Vitamins could improve vision and eye health

For many, vitamins are a part of a healthy daily routine. Now, research from a 10-year clinical trial has found that a blend of antioxidants and vitamins may improve the eye health of those with age-related visual conditions.

The vitamin blend combines vitamins A, C and E, zinc, copper and beta-carotene, which together contain the antioxidants researchers feel are necessary for optimal eye health. While the mix has shown useful for improving the symptoms of a range of eye conditions, researchers say that further studies are needed to determine whether the regimen can ward off serious conditions like macular degeneration.

The National Eye Institute study included over 3,600 patients to determine the effects of antioxidants and vitamins on age-related eye diseases and conditions. At the study's onset, all participants had some form of eye condition, ranging from mild to severe, and were each given varying doses of antioxidants and vitamins to see if their conditions would improve with targeted treatments.

What doses are appropriate?
Researchers found that the optimal blend included 500 milligrams (mgs) of vitamin C, 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E, 25,000 IU of beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), 80 mgs of zinc and 2 mgs of copper. It should be noted that copper, while included, does not considerably benefit eye health. Rather, high zinc intake can lead to copper deficiency, so researchers added copper to the mix to offset the nutrient loss.

The study concluded that high doses of antioxidants and zinc could reduce patients' risk of developing advanced eye conditions by as much as 19 percent. For patients who had no advanced eye condition at the time of the study's onset, researchers noted that the formula was significantly less effective.

Foods for good vision?
Vitamin and mineral supplements may improve eye health, but there are also several foods considered good for vision.

Research from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) mentions that fewer Americans are developing macular degeneration, possibly as a result of the foods they eat. These healthier diets include leafy greens, nuts, cruciferous vegetables and fish.

Walnuts contain high amounts of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to improve cardiovascular health. In small amounts, omega-3s can be converted into eicosapentaenoic acid, another fatty acid that is used by the eye. Walnuts are also high in vitamin E, another key component to healthy vision and the prevention of age-related vision loss.

Berries are also helpful in improving eye health, offering high antioxidant levels as well as vitamin C. Blueberries and blackberries also fight inflammation and improve blood flow with anthocyanins, the ingredient that gives them their purplish color. By reducing inflammation and giving blood flow a boost, these berries also help deliver more oxygen to the eyes.

Avocados contain lutein, a carotenoid that's commonly found in colorful fruits and vegetables and protects cells from damage. According to AARP, avocados also help prevent cataracts. They contain vitamins A, B6, C and E, and are among the best sources of heart-healthy fats available.

Steven Pratt, M.D., author of "SuperHealth," calls spinach "the king of the green leafies," closely followed by kale, turnip, collard greens and Swiss chard. Spinach is particularly rich in lutein and has been shown to ward off damage to the macula, which is located at the center of the retina.

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Revised school lunch guidelines may improve weight management in youth

The USDA has been working this year to reduce unhealthy eating during school lunches, and a new report by PEW Charitable Trust suggests that the improvements may not be enough to show significant health benefits.

Erik Olson, director of PEW's food programs, told U.S. News that high school students consume up to 336 calories per day through snacks alone, and states infrequently offer healthier alternatives to junk food. With more youth in need of weight loss solutions than perhaps ever before, this may be a particularly vital time to ensure youth aren't affected by unhealthy foods. According to the news source, the USDA recommends a reduction of 160 calories per day for children to ward off weight conditions.

In 2010, the Hunger-Free Kids Act forced the USDA to revise school lunch guidelines and offer new recommendations for foods sold outside of lunch programs. While the USDA changed lunch guidelines earlier this year, snack guidelines remain the same.

However, legislators from several states are against the proposed changes to health food recommendations in schools, citing that the government has no say in what people eat. While the Feds certainly can't force individuals to eat certain foods, it is clear that recommendations based on reputable medical research can help guide people to healthier lifestyles.

