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Furore over ‘Dry January’, desperation to shed kilos

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Weight loss. Photo/ Forks over knifes

The festivities are over. But the over indulgence in food, alcohol and sedentary lifestyle often associated with the Yuletide usually leaves unpleasant outcomes.

Most people add extra kilos, more fat around the weight region and in most cases potbelly.

Previous studies indicate that the bad lifestyle associated with the season leaves some with higher blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels and greater risk of kidney and heart diseases.

However, a school of thought believes that keeping a Dry January- abstaining from alcohol and over indulgence in food- for a month could help reverse the damage and encourage long lasting healthier lifestyle.

Also, some people have made a New Year’s resolution to hit the gym to tackle that annoying belly fat and reverse the negative health indices.

A new research from the University of Sussex in Brighton United Kingdom (UK) showed that taking part in Dry January saw people regaining control of their drinking, having more energy, better skin and losing weight. They also reported drinking less months later.

The study was published in EurekAlert. The research, led by Sussex psychologist, Dr. Richard de Visser, was conducted with over 800 people who took part in Dry January in 2018.

The results show that Dry January participants are still drinking less in August. They reported that: drinking days fell on average from 4.3 to 3.3 per week; units consumed per drinking day dropped on average from 8.6 to 7.1; frequency of being drunk dropped from 3.4 per month to 2.1 per month on average.

Richard de Visser said: “The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term: by August people are reporting one extra dry day per week. There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in ten people save money, seven in ten sleep better and three in five lose weight.

“Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month – although they are a bit smaller. This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January.”

The University of Sussex research showed that: 93 per cent of participants had a sense of achievement; 88 per cent saved money; 82 per cent think more deeply about their relationship with drink; 80 per cent feel more in control of their drinking; 76 per cent learned more about when and why they drink; 71 per cent realised they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves; 70 per cent had generally improved health; 71 per cent slept better; 67 per cent had more energy; 58 per cent lost weight; 57 per cent had better concentration; 54 per cent had better skin.

Richard de Visser’s findings come from three self-completed online surveys: 2,821 on registering for Dry January; 1,715 in the first week of February; and 816 participants in August.

Also, another study showed large quantities of rich Christmas food appear to boost Danes’ cholesterol levels.

Right after the Christmas break, levels are 20 per cent higher than in the summer. Researchers from the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital and the Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Denmark carried out the new study.

All that butter and cream in Christmas food may possibly boost cholesterol levels more than assumed up to now. In a new study of 25,000 Danes, researchers conclude that cholesterol levels after the Christmas holiday are 20% higher than they are in the summer.

So the study by researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Copenhagen shows that the risk of having elevated cholesterol is six times higher after the Christmas break.

“Our study shows strong indications that cholesterol levels are influenced by the fatty food we consume when celebrating Christmas. The fact that so many people have high cholesterol readings straight after the Christmas holiday is very surprising,” says Dr. Anne Langsted, M.D., who is one of the authors of the article.

Nine out of ten of the people participating in the so-called Copenhagen General Population Study had elevated cholesterol after Christmas.

People who already have high cholesterol should perhaps be even more alert to their cholesterol levels during the Christmas holidays.

“For individuals, this could mean that if their cholesterol readings are high straight after Christmas, and they could consider having another test taken later on in the year,” says another of the article’s authors, Dr. Signe Vedel-Krogh, M.D.

“In any event, there is a greater risk of finding that you have elevated cholesterol if you go to the doctor and have your cholesterol tested straight after Christmas. It is important to be aware of this, both for doctors who treat high cholesterol and those wishing to keep their cholesterol levels down,” she concludes.

The article “The Christmas holidays are followed immediately by a period of hypercholesterolemia” has just been published in the international journal Atherosclerosis.

Several studies have shown that if you have too much cholesterol in your blood, your arteries can get furred up and there is a greater risk of developing heart attacks and stroke. Heart attacks and strokes are what kill most people worldwide.

Indeed some of you may have made a New Year’s resolution to hit the gym to tackle that annoying belly fat. But have you ever wondered how physical activity produces this desired effect?

Researchers have demonstrated how exercise reduces belly fat in humans.

A signaling molecule called interleukin-6 plays a critical role in this process; researchers report December 27 in the journal Cell Metabolism.

As expected, a 12-week intervention consisting of bicycle exercise decreased visceral abdominal fat in obese adults.

But remarkably, this effect was abolished in participants who were also treated with tocilizumab, a drug that blocks interleukin-6 signaling and is currently approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Moreover, tocilizumab treatment increased cholesterol levels regardless of physical activity.

“The take home for the general audience is ‘do exercise,'” says first author Anne-Sophie Wedell-Neergaard of the University of Copenhagen.

“We all know that exercise promotes better health, and now we also know that regular exercise training reduces abdominal fat mass and thereby potentially also the risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases.”

