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Odds and Ends

Posted by bmagnus On June - 16 - 2010

Science news has been coming hot and heavy the last few days but little of it is completely new. Here are some odds and ends that follow on things we’ve covered in this space before.A little follow up from last time: Drinking lots of coffee may help prevent diabetes, according to a not yet available online article in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

We’ve talked many times about the Mediterranean Diet and the health benefits that researchers have found in people that follow it. Now scientists think they are starting to figure out why. In a study with twins, researchers found that people who more closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had improved cardiac autonomic function — that is, their heart rate had greater variability, so they could function at a wide range of heart rates. A few cautions are in order: even the researchers point out that over 90% of the study participants were white males, so they don’t know if the results apply to women or minorities. Also, while they adjusted for energy intake, environment, nutrition, fish oil supplements and medications, they did not adjust for physical activity levels. Exercise can also effect heart rate.

We’ve also talked about Vitamin D several times. The latest study suggests that Vitamin D can help protect you against respiratory infections such as the flu. Could that be that staying indoors and out of the sun all winter is what causes “cold season”? It’s too early to tell that, but it’s probably a good idea to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D throughout the year.

Sometimes scientists have to report a finding they can’t explain. A great example is news that alcohol consumption appears to reduce the risk of several kinds of arthritis including not only common osteoarthritis,  but also rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and spondylarthropathy. The strongest protective effect was seen for rheumatoid arthritis. The less people drank, the more likely they were to have systemic inflammation. Researchers of course caution that we should drink moderately and responsibly, particularly since they haven’t figured out why.

Finally, yesterday every medical and health website was abuzz with news that diets high in white rice were associated with diabetes but diets high in brown rice weren’t. There are a few things worth pointing out about this study. First, high white rice consumption was 5 or more servings per week but high brown rice consumption was only 2 or more servings per week. There is no further information publicly available about what study participants ate, nor any clue what their total carbohydrate consumption was. Moreover, they concede that other whole grains had an even higher protective effect than brown rice. Finally, we do not know how they defined white rice: was it only traditional milled rice, or did the definition also include highly processed rice products like instant rice, converted rice, microwave rice, and boxed rice meals? This may seem picky, but in the absence of any more information, it looks like a just another indication that high glycemic index carbohydrates aren’t such a great thing.

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