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:
Probiotics may reduce fat gain during a high-fat, high-calorie diet
This study showed that probiotic supplements reduced body fat gain by 52% during a 4-week high-fat diet (55% fat), also high in calories (35% above daily caloric needs). The saturated fat content was about 25% of the total daily caloric intake.
The participants who were given probiotics gained body fat, but not as much as the group who didn’t get the probiotics. The fat gain in those taking the probiotics was reduced by 52%.
Just be mindful that the experiment only lasted 4 weeks, so we don’t know if the fat-gain preventive effects would persist beyond that period of time.
In case you’re curious, the probiotics included 450 million bacteria and the strains were as follows: Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium infantis, and Bifidobacterium breve.
Here’s the full study in PDF:
Probiotic supplementation attenuates increases in body mass and fat mass during high-fat diet in healthy young adults. Osterberg et al., 2015. Obesity.
Sat fat debate: ‘Butter is not back’, warn authors of new review
Harvard researchers haven’t yet exonerated saturated fat.
They explain that if you replace saturated fat (mainly found in meat and dairy) with refined carbs (like white bread or added sugars) you don’t really lower your heart disease risk, but if you replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats you might. Rich sources of unsaturated fats include avocados, olive oil, and flaxseeds. Their conclusion is based on an observational study following 84,628 women and 42,908 men.
For more on the saturated fat debate, have a look here.
Can a placebo make you run faster?
Yes, apparently it can!
This new study shows the power of “placebos” in athletic performance. In a recent Science Report, we talked about how your brain can fabricate an illusion of exhaustion to protect you from injury, and placebos seem to trick the brain the other way around: making you push harder and feel less tired.
All of this happens at a subconscious level, based on what you believe to be true!
Possible carcinogen (potassium bromate) not yet banned in US foods
Potassium bromate is an additive used in baked foods to improve elasticity and consistency, so they taste better. However, it’s a possibly cancer-causing substance and has been banned in the UK, EU, Canada, and some South American and Asian countries. Not yet in the US.
The baking process converts potassium bromate into an inoffensive salt: potassium bromide. But if the ingredients aren’t mixed at the correct ratios, or aren’t cooked properly, the food can contain potassium bromate residues.
Here’s the list of US foods that are likely to contain these residues, in case you live or travel there.
The seasonal epigenetics of your immunity
Scientists estimate that our genes are sensitive to seasonal variations. Warm and cold seasons may have an epigenetic impact on our immunity, cyclically switching genes on and off. However, things like global warming, moving to a different climate, or keeping indoor thermostats constant all year round might disrupt these internal immune timers.
For example, the body responds to colder weather by increasing the production of proteins that help us fight off things like the flu, but if we keep our thermostats fixed to very warm temperatures during winter, our internal timers might be “misled” into thinking that it’s still summer, possibly leaving our immune systems more vulnerable.
Scientists gave this a name: “seasonal de-synchronisation” – a mismatch between environmental factors and our internal rhythms. Interesting facts to keep in mind!
Healthier friends, healthier you?
I always enjoy reading studies about the “contagion effect”. In this one, the researchers highlight that those around you can have an impact on your health-related behaviours – getting fitter, eating better, reducing alcohol, exercising.
This is because the “standard” of our reference group seems to be a motivator to change. We are more likely to increase a healthy behaviour if we aren’t at the “level” of what may be a healthy norm.
We have a Science Report explaining how exactly you can “catch” others’ eating behaviours (good or bad!): Are eating habits contagious? (premium subscription needed).
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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!