How yogurt might’ve saved humanity and could again (or something)

 yogurt and fruit

The nutritional aspects of yogurt should not be ignored for reducing risk of chronic health conditions and improving nutrient status around the world.

In developed countries, yogurt could help reduce body weight, blood pressure, and metabolic disease, while strengthening bones. In developing countries, it could help correct nutrient deficiencies and improve immune and gastrointestinal health. The potential from yogurt on improving health could save the U.S. and other countries billions of dollars over time.

These were the messages received by those who attended the 1st Global Summit on the Health Effects of Yogurt in Boston on April 24. The full-day event was hosted during American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions at Experimental Biology 2013 in partnership with Danone, the Nutrition Society, and the Dairy Research Institute.Continue reading “How yogurt might’ve saved humanity and could again (or something)”

Just a spoonful of sugary drink confusion

SugarAre sugary drinks to blame for obesity and diabetes or have they been simply served up by the media, politicians, and even some scientists as a scapegoat for all of society’s ills?

In recent months, the question has sparked harsh words, flared tempers, op-eds, demonization, and even talk of creating policy that would ban or limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas. But what does the scientific evidence really show once emotion and exaggeration are removed from the equation?

With the intent of setting the scientific record straight, respected academics and nutrition researchers came together to discuss the issues in Boston on Tuesday, April 23, at Experimental Biology 2013. The symposium, organized by the American Society for Nutrition, would be the second of its kind over two years at the conference to evaluate sugar and how it relates to health. The event was sponsored by the Corn Refiner’s Association (CRA) and endorsed by the Medical Nutrition Council.

Continue reading “Just a spoonful of sugary drink confusion”

Why medical imaging could keep diet from losing out to drugs

intra-plaque hemorage
Moody et al. 2003. Circulation.

The balance is tipping from diet and lifestyle to use of drugs and bariatric surgery to combat obesity and chronic disease. However, new medical imaging technologies can help turn the tables.

University of Toronto professor of nutrition David Jenkins, MD, who is most well-known for developing the concept of the glycemic index, gave this year’s Atwater Memorial Lecture co-sponsored by the American Society for Nutrition in Boston on Tuesday at Experimental Biology 2013. In his talk, he warned, “If diet is to be relevant, it should demonstrate the same effectiveness as drugs.”

The problem, he said, faced by diet and lifestyle recommendations has to do with a combination of their inconvenience, impracticality, and unproven results because of lack of well-designed trials demonstrating their effectiveness. The need for an adequate number of subjects that maintained compliance to studies also made them expensive to do. On the other hand, he said, “drugs are a story of success.” They are backed by strong evidence from randomized controlled trials. For example, statins are shown to generally reduce coronary heart disease risk by 20 to 30 percent.

Continue reading “Why medical imaging could keep diet from losing out to drugs”

Does linoleic acid lead to inflammation and cardiovascular disease?

Proposed model of n-6 LA link to cardiovascular pathogenesis. Ramsden et al. 2013.
Proposed model of n-6 LA link to cardiovascular pathogenesis. Ramsden et al. 2013.

The Sydney Diet Heart Study published earlier this year brewed fresh debate on Monday at a symposium in Boston organized by the American Society for Nutrition at Experimental Biology 2013 surrounding dietary recommendations to substitute saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and, in particular, omega-6 linoleic acid (n-6 LA). An evaluation of recovered data from the randomized controlled trial that was conducted from 1955 to 1973 showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit from n-6 LA.

PUFAs and their relationship with coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease has been an active area of discussion among nutrition and medical researchers since the 1950s and ’60s. It was around that time that Ancel Keys and others began to emphasize substitution of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) with PUFAs because of evidence that it would lead to reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. But at that time, all PUFAs were treated similarly in the scientific literature and it wasn’t until far later that studies began to distinguish between n-6s and n-3 PUFAs. That has had some researchers calling for a deeper review of the literature.

