August 18, 2016

Health Pot-pourri: Reading, Whole Grains: Yes. Antioxidant Supplements: Maybe Not

I subscribe to a dozen or more print newsletters about health care, and I get as many regular news updates in my email inbox. I make occasional reports like this one when I find items of particular interest.

Read Books, Live Longer?
Reading books is tied to longer life, according to a new report. Researchers used data on 3,635 people aged 50+ who had already answered questions about reading as part of a larger health study.

The scientists divided those people into three groups:
  1. those who read no books,
  2. those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and
  3. those who read books more than three and a half hours every week.

Published in Social Science & Medicine, the study found that book readers tended to be female, college-educated and more affluent. Researchers then controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment, and marital status.

Compared with study subjects who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die during the next 12 years, while those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. On average, people who read books lived almost two years longer than those who didn't.

Senior author Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale, said the "survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables."

Study leaders found a similar association among readers of newspapers and periodicals, but it was weaker. 

I need to get back to my bedside copy of The Boys in the Boat.

Eat More Whole Grains
If you want to live longer and healthier, you might want to munch on a slice of whole grain bread while sitting in your rocking chair reading a book.

Published in the journal Circulation, an analysis of 14 studies involving 786,000 people found that people who eat more whole grains tend to live longer than those who don't. Each daily serving (about one slice of whole grain bread) was associated with a 7 percent decline in death rate.

People who ate three servings a day had a 20 percent lower all-cause death rate, including 25 percent lower cardiovascular death rate, and a 14 percent lower cancer death rate.

Bottom line:  Whole grain consumption may reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes. Aim for at least three daily servings of whole grains from foods like whole grain bread and and pasta, brown rice, whole oats, oatmeal, and popcorn.

Second Thoughts on Antioxidants for Exercise
There's no doubt that exercise is good for you. It’s also true that physical activity -- especially the strenuous kind that benefits your cardiovascular system -- increases the production of free radicals in the body.

That's why, for more than three decades, many athletes and exercisers have followed the advice of some experts (notably Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who coined the term "aerobics") and take high doses of antioxidants, often vitamins C and E. These compounds help mop up a variety of free radicals, in theory at least, and may help improve exercise performance, reduce fatigue, and aid recovery. 

But a report in the September 2016 issue of University of California’s Berkeley Wellness Letter suggests that high-dose supplements are too much of a good thing:

We don't recommend antioxidant supplements for anyone -- athlete or couch potato. It's not known if free radicals generated during exercise are even harmful. The benefits of exercise far outweigh any theoretical risks. Get your antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other plant foods.… A healthy diet may provide just enough antioxidants and allow just enough oxidation to get a "Goldilocks effect" -- not too little, not too much, just right.


Anna said...

Hi, John. It's too bad one has to pay $35 just to see the entire Circulation article about the whole grains study. I am wondering if the researchers controlled for grain intake, too. In other words, did they compare whole grain consumption to *no* grain consumption or did they just compare non-whole grain consumption to whole grain consumption (without taking into account whether the whole grains consumers also consumed non-whole grains)?

Thanks for your continuing posts!

Jules et Chap said...

Hi John,

I've been following your blog for more than one year. Thank you so much for your research, informative and entretaining posts, wonderful insights, hard work and incredible sens eog humor. You've been not just inspiring but also a blessing in my family. Thanks again - we'll always have you in our thoughts.