Stricter laws may lower BMI
A study published this August in the journal Pediatrics showed that states with the strictest school snacking laws also had students with better weight management skills. The study noted that laws regulating nutrition content can reduce BMI if proven comprehensive and if enacted across grade levels, as cited by the news source.

But PEW isn't the only organization looking to help students eat healthier foods. Kraft Foods, Nestle and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also joined the fight, with the groups calling for scientific recommendations regarding food standard guidelines in schools in a letter to party Democrat Christie Vilsack, a proponent of government-sponsored lunch guidelines. One of the key Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited in the letter, according to the news source, was that less than 50 percent of students in U.S. schools have access to fruits as snacks.

According to the CDC, it is important to regulate school lunches because the majority of the food eaten by students during weekdays is consumed at school. Citing an Institute of Medicine study, the CDC recommends that lunch programs focusing on unhealthy food options like puddings and chips should be replaced by programs offering alternatives in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Federally reimbursable nutrition programs may also be maintained by schools to offer more nutritious options at lower costs to schools.

Pack your own lunch
Students can also pack their own lunches to avoid dealing with the constantly-changing landscape of lunch regulations. The CDC recommends that parents pack their children's lunches when they find that foods offered by school are not up to health standards.

Sandwiches are common lunch options and can be made with hummus and avocado to offer heart-healthy protein alternatives to meats and cheeses, and whole-grain breads can add more fiber to your diet. Salads can be packaged in airtight containers to keep their freshness until lunchtime rears its head, and can include cruciferous vegetables to boost iron levels.

Whatever your health goals, make sure to vary your food consumption and take vitamins where necessary to raise levels of nutrients that you can't get through your regular diet.

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People need more vitamin C, so learn how to meet your needs

There's a daily allowance for salt, sugar and almost anything else you'll find in your food. Earlier this year, scientists from the Linus Pauling Institute recommended levels of vitamin C should be raised to ward off deficiencies and improve sleep and immune health. So how can you get more of this important nutrient?

Deficiency a widespread problem
Recent studies in the United States and Canada show that almost a third of the continental North American population is marginally deficient in vitamin C, with 20 percent severely deficient. Vitamin C is also commonly taken to prevent illness or to reduce the duration of colds, and has been touted for years as a potential treatment for scurvy.

Due to this, recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamin C may increase from 75 mg for women and 90 for men to 200 mg for adults.

Laboratory, metabolic and demographic studies show that high levels of the vitamin may help prevent certain diseases as well as lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. According to Reader's Digest, vitamin C also helps to make collagen, which is vital to healthy skin.

Where to get vitamin C
Vitamin c can be found in high levels in a number of foods, and can also be taken in vitamins to supplement diet.

The most famous example of a C-rich food is probably the orange, but some may be in the dark to the fact that a number of common fruits and vegetables have even more of the vitamin. Kiwifruit, brussel sprouts, broccoli and strawberries have just slightly more vitamin C, and are frequent sights in American and international supermarkets. However, there are other healthy foods that can deliver even more vitamin C

Bell peppers have almost twice the vitamin than oranges, and coming in first place, the papaya has about 188 mg of vitamin c, almost three times that of the average orange, according to Reader's Digest.

The Mayo Clinic also claims that vitamin C can help with iron absorption, and supplements may be taken alongside foods like beans, eggs, dried fruits and dark leafy greens, which are high in iron.

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Chocolate intake linked to prevalence of Nobel Laureates

Eat chocolate and get the Nobel Prize? Well, not exactly. According to research from Kings College London and the Wellcome Trust, countries with the highest chocolate intake per capita also have higher numbers of Nobel Prize winners.

No, this does not mean that chocolate inherently makes you smarter. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that cocoa may have positive effects on health and memory, so read on before throwing that bar in the trash.

Population study
The United States population is larger than that of most countries, and boasts a high number of Nobel Laureates. But while Americans eat a lot of chocolate, it may not be the right kind boost cognitive function, according to the London study.

