Sunday, August 19, 2012

Could dark chocolate stave off dementia?

A number of things to note:  This is a study of some fairly dippy oldies so should not be generalized beyond that.  Secondly, we have no means of knowing if the study generalizes even to all dippy oldies.  Is the effect peculiar to Italians, for instance?  Thirdly, as the abstract below shows, the alleged beneficial effect was not observed on the widely used Mini Mental State Examination -- a pretty comprehensive test for dementia.  So which set of results should we trust?  Fourthly,  averages based on the results of only 30 people are likely to be quite unstable.  Fifthly, it is again only dark chocolate that gets a tick of approval.  Most people don't like dark chocolate much so it suits the usual elite tendency to condemn what is popular and praise what is not

A daily dose of chocolate could help keep dementia and Alzheimer's at bay, a study suggests.

Researchers found that consuming cocoa every day helped improve mild cognitive impairment – a condition involving memory loss which can progress to dementia or  Alzheimer's – in elderly patients.

For the study, 90 people aged 70 or older  diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were split into three groups of 30 and given either a high, medium or low dose of a  cocoa drink daily.

The drink contained flavanols – chemicals associated with a decreased dementia risk which are found in a variety of foods, including cocoa products such as dark chocolate.

The participants' diet was restricted to  eliminate other sources of flavanols, such as tea or red wine.

Their cognitive function was examined using tests of factors including working memory and processing speed.

Researchers found those who drank the high and medium doses daily had significantly better cognitive scores by the end of the eight-week study in a number of categories, including working memory.

Those given the higher doses of the flavanol drink improved far more than those given the lowest dose, the study, published in the journal Hypertension, found. 

Insulin resistance and blood pressure also decreased in those drinking high and medium doses of the flavanol drink.

Doctor Giovambattista Desideri of the  University of L'Aquila in Italy, lead author of the study, said: 'This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as  a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function.

'Larger studies are needed to validate the findings, figure out how long the positive effects will last and determine the levels of cocoa flavanols required for benefit.'

Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'Cocoa-based treatments for brain  function would likely have patients queuing out the door, but this small study of flavanols is not yet conclusive.'

Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment

By  Giovambattista Desideri et al.


Flavanol consumption is favorably associated with cognitive function. We tested the hypothesis that dietary flavanols might improve cognitive function in subjects with mild cognitive impairment. We conducted a double-blind, parallel arm study in 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment randomized to consume once daily for 8 weeks a drink containing ≈990 mg (high flavanols), ≈520 mg (intermediate flavanols), or ≈45 mg (low flavanols) of cocoa flavanols per day. Cognitive function was assessed by Mini Mental State Examination, Trail Making Test A and B, and verbal fluency test. At the end of the follow-up period, Mini Mental State Examination was similar in the 3 treatment groups (P=0.13). The time required to complete Trail Making Test A and Trail Making Test B was significantly (P less than 0.05) lower in subjects assigned to high flavanols (38.10±10.94 and 104.10±28.73 seconds, respectively) and intermediate flavanols (40.20±11.35 and 115.97±28.35 seconds, respectively) in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (52.60±17.97 and 139.23±43.02 seconds, respectively). Similarly, verbal fluency test score was significantly (P less than 0.05) better in subjects assigned to high flavanols in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (27.50±6.75 versus 22.30±8.09 words per 60 seconds). Insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation also decreased among subjects in the high-flavanol and intermediate-flavanol groups. Changes of insulin resistance explained ≈40% of composite z score variability through the study period (partial r2=0.4013; Pless than 0.0001). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment. This effect appears mediated in part by an improvement in insulin sensitivity.


When Did Milk Become Bad for You?

Last week, as I entered Union Station Metro station in Washington, I saw ads for what appeared to be First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. It was a series of three ads, the first said: “Let’s move hot dogs out of school lunch.” Okay, fine, because, let’s face it, while hot dogs may be scrumptious and all-beef, they look like small batons of questionable meat.

The second ad said: “Let’s move cheese out of school lunch.” I mean, I guess. Cheese, while a good source of calcium (and delicious), is not necessarily the healthiest thing in the world. I don’t think it should be removed from children’s lunches, but I just chalked it up to liberal nanny-state policies.

It was the third ad that really got my goat. Hidden in the corner, the least noticeable sign read: “Let’s move milk out of school lunch.” Really? Milk? Arguably one of the best sources of calcium, which, as I’ve been told since I was old enough to remember, makes bones strong?

When did milk become unhealthy? Rather, when did milk become so bad for you that it should be banned from school lunches and put on the same level as the hot dog?

Curious about the reasoning behind the sudden “war on milk,” I visited the website mentioned on the ad. To my surprise, it was not, in fact, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” website, but was a separate organization called “Let’s Really Move!” – an apparent response to the failure of the First Lady’s core initiative:

    “The stalled ‘Let’s Move’ campaign needs to get back in gear. The ‘Let’s Move’ campaign has abandoned any major effort to improve the nation’s nutrition, focusing instead on noncontroversial recommendations about exercise. That strategy will not combat skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.”

As for the organization’s crusade against milk (even skim milk), they claim it does not actually promote bone health or protect against osteoporosis and is high in fat, cholesterol and sugar. Instead of milk, they suggest beans, broccoli, kale, tofu and whole grains. Mmmm! That’s sure to get the kids excited about healthy eating!

Conversely, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” suggests fat-free milk is okay.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that it’s nearly impossible these days to keep track of what foods are good for you and which ones aren’t. I grew up thinking milk was great, now it’s apparently as bad for you as what’s sold at sporting events.

Advocacy groups and nanny-state politicians have for decades tried to control us through our diets. But they don’t just try to control us by telling us what we should or should not eat, they also control the very supply of food.

For milk, the government subsidizes the dairy industry and sets production limits, which means taxpayers and consumers are paying more for a gallon of milk than they should be.

And the current version of the farm bill will make such market distortions even worse. The new Dairy Management Supply Program will set milk prices and effectively tax dairy farmers if prices fall below those price controls. The government will then use that tax money to purchase products, controlling the supply.

Dairy farmers are not happy about this, and are meeting with members of Congress this month in order to discuss their issues with the farm bill. Wonderful. We know what that will mean: dairy farmers will receive special consideration and carve-outs within the farm bill, further muddling the bill and promoting corporate welfare.

With this kind of control over something so basic to our diets, it’s no wonder the farm bill has stalled in Congress. Now, lawmakers need to work to remove these kinds of market-distorting special handouts, not just because they promote cronyism, but because, seriously, “milk does a body good.”


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