by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Welcome to our Thursday’s Science Catch-up: curated links by The Health Sciences Academy. Get our email updates every other Thursday here (it’s free).
Let’s catch you up with studies and news that recently made the headlines!
Click on your favourite topics to read our summary:
Sugar bingeing like drug abuse
We already know that sugar sets in motion a strong reward mechanism in the brain, which can lead to addiction and dependence. But this new study takes things a step further.
Neuroscientists discovered that long-term sugar overconsumption changes the morphology of brain cells (i.e. their shape and size!) in a similar way that hard drugs do, such as cocaine or morphine.
These brain-cell alterations are really concerning if we consider how difficult it can be to wean someone off an addictive substance! In this case, sugar.
The types of sugar to keep an eye on are “free sugars”: those that your body absorb faster, added to foods and drinks, or naturally present in honey, syrup, and unsweetened fruit juices (this includes your freshly-squeezed orange juice!). The advice is to limit “free sugars” to less than 25 grams a day (so make sure to check labels!)
Here’s a chart with the world’s biggest sugar eaters by country. The amounts are huge:
Children of late moms do better
Very encouraging news for late moms.
Researchers found that when mothers delay having a baby to older ages, even at 40 or onward, they have children who are taller, have better grades in high school, and are more likely to go to university.
During my genetics research at Harvard, I learned that in the corporate world, around half of women have their first baby after the age of 40. Not before.
The thing is that millions of women are still being told to get pregnant a decade or two earlier than that. However, that fear is based on old statistics from the 1830’s, a time before electricity and antibiotics!
So, where are we now in terms of stats?
99% of foetuses are chromosomally normal among 35-year-old pregnant moms, and 97% among 40-year-olds. At the age of 45, 87% of foetuses are still normal.
For that reason, I’m excited to announce that we are currently developing our Advanced Fertility Nutritional Advisor course. If you’re interested, we’ll make sure you’re on top of our list when we make the announcement. Click here if you wish to be notified when it is released.
Want to live long but also keep your memories? Get moving!
Besides cheering you up, moving your body can protect your brain and keep it sharp. Scientists tracked the physical activity and memory function of 876 participants, over a period of 10 years. They also measured their brain volume via repeat 3D brain scans (MRI) during this time. That’s a lot of people to put in a scanner, making this study very special.
They found that physically-active participants had substantially more grey matter (i.e. more neurons) in brain areas related to memory and higher-level thinking, compared to the less active participants. This is correlated with greater brain health, and a lower risk of memory loss later in life.
Blueberries for depression
I thought this was worth mentioning. A number of experiments (using animal models) indicate that eating blueberries might help reduce the genetic and biochemical drivers behind depression and suicidal tendencies associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s thought that this could be thanks to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of the phytochemicals in blueberries. They may help counteract the increased oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain during a prolonged stress response.
Fast food exposes you to harmful phthalates
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are plasticisers used to make food packaging, tubing for cheeses and sausages, and fast food containers. They have been linked to metabolic disruption and weight gain. The problem is that they can leach out of plastic packaging and contaminate processed foods, getting into your body.
This survey involving 8,877 participants suggests that those who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40% higher. Another good reason to keep junk-food consumption to the minimum, wouldn’t you agree?
Saturated fat promotes metabolic disorders?
Cheese, butter, meat, coconut oil… they all have saturated fats: the type of fats that have been feared by heart doctors for decades. Although saturated fats have been “partly” exonerated, the debate continues. New research explains why saturated fats aren’t as innocent as many are beginning to believe.
The findings show that consumption of palmitate (a saturated fatty acid abundant in animal products and palm oil) can shift peripheral body clocks to a different rhythm, promoting inflammation and metabolic disorders.
Eat what you can sweat: ‘Exercise’ icons on food labels proposed
An article published in the British Medical Journal argues that food should be labelled with the exercise needed to expend its calories. The author, Shirley Cramer (Chief Executive at the Royal Society of Public Health), believes that giving consumers an immediate reference between the calories in food and physical activity could help them change their eating behaviours and hopefully reduce obesity risk.
In her article, she explains that tiny symbols could show the calories to be expended from different activities against the calories in the product.
Although it sounds like an interesting concept to get people more active (or to eat less energy-dense foods), it might take ages to implement something like this. We don’t even have sugar spoon icons on sugary drinks yet! Which I think are a priority, labelling-wise.
For example, 500ml of cola has as many as 12 teaspoons (54 grams) of sugar, over twice the daily limit in just one drink! But most people may not know that, including your family and friends. So before a loved one picks up that bottle of cola again, show how much you care by sharing this with them.
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What has inspired you this week? What are your thoughts on some of these topics? Leave a comment and let us know!