Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: weight loss

Restricting calories may give the immune system a boost

April 30, 2010 |  2:24 pm

Restricted-calorie diets have been shown in some studies to improve longevity and provide other health benefits, but many studies have focused on animals rather than humans.

Kznvoonc A new study finds that calorie restriction may bolster the immune system in adults. Researchers from Tufts University randomly placed 46 overweight, but not obese, men and women age 20 to 40 on one of two diets for six months: one in which calories were reduced 10%, and another in which they were reduced 30%. All food was supplied to the test subjects.

The participants were tested to see what effect calorie restriction had on their immune system. They were given a delayed-type hypersensitivity test, which can detect allergens, among other things, and is considered a way to check whole-body immune response. Researchers also checked T-cells, a kind of white blood cell, and another immune system marker.

At the end of the six months, DTH response went up in both the 10% and the 30% calorie-restricted groups compared with the beginning of the study. Both groups also showed improvement in T-cell function.

The study is part of the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy conducted at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. It was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Bill Hogan / MCT


Spicy peppers may hold a key to weight loss, scientists say

April 27, 2010 |  7:30 pm

How would you like to burn calories from the comfort of your dining room? Of course you would. Researchers at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition are a step ahead of you.

Pepper Some food scientists believe that jalapenos and other hot peppers not only “burn” the tongue when eaten but also increase the diner’s body temperature. They hypothesize that the energy required to do this burns calories just as surely as traditional forms of exercise.

One potential problem is that not everyone appreciates the flavor of spicy peppers. That kick comes courtesy of capsaicin, a chemical developed by plants to defend themselves against animals who’d want to eat them. Thankfully for timid eaters, some peppers produce a version of capsaicin called dihydrocapsiate (a.k.a. DCT) that has a mild taste.

So the UCLA researchers recruited 34 volunteers who were trying to lose weight. Some got pills containing DCT to take with their meals; others got dummy pills. The researchers measured each volunteer's energy expenditure after he or she ate and found it was highest in those volunteers who got the biggest doses of DCT – almost twice as high as in those who took the placebo. Not only that, the DCT prompted those who took it to burn more fat.

The findings are promising, but it’s not time to start swallowing DCT pills on your own, the researchers warn. The volunteers in their study were on a low-calorie liquid diet, and the results might not translate to people eating regular food. Also, it might work for people with fat to spare but not for those who are already lean.

At this point, the only advice the researchers offer is this: If you’re inclined to eat jalapenos and other hot peppers, feel free to pile them high.

The study results are being presented Tuesday evening at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: The capsaicin in hot peppers – and even a mild-tasting version in other peppers – might help the body burn calories, researchers say. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images


Book Review: 'The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health' by Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman

April 10, 2010 |  3:45 pm

StrongWomencoverAlthough men may have more heart attacks, more women die as a result of them. Women have stronger immune responses  --  with increased resistance to many infections -- but are much more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases. Men are more likely to have schizophrenia and alcohol and drug addiction, whereas women have more depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Those are just some of the ways women's health differs from men's, according to Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman, authors of "The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health."

"Our gender affects everything from the makeup of our bones and the architecture of our joints, to our skin's response to sunlight and aging, to how we experience pain, react to drugs, and cope with stress," they write.

Until fairly recently, medical researchers considered men's bodies the prototype for both genders. But today women are more than half of participants in health studies, and researchers are looking closely at illnesses affecting mostly them, Nelson and Ackerman write. 

In fact, there is so much health information available to women -- much of it contradictory -- that it can get confusing.

That's where "Strong Women's Guide" comes in. The book aims to summarize the latest thinking on women's health and offer "basic, reliable guidelines for staying well in body, mind and spirit."

And it appears to do so remarkably well considering the range of topics it covers, including reproductive and sexual health; skin, teeth, hair and nails; body weight and metabolism; muscles, bones and joints; the heart and lungs; cancer and disease; vision and hearing; and mental health.

Nelson -- the director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and an associate professor of nutrition at Tufts University -- has gained a following with earlier "Strong Women" books on topics such as weight control and bone health. Ackerman is a science and health writer and the author of several other books, including "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream."

Their new book is not the place you would go for in-depth coverage of a specific health topic, but it offers solid overviews, useful advice and quite a bit of up-to-date detail. 

The section on birth control, for example, looks at the varied oral contraceptives available today, including a spearmint-flavored chewable pill, the three-month combination pill, the mini-pill, the "no more period" pill and other hormonal options such as a skin patch and injections. The chapter on menopause sorts through recent research findings on hormone therapy and summarizes the options for easing symptoms. A discussion of heart disease details the symptoms unique to women and tells what to look for in cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure screenings.