Abdominal fat is associated with an increased risk of not only cardio-metabolic disease, but also cancer, dementia, and all-cause mortality.

Physical activity reduces visceral fat tissue, which surrounds internal organs in the abdominal cavity, but the underlying mechanisms have not been clear.

Some researchers have proposed that a “fight-or-flight” hormone called epinephrine mediates this effect. But Wedell-Neergaard and co-senior study author Helga Ellingsgaard of the University of Copenhagen suspected that interleukin-6 could also play an important role because it regulates energy metabolism, stimulates the breakdown of fats in healthy people, and is released from skeletal muscle during exercise.

To test this idea, the researchers carried out a 12-week, single-center trial in which they randomly assigned abdominally obese adults to four groups.

A total of 53 participants received intravenous infusions of either tocilizumab or saline as a placebo every four weeks, combined with no exercise or a bicycle routine consisting of several 45-minute sessions each week.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to assess visceral fat tissue mass at the beginning and end of the study.

In the placebo groups, exercise reduced visceral fat tissue mass by an average of 225 grams, or 8 percent, compared with no exercise. But tocilizumab treatment eliminated this effect.

In the exercise groups, tocilizumab also increased visceral fat tissue mass by approximately 278 grammes compared with placebo.

In addition, tocilizumab increased total cholesterol and “bad” low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol compared with placebo, in both the exercise and no-exercise groups.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that interleukin-6 has a physiological role in regulating visceral fat mass in humans,” Wedell-Neergaard said.

The authors note that the study was exploratory and not intended to evaluate a given treatment in a clinical setting. To complicate matters, interleukin-6 can have seemingly opposite effects on inflammation, depending on the context.

For example, chronic low-grade elevations of interleukin-6 are seen in patients with severe obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

“The signaling pathways in immune cells versus muscle cells differ substantially, resulting in pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory actions, so interleukin-6 may act differently in healthy and diseased people,” Wedell-Neergaard explained.

In future studies, the researchers will test the possibility that interleukin-6 affects whether fats or carbohydrates are used to generate energy under various conditions. They will also investigate whether more interleukin-6, potentially given as an injection, reduces visceral fat mass on its own.

“We need a more in-depth understanding of this role of interleukin-6 in order to discuss its implications,” Wedell-Neergaard said.

In the meantime, the authors have some practical holiday exercise tips. “It is important to stress that when you start exercising, you may increase body weight due to increased muscle mass,” Wedell-Neergaard said. “So, in addition to measuring your overall body weight, it would be useful, and maybe more important, to measure waist circumference to keep track of the loss of visceral fat mass and to stay motivated.

Also, an article published in Medical News Today has revealed how to get rid of belly fat the natural way.

Fast facts on belly fat:

*Belly fat tends to increase with age, particularly for women.
*Having a high body mass index (BMI) often correlates with more belly fat.
*Visceral belly fat is highly responsive to diet.
*Exercise is a key factor in eliminating belly fat.

Combining exercise with a healthful diet may help to remove belly fat.

Visceral fat — sometimes called “active” fat because of its active role in producing various hormones — is the harmful type of belly fat.

It is less visible than subcutaneous fat because it lies within the abdominal wall. It surrounds organs and releases hormones that can lead to diabetes, chronic inflammation, and other serious health problems.

Visceral fat is not visible, but a slowly expanding waistline is a good indication of visceral fat. As visceral fat grows, so too does the belly.

Some people find that visceral fat makes the stomach feel hard, while subcutaneous fat tends to feel soft and squishy.

Why belly fat is dangerous. A higher BMI can mean a greater risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndromes, such as diabetes.

For people who have active lifestyles and healthy body weights, subcutaneous fat — even if the belly protrudes a little — is not dangerous.

Some research even suggests that surgery to remove subcutaneous fat will not improve health and may even be a risk factor for more visceral fat — particularly if surgery is not accompanied by healthful lifestyle changes.

Visceral fat, however, is very dangerous. It releases hormones that can cause diabetes and inflammation. Inflammation is a risk factor for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In women, visceral fat may increase the likelihood of needing gallbladder surgery. Visceral fat is also linked to breast cancer.

Anyone can develop belly fat at any age, but some groups are at a greater risk of developing visceral fat.

Those groups include: white men; African-American women; Asian Indian men and women; people who are overweight or obese; and people who drink lots of sugary drinks.

Eating fewer calories than the body burns — creating a caloric deficit — can help burn both visceral fat and excess subcutaneous fat.

Some other strategies to reduce visceral fat include:

Eliminating sugary drinks

Some studies have linked sugary beverages, such as soda and sweetened tea and coffee, to the development of visceral fat. People should think about reducing the sugar in their coffee and cutting out soda altogether.

Reducing simple carbohydrate intake

Simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined grains, and sugary foods are low in nutritional value but high in calories. They are also linked to the development of abdominal fat.

