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Health Capsules: Feb. 6

By: Lisa Russel


Heart benefits of healthy eating are easily lost, easily regained

Those who fail to stick to a healthy eating plan can regain lost healthcare benefits by restarting it, according to recent research.

For many of us, sticking to our New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy every day may be short-lived, and some may believe that they’ve already failed in keeping them. But there’s hope for those who fall off the healthy diet wagon, or whose diet tends to follow a “yo-yo” pattern. 

Purdue University researchers recently found that the cardiovascular benefits gained from healthy diets can be measured in the body fairly quickly. When poor eating habits kick back in, those benefits are also rapidly lost; however, resuming a diet will again result in similar health gains. 

The Purdue researchers analyzed two studies in which participants followed one of two eating plans: a Mediterranean diet or a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension [DASH] diet. Both are rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

After they followed one of these diets for five or six weeks, scientists determined their cardiovascular risk by measuring a range of parameters, including blood pressure and levels of fats, glucose and insulin in the blood. They then returned to their pre-diet eating patterns for an additional four weeks. Finally, they were restarted on the DASH or Mediterranean diets for five to six more weeks, producing a ‘roller coaster’ effect.

The analysis showed that their cardiovascular markers improved when the participants stuck to the diet. When they returned to less healthful eating, the biomarkers became less favorable again.

Then, once the healthy diets were restarted, the metabolic markers once again improved.

“These findings should encourage people to try again if they fail at their first attempt to adopt a healthy eating pattern,” said Professor Wayne Campbell of Purdue. “It seems that your body isn’t going to become resistant to the health-promoting effects of this diet pattern just because you tried it and weren’t successful the first time.”

More research will be needed to explore whether yo-yo dieting has an impact on long-term health, Campbell added. 

Even a small amount of marijuana may be too much for teens

At a time when several states are moving toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, new research published in The Journal of Neuroscience shows that even a small amount of marijuana use by teenagers is linked to differences in their brains. Its authors say their research is the first to find evidence that an increase in gray matter volume in certain parts of the adolescent brain is a likely result of low-level marijuana use.

The new study is part of a long-term European project known as IMAGEN. It included 46 teens who reported having used marijuana once or twice by age 14. Their brains showed more gray matter volume in areas where the drug binds, known as cannabinoid receptors, compared to the brains of young people who never used marijuana. 

The biggest differences in gray matter were found in the amygdala – a region which is involved in fear and other emotion-related processes – and in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory development and spatial abilities. Because of the study’s long-term nature, researchers were able to rule out any pre-existing differences in gray matter volume prior to marijuana use.

“The implication is that this is potentially a consequence of cannabis use … You’re changing your brain with just one or two joints,” said lead author Hugh Garavan. What the increased brain matter volume means is still unclear.

Is there danger in your dental floss?

Using certain brands of dental floss may be exposing you to a potentially harmful chemical.

Using certain brands and types of dental floss may contribute to increased levels of toxic substances known as PFAS chemicals in the body, recent research suggests. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of man-made chemicals which have been manufactured and used in the U.S. since the 1940s. These water- and grease-proof substances have been linked with numerous health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low birth weight, decreased fertility, and effects on the immune system.

In a recent study, researchers measured 11 different PFAS chemicals in blood samples taken from middle-aged women enrolled in the Public Health Institute’s Child Health and Development Studies, and also interviewed the women about nine behaviors that could lead to higher PFAS exposure. They found that women who flossed with Oral-B Glide tended to have higher levels of a certain type of PFAS compared to those who did not. 

To better understand this connection, the researchers tested 18 dental flosses for the presence of fluorine, which is a marker of PFAS. All three Glide products tested were positive for fluorine, as were two generic-brand flosses labeled “compare to Oral-B Glide” and one product described on its label as a “single strand Teflon fiber.” This is consistent with previous reports that Glide is manufactured using Teflon-like compounds, the researchers said. 

“This is the first study to show that using dental floss containing PFAS is associated with a higher body burden of these toxic chemicals,” said lead author Katie Boronow, a staff scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. “The good news is, based on our findings, consumers can choose flosses that don’t contain PFAS.”

The research provides new insight into how these chemicals end up in people’s bodies, and how consumers can limit their exposure by modifying their behavior, Boronow said.

Childbirth protects against breast cancer, but not until years later

Giving birth affords women some protection against breast cancer – but not until many years later, a new large study has found.

Women who have had children generally face a lower risk of breast cancer compared to women who have never given birth. However, mothers may not benefit from this protection until many years – even decades – after their last pregnancy, say scientists with the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers combined data from nearly 900,000 women who participated in 15 long-term studies across three continents, in a first-of-its-kind effort to better understand the relationship between recent childbirth and breast cancer risk in women 55 and younger. Since breast cancer is relatively uncommon in younger women, most of what researchers know about breast cancer risk factors has come from studies of women who have already gone through menopause.

They found that breast cancer risk actually increases in the years after a woman gives birth, with the highest risk occurring about five years later. The findings also suggest that breast cancer protection from pregnancy may not begin until as long as 30 years after the last child is born. 

The study also showed that the association between recent childbirth and breast cancer risk was stronger for women who were older when they first gave birth, had more births, or had a family history of breast cancer. Breastfeeding did not appear to have any protective effect in this research, even though it is generally thought to reduce breast cancer risk. 

“We were surprised to find that an increase in breast cancer risk lasted for an average of 24 years before childbirth became protective,” said senior author Dale Sandler, Ph.D. However, he stressed the importance of keeping these findings in perspective.  Breast cancer is uncommon in young women, so an increase in the relative risk in younger mothers translates to a very small number of additional cases of breast cancer per year, he said.

On the calendar

St. Luke’s Hospital offers cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings on Friday, Feb. 15 from 7-10:30 a.m. at St. Luke’s Resource Center, 101 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield. Screenings include cholesterol and glucose numbers along with a one-on-one consultation with a registered nurse/health coach, which includes blood pressure and body composition measurement. A 10-12 hour fast and advance appointments are required. The fee for these screenings is $20, with an optional A1C finger stick test [for those at risk for Type 2 diabetes] available for an additional $12. To register, visit stlukes-stl.com.

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St. Luke’s Hospital presents its annual Spirit of Women Day of Dance on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 9 a.m.-noon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center, 16625 Swingley Ridge Road in Chesterfield. Learn fun ways to stay healthy at the largest dance party in St. Louis. Participate in Zumba and other dance fitness demonstrations as you enjoy a morning of dance, music, health screenings, health information and more. Registration is required for this free event; register online at stlukes-stl.com For more information, call (314) 205-6706.

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BJC St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors Staying Home Alone on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Children’s Specialty Care Center, 13001 N. Outer 40 Road in Town & Country. This class, designed for parents and children to attend together, will help to determine the child’s readiness – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally – to stay home alone, and help prepare them for this experience. The fee is $25 per family [not per individual], but each family member must be signed up. To register, call (314) 454-5437.

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St. Luke’s Hospital and Dierbergs Markets co-sponsor Learn to Shop for a Healthier You on Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 10-11:30 a.m. at Dierbergs West Oak, 11481 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur. Are you concerned about diabetes and heart disease? Not sure what foods you should and shouldn’t eat? Join a St. Luke’s dietitian for a store tour that will focus on how to make better choices, read labels and plan meals. Tour will meet at the store’s School of Cooking. The cost is $5, but all participants will receive a $5 Dierbergs gift card at the end of the tour. To register, visit Dierbergs.com or call (314) 238-0440.

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