The writing is intelligent, accessible and sometimes personal; amid the matter-of-fact health discussions are anecdotes such as one in the sexuality chapter that describes a nervous first-time trip to a sex-toy boutique. A chapter on changing habits includes a story about how a colleague once chastised Nelson for not practicing what she preached about exercise -- a comment that prompted her to start running regularly to train for the Boston Marathon.

"Strong Women's Guide" is as much a how-to health book as it is a medical reference work. It starts with a health self-assessment section that looks at everything from body mass index to joy quotient. Sprinkled throughout the book are checklists of ways to protect or improve health. The book ends with chapters on managing stress and sleeping well, eating and exercising right and getting the proper screenings, tests and vaccines at every age.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health," Miriam E. Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman, Rodale Books, $27.99 

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Book Review: 'The 10 Things You Need to Eat'



This 'Biggest Loser' did it all by himself

April 6, 2010 |  2:34 pm
Wayne,"The Biggest Loser" family would like to welcome its newest member -- and quite possibly its biggest superfan -- Wayne Vandenlangenberg.

Fans of the show watched last week as Vandenlangenberg had a "pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming" moment: The formerly 646-pound man stood alongside host Alison Sweeney and weighed in, logging a stunning 400-pound weight loss. That's more than any other contestant on the show has ever shed. Even more amazing? He did it all on his own. No gym. No personal trainer. No nutritionist.

Afterward, he participated in a media conference call to discuss how a near-death experience forced him to confront his weight. The key, he said, was taking responsibility for his weight and making the decision to do something about it.

"My life is a 100% turnaround," he said.  Here's how he did it:

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'The 10 Things You Need to Eat' by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor

April 3, 2010 |  9:10 am

10ThingsYouNeedtoEatTP cAs roommates and friends at Yale University and later in New York, Dave Lieberman and Anahad O’Connor found themselves on opposite sides of a culinary divide. Lieberman was a cook who prized the finer points of European food and drink, O’Connor a health-food enthusiast who favored raw vegetables and whole grains.

They’ve since become media figures in their fields of interest  -- Lieberman is a contributing editor at Saveur magazine, cookbook author, former Food Network host and chef; O’Connor is a New York Times science and health reporter and author of a bestselling health book. But today they’ve found a way to bridge their nutritional gap. 

The two have collaborated on a new book of essays and recipes, “The 10 Things You Need to Eat,” that looks at foods considered extremely healthful -- superfoods, if you will. They sought out foods that met three criteria: “scientifically supported health benefits, extremely easy to find, and so versatile that we could easily build a complete and varied repertoire of home-style, satisfying, and delicious meals around them.”

Their picks include both everyday staples such as tomatoes and the often praised but not widely eaten quinoa. Others are avocados, beets, spinach, lentils, cabbage, super fish, nuts and berries.

Short chapters on each of these are written in a conversational style that gracefully blends nutritional science, cultural and historical details, food descriptions, personal stories, and cooking and shopping tips.  O’Connor explains why he chose each food from a nutritional standpoint, and Lieberman describes what he learned while experimenting with recipes. Scientific studies asserting health claims are clearly described and neatly documented at the end of the book.

Their book carries a “food as medicine” message but is so beautifully written and designed that the medicine goes down very easily. 

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'The Perfect 10 Diet' by Michael Aziz

March 28, 2010 |  8:00 am

Perfect10cover You might say Dr. Michael Aziz believes in the middle way. In his new book, "The Perfect 10 Diet," Aziz proposes a weight-loss plan that combines elements of both low- and high-carb diets -- and rejects aspects of each of them as well. 

It's all about finding balance, the board-certified internist writes. Specifically, Aziz -- founder and director of New York's Midtown Integrative Medicine -- believes we need to be eating the right foods to balance 10 key hormones that contribute to our weight and health.

These hormones are insulin, glucagon, leptin, thyroid hormone, human growth hormone, cortisol and DHEA, as well as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The latter sex hormones may not be crucial to survival, he writes, but they can affect how you age, look and feel.

Aziz is not shy about proclaiming what his program will do for you. His diet isn't just for losing weight, he writes; it will benefit anyone who wishes to reduce the risk of many cancers, boost memory, lower anxiety, improve his or her sex life and have a glowing complexion -- to name just a few promised results.

What does Aziz propose? First of all -- and he will find little argument among many nutritionists here -- he says to cut out sugar, products containing high-fructose corn syrup and anything made with white flour. Low-fat and fat-free baked products are to be avoided as well. Steer clear of soy protein isolates, processed meats with nitrates and anything with monosodium glutamate, he says. 

And while you're cleaning out your cupboards, get rid of the refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils, as well as the margarine and anything containing trans fats. These are "killer" fats, in his view.

That doesn't mean all fats are bad. In fact, he believes the popularity of low-fat diets is one reason for the obesity epidemic. He says to choose full-fat organic milk, butter, eggs, cheese and yogurt products in moderation rather than the low-fat versions because saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods are needed to satisfy appetite, maintain sex hormone levels and assist in proper cell functioning. Also on his "good" fat list are avocados and nuts and olive, palm and coconut oils.