Replace simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain pasta and fruits and vegetables.

Eating more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are a healthful alternative to simple carbohydrates. They also add fiber to the diet, which can help regulate blood sugar. Abdominal fat is a risk factor for insulin resistance and diabetes.

Consuming lean protein

Lean protein from nuts, legumes, and lean meats can help with feelings of fullness, reducing cravings for sugary snacks.

Controlling fat intake

A high-fat diet can lead to more abdominal fat. Don’t try to eliminate all fat, and don’t choose packaged fat-free foods. Instead, choose healthful fats from lean meats, avocados, and other “real” foods.

Reducing unhealthy fats

Trans fats and saturated fats are not good for the heart. They can cause weight gain and are closely linked with the development of visceral fat.

Limit trans fat intake and keep saturated fat intake to less than seven percent of the diet. No more than 20–30 percent of total caloric intake should come from fat.

Exercises

Research has found that exercise plays a significant role in eliminating belly fat. For example, a 2005 study compared men who exercised with men who did not and found exercise to be a crucial factor.

However, it is a myth that it is possible to spot-reduce fat. Targeted exercises, such as crunches and sit-ups, will not get rid of abdominal fat, though they can help strengthen abdominal muscles.

The following tips can help reduce belly fat naturally:

Become more active

Increasing activity levels can help burn more calories. People who sit at desks for long periods of time should take regular stretching breaks.

Parking away from a destination can encourage more walking, burn more calories, and improve heart health.
Embrace cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise — or cardio — gets the heart pumping. It also burns calories, helping to reduce belly fat, especially visceral fat.

Start slowly, with walking or swimming. Then work up to more intense cardio, such as running or jumping rope.

Try high-intensity interval training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) pairs intense exercise with less intense exercise to burn more calories. For instance, it might mean walking for 3 minutes, then running for 30 seconds. HIIT can burn more abdominal fat and is an ideal choice for those people who are not ready for more sustained, intense exercise.

Strengthen muscles

Strength training can improve body weight, because muscles burn more calories than fat does. Strength training can also help prevent osteoporosis and other chronic illnesses.

Commit to strength training exercises, such as lifting weights or yoga, at least three times per week.
Outlook

Belly fat is a serious health problem, but a reversible one. No matter how much weight a person has gained or how poor their diet is, simply shedding a few pounds of belly fat can significantly reduce their risk of serious health problems.

Start slowly, incorporating positive health changes piece by piece and watch the pounds begin melting off.

Meanwhile, a higher collective consumption of sweetened fruit drinks, soda, and water was associated with a higher likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) in a community-based study of African-American adults in Mississippi.

The findings, which appear in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), contribute to the growing body of evidence pointing to the negative health consequences of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages.

Certain beverages may affect kidney health, but study results have been inconsistent.

To provide more clarity, Casey Rebholz PhD, MS, MNSP, MPH (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and her colleagues prospectively studied 3003 African-American men and women with normal kidney function who were enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study.

“There is a lack of comprehensive information on the health implications of the wide range of beverage options that are available in the food supply,” said Dr. Rebholz. “In particular, there is limited information on which types of beverages and patterns of beverages are associated with kidney disease risk in particular.”

For their study, the investigators assessed beverage intake through a food frequency questionnaire administered at the start of the study in 2000-04, and they followed participants until 2009-13.

Among the 3003 participants, 185 (six per cent) developed CKD over a median follow-up of eight years.

After adjustment for confounding factors, consuming a beverage pattern consisting of soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and water was associated with a higher risk of developing CKD.

Participants in the top tertile for consumption of this beverage pattern were 61 per cent more likely to develop CKD than those in the bottom tertile.

Tertile means any of the two points that divide an ordered distribution into three parts, each containing a third of the population.

The researchers were surprised to see that water was a component of this beverage pattern that was linked with a higher risk of CKD. They noted that study participants might have reported their consumption of a wide variety of types of water, including flavored and sweetened water.

Unfortunately, the investigators did not collect information about specific brands or types of bottled water in the Jackson Heart Study.

In an accompanying editorial, Holly Kramer, MD, MPH and David Shoham, PhD (Loyola University Chicago) noted that the findings hold strong public health implications. “While a few select U.S. cities have successfully reduced SSB [sugar sweetened beverage] consumption via taxation, all other municipalities have resisted public health efforts to lower SSB consumption,” they wrote. “This cultural resistance to reducing SSB consumption can be compared to the cultural resistance to smoking cessation during the 1960s after the Surgeon General report was released. During the 1960s, tobacco use was viewed as a social choice and not a medical or social public health problem.”

In an accompanying Patient Voice editorial, Duane Sunwold explained that he is a patient with CKD who changed his eating and drinking patterns to put his disease in remission.

As a chef, he offers a number of recommendations to fellow patients trying to decrease their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.


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