In the Sidney Diet Heart Study, the intervention group was instructed to reduce saturated fats to less than 10 percent of energy intake and increase safflower oil, a concentrated source of n-6 LA, from 6 percent to more than 15 percent of energy intake. The re-evaluation showed that the n-6 LA group had increased rates of deaths from all causes, including from cardiovascular and coronary heart disease as compared to the control group.Continue reading “Does linoleic acid lead to inflammation and cardiovascular disease?”

Interview with ASN Executive Officer John Courtney, Ph.D.

John Courtney, Ph.D., ASN Executive Officer

It’s telling when a scientific organization is truly engaged with its membership when one of its executive officers reaches out through social media and agrees to be interviewed by a member blogger. When I met John Courtney, Ph.D., ASN Executive Officer, it was in a hallway of the Westin Boston Waterfront, and he was highly enthusiastic about meeting and congratulated me on blogging for ASN at their meeting at EB 2013.

We then proceeded to sit down in a semi-quiet spot next to the gymnasium where he answered all the questions I had about ASN’s recent successes. For example, he shared that EB 2013 is the largest to date with a 25 percent increase in member registrants and more than 15 percent increase in abstracts compared to just a year before. In addition, their publications that include American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Journal of Nutrition, and Advances in Nutrition receive more than four million hits a month. Those are pretty impressive numbers.Continue reading “Interview with ASN Executive Officer John Courtney, Ph.D.”

Is long-term calorie restriction in humans worth it?

diet concept #2Nearly 78 years have passed since the first experiment in the Journal of Nutrition was published that found that the restriction of calories without undernutrition would retard aging and prolong the mean and maximal lifespan of rats. That pioneering work of Clive M. McCay, Mary Crowell, and L. A. Maynard of Cornell led to several subsequent studies by aging researchers using calorie restriction (CR) as a research model with similar findings across several species, mainly in rodents. Now CR is well recognized as having contributed more to the understanding of the biological processes of aging than any other viable research model. Enormous interest in CR continues because of clues it may provide for intervention in aging individuals to prevent chronic disease and increase longevity.

In humans, however, questions remain surrounding the effectiveness, feasibility, and safety of CR. These questions were the topics of discussion on Saturday, April 20, in a symposium organized by the American Society for Nutrition at Experimental Biology 2013. Susan Roberts, director of USDA’s HNRCA’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University, and John Speakman of University of Aberdeen, presented an overview of the state of the evidence on CR from experiments in non-human primates, naturally occurring CR populations, and from randomized clinical trials.Continue reading “Is long-term calorie restriction in humans worth it?”

Soothing our eyes and lifting our spirits


James Allen Olson (1924-2000), a nutritional biochemist and professor of Iowa State University, believed that every scientific presentation at Experimental Biology deserved “a good question.” The question on Friday afternoon was whether or not to continue on with a special session held in honor of his memory.

It was an event that would highlight carotenoid research and was organized by the American Society for Nutrition’s Carotenoids Research Interaction Group (CARIG), a research interest group Professor Olson held dear and helped to found.

Despite the recent happenings of Boston, low attendance, and a few missing speakers, the event took place as planned at the Westin Boston Waterfront. “I’m glad that we decided to go ahead even though we didn’t have the plenary speaker,” said Loredana Quadro, an assistant professor of food science at Rutgers University, who chaired the session.Continue reading “Soothing our eyes and lifting our spirits”

Preview of American Society for Nutrition meeting at EB 2013


Health and fitness enthusiasts who are turning their eyes toward Boston for coverage of the mecca of marathoning may want to keep their gazes fixed there for all the latest in nutrition science, from its role in food to physical activity.

Taking place in the city only a week after the Boston Marathon is a “mecca” of a different sort—of the life sciences. Experimental Biology 2013 is a must-attend conference (or must-follow event using the Twitter hashtag #EB2013) for those who are seriously interested in topics such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, nutrition, and pharmacology. The event will feature more than 400 booths, plenary award lectures, workshops, and oral and poster presentations.

