This Week in Health: Chocolate may prevent obesity and diabetes
Plus, fertility drugs are not linked to breast cancer, coffee cuts liver cirrhosis death risk, and more of the week's top health stories.
Study subjects: Mice
Results: The positive health benefits of chocolate have been studied increasingly more in recent years, particularly its effects on heart health. The focus has mostly been on key compounds called flavanols, which are abundant in cocoa. In a recent study, researchers separated these flavanols into three main classes. They then tested the effects of these classes in mice that were fed a high-fat diet for three months. “We found that one specific class of compounds called oligomeric procyanidins had by far the best ability to prevent the onset of obesity and diabetes,” said Dr. Andrew Neilson, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech.
Significance: Neilson warns people to think twice before reaching for a chocolate bar to prevent diabetes and obesity. Chocolate has a lot of calories from fat and sugar, so consuming lots of chocolate to get these compounds is not recommended. Instead, try eating cocoa nibs, cocoa powder in low-fat, low-sugar foods and small portions of dark chocolate to get these key flavanols while minimizing added calories. According to researchers, the study’s findings have sparked interest in the potential development of cocoa that contains more oligomeric procyanidins.
Study subjects: 12,000 women evaluated for infertility between 1965 and 1988
Results: A 30-year study has found that fertility drugs used to stimulate ovulation do not appear to increase overall breast cancer risk. Researchers did observe an increased risk among a small group of women who received 12 or more cycles of a drug called clomiphene. These cycles were given at dosages that are much higher than what is currently prescribed. The study also found an increased breast cancer risk in a sub-group of women who were unable to conceive after taking clomiphene and gonadtropins (another ovulation stimulator). When compared to study participants who’d never taken these drugs, these women had nearly twice the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers say it’s difficult to determine if these increased risks were necessarily due to drug effects. It’s possible that they were caused by more resistant infertility.
Significance: The findings branch away from previous studies that have linked these types of drugs to female cancers. The concerns originally stemmed from the fact that fertility drugs increase estrogen levels, which might make women more likely to develop endometrial cancers. However, researchers say that long-term research has found no definitive link between medications for infertility and increased risk for breast, ovarian or endometrial cancers. “These types of studies are complicated to conduct because of the need to account for other predictors of cancer risk, including various causes of infertility and whether or not a woman is able to conceive,” said Dr. Louise Brinton of the National Cancer Institute.
Study subjects: Over 63,000 people aged 45 to 74
Results: Consuming at least two cups of coffee per day may reduce mortality risk from liver cirrhosis by roughly 66 percent, according to researchers in Singapore. This beneficial effect was observed in people whose liver disease was caused by non-viral hepatitis. However, drinking tea, soft drinks and fruit juice did not appear to impact mortality risk from liver cirrhosis. Alcohol, on the other hand, increased this risk.
Significance: Researchers speculate that coffee’s positive impact on liver cirrhosis may be caused by certain chemicals in coffee thought to reduce inflammation of the liver brought on by liver disease. Similarly, previous research has linked coffee intake to reduced liver damage in those with chronic liver disease.
Results: While scanning the cereal aisle for healthy options, consumers are probably unaware that the characters on the boxes are influencing their purchases. A new study out of Cornell University found that consumers are 16 percent more likely to trust a cereal brand when its spokes-character looks them directly in the eye. Researchers also reported that the eye gaze of characters on children’s cereal boxes is usually directed downward at a 9.6-degree angle. Adult cereal boxes, on the other hand, feature characters that look almost straight ahead.
Significance: “Even if the direction of the gaze is incidental, if people feel like there’s eye contact with the character, it would make them feel more connected to the brand and more likely to choose it,” said Aner Tal, a post-doctoral lab researcher at Cornell. Whether intentional or not, grocery stores are laid out in a way that’s designed to increase purchasing. For example, meats and milk are usually positioned toward the back of grocery stores so that customers have to pass through other areas where they’ll be more likely to make additional purchases.
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