Monday, May 4, 2015

Short Walks, Squirm to Learn, Diet Swap to Prevent Colon Cancer

Short Walks Reverse the Problems of Sitting
You probably know that prolonged sitting isn’t healthy – it can actually reduce your lifespan.  Here’s the good news – taking a 2 minute walk every hour can reverse the damage. Research from the University of Utah has shown that people who engage in two minutes of walking every waking hour come close to achieving the 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week - the amount that strengthens the heart, muscles and bones and extends the lifespan.  My suggestions – set an alarm when you are working at your desk, and walk around with gusto every hour.  Get up during all commercials when you watch television – that will give you much more strolling time.    This regimen may be better than sitting all day and then taking a run or going to the gym.  Stay tuned. 

Squirm to Learn
A new study from the University of Central Florida showed that children with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) learn better if they are allowed to engage in foot tapping, leg swinging and chair scooting movements. This kind of movement is vital to how they remember information and work out cognitive tasks. Children without hyperactivity learn less well if kept in motion.  Mark Rapport, head of the Children’s Learning  Clinic at the University of Central Florida said ”The message isn’t ‘let them run around the room’ but that you need to be able to facilitate their movement so that they can maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities.  A majority of students with ADHD could perform better on classroom work, tests and homework if they’re sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes, for example.”  This message may be true for adults as well – if you have always been a fidgeter and think you have a version of attention deficit disorder, try reading on a slow treadmill or exercise bike.  It may improve your concentration. 

Diet Swap has dramatic effects on colon cancer risk
Scientists at Imperial College in London and the University of Pittsburgh have found dramatic effects on risk factors for colon cancer when American and African volunteers swapped diets for just two weeks. Western diets, high in protein and fat but low in fiber are thought to raise colon cancer risk compared to African diets high in fiber and low in fats and protein.  Colon cancer rates are much higher in the western world than in Africa or Asia.  A group of 20 African American volunteers and another group of 20 people from rural South Africa swapped diets under tightly controlled conditions for two weeks.  The volunteers had colonoscopy exams before and after the diet swap – researchers also looked at biological markers for colon cancer and samples of colonic bacteria.  In the start, almost half of American subjects had colonic polyps (which can progress to cancer) and none of the Africans had these growths.  After two weeks on the African diet, the Americans had significantly less inflammation in the colon and reduced biomarkers of cancer risk. In the African group. measurements indicating cancer risk had increased dramatically after two weeks on the western diet.

Professor Stephen O'Keefe at the University of Pittsburgh, who directed the study, said: “our study suggests that westernization of the diet induces changes in biomarkers of colon cancer risk in the colonic mucosa within two weeks. Perhaps even more importantly, a change in diet from a westernized composition to a 'traditional African' high fiber low fat diet reduced these biomarkers of cancer risk within two weeks, indicating that it is likely never too late to change your diet to change your risk of colon cancer."

The study found that a major reason for the changes in cancer risk was the way in which the bacteria in the gut -- known as the microbiome -- altered their metabolism to adapt to the new diet. In the American group, the researchers found that the African diet led to an increase in the production of butyrate, a byproduct of fibre metabolism that has important anti-cancer effects.

The take home message here is – eat plant foods high in fiber. Refined flours, sugars and all kinds of processed foods should be seriously questioned and left on the grocery shelf. 

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH – back issues on this blog