25 April 2012

Holding on to brain function through nutrition

By the year 2050, the number of people in the world over 80 years old will reach 370 million. About 50 percent of adults currently 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics are sobering and warn of a growing and serious epidemic. A high prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a debilitating and costly disease, can severely impact the population.

With this perspective, the American Society for Nutrition hosted a symposium on the nutritional prevention of cognitive decline on Wednesday at Experimental Biology in San Diego. At the event, speakers presented a comprehensive overview of epidemiological, animal, and clinical trials regarding the role of B vitamins, omega-3s, vitamin D, and caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea in the prevention and treatment of cognitive impairment.

How to fight "job-esity"

Workplace programs are an effective and worthwhile way for employers to help improve the health of their employees and reduce medical costs, scientists said Tuesday at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego at a session organized by the American Society for Nutrition. 

The medical expenses for employees who are obese are estimated at about 42 percent higher than for those with a healthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet for the approximately 60 percent of Americans who are employed, it may be the workplace itself that is at the root of weight gain in the first place.

24 April 2012

The future of nutrition research

There is little question that nutrition provides the foundation of health and wellbeing and that research into better nutrition is central to enabling a population live healthier, more productive, and longer lives.

With this perspective in mind, the American Society for Nutrition assembled a working group of leading nutrition thought leaders to identify a list of nutritional research areas that required greater or further analysis and prioritization.

In a symposium entitled "The Future of Nutrition Research" on Tuesday at Experimental Biology 2012 (#EB2012), these thought leaders outlined what was generally agreed as the six areas of nutrition research that deserved attention.

A way forward: Meeting vitamin and mineral needs globally

Lindsay Allen

Efforts to curb or eliminate vitamin and mineral deficiencies globally have existed for almost a century, although there are now still as many questions if not more than ever before about what the next steps should be. There are seldom solutions that are simple to guide public policy internationally and there remain large challenges when it comes to making informed recommendations. 

Lindsay Allen, Ph.D., R.D, who is the 2012-2013 recipient of the E. V. McCollum International Lectureship in Nutrition, discussed a new way forward to improve the health of infants, children, and pregnant women internationally on April 22 at the McCollum Lecture organized by the American Society for Nutrition at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego. She currently serves as the Center Director of the USDA, ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center. 

She discussed the challenges faced in global research and policy on micronutrient deficiencies as well as new methodologies on the horizon to improve research. She also called for the bringing together of more nutritional biology expertise—such that was present at the meeting—to assist in overcoming the difficulties in nutritional research such as ethical considerations when performing intervention studies in pregnant women and children.

23 April 2012

Sugar Showdown: Science Responds to "Fructophobia"

The scientific community lashed out against "sugar is toxic" sensationalism on Sunday, April 22, identifying it as a distraction from more meaningful areas of research and debate on the causes of obesity and disease.

In a highly attended debate at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, scientists expressed clear frustration about the repeated assaults on sugar both in recent news reports and in the scientific literature.

"You don't often see this at a meeting," said John White, Ph.D., of White Technical Research, to me after the event, referring to what he said was "the groundswell of researchers pushing back" against inflammatory remarks and overstatements.

22 April 2012

Beyond calories in, calories out -- look to the Amish

What is wrong with "eat less, move more"? Most of us are familiar with this mantra as weight-loss advice. However, a new consensus statement from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) contends that this energy-in-energy-out framework isn't really so simple.

The problem lies in that consuming fewer calories and burning more through physical activity doesn’t always translate well to weight management. That is not to say that the framework of energy balance—negative energy balance for weight loss; positive energy balance for weight—is wrong. At some level, it’s right; however, several factors come into the equation.

During a Saturday morning session of Experimental Biology (#EB2012) in San Diego, Calif., researchers discussed the topic of this complexity and promoting a new paradigm on energy balance.

Can carotenoids in the brain protect against Alzheimer’s?

Carotenoids are thought to protect against Alzheimer's disease because of their antioxidant properties and their accumulation in the brain. However, a new study from Tufts University is putting the theory into question.

More than a century has passed since the German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer first presented evidence on the case of Auguste Deter, who at only 51 suffered from severe memory loss and other psychological changes. At autopsy, Dr. Alzheimer found his patient had severe shrinkage and abnormal deposits of the nerve cells.

"That was in 1906," said nutritionist Annie Roe, a USDA researcher at Tufts University, who presented her laboratory's findings on April 21 at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego. "There's still disparity among scientists as to the etiology of this rapidly growing disease as we now know as Alzheimer's disease."

20 April 2012

Could how much and often people eat depend on their genes?

Thanks to the Human Genome Project, we humans now know that we are all really very much the same at the level of our DNA. Our genomes are 99.9 percent identical, leaving really only 0.1 percent responsible for giving each of us what we would consider our differences or unique qualities. It's within this 0.1 percent that may also explain why some of us may be more likely to be overweight, obese, or susceptible to a disease such as type 2 diabetes.

One of the most promising developments in nutrition research are the insights provided by studies on how dietary components interact with genes. The knowledge gleaned could one day be used for reducing risk of disease and staying healthier, longer. This area of research is nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics for short. Eventually understanding more about nutrigenomics could lead to our ability to better personalize our diet plans and make better food choices based on our genetic code.

Interestingly, however, new research suggests that it may be genes themselves that are guiding how much we eat as well as our food choices. The Genetic Subgroup of Look AHEAD and the Look AHEAD Research Group have recently reported findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that obesity-related gene sequences (loci) may affect how overweight or obese with type 2 diabetes consume food.

19 April 2012

New and old tools of science communications

Sci-comm thrives on social media. 
"Writing is thinking on paper" is one of the many beautiful phrases by William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. Only, if Zinsser had put those words down more than three decades later, he might have added that writing is also thinking on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

As I prepare to head off to San Diego for Experimental Biology (#EB2012)—where I’ll be blogging about The American Society for Nutrition's meeting—I’ve been thinking a good deal about Zinsser’s phrase and about Mary Canady's (@comprendia) call for those attending #EB2012Tweetup to share their new media science communications success stories. My own story begins with me simply blogging and tweeting as a way to think and as a way to remember what it was that I thought

02 April 2012

No, Dr. Gupta, hummingbird fuel is not "toxic"

Sugar is toxic? Not this hummingbird's opinion.
Whenever someone asks me whether or not sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is "toxic," I remind them that every few days I make up a simple solution of four parts boiled water and one part plain white table sugar. This I use to fill the hummingbird feeders in my yard here in Arizona and the little guys never complain about it.

In fact, they lap up the sweet nectar -- as much as they can get with their long tongues -- to fuel their high metabolism. Then, they fly off (or get chased off) to their perches and I make a note that most will return within 30 to 45 minutes for more. Research shows their little bodies will have oxidized all the ingested sucrose by that time (1).