If chocolate had a home, it would be Switzerland. According to the study, the Swiss eat 120 85-ounce chocolate bars per capita annually. While many countries, the United States included, often add milk dilution, Switzerland rarely does so, leaving its chocolate with higher levels of flavonoids, the key ingredients thought to provide chocolate with its "super-food" qualities.

Sweden was an odd exception in the study, producing more than twice as many Nobel Prize winners as expected based on its chocolate consumption of 6.4kg per capita annually. Researchers pointed out that while this may have minor health implications, the information is skewed because the Nobel Committee is Scandinavian, which could make it harder for Swedes to be awarded.

One explanation for the study's results could be that chocolate may improve cognitive performance, but another explanation might be that complex economies have more access to education and workforce resources, and that these economies also tend to have more access to chocolate, too.  The future will tell if chocolate truly holds a place among the century's super foods, but in the meantime, let's work with what we know.

Health effects
Dietary flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive performance in animals, and the evidence is strong that they may do the same for humans. Dark chocolate is high in potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Copper and potassium are thought to improve heart health, and iron and magnesium are thought to help regulate blood pressure. In addition, dark chocolate is high in dietary fiber and thought to help reduce "bad" cholesterol.

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Feel like you’ve won the gold with tips from former Olympic athletes

 

The 2012 Olympic Games may be over, but the many U.S. Olympians who have won medals have inspired people to make their lives healthier. Recently, former Olympic athlete Mary Louise Zeller offered some tips on what vitamins and nutrients people should be consuming if they want to gain a competitive edge in life and promote healthy aging.

"I’m an old athlete who likes to play, and I like to have a body that can keep doing my dreams," said Zeller. "I don’t think losing the ability to do the things we all love to do is a great reward for a life well lived. So I intend to prove the decline of aging is only one possible choice. That the other is to be vitally alive with every breath of life."

Berries and antioxidants

First, Zeller recommended that people consume Wild Alaskan Blueberries, which she called the "world's greatest antioxidant." According to the Olympian, a study conducted at MIT found that blueberries have a higher antioxidant content than any other fruit or vegetable. Furthermore, the study found that the Wild Alaskan Blueberry has an antioxidant count that is 20 to 40 times higher than that of the domestic blueberry.

Another berry Zeller suggested that individuals work into their diet is the raspberry. This berry is high in vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, and it has also been shown to help improve digestion.

Healthy food for a healthy brain

Next, the Olympian said that grapes are a great food to promote healthy aging and are also a powerful antioxidant. Also, a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating grapes may boost cardiovascular health in overweight men.

Another food associated with brain health that Zeller recommended was salmon. This fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy lipids that are necessary for human health but that the body can't produce on it's own. Studies have shown that omega-3s may have benefits for cardiovascular health, as well as for the eyes and brain.

Of course, it's also important for people to have a healthy exercise routine if they want to feel like an Olympian. So remember to eat right, exercise and take vitamins and supplements for optimal health. 

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Researchers find that polyphenols may improve immune health

A study that was recently conducted at the Ohio State University indicated that consuming polyphenols may support immune health. Maintaining a normal, healthy inflammatory response is implicated in a number of health areas, including metabolism and cardiovascular health.

Researchers compared 31 overweight volunteers who were between the ages of 45 and 55. Each received either a single dose of a polyphenol or a placebo. Oxidative stress, or cellular damage, was 39 percent lower among individuals who consumed polyphenols than those who were in the control group.

Polyphenols are found in a wide array of plants, such species as apples, raspberries, plums, pears, grapes, cranberries, cherries , carrots, spinach and broccoli. The oxidative stress that results naturally within the body and increases over time in overweight individuals may be decreased through the consumption of these phytonutrient antioxidants, according to the scientists.

Researchers in the field have continued to study the affects of polyphenols, which include promoting healthy aging, brain health, cardiovascular health and immune health. All research has pointed at daily intake of polyphenol antioxidants, as this practice may lead to many health benefits.

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Weight management may take just one bite.