His Perfect 10 food pyramid has at its base fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and fats from natural sources. Above that on the pyramid is protein from poultry, fish and other seafood. Whole grains, nuts, legumes and calcium supplements or dairy are included in smaller amounts. Refined carbs and red meat should be eaten only occasionally.

His ideal is a diet that gets 40% of its calories from carbohydrates, 40% from fat and 20% from protein. This proportion, and the foods he recommends, will support the hormones needed for health, vitality and weight loss, he says. 

To get started losing weight, he offers a three-stage plan. The first stage is a variation on the so-called Paleolithic diet and focuses on vegetables, fruits, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds. He says most people lose 10 to 14 pounds in this three-week phase. Subsequent stages -- the last being a maintenance phase --  add more foods in moderation.

There's much that makes sense in Aziz's program -- once you get past the sweeping claims ("The Perfect 10 Diet is the only diet in the world that will help you balance these ten important hormones"), unsupported statements ("Centenarians ... all have one thing in common -- low insulin levels") and occasional leaps of logic.

Though his book may not win awards for its prose, it's clear the doctor has much passion for his subject. His diet apparently has a following, and his message is one that some may want to hear.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Perfect 10 Diet," Michael Aziz, Cumberland House, $24.99

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Book Review: 'The 5-Factor World Diet' by Harley Pasternak with Laura Moser

March 20, 2010 | 12:40 pm

World-Diet Cover

Personal trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak has logged a lot of international miles traveling with such celebrity clients as Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Lady Gaga.

The bestselling author of "The 5-Factor Diet" and "5-Factor Fitness" noticed that wherever he went in the world, people seemed healthier and leaner than they do in the United States. Curious about why, he started collecting diet, exercise and lifestyle "secrets" of the countries he visited.

Pasternak has put those observations together in his latest book, "The 5-Factor World Diet," written with Laura Moser. In it, he gives his picks for the 10 healthiest countries in the world and describes the elements he thinks are responsible. A good portion of the book is devoted to "5-Factor"-adapted recipes from each of the nations' cuisines.

In selecting countries for his admittedly subjective list, he took into account such things as longevity of the population, obesity rates, calorie consumption, the proportion of meat to vegetables in diets and the amount of exercise people get. He focused on industrialized countries with a standard of living and resources comparable to that of the U.S. 

There are as many differences among the cultures he describes as commonalities. He writes that the Swedes and the French eat a great deal of dairy, whereas milk products are rarely consumed in the Asian countries on his list. Some of the nations eat their heaviest meal at midday; others in the evening. Italians may have an espresso and a small roll for breakfast; a Japanese breakfast might feature steamed rice, miso and grilled fish. Garlic is a focal point in South Korean and Spanish diets yet all but absent in some of the other cuisines.

However, the populations he profiles also share some characteristics: All walk a great deal more than Americans do in their daily lives, take their time when dining, focus on enjoyment during their meals and eat in moderation, he says. 

Though he takes pains to explain his interest in writing the book (including a lifelong love of exploring ethnic cuisines cultivated in his native Toronto), the connection between these nations' diet and exercise habits and Pasternak's "celebrity-approved" 5-Factor program is a loose one at best. (Briefly, Pasternak advocates eating five simply prepared meals a day, each of which should include protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat and a beverage. Each week there's a "free day," in which anything may be eaten. Exercise is done in 25-minute periods five days a week.)

But the book is a good read, with a personable voice and some interesting cultural details. And it's as much a dieter's international cookbook as anything else, with 120 low-fat, high-fiber recipes for such dishes as soba noodle stir-fry, garlic chicken cassoulet, lemon and parsley hummus and Korean beef grill. Recipes do not include nutritional data.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The 5-Factor World Diet" by Harley Pasternak with Laura Moser, Ballantine Books, $25

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Book Review: 'The "I" Diet' by Susan B. Roberts and Betty Kelly Sargent

March 13, 2010 |  7:00 am

I Diet

"The 'I' Diet" is a diet book with a difference. Like many other books in the weight-loss genre, it features eating plans, nutritional advice and recipes. But the new paperback -- previously published in 2008 as "The Instinct Diet" and updated with new material -- offers something more: practical strategies for changing eating habits.

" 'I' Diet" author Susan B. Roberts is a professor of nutrition and of psychiatry at Boston's Tufts University, where she focuses on obesity. She says that after writing nearly 200 research papers and reading several thousand by other scientists, she decided that all studies agreed on five things that influence our eating behavior: hunger, the availability of food, the variety of food, the familiarity of food and how rich or calorie-dense the food is.

