Eat Better and Stress Less: It’ll Make Your Cells (and Maybe You) Live Longer

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September 19th, 2013

For the first time, researchers show how a plant-based diet, stress management and other lifestyle changes may lead to longevity.

It’s not quite the Fountain of Youth, but it may be the river that leads to it. In a paper published in the journal Lancet Oncology, scientists found that a small group of men who made changes in the way they ate and handled their emotional needs showed longer telomeres in their cells.

That’s exciting because previous research suggested that telomeres, which are protein and DNA-based complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes, regulate the aging of cells. Each time a cell divides, a section of telomeres erodes, and, like a burning candle wick, when telomeres are exhausted, so is the life of the cell.

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How much sex is considered exercise?

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September 18th, 2013

By Jay Williams, upwave.com

Editor’s note: upwave is Turner Broadcasting’s new lifestyle brand designed to entertain the health into you! Visit upwave.com for more information and follow upwave on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram @upwaveofficial.

(upwave.com) — When I think of the ultimate sex workout, I picture the scene from “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie throw each other around their kitchen for an hour. Unfortunately, not every sexual experience is quite that… well, high-intensity. But how many calories do we really burn in the act?

The rumor: A bout of sexual activity can burn between 100 and 300 calories

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Teens gaining healthy habits, but not enough

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September 18th, 2013

Efforts to increase healthy habits in American teens may be making an impact, according to a new study. Adolescents are moving more, eating better and watching less TV than they used to, and researchers say obesity rates in this group may finally be stabilizing.

The study results come a little more than a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was seeing signs of progress in the fight against childhood obesity, especially in low-income families.

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Erectile dysfunction? Try losing weight

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September 16th, 2013

By Anne Harding, Health.com

Viagra gets the job done, but it’s a quick fix. For many men, weaning themselves off the little blue pill and finding a longer-lasting solution to their sexual dysfunction may require hitting the gym and putting down the doughnuts.

A new Australian study, published Friday in the “Journal of Sexual Medicine,” found that losing just 5% to 10% of body weight over a two-month period improved the erectile function — and revved up the sex drives — of obese men with diabetes.

The study was very small (it included just 31 men), so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. But the findings are yet another reminder that obesity and erectile dysfunction (ED) often go hand in hand.

Excess weight — especially excess belly fat — can affect sexual function in many ways; it can interfere with the body’s ability to supply blood to the penis, for instance, and it can cause testosterone production to plummet.

And though the research on weight loss and sexual dysfunction is still emerging, there’s growing evidence that men who get active, eat healthier foods, and pare a few pounds will see their sex lives improve — not to mention their overall health.

In fact, doctors express hope that the promise of an improved sex life will finally get through to all the overweight and obese men who haven’t responded to dire warnings about heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

“You talk all the prevention you want,” says Kevin Billups, M.D., an associate professor of urology at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. “When I talk about restoring penile health, I have their attention.”

When a patient comes to see him about ED, one of the first things Billups tells him to do is to stand up and look at his belly. “If you can’t see your penis,” he says, “that’s a problem.”

How obesity hits below the belt

The most important way that excess weight drags down a man’s sex life is by affecting the health of his blood vessels.

An erection occurs when the blood vessels leading to the penis dilate, causing it to fill with blood. This process begins when the inner lining of the vessels (known as the endothelium) releases nitric oxide, a molecule that signals the surrounding muscles to relax. (Viagra and similar drugs work by increasing the amount of nitric oxide in the endothelium.)

Although experts aren’t exactly sure why, obesity appears to damage the endothelium. And when the endothelium doesn’t work properly, the penis may not get enough blood to produce or sustain an erection.

“An erection is basically a cardiovascular event,” says Robert A. Kloner, M.D., a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles. “If blood flow cannot increase because the blood vessels can’t dilate normally, then there’s a decrease in erectile function.”

Sure enough, in the new study, endothelial function improved in the men who lost weight. (Function was measured using two different laboratory tests.)

Poor heart health can cause ED in another way. The fatty foods and lack of exercise that cause weight gain also contribute to the narrowing and hardening of arteries (atherosclerosis), in which cholesterol and other substances build up in the artery wall.

Atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks if it occurs in major arteries near the heart, can happen just as easily in the small blood vessels leading to the penis.

In fact, atherosclerosis may hit those small blood vessels first, which is why ED is increasingly seen as an early warning sign of heart disease, Kloner says.

The role of testosterone

Blood vessel problems are responsible for the vast majority of ED cases in obese men over 40, experts say, but another common culprit is low testosterone, which is also linked to obesity. Adequate levels of this male sex hormone are necessary to maintain sex drive and get erections.

Low testosterone is “very much underdiagnosed,” says Ronald Tamler, M.D., co-director of the men’s health program at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York. “And as we are all getting fatter, it’s becoming an increasing problem.”

Those big bellies Billups warns his patients about are especially worrisome when it comes to testosterone. Belly fat, a strong predictor of heart risk, seems to have a greater effect on the hormone than excess fat distributed in other parts of the body.