The lure of fatty foods may not simply be a result of the carbohydrates. Research shows that marijuana-like chemicals in the body called endocannabinoids trigger an insatiable appetite response when one consumes high fat foods.

A study conducted by the University of California, Irvine examined rats who were fed a high fat diet and they produced endocannabinoids in their guts. When the animals were fed proteins and sugars, these chemicals were not produced.

The trigger point is in the tongue. If one bites into a vegetable, fruit or source of protein it is unlikely to be activated. However, if a few french fries are swallowed, it is likely to activate a chemical response that will send a message to the vagus nerve of the intestines. This region is where the endocannabinoids are activated and released into the system.

"This is the first demonstration that endocannabinoid signaling in the gut plays an important role in regulating fat intake," said Daniele Piomelli, Ph.D., the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences and professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine.

These findings suggest staying away from fatty foods could result in some advantages of effective weight management. Eating a healthy array of daily nutrients and achieving satiety is facilitated by consuming healthy food choices such as vegetables, fruits and proteins. 

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Prebiotics may rectify metabolic changes, study finds

New research reveals that one should strive to maintain a diet that is high in omega-3, as deficiencies may induce unfavorable metabolic changes, such as higher blood sugar levels, decreased weight and an increase in triglycerides in the liver. A recent study in Belgium found that prebiotics in the diet compensated for these changes in metabolism.

Although the typical Western diet is abundant in omega-6, vegetables and oils are sparse in omega-3. The ration of omega-3 to omega-6 polyunstaurated fatty acids (PUFA) may be linked to greater risks of inflammation and lowered cardiovascular health, the scientists report.

"We have previously observed that mice fed with a diet poor in omega-3 PUFA for two generations exhibit [abnormal fat retention in the liver] together with a decrease in body weight," explained the lead researcher, professor Nathalie Delzenne of the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium.

Thus, individuals who consume Western meals are likely to be prone to low omega-3. This could be remedied by taking omega-3 supplements, which may promote metabolic stability and cardiovascular health. 

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Resveratrol may promote the same health benefits as exercise, study suggests

People with active lifestyles tend to have a higher metabolism and greater bone density than more sedentary individuals. However, new research that was conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey has shown that resveratrol, the antioxidant that is found in red wine, may offer the same benefits.

The scientists studied rats within a simulated zero gravity atmosphere, which was created by suspending the animals by their tails. Rats were given either a daily dose of resveratrol or a placebo. The control group experienced a loss of bone mineral density and insulin resistance, whereas the treated group showed none of these problems.

Abundant data shows that the human body needs physical activity, but for some individuals, getting that activity is not feasible. A low-gravity environment makes it almost impossible for astronauts. For those on earth, barriers to physical activity are equally challenging, whether they be illness, injury or confinement to a desk job.

"Resveratrol may not be a substitute for exercise, but it could slow deterioration until someone can get moving again" says Gerald Weissman, MD, editor-in-chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The FASEB published these findings.

Regardless of one's occupation and circumstances, these results suggest that adding a little resveratrol to any diet may foster some of the health benefits of exercise. 

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Study finds vitamin B may promote digestive health

New research conducted at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia found a positive correlation between vitamin B intake and an increase in colorectal health and important component in overall digestion.

Investigators analyzed data on nearly 100,000 subjects. The statistically significant results showed evidence that total folate reduces the likelihood of abnormal cell growth in the colorectal region of the body. Important to note was that it did not matter whether the folate source was from food intake or dietary supplements. Folate is a water soluble form of vitamin B. Folates are mandatory nutrients for proper cellular growth, repair and maintenance.

"Total folate includes naturally occurring food folate and folic acid from fortified foods and dietary supplements," said Victoria Stevens, lead author of the study.

The team also assessed whether extremely high levels of folate may contribute to abnormal cell growth. Since folate is involved in cellular growth and maintenance, the scientists wanted to know whether an abundant supply may produce an excess or out of control level of cell growth. This was found not to be the case.

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