There may be nothing more iconically French than the image of a luscious cheese board and bottle of aged red wine. But for those of us living in a hyper-health-conscious culture, constantly bombarded with diet and nutrition trends and fads, it would be difficult to see a wedge of Camembert and glass of Pinot Noir as anything other than an indulgence. And certainly not as a “healthy” choice. Yet decades of research show that a French diet, including a high intake of saturated fat from cheese and alcohol from wine, may lower incidence of mortality from coronary heart disease. Though researchers have long looked to the beneficial properties of antioxidants in red wine to explain this French Paradox, the benefits may actually lie with components in cheese. In particular, a recent study found that a potent intestinal enzyme, alkaline phosphatase, may be stimulated by dairy products to fight cardiovascular disease.
The inevitable decline in humans with age is the ultimate certainty, greatly surpassing that of tides and taxes. Like an aging building reaching into the sky, it’s the foundations that really count. A strong foundation slows the adverse effects of aging and conversely a weak foundation results in foreboding cracks in the brickwork, a portent of future structural failure.
Email, texts, IM, Facebook, Instagram—in the age of social media, there is no shortage of ways to send a message from one person to another. But is mother’s milk the original social network? Many of milk’s ingredients are believed to act as signaling factors that convey a “message” from mother to infant. Over the last decade, researchers have worked on decoding these messages, with a particular focus on the hormone cortisol. Milk cortisol levels are associated with infant growth and infant temperament in rhesus macaques, and hypothesized to send the message to be more cautious and prioritize growth over behavioral activity. A newly published study expands on this hypothesis and tests whether milk cortisol levels during the first weeks of life predict behavior and cognitive performance months later. The results suggest that far from being an instant messenger, milk’s signal may have effects well after it is received.
Bone density decreases with age, leading to an increased risk of hip fractures. Milk is considered helpful for maintaining bone health due to its high calcium, protein, and its fortification with vitamin D, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume two to three cups of milk or equivalent dairy foods per day to protect aging bones.
Breast milk is considered the gold standard for human infant nutrition. But at some point, even “white gold” cannot suffice as the only source of nutrition, and infants must begin to take in complementary foods to support their growth and development. When that point is, however, remains a matter of debate centered largely on the availability of one particular micronutrient—iron.
Diabetes is a major public health problem that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Diet is known to influence the risk of diabetes, and researchers have been trying to understand how dietary changes could help prevent type 2 diabetes and other cardiometabolic diseases. “My research program has a long history of investigating the relationship between diet and cardiometabolic risk,” says Paul F. Jacques, program director of nutritional epidemiology and senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
We all know vitamins are good for us. Some vitamins covet the stage of public awareness and rarely relinquish the limelight. If not consumed in sufficient quantities, they threaten dire health consequences for nonbelievers, children and small noisy dogs. Other vitamins, like vitamin K, are lost in the extrovert vitamin ABCD crowd and struggle to be heard. Their message, however, is equally profound for good health in humans. The paradox is that vitamin deficiency remains for many people a significant health and nutrition issue even in the presence of an abundance of food. Moreover, scientists continue to discover new biological roles of vitamins and new food sources containing different molecular forms of known vitamins, which together cause the regular revision of recommended daily intake levels.
As an immunological disease that is usually diagnosed before the age of 40 in about three times as many women as men, multiple sclerosis (MS) affects many individuals who hope to carry a child to term and nurture it thereafter. In the 1950s, experts assumed that pregnancy would be nothing but harmful to these women. Many studies since then have demonstrated that the risk of an MS relapse actually plummets during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, only to increase again after birth. Recently, a large study in Germany also found that exclusive breastfeeding for at least two months diminishes the odds of relapse for six months after the baby is born. Understanding the immunological changes taking place that mediate these shifting risks may eventually lead to novel treatments.
Milk is well known for being the primary dietary source of calcium, but it may be a surprise to learn that, in the U.S. and U.K., milk is also the leading dietary source of iodine. Some of these countries’ consumers are steering away from dairy because of intolerance, allergy, or personal dietary choices. However, researchers have found organic milk and milk-alternative drinks like soy, almond, and hemp milk have only a fraction of the iodine found in conventional milk, indicating that many of those avoiding conventional dairy—especially pregnant and nursing women—may inadvertently be placing themselves at risk for iodine deficiency.
The benefits of breastfeeding are nearly always considered from the perspective of the infant, but breastfeeding also has positive effects on the health of the mother. The hormonal changes associated with lactation may lower the risk of developing many chronic diseases, including breast and ovarian cancer. The results of a new study of over 70,000 women suggest that these same hormonal changes may also lower the risk of developing endometriosis.