“That’s the bad actor that causes all sorts of inflammatory mediators and different substances to be emitted into the body that will lower testosterone,” says Billups, who studies the relationship between heart health and sexual dysfunction.

Losing even a little weight can improve blood vessel function (as the new study shows), but the effect of weight loss on testosterone levels may not be as rapid or as direct. Men who have persistently low testosterone levels and ED despite losing weight may need to consider testosterone gels, shots or patches, Tamler says.

Weight loss can turn things around

Being overweight doesn’t seem to affect a man’s self-esteem as much as it does a woman’s, says Joel Block, Ph.D., a psychologist on Long Island who specializes in couples therapy and sex therapy. ED, on the other hand, can trigger a cycle of shame and doubt in even the most confident men.

“Once [ED] happens it becomes self-perpetuating,” says Block, an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City. “The more he fails, the more difficulty he has.”

Eventually, Block says, a man will begin to avoid sex. And his condition may plunge him into depression.

“Even if you have clear cut medical reasons — diabetes, obesity — when you’re having erectile dysfunction…it is depressing,” Billups says. “A lot of these men [are] down in the dumps.”

Losing weight can help with the plumbing aspect of ED, but it can also provide an ego boost that carries over into the bedroom, says Stephen Josephson, Ph.D., a psychologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“People need to feel good about themselves [to] overcome performance anxiety and other things in the sex arena, and sometimes it’s as simple as getting into shape,” Josephson says.

Some men who have relied on pills like Viagra or Cialis to get erections can toss them once they start exercising, eating right and losing weight, Billups says.

These men may see their morning erections return, he adds, and their wives have been known to say they’re acting “friskier.”

“They’ll come in and tell me, ‘Wow, doc, things are really turned around,’” he says.

Smarter Kids Are Smart Enough to Avoid Alcohol and Drugs, Right?

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September 15th, 2013

Maybe not. The latest study of twins shows that early bloomers may become heavier drinkers who start chugging earlier in life.

The research is part of an emerging but counterintuitive body of work that suggests kids who develop language and intellectual skills earlier are more likely to drink and take other drugs than their less intelligent peers.  In 2011, for example, British researchers found that women who were in the top third of the IQ range when tested in elementary school were more than twice as likely as those scoring in the bottom third to have used marijuana or cocaine by age 30; for men, the top ranked boys were almost 50% more likely to have taken amphetamine and 65% more likely to have used ecstasy (MDMA) by adulthood.

For decades, scientists had documented that those with lower IQ and less education were more likely to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs, probably because lower levels of education and lower IQ are associated with the damaging effects of poverty and because having less intelligence offers fewer mental resources to allow users to moderate and avoid problems.

The latest data, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, doesn’t contradict those findings. Drug use is not the same as drug addiction— and a great deal of earlier research shows that higher intelligence is a protective factor against alcoholism and addictions, even though smarter people are more likely to drink or try drugs.

The researchers followed 3000 healthy identical or fraternal twins in Finland, focusing on the group who had significant differences in verbal development as children and who also turned out to have varied drinking behavior as adults. The twin who spoke her first words earlier or began reading earlier was nearly twice as likely as her co-twin to be drinking more at age 18. And twins who spoke first were four times as likely to get drunk once a month or more often than their later-speaking twins, who either hadn’t been drunk at all or did so less than once a month. Overwhelmingly, this drinking was not out of control and did not qualify them for a diagnosis of having an alcohol disorder.

Social drinking in many countries and non-problematic drinking is more frequent and common among people with higher education,” says Antti Latvala, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki in Finland and lead author of the study. Why? What protects them from sliding into addiction?

Intelligence can serve as a vehicle for moderation when it comes to alcohol or drug use — the more educated people are, the more they internalize and appreciate the dangers and risks of overindulging. The higher education that’s correlated with greater intellect also puts more at stake for those who indulge in alcohol or drug abuse.

Intelligence can also spur more curiosity and openness to new experiences. And that includes experimenting with alcohol and drugs. “People have this impression that intelligence is somehow related to being introverted and bookwormish,” says Latvala, “But if you look at these large studies they definitely find this association with sensation-seeking and seeking different kind of experiences. [They’re] trying to learn new things  It could be related to the nature of intelligence.” Such experimentation doesn’t always lead to addiction or problematic behavior because this type of exposure often involves a few experiences before the person moves on to the next novelty.

Verbal intelligence may also often allow kids to better negotiate the social world, and since most social teenagers in Western societies drink, being social inevitably exposes them to alcohol. The study found that the more verbally skilled twins did have more friends who drank than their co-twins, so the connection might be reinforced culturally as well.

Although the study did not find that the early exposure to alcohol and drugs made the smarter twins more vulnerable to addiction, these twins weren’t entirely safe from the harms — including overdoses, drunk driving, sexual assaults and injuries — that can result from drinking or abusing drugs. Being smart doesn’t mean you are immune from drug-related dangers.