (glass, ceramic, etc.)

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    In The News: Nutritional Sensationalism

    “Tofu ‘may raise risk of dementia,” BBC’s headline cries out.

    Well, read further and you discover that’s a bit of a stretch.

    A recent study published in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders discovered that “high tofu consumption – at least once a day – was associated with worse memory, particularly among [men and women over the age of 68.]”

    It’s worth pointing out that this study only had 719 participants, all of whom lived in the urban and rural regions of Java, Indonesia.

    In other words, this isn’t the type of research study that pulls too much weight.

    According to the research, “phytoestrogens – in high quantity – may actually heighten the risk of dementia” among adults over the age of 65.

    More specifically, it is believed that “phytoestrogens tend to promote growth among cells, not necessarily a good thing in the ageing brain.”

    Very well.

    But then we get to this jewel:

    “A third theory is that damage is caused not by the tofu, but by formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in Indonesia as a preservative.”

    I have read the study, which specifically mentions that formaldehyde “can induce oxidative damage to fontal cortex and hippocampal tissue.”

    Interestingly, damage to the the frontal cortex manifests as the classic Alzheimer’s action of performing an action repeatedly several times, as well as a deterioration in complex reasoning.

    Hippocampal tissue, meanwhile, is damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

    I really dislike the way the media presents these studies because they leave out crucial details and often times unfairly demonize a food that doesn’t deserve such a horrid reputation.

    Even the lead researcher Professor Eef Hogervorst raises the “Don’t be too tough on tofu” flag.

    “[She] stressed that there was no suggestion that eating tofu in moderation posed a problem.”

    Lastly, the overwhelming majority of research of nutrition and dementia points to plant-based diets rich in phytonutrients and whole grains to be the most effective at reducing risk.

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