I’m glad to report that, for a second year, I’ve been selected to officially cover the American Society for Nutrition’s Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at the conference. You can follow along through my twitter feed @daviddespain and through the coverage on this blog. Looking over ASN’s program, you can see that we’re in store for some really exciting sessions throughout the conference. I’ll bring your attention to just a few of the discussions that are sure to be popular each day.Continue reading “Preview of American Society for Nutrition meeting at EB 2013”

Why we should adopt a “zoobiquitous” approach to health


We are all animals. It’s a fact that may be unsettling for some, but for others it is a fountain of understanding and of inspiration. Since 1859, thanks to Charles Darwin, our place in the animal world has been firmly established. Yet, to this day, it is all too common within medicine (and nutrition) to have the tendency to develop a narrow-mindedness about ourselves that disconnects us from the natural world. Rarely do medical doctors ever look beyond, to other animals, for a broader perspective about their fields. As the veterinarian insider joke goes, “What do you call a physician? A veterinarian who can only treat one species.” 

This is where zoobiquity (a different, zoobiquitous approach to medicine) comes in.

What is zoobiquity? When a story of how two obese Alaskan grizzlies lost hundreds of pounds helps inform nutritionists about how they might advise their human patients on weight management, you could say that is an example of zoobiquity. When a psychiatrist finds she is able to kindly comfort a patient diagnosed with anorexia by pointing out that an eating disorder is nothing ashamed of and that, in fact, it is quite common across several species, that’s zoobiquity. And, when a veterinarian oncologist and human oncologist come together to discuss the similarities of their animal and human patients and share data in an effort to improve medical outcomes of their patients, that’s zoobiquity.

The term, a merge of the words “zoo” and “ubiquity,” was coined by UCLA cardiology professor Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., and science journalist Kathryn Bowers as a way to describe their call for a coming together of three scientific fields: human medicine, veterinary medicine, and evolutionary biology. The duo also used the word as the title of their book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health, the paperback version of which has just gone on sale today. I highly recommend you purchase a copy to read even if you are not necessarily interested in medicine; the book is still worth the read because of what Bowers calls “cocktail party fodder.”

In the book, for example, you’ll learn all sorts of interesting facts: that dinosaurs also suffered from cancer, that fish faint, that horses suffer from sexual dysfunction, that all sorts of wild animals can at times develop eating disorders or overeat and become obese, that koalas suffer from chlamydia, that birds self-injure, and that wallabies get stoned. A passage that best sums up the message of the book is this one about breast cancer resulting from a genetic mutation of the BRCA1 genes that is shared among different species: “When it comes to breast cancer, a jaguar originating in South America and an English springer spaniel in Sweden might be medically more relevant to an Ashkenazi Jewish woman than her next-door neighbor is.” Continue reading “Why we should adopt a “zoobiquitous” approach to health”

Calories aren’t right on labels and maybe that’s OK


Has it ever crossed your mind that the number of listed Calories (Kcals) of, say, a large, raw, whole apple at 116 Kcals and that of a glazed doughnut at 125 Kcals might not be an accurate comparison*? Surely, you might think, isn’t the doughnut more likely to add inches to your waistline?

You’d be right. The difference that you might have understood intuitively is that, although the number of listed Kcals are similar, your body is likely to extract more of them from the doughnut than the apple. Why the disparity then on the Kcals listing? You can lay blame on the shortcomings of the Atwater Specific-factor System.

Here’s a little nutrition science history lesson: In the early 20th century, American chemist William Olin Atwater pioneered calculation of energy values from measures of heat combustion of proteins, fats and carbs. This is how we arrived to the familiar protein at 4 Kcals per gram, lipids at 9 Kcals per gram, and carbs 4 Kcals per gram. It would come to be known as the Atwater General Factor System. At the time, Atwater couldn’t account for fiber, so, in 1955, Bernice Watt and Annabel Merrill refined the system with specific Calorie conversion factors of foods, which has led to what the system is now.Continue reading “Calories aren’t right on labels and maybe that’s OK”