Roberts' book, written with Betty Kelly Sargent, addresses these variables to help dieters shed pounds and develop a healthier relationship to food. She's tested her plan on volunteers in her Tufts weight-loss lab and others. She promises that her program drops weight faster with less hunger than other plans, eliminates dieting plateaus and cuts cravings -- and will result in permanent weight control.

These are hefty claims, but her approach has plenty of influential fans. The new book includes favorable reviews and endorsements from former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, New York Times personal health writer Jane Brody and a slew of academics in the nutrition and medical fields, as well as Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., who lost 30 pounds on her diet while eating out five nights a week.

Roberts says one contributor to obesity is the wide variety of foods available today. Choice is a problem for many of us because we instinctively eat until we've satisfied ourselves with each individual food rather than with the meal overall.

To cope, she suggests reducing the variety of high-calorie foods you eat, while adding variety among high-fiber vegetables, fruits and cereals. For example, eat broccoli and strawberries one day, cauliflower and mango the next and so on. But keep only one type of dark chocolate on hand rather than several different kinds of chocolate candy.

One way Roberts addresses cravings is to say that it's fine to indulge occasionally in high-calorie foods but that they should never be eaten alone: Always combine them with lower-calorie foods so you'll be less tempted to overeat the calorie-rich items.

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle' by Mary Dan Eades and Michael R. Eades

March 6, 2010 | 10:32 am

6-week-cure cover

The weight can creep up on you. One day you realize your waistline is not as trim as it once was. You’ve got a little belly going where you once were flat and firm. Or maybe it’s not so little.

If you’re ready to do something about it, you may be tempted by a new book that promises to help you shed those excess abdominal inches and pounds. “The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle” targets people about age 50 and older who have seen their waistlines expand and may be finding it harder to whittle their middles than they once did.

Authors and obesity specialists Dr. Mary Dan Eades and Dr. Michael R. Eades say they designed the diet for themselves when they needed to tighten up their midsections fast to appear more svelte for a TV cooking show. They went on to devise a plan that could be used by others struggling to shed those accumulating abdominal pounds.

This is not unfamiliar ground for the authors, who staked out similar territory in an earlier book, “Protein Power,” which sold more than 4 million copies. But much of the nutritional advice in their latest book is based on new studies and their interpretation of evolving research.

For instance? The Eadeses say saturated fats from red meat, butter, eggs and cream are good, even essential, for abdominal weight loss, as are coconut and palm oils, and they encourage their consumption. Omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and sunflower, on the other hand, help pack on the abdominal pounds and should be avoided, they say.

Many nutritional experts advise the opposite, counseling people to strictly limit their intake of saturated fat because of the health risks and to substitute a moderate amount of vegetable oils instead. (But nutritional science does waver: A new analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, questions the link between saturated fat and heart disease.) This is what the National Institutes of Health says about fats.

Also on the Eadeses’ hit list are carbohydrates, such as those found in breads, rice, pasta, oats and desserts -- whole grain or not. These are allowed only in tiny amounts (an occasional slice of “light” bread) during the six-week diet and in small amounts after that.

They recommend cutting out sugar, particularly fructose, almost entirely. (Low-sugar fruits and low-starch vegetables are allowed in minimal amounts during the diet and can be eaten freely later.) Also severely restricted during the six-week diet are dairy, caffeine and alcohol, as well as any medications not absolutely necessary.

What does one eat on the diet besides saturated fat? Protein, and lots of it. 

Continue reading »

Rapid weight loss among judo competitors may be cause for concern

March 6, 2010 |  6:00 am

Some competitive wrestlers are known to drop weight in a short amount of time before a competition. They may not be the only athletes to do so, according to a new study that found similar weight loss practices among judo competitors.

Kxhv2lncResearchers from the University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil had 607 male and 215 female judo athletes taking part in regional, national and international competitions fill out a survey called the Rapid Weight Loss Questionnaire that included questions on diet history and rapid weight loss activities.

Excluding heavyweight athletes, 89% of the study participants said they had lost weight to compete, and there was little difference between male and female athletes. Among athletes in all weight classes, 86% engaged in pre-competition weight loss. Most athletes lost about 5% of their body weight in a short amount of time -- generally within a few days of a competition. Most athletes also said they dropped weight from two to five times a year to compete, but a substantial number did that six to 10 times a year.

As for how they did it, most increased exercise, used heated training rooms, dieted gradually, restricted fluids and skipped meals, while a smaller percentage used laxatives, winter or plastic suits and diuretics to drop weight. On average they started to cut their weight before reaching 15 years of age. Researchers noted that while slow dieting and exercise aren't bad ways to drop pounds, some of the other methods, such as laxatives, could be problematic.

The authors wrote, "This finding reinforces the importance of rules aiming to prevent rapid weight reduction." The study was published in the March issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Thomas Coex  AFP/